No matter how much my body decays, I have been unable to remove one particular shard of memory that remains firmly stuck—festering in my brain as a result of Frank Zappa.
It was 1967. I had just left America for England. One autumn evening, wandering through Hyde Park, I bumped into Frank's manager whom I knew from my former life in Los Angeles. The Mothers were performing at the Albert Hall the following night. Did I want to see them? You bet.
The Royal Albert Hall is a great Victorian monument . . . all red and gold and encrusted with elaborate decoration. With its tasteful boxes ringing the vast domed amphitheatre it represented to me all that was cultured, refined, and civilised . . . the product of generations of decent British citizens and their gracious rulers. but that night this proud testimonial to respectability had been usurped by The Mothers of Invention . . . a hairy three-ringed circus with Frank as the ringmaster.
The band roared and crashed about the stage. They were blasting out their familiar raucous songs with Frank controlling it all with his cool, knowing smile. The audience, by American standards, was subdued and Frank seemed frustrated by his inability to get them on their feet. Whether it was planned or an inspired act of desperation I'll never know but, suddenly in the middle of a song the keyboard player abandoned his ivories and began to clamber up and over the speakers and other piles of electronic gear. An expectant ripple spread through the crowd. For a moment he disappeared—lost in the darkness. Then a spotlight managed to pick him out—a small motley figure climbing onwards and upwards—up the back of the auditorium—towards the gigantic mountain of brass pipes that comprised the great Albert Hall organ. The audience cheered him as Frank cranked up the band. You can do it! Climb you bastard! Yes! Yes! With the mob chanting and clapping this musical Quasimodo gained the summit and plunked himself down at the keyboard. There was a momentary hush as he grappled with the stops. And then the most glorious, outrageous sound ever heard erupted . . . no . . . it wasn't Elgar or Bach or even Saint-Saens . . .
It was a great thundering musical nose-thumbing fart. He was pounding out "Louie, Louie" on that great Victorian organ. The barbarians had taken over! It probably felt like that the day they hoisted the Hammer and Sickle over the Winter Palace. The cobwebs were being blown away. The iconoclasts were king! It was utterly silly and wonderful . . . and we laughed and cheered and Frank's cool, knowing smile widened ever so slightly. I decided it was worth staying in England.
When it came to slaughtering sacred cows with such crude, yet perfect musical precision there was no one better than Frank. I wonder what songs he's teaching the angels right now? Good luck God! You've got your hands full this time.