The ‘Rainbow Theatre Incident’ as told by Howard Kaylan

42 Years Ago Today

Up at noon on Friday, but I didn’t leave the hotel until 2 p.m. Something felt wrong – it really did. There was a very uncomfortable sound check at the Rainbow and I was bombarded with ticket requests for a show that had been sold out for months. It was a bullshit day punctuated by a cheap Greek dinner. The first of the Rainbow shows was at 7. Again, it was the encore — something about that damned encore.

We had finished our first set, which went amazingly well, considering the alien guitars and drums we were forced to use. The audience loved it and I did too. We had already taken our group bow and I was happily leaving the stage, feeling fulfilled and exonerated. As I reached the wings, I heard the audience suddenly stop applauding and gasp as one. There was a shocked silence in the Rainbow. I ran back to the stage, but I couldn’t see anybody. Band and roadies were standing on the apron at the edge of the platform and gazing down into the darkness of the orchestra pit below. I ran over to see what the lack of commotion was all about. It sure didn’t sound good.

There, at the bottom of the pit, lay Frank Zappa. He was unconscious and silent, his twisted body fallen below in the shape of some anatomical swastika. His arms and legs were bent at bizarre angles and I couldn’t tell if he was breathing or not. Humans aren’t supposed to bend like that. There was no reason to believe that Frank Zappa was still alive.

This had been a very deliberate act. It seems that an audience member named Trevor Howell, who was very, very high indeed either a) didn’t feel as if he had gotten his money’s worth or b), more likely, was responding to his girlfriend articulating her crush on Frank at the end of the concert. For whatever reason, this maniac jumped onto the stage just as Frank, his back to the audience, was placing his guitar in its stand. He pushed Frank in such a way that he first hit his head on the wall of the orchestra pit before falling to its bottom. We all thought Frank was dead.
Howell tried to get away, but the audience restrained him and brought him to the front of the theater.

Here, official accounts vary. But I was there, and I know. Before Howell was delivered to the local authorities, Herb Cohen personally beat the shit out of him. Newspaper stories through out the years have attributed this beating to angry roadies, but in fact, it was Cousin Herb who took control of an out-of-control situation. We were ushered out of the theater and back to the hotel before anyone with authority could tell us anything. Sure, why tell the band anyway?”- From the book “Shell Shocked” by Howard Kaylan

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