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Frank Zappa, One Of America’s Great Musical Eccentrics, Died 20 Years Ago Today
December 4, 2013
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(Photo: Reuters)

"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."

Those lines come from "Packard Goose," the second last song from Frank Zappa's rock opera Joe's Garage. During his 30-plus year career, Zappa was never the most famous artist, let alone the most critically lauded or popular. But he was always one of the most interesting, delving into various unexplored corners of rock, jazz and classical music, and continually reinventing himself. Twenty years ago today, Zappa died after a battle with prostate cancer at the age of 52.

Take a listen to Zappa's biggest-ever hit, "Valley Girl," a collaboration with his then-14-year-old daughter, Moon Unit Zappa:

Not that "Valley Girl" is representative of Zappa's output — indeed, it's pretty difficult to imagine any song that could be.

Zappa first emerged on the rock scene in 1966 with Freak Out!, a double album by his band The Mothers of Invention (as it happens, it was one of the first rock double albums). From the start, he distinguished himself with his decidedly idiosyncratic sense of humour (sample song titles “Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk” and “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow”). And while he was best known for his challenging music and behaviour (he named his children Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva), Zappa was no '60s druggie. In fact, he claimed he only used marijuana 10 times, and that he never tried LSD, cocaine or heroin. And unlike so many in the music business, Zappa identified as a conservative who favoured limited government and lower taxes — although he wasn't above criticizing Ronald Reagan either.

Musically, his output ranged from his heavily blues-influenced rock records to a late-career turn toward contemporary classical music with his 63rd album, the posthumously released Civilization Phaze III.

For the next edition of The Strombo Show, George has Deltron 3030 in the broom closet, and Del the Funky Homosapien had this to say about Zappa's legacy:

Tune into CBC Radio 2 on December 8 at 8 p.m. to hear the full interview.

Amazingly, December 4 is also pretty significant for music fans for two other reasons.

On this day in 1956, four musicians recorded a long impromptu jam session at the Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tenessee. It was a group that would eventually be known as the MIllion Dollar Quartet. Those musicians? Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

And on this day in 1980, following the death of John Bohham, Led Zeppelin released a statement announcing the band was breaking up: "We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend, and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were."


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