Frank Zappa Gets Surprised & Serenaded by the U.S. Navy Band at the San Francisco Airport (1980)

Who the f*@% is Frank Zap­pa? Do we need to answer that ques­tion? Maybe so. As com­menter Kat­tul­lus remarks on a recent Zap­pa-relat­ed MetaFil­ter post, “When I was a kid… he was one of those rock stars that pret­ty much every­one knew. Now he’s almost van­ished from pop­u­lar cul­ture.” He has also van­ished from his mor­tal coil, as of 1993, and so it’s maybe no won­der we don’t hear that much about him. But it’s a shame all the same. Those who know and love Zap­pa know he was a musi­cal genius and more—“a mas­ter show­man,” says Alex Win­ter, direc­tor of the new crowd­fund­ed doc­u­men­tary Who the F*@% is Frank Zap­pa.

Win­ter calls Zap­pa a “per­former, ora­tor, wit, polit­i­cal pun­dit, etc.” And in dis­cussing the clip above, the direc­tor (best known as Bill in Bill & Ted’s Excel­lent Adven­ture) reminds us that Frank Zap­pa was also a reg­u­lar guy with reg­u­lar emo­tions. The footage comes from April, 1980, when Zap­pa was greet­ed at the San Fran­cis­co air­port by the Navy Band play­ing his song “Joe’s Garage.” Win­ter enthus­es about Zappa’s response to the sur­prise. The com­pos­er and gui­tarist, he says, “was so rarely him­self in pub­lic… In this clip, Frank is gen­uine­ly and pro­found­ly moved by the band’s per­for­mance of his music, and so we get to see him unpre­pared and just being him­self.”

Indeed, Zap­pa played char­ac­ters in pub­lic, though each one at the core con­tained his wry sar­don­ic wit. And the fact that he always came pre­pared is part of what made him seem so effort­less­ly great at every­thing he did. So this moment is rare for its can­dor, on the part of both Zap­pa and the Navy Band mem­bers. Zap­pa, “it turns out,” writes Navy Times, “was a huge fan of the Navy Band.” That love was requit­ed. Half the fun of the clip is watch­ing “the joy, con­cern, ner­vous­ness and rev­er­ence of these musi­cians, doing a fan­tas­tic job of play­ing a dif­fi­cult piece for the noto­ri­ous­ly dis­cern­ing com­pos­er.” The musi­cians occa­sion­al­ly stum­ble or hit a sour note, but like Pat­ti Smith’s heart­felt trib­ute to Bob Dylan at the Nobel Cer­e­mo­ny, these mis­takes make the per­for­mance all the more endear­ing.

Zap­pa, notes Rolling Stone, “liked the clip so much that he dupli­cat­ed the mas­ter onto his own tapes.” The clip we have at the top was record­ed from a mon­i­tor in the Zap­pa Vault (to the left, you can see the edge of a poster for the Zap­pa-direct­ed film 200 Motels). Zappa’s dada pos­es and vir­tu­oso musi­cal the­ater seemed to offer the ide­al response to the repres­sion of the Nixon-era six­ties, and the Rea­gan-era 80s, when he became a vocal crit­ic of Tip­per Gore’s PMRC. Per­haps, after all, as Kat­tul­lus says, he’s “due for a resur­gence.”

If so, we can learn a good deal about not only Zap­pa the musi­cian, but Zap­pa the per­son, through his fam­i­ly archive of art­work, pho­tos, per­son­al let­ters, etc., all of which Win­ter and his col­leagues have raised mon­ey to help pre­serve. See the doc­u­men­tary project’s ful­ly-fund­ed Kick­starter page here, where the top prize, for a dona­tion of 9 mil­lion dol­lars, is “Frank Zappa’s actu­al f*@%ing house” in the Hol­ly­wood Hills.

via MetaFil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ani­mat­ed: Frank Zap­pa on Why the Cul­tur­al­ly-Bereft Unit­ed States Is So Sus­cep­ti­ble to Fads (1971)

Frank Zap­pa Explains the Decline of the Music Busi­ness (1987)

Frank Zappa’s Amaz­ing Final Con­certs: Prague and Budapest, 1991

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Pat says:

    A friend and I went to see Frank in the Vil­lage in the 60’s. We were 14. We worked up the courage between sets to go up and talk to him onstage. He bummed a cig­a­rette from me and then asked us if our par­ents knew where we were and went all Dad on us about being out late. I’ve loved him ever since.

    He is sore­ly missed.

  • Gar says:

    Start­ed lis­ten­ing to Frank and the moth­ers of inven­tion in 1966. Damm guy changed me from being a Jock into a hip­pie.

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