In February 2009, I interviewed Gail Zappa and found her to be incredibly candid and frank. At the time, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the Zappa sculpture would be placed in Fells Point, but Gail floated the idea that it be erected at a local library. Her comments were included in a piece Rafael Alvarez wrote for us, and sure enough, the city took Gail’s suggestion and the sculpture now sits in front of the Pratt Library’s Highlandtown branch on Eastern Avenue.
The sculpture will be dedicated on Sunday, during a daylong celebration of Zappa and his music. The event will include a talk by Gail at the Creative Alliance, a free concert by Dweezil Zappa, and a ceremony with speakers such as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the Zappa fans from Lithuania who hatched the idea of putting the sculpture in Baltimore. It figures to be a great day.
And here’s an excerpt from my conversation with Gail…
JL: I’d like to talk about Frank’s legacy and your efforts in that area. And I’d also like to get your thoughts on the Zappa statue that’s been approved here in Baltimore.
GZ: I think that’s pretty stunning. It’s a big deal to have an American composer recognized in his hometown, so to speak.
JL: Do you have any thoughts on where it should go? The Public Art Commission has indicated it might be placed in Fells Point. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Baltimore.
GZ: Actually, I’m not, so I don’t know what the options would be. Fells Point sounds rather dramatic.
JL: The TV show Homicide was filmed in that area. It’s been known as something of a bohemian and artistic neighborhood. It’s also an old port.
GZ: So a lot of tours went off from that point, different kinds of [sea-faring] tours over the ages.
JL: The other spot I’ve heard some folks mention is outside the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s home, the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.
GZ: Well, they never bothered with Frank’s music while he was alive, so I don’t see the connection. The only other place I’d think worth considering is if there’s a major public library. That would be a cool place for it to reside as well.
JL: Baltimore has an impressive public library system. I don’t know if the Public Art Commission considered that.
GZ: I only mention the library because Frank was a fanatic about libraries. Being self-taught, libraries were a great resource for him, because they’re free and a fabulous place to find out about stuff.
JL: Having been born in Baltimore, what were Frank’s feelings about the city?
GZ: I’m of a very different mind than most people when it comes to biographies. They’re one of my favorite things to read. I don’t think your formative years are so invaluable, or so important in terms of making you who you are. I think what you do with the information that’s available to you—and the more effort you spend examining your own nature—I think that has more to do with it. And that could happen anywhere, at any time. I spent my adult life with Frank Zappa, so there wasn’t a lot of talk during that period about Baltimore. He spent a memorable time in high school, as most people do, but it wasn’t in Baltimore. I think the most stunning memories he might have—apart from whatever’s going on with his family and local lore and whatever—would be the influence of the Catholic Church [chuckles].
JL: [joking] Maybe the statue should go in front of a church.
GZ: Actually, not. Unless it’s barring the entrance.
JL: Oh, I can imagine Frank’s relationship to the church.
GZ: I can’t say that it’s a bad influence. I was raised Catholic, too. It does help perpetuate what Frank felt was one of the greatest learning tools—the opposite of what you want. He called it contrast material. Contrast material can be a great teacher.
JL: When considering Frank’s legacy, what is the most common misconception about him?
GZ: One of the great misconceptions is that he was a rock and roller. Because he was a rock and roll icon, people assume that he discovered classical music later in life, and it was something he fiddled with. That’s not the case, but people seem to think that. I see a lot of articles and bios about him that suggest that, and it’s not true. He was writing music from the age of 14. He was always attracted to putting large enterprises together in terms of creating sound. He was always interested in sound and how to “organize” it. When he actually discovered that term [“organized sound”] being used by [composer] Edgar Varése, it turned his whole world around—and that was at the age of 15.