Joshua Tehee

Zappa Week celebrates the mythos of Frank

Bob Lambert geeks out on Frank Zappa.

He’s read several Zappa biographies and quotes the stories and also the musician’s lyrics – though only other Zappaphiles would pick them up. When he heard Frank’s son Dweezil Zappa would be in town Tuesday, Dec. 8, to teach a guitar master class and play with his Frank Zappa tribute, Lambert thought, why not make it this a “Zappa” week?

“It’s a total respect for the artistic output,” says Lambert, whose Tower District Records will host several events over the next week. “But it does sound like a total fan geek thing, doesn’t it?”

The unofficial Zappa week features an array of art, music and literature events with people who knew Zappa and collaborated with him during his career, Lambert says. That includes the artist Cal Schenkel, filmmaker Bruce Bickford, author (and one-time super groupie) Pamela Des Barres and music archivist Gerry Fialka.

Schenkel was one of Zappa’s main visual collaborators and created several of his classic album covers, including “One Size Fits All,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and will be played in its entirety at the Zappa Plays Zappa show.

Des Barres was a music groupie during Zappa’s heyday in the late 1960s and a member of the GTOs, one of the bands signed to Zappa’s Straight Records (along with a young Alice Cooper). Bickford directed several animated videos for Zappa, and Fialha worked in the musician’s personal recording library for close to 10 years. Zappa recorded everything, apparently.

All of the events will be presented lecture style, though Lambert expects them to be interactive, too. Some people will just come to hang out, he says.

“I expect a lot of Zappa people to come here, just to hear stories about Frank.”

People like Lambert are drawn to Zappa’s mythology as much as his music, and while he’s an obscure enough character, his work reached (still does) a broad base of people, Lambert says.

Zappa was a master musician, yes. But he was also the ringleader of the odd collaborative of artists who gathered at Zappa’s home in Laurel Canyon. For some, he is the father who saddled his children with names like Dweezil and Amed and Moon Unit. For others, Zappa was a staunch supporter of creative freedoms who battled against the Parents Music Resource Center and Tipper Gore in the mid-1980s. He looks almost dapper in video testimony before a Senate Committee on rock-lyric labeling, where he was joined by Dee Snider, John Denver and others.

What I know about Zappa is that he discovered Alice Cooper. This was before the band was at all famous, back when they were driving people out of clubs on the Sunset Strip.

Mostly, I fall in a generation that missed the chance to experience Zappa before he died of prostate cancer in 1993.

Oddly, that’s the same year a friend gave me a Frank Zappa poster for my birthday. In it, the hirsute musician is posed in a faux jungle scene, wearing a low-slung leopard-spot Speedo, rainbow knee-high socks and a red neckerchief. A lit cigarette dangles from an outstretched hand. The poster was totally NSFW, but it hung in the dark room of the high school journalism class for months before being discovered by the teacher, who nicely let me take it home.

That poster was an over-the-top spectacle and, to my adolescent mind, presented the face (and almost naked body) of an true outsider artist. It was the reason I bought the one Zappa album I own: 1970’s “Chunga’s Revenge.”

What you think about Zappa depends on which of his albums you were introduced to first, Lambert says. His introduction was the 1967’s “Absolutely Free,” an album full of doo-wop and classically inspired “weird rock stuff,” Lambert says. “And for a long time, that’s what I thought Zappa did.”

Of course, Zappa’s catalog is huge and ranges from full-on jazz freakouts and contemporary classical orchestrations, to mainstream rock and novelty fare (“Valley Girl” or “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow,” for example).

“The guy had like 200 albums,” says Blake Jones, a Fresno musician, whose song “Ross Used To Play Us His Frank Zappa Records/Cold Pepsi & Croutons” is inspired by the musician. “I don’t know of anyone who likes all 200,” he says.

For Jones, Zappa’s appeal lies in his creative output, which was almost Dr. Seuss-like, he says. “It’s the exuberant creativity that draws me in.”

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

Zappa week events

Dweezil Zappa Guitar Masterclass

Zappa Plays Zappa

Cal Schenkel art exhibit

Bruce Bickford + Victor Hayden art exhibit

Pamela Des Barres book signing + Q&A

Bruce Bickford Q&A

“Cas’l’ ” film screening

Gerry Fialka, music workshop