I have spent the last few days at a conference in Paris at the Paris de Philharmonie. Although I have not focused on Zappa’s work for a couple of years, it was great to reconnect again with friends such as Manuel de la Fuente and Michel Delville, both who contributed to Frank Zappa and the And and are established ‘Zappa academics’. It was also investing to meet many new colleagues, who are determined to understand Zappa’s legacy. You can download the programme of the conference here.
My paper was an updated version of an essay I had published a few years back in Contemporary Theatre Review, which mainly focused on the impact of restricted copyright rights in performance and also positioning Zappa against certain areas of postmodernism. The first page of the 50 min talk is copied below.
In addition to meeting a number of international colleagues I had never met before, it was also good to get to meet some Zappa alumni, namely Bunk Gardner and Ike Willis, both of who were humble nice guys and when interviewed, provided some interesting insights into subject matters such as the formulation of Joes Garage and history of the split of The Mothers of Invention. What is apparent, is that these guys still hold Zappa in great esteem – with Ike Willis confirming that Zappa told him to ‘keep his music alive’ – which he doing through playing in no less than 15 Zappa cover bands at the moment. Here is a photo of the interview and also of me and Bunk Gardner
When I reflect on the weekend, which finished with attending a performance of Zappa’s The Yellow Shark, I have left with a few things to think about, such as:
- In what ways was/was not Zappa ‘postmodern’?
- Why do so few women examine Zappa’s work and when they do, are there any ‘conflicts’?
- Are there actually any new things to say about him – has it now all been said?
- If the answer to my previous question is ‘yes’, how can we bring the study of Zappa into broader discussions of popular musicology?
- When one is such a fan, how does one remain objective when attempting to analyse his legacy? This is an issue I tried to grapple with over the years when writing about Zappa, but in particular when writing my recent monograph on Sting.
There are many other questions that came out of the conference that I will be thinking about over the next few days, but what most impressed me was the high esteem his music is held in France, and it was fabulous to engage with his music both aesthetically and intellectually in such a beautiful space. It was also fascinating to see his music being taught to school children over the ‘Zappa Weekend’ – this would have made him smile I would imagine.
My three nights here finished with a performance of some of the compositions from The Yellow Shark which was performed alongside some additional Zappa material, Varese, John Zorn and other music that Zappa would have appreciated – which was nice!