Hi, Boys and Girls, I’m Shirley Temple Black…

I have researched extensively and discovered that Shirley Temple Black and Jimmy Carl Black were not related.

No, indeed. The former dimpled queen of cinema, who, sadly, discorporated permanently in February, took the name “Black” upon marrying husband #2, noted aquaculturalist and oceanographer Charles Alden Black. With him, she had two children, C.A. Jr., and Lori Alden Black.

Whom you might know as “Lorax.”

Erstwhile bassist for Melvins. Ah, there she is.

But that’s neither here nor there.

More to the point: Frank Zappa was big in Prague.

The Velvet Revolution happened in 1989. In June of 1990, Czechoslovakia held its first democratic elections since 1946.

And before that, bands like the Mothers, Velvet Underground, and the Rolling Stones were not exactly on the approved listening list. Bootlegged or smuggled copies of these records could get a person disappeared.

So in Prague, Zappa wasn’t merely a fringe musician as he tended to be viewed in the United States. He was iconic to the ongoing political change. And, he was a personal favorite of Václav Havel, the new nation’s first president.

Zappa traveled to Czechoslovakia in 1990 at Havel’s invitation and was reportedly surprised at the reception he got. People there could sing along to his songs like pretty much anyone here could sing along to Wilson Phillips.

At the time, the ambassador to Czechoslovakia was Shirley Temple Black. And she happened to be at the airport at the same time of Zappa’s arrival. And a gaggle of reporters asked her what she thought of Frank Zappa.

She was notably at a loss.

The clip is in Czech, mostly. Her brief interview is at 1:45. She says she knows he has a son named Dweezil. Or Dweezy. Past that she did not seem aware of him.

Slate writer Joshua Keating came across this little story and refers to a Paul Berman work, A Tale of Two Utopias, here. According to Berman, this was a bit of a faux pas.

People had no way to account for the United States ambassador’s boorish airport behavior, except to mark her down as a cultural ignoramus who lacked the aplomb to boast to all of Central Europe about one of America’s finest sons, the brilliant Zappa, a world figure in the field of popular music.

Which is a shame, as the lady was actually rather storied when it came to that country. From the Wiki:

Temple was in Prague in August 1968, as a representative of the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies and was actually going to meet up with Czechoslovakian party leader Alexander Dubček on the very day that Soviet-backed forces invaded the country. Dubček fell out of favor with the Soviets after a series of reforms known as the Prague Spring. Temple, who was stranded at a hotel as the tanks rolled in, sought refuge on the roof of the hotel. It was from here she saw an unarmed woman on the street gunned down by Soviet forces, a sight which stayed with her for the rest of her life.

She is also credited as being instrumental in fomenting the Velvet Revolution to begin with, and “…took the unusual step of personally accompanying Havel on his first official visit to Washington, riding along on the same plane.”

I wonder if they discussed music.

I guess not.

Bummernacht 2014

Frank Zappa looking nice in a necktie

My freshman year of college was spent at Ohio University. Go Bobcats.

At the time, Ohio University’s practice regarding housing was to shove three freshmen boys into a 250-square foot room with three bunk beds.

They shoved me in with a “Pete” and a “Kyle.”

Suffice it to say, I didn’t fit in well. Those fellas were pretty rough By the year’s end, I was kicking and screaming to get out of Athens, and I’d say living with those two was about half the reason why.

At least I had the Mothers.

I’d put on my headphones and blast Freak Out, Only In It For The Money, and Burnt Weeny Sandwich. I especially relished when the play order got around to “Hungry Freaks, Daddy.” These albums gave me somewhere to go. They let me point at these bullying shit-heads I lived with and laugh at their supermarket dream. It allowed me to feel fine with the freak that I was.

My freshman year of college, Mothers albums and Frank Zappa albums were my squeezebox.

Burnt Weeny Sandwich was especially pivotal because I fell in love with it on a bus.

It was a special charter deal that went from Athens to home in Northeast Ohio, I think. I’m sure I’d heard the album before, it’d been in my Dear Ol’ Dad’s collection for decades. Yep, I am a proud second-generation freak. I remember staring at those album covers for hours as a child, at all the weird pictures of the weird hairy dudes in dresses. I remember that “Who Are the Brain Police” kind of terrified me. So sure, I’d heard BWS before. I’d just never listened. But I listened, plugged in to my little Walkperson all the way up. I listened for 180 miles.

On that trip, that’s an album that became a part of me. It seared into my brain. It gave me new places to go. My idiot roommates couldn’t stop listening to the Up In Smoke soundtrack. Ha ha ha, get it? That god-damn Finklestein shit kid? HA HA HA.

Heck with them. I had Zappa.

The composer stopped refusing to die at age 52* in 1993, on this date on a Saturday. Since my days in that cramped dorm room with those shit-heads who are now probably CEOs, since my time on that bus, I’ve gotten to appreciate much more of the Zappa collection. I doubt severely that I will ever get to hear every single note he ever recorded. I doubt that anyone does.

But I’m gonna try.

Merry Zappadan, everybody. We’ve got 17 days. What’s the secret word for tonight?

*Which seems less old to me every year.

I personally count as the first Zappadan miracle that Dweezil Zappa is working on a new album.

I have long suspected that a post-Zappa Plays Zappa release from Dweezil would be exceptionally strong. The kid has spent years marinating in his old man’s music. I can’t wait to hear what he creates.