Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery.
Add a familial link — a son paying tribute to his father in an effort to keep alive the work of a genius — and you've got imitation as sincere as it gets.
That is the essence of Zappa Plays Zappa, Dweezil Zappa's tribute to the music of his late father, Frank Zappa. The Grammy-winning band will perform Monday night at the Tower Theatre in Bend (see “If you go”).
Of course, it'd be easy to doubt Dweezil's sincerity, because he has a famous last name, and human beings have been known to cash in on famous last names. But consider the effort he's put into learning the mind-bogglingly complex music his dad composed; Dweezil spent years essentially relearning how to play guitar and poring over his father's three decades and nearly 60 albums of work.
“It was scrutinizing every version and every note and learning it exactly the way it was intended to be played,” Dweezil told The Aspen (Colo.) Times last week. “I've got a lot of time in this.”
Consider also the goal of the band, which required just that level of effort. When he formed Zappa Plays Zappa a few years ago, Dweezil sought not to interpret his father's music, but to recreate it so that it carries on far beyond the generation that remembers Frank Zappa when he was a vital force on the American music scene. (Frank died in 1993.)
“I ... noticed that, in talking to anyone under 30, they didn't know my dad's music,” Dweezil told the Times. “And what they did know didn't reflect the totality of what he did. They knew ‘Valley Girl,' ‘Dancin' Fool' — things with a sense of humor. People thought of him like Weird Al Yankovic.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Whereas Yankovic generally sets funny lyrics to others' tunes, Zappa is one of the great American composers of the 20th century, a masterful dabbler in rock 'n' roll, jazz, electronic and classical music. He was a white-hot guitarist, a filmmaker and visual artist, and, perhaps most famously, a political activist who testified before the U.S. Senate against placing warning labels on music with explicit content.
He was admired in life and decorated in death, receiving a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.
All that said, Frank Zappa was never a commercial superstar. So you can see why his oldest son would want to ensure that legacy is not lost to history, but preserved. “I thought he was overlooked, misunderstood and underappreciated,” Dweezil told the Times. “I thought I should do something in my lifetime to change that. People should know what they're missing.”