The Father Of Invention

By Matt Spetalnick

Daily Mirror, December 7, 1993

FRANK ZAPPA, the irreverent outlaw of American rock and roll, has died of prostate cancer at the age of 52.

An innovative guitarist and composer who moved smoothly between rock, jazz and classical styles, he scorned the schmaltz of commercial pop music and used his talent for wicked satire to lampoon anything which smacked of humbug or hypocrisy.

While the Beatles were crooning All You Need Is Love in the Sixties, Zappa and his band were screaming We're Only In It For The Money.

Born in 1940, Zappa was raised in California. He was the son or a meteorologist who researched poison gases for the military. Gas masks hung on the wall of the family home in case of an accident with the chemical weapons his father studied.

He played drums in the school marching band but developed an eclectic taste for music ranging from rhythm and blues to 20th-Century classical composers.

Zappa began his rock career as a drummer in a San Diego rhythm-and-blues group called the Ramblers in 1956 but was soon fired from his first job.

HE established his place in rock lore during the counterculture revolution of the 1960s as leader of the experimental band, the Mothers Of Invention.

They recorded their first album Freak Out in 1966, by which time Zappa had switched to playing lead guitar, the instrument on which he later excelled.

Developing a reputation for strange antics -- he named his first child Mon Unit -- and offbeat music, he went on to release nearly 50 albums, including Hot Rats (1970), 200 Motels (1971) and Over-nite Sensation (1974). He won a Grammy Award in 1967 for Jazz From Hell.

While never seeking or achieving mass popularity, he had a loyal following of fans all over the world.

His recordings were smuggled into Czechoslovakia before the fall of Communism and became underground favourites.

VACLAV Havel, the playwright turned president, was so enamoured of Zappa's music that he made him special ambassador for culture, but the US State Department blocked the appointment.

It was no surprise given the number of noses Zappa had put out of joint over the course of his career. His irreverent humour and ridicule of authority left few unscathed.

Parents were horrified by such lyrics as “Watch out where the huskies go and don't eat that yellow snow”. Homosexuals were offended by the song He's So Gay. The Anti-Defamation League attacked him for Jewish Princess.

Apologies were often demanded but Zappa always refused.

Though his politics tended toward the left, his satire crossed ideological lines, skewering everyone from civil rights leader Jesse Jackson to TV evangelists.

Zappa took on then-Senator Al Gore's wife Tipper and former secretary of state James Baker's wife Susan when they demanded albums be labelled with rating according to their content.

His 1982 hit Valley Girl ridiculed the shopping mall culture of wealthy teenage girls from southern California’s San Fernando Valley. The song, featuring his daughter Moon Unit, then 14, popularised such slang terms as “grody to the max” and “gag me with a spoon”.

WHILE his music was seldom heard on American radio in recent years, his biting lyrics and offbeat compositions retained a hardcore following.

Zappa remained active nearly to the end, releasing a new album, The Yellow Shark, earlier this year. But his worsening condition forced him to cancel concerts and drop his planned presidential campaign.

He said in a recent interview that he had been feeling sick for a long time, but his problem was not diagnosed as cancer until comparatively recently.

Zappa died peacefully at his Los Angeles home on Saturday with his family at his side. He was buried on Sunday in a private ceremony.

He leaves his wife of 25 years, Gail; daughter Moon Unit, 25, singer and disc jockey; son Dweezil, 23, also a musician; Ahmet, 18; and Diva, 13.