Hi Zjakki. How long have you been a Frank Zappa fan? How did you discover him?
A friend from Quebec had told me Zappa would be performing at the Centre for Fine Arts. As a very young student – I was 17 – I went to that concert and it blew my mind. I had no Zappa records back then; I actually only had two albums, one by Jimi Hendrix and one by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. In those years, it was hard to find that underground music here and, of course, the internet didn’t yet exist. Music news was shared by word of mouth. For instance, I had heard a few things about Zappa, but I had never heard his music. After that concert in 1970, I then hitchhiked to Amsterdam to look for his records, which were on sale there by then. Zappa’s been a part of my life ever since.
"There was outrage that those 'long-haired hippies' were playing in the posh Centre for Fine Arts."
Was the concert at the Centre for Fine Arts the first introduction to Zappa for Belgian audiences too?
Zappa’s debut album Freak Out had been out for four years at the time, but it was his very first concert in Belgium. He had been an MC at the 1969 Amougies Festival in Hainaut, where he jammed along to one song with Pink Floyd.
What is your memory of Zappa’s concert at the Centre for Fine Arts in 1970?
Back then, there was a lot of experimentation with music in an often groundbreaking way. Just think of Jimi Hendrix, the early days of Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground, Soft Machine, etc. Zappa’s 1970 concert was all that and, at the same time, much more. The Mothers of Invention played rhythm and blues with Igor Stravinsky-like classical and doo-wop with percussion that could have belonged to Edgar Varèse. It wasn’t just a concert; it was a performance. All sorts of things were happening, sometimes crazy things that reminded me of Monty Python. After that, I started listening to Zappa with increasing frequency, and it’s only in retrospect that I fully realised what I heard and saw at the Centre for Fine Arts that 16 December 1970. It was my first, but obviously not my last, Zappa concert. I saw him a total of about 20 times and also interviewed him several times. I have travelled to Paris, Milan, London, Frankfurt, and more to go to Zappa concerts.
What did the concert mean for the Centre for Fine Arts and the public?
It was very special, including for the Centre for Fine Arts. The Palais back then wasn’t what Bozar is today, a place where all kinds of music can be enjoyed. Back then, it was almost exclusively for classical music. I don’t know who came up with the idea of inviting Zappa, but that was actually unheard of at the time. There was outrage that those “long-haired hippies” were playing in the posh Centre for Fine Arts. The audience was also pretty atypical. There was a big hippie vibe; people were often massively surprised during the concert. It was so hard to get records back then that most attendees weren’t really familiar with Zappa’s music. Back then, as a music lover, you went to a concert without having heard the music because there were so few concerts. That’s how you discovered new music.
"The Mothers of Invention played rhythm and blues with Igor Stravinsky-like classical and doo-wop with percussion that could have belonged to Edgar Varèse. It wasn’t just a concert; it was a performance. All sorts of things were happening, sometimes crazy things that reminded me of Monty Python."
What makes Frank Zappa such a special artist?
Zappa broke many boundaries and was many things at once: a genius composer, an excellent guitarist, a sharp lyricist, a conceptual artist, performance artist, filmmaker… Musically, he experimented with very diverse genres: classical, avant-garde, experimental jazz, rock, doo-wop, rhythm and blues… He disregarded pigeonholing and broke boundaries in a genius way. Moreover, everything in his work is interconnected, a phenomenon he himself calls ‘conceptual continuity’. You can’t easily understand Zappa because his music is very layered and everything is connected and refers to each other: concerts, record covers, albums, films, interviews – there’s that common thread in everything. What many don’t know is that he started out as a classical composer. Then he started making rock music because he couldn’t get his classical work to sell, but he’s always woven those genres together. You’ll also experience that during Zappa. Yes. Yes. Yes. at Bozar.
Keep scrolling to discover the entire programme for Zappa. Yes. Yes. Yes. on 2 and 3 December at Bozar.