The name of Frank Zappa and his monumental contribution to music comes up at the most unpredictable moments in time – like the end of the year, for instance; more importantly when one is asked to participate in contributing to some “list” or the other – especially in the category “Composer of the Year”. Selecting a name that ought to be remembered for making the most significant contribution to musical composition ought not to be much of a stretch; nor should it be denigrated as so much music industry puffery. But somehow it always seems to become just so because one is forced to focus on the achievements of one individual who did some significant composing during the year in question. Reality though is something quite different:
Music is a continuum with no beginning and no end. Frank Zappa – or FZ, as he was known to those who knew him by the two signature alphabets in his name – was one of the few musicians outside of the great Jazz pantheon who knew what it meant to be part of that continuum. He borrowed (and subtly changed a quote from a composer he admired very much – Edgard Varèse – to express this: “The present day composer refuses to die.” FZ said, adapting what M. Varèse once stated in his manifesto of the International Composers’ Guild which he founded in 1921 along with Carlos Salzedo, dedicated to the performances of new compositions of both American and European composers. That manifesto included the statement, “[t]he present day composers refuse to die. They have realised the necessity of banding together and fighting for the right of each individual to secure a fair and free presentation of his work.”
Although FZ stubbornly advocated for this throughout his life – in every way possible not only through music, but also in writings and interviews on radio and television – he also made it abundantly clear that he had no wish to be remembered, at first for anything but music. On July 1, 1983 in an interview on the British television programme Nationwide shortly before having his music performed by members of the London Symphony Orchestra at The Barbican he famously answered a prim British interviewer who asked if there was anything he expected to be remembered by he answered, “I don’t give a fuck if they remember me at all.” And explained that his only wish was to pay members of a “British” symphony orchestra to play his music and if enough “people” liked what they heard that he would put it on record – all with his own money, he added.
Towards the end of his life nothing much had changed. In an interview at that time he said, “It’s not important to be remembered. The people who are worried about being remembered are guys like Reagan, Bush. These people want to be remembered. And they’ll spend a lot of money, and do a lot of work, to make sure that remembrance is just terrific!” when the interviewer pressed him with the question: “And for Frank Zappa?” FZ was emphatic: “I DON’T CARE!” But that was the way he saw it. He was dying after all; probably knew that it made no sense to really care; a quotation that captured poignantly what he always stood for – more than anything else – that it was all about the music, which calls to mind something he once said: “Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is the best.”