Brand-Name Zappa

Is Rykodisc trying to (finally) get Frank Zappa's cruddy music on the radio?

He added that, in his youthful innocence, he believed that his struggling band needed a manager with an "artistic background" to put across its aesthetic perspective. "Ow! Was I going to regret this one!" he says wryly in retrospect.

Despite the best efforts of Ryko since Zappa's death in 1993, the radio waves remain virtually Zappa-free. Ironically, the place where the Zappa legacy seems to be shaping up is in the world of "serious" music: More and more, his orchestral compositions are appearing on the programs of symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles. (Ryko does not own the rights to Zappa's recorded orchestral repertory, which might, at least, partially explain the choices on Strictly Commercial.)

Perhaps this is as it should be. Maybe Frank Zappa--eternally aware of marketing strategies--felt he had to put titles like "G Spot Tornado" on his symphonic compositions so potential listeners wouldn't confuse him with the Old Guys Who Wrote Boring Orchestra Stuff.

He may have tried his damnedest not to look like some sort of highhanded academic in a jacket with tweed elbow patches, but by some ironic justice, after all the grimaces and rude gestures he cultivated so arduously in his lifetime have finally dissipated, what people may remember most about Frank Zappa is the caliber of his ideas. In his universe of reverse psychology, that seems entirely appropriate.

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