LOS ANGELES (Dec. 6 1993) UPI - Frank Zappa, a composer, arranger, musical and political satirist and social critic who released his "'The Yellow Shark"' album just last month, died Saturday at his Laurel Canyon home after battling prostate cancer for several years. He was 52.
During his musical career, Zappa was typecast as an eccentric crank who wrote funny, controversial songs with dirty lyrics. His songs conjured up a fundamentalist's nightmare of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, but Zappa was anything but depraved.
Zappa did not take drugs or drink alcohol and had campaigned against drug-taking since the 1960s. He also didn't permit his band members to take drugs on the road.
In fact, Zappa, who never drove despite living in Los Angeles, was an astute businessman. In recent years he had turned to international business, forming a licensing, consulting and social engineering firm investing in U.S.-Soviet/Eastern Bloc joint ventures.
Zappa and his wife of more than 20 years, Gail, also ran their own record label, Barking Pumpkin, a mail-order company, a video company and a music publishing firm. The couple had four children.
A private funeral service was held Sunday.
Zappa began battling government, the record industry and music critics in the late 1960s, and in the 1980s took on anti-pornography campaigns and fundamentalist preachers as well.
In 1966 he released his first album, "Freak Out". The groundbreaking record by Zappa's group, the Mothers of Invention, was a synthesis of modern classical music, jazz, vocal group rhythm and blues, '60s rock and the kind of avant-garde theatricality that has since come to be called performance art.
"Freak Out" and the albums that followed it, "Absolutely Free" and "We're Only in it for the Money," contained sociopolitical caricatures of American lifestyles that amused many listeners bu created resentment among the targets of Zappa's scorn, from drunken parents more concerned about their swimming pools than their kids to "phony hippies" who inspired Zappa to proclaim that "flower power sucks."
Zappa became so identified with satiric material that the ambitious music that followed was frequently identified as another joke. But "Lumpy Gravy," "Cruising with Ruben and the Jets," "Uncle Meat," "Hot Rats," "Burnt Weeny Sandwich" and "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" proved Zappa had few musical peers.
The next incarnation of the Mothers of Invention, fronted by ex- Turtles Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, was featured in the bizarre underground film classic "200 Motels" and on several albums, "Chunga's Revenge," "Fillmore East, June 1971," "Just Another Band From L.A." and "Waka/Jawaka."
After releasing the dense instrumental arrangements for "The Grand Wazoo," Zappa unveiled yet another version of the Mothers that toured extensively in the mid-1970s and accounted for a series of his most popular albums: "Over-Nite Sensation," "Apostrophe," "One Size Fits All," "Zoot Allures" and "Zappa in New York."
Zappa's next record, "Shiek Yerbouti," was one of his most controversial albums. His satiric imagination scaled Swiftian heights with the disco parody "Dancing Fool" and "Jewish Princess," a lampoon that drew public outrage from Dinah Shore and B'nai B'rith.
Zappa closed out the 1970s with "Joe's Garage," a three-LP set with a bitter, tragic story line about a country where music is outlawed.
Zappa started out fresh in the 1980s, releasing some of his most challenging records and embarking on an ambitious plan to consolidate his overall musical output.
He coined the word "xenocrony," or strange synchronization, to describe his organizational principle of matching different parts of different concerts to create an entirely new musical statement.
Zappa used the "xenocrony" technique to remarkable effect on a series of 1981 instrumental albums, "Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar," "Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar Some More" and "The Return of the Son of Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar." Like most of his 1980s work, the records were released by his own Barking Pumpkin record label.
In addition to albums with his working group, Zappa finally got the chance to release his first classical recordings in the '80s, "London Symphony Orchestra" Volumes I and II and "Boulez Conducts Zappa, The Perfect Stranger."
In 1983 he sued his former record company, Warner Bros., to get ownership of the master tapes of his records so he could reap the profits when the works were reissued on compact discs. He also claimed Warner Bros. had miscalculated the royalties due him.
Zappa said he lost his zeal for touring after a self-financed 1988 outing with a 12-piece band cost him $400,000.
"That sort of dampens one's enthusiasm for going out there and doing it again, " he said.
Unlike many major rock acts, Zappa refused to accept corporate sponsorship because he did not want to promote products.
According to Billboard magazine, Zappa's three biggest singles were novelty songs - "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow," which reached No. 4 on the charts in 1974, "Dancin' Fool," which hit No. 8 in 1979, and "Valley Girl," No. 12 in 1982. "Valley Girl" featured his daughter, Moon Unit, using "Valleyspeak" terms like "gag me with a spoon" and "tubular."
Frank Vincent Zappa Jr., the oldest of four children in a Greek- Sicilian household, was born Dec. 21, 1940, in Baltimore, Md. When he was 9 the family moved to California.
Zappa began playing in school bands in the early 1950s. By the time he was in Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster, Calif., he was playing guitar in a band called the Blackouts.
Zappa got into his share of trouble at school, but it gave him an outlet to pursue his artistic impulses. For one art project he erased the emulsion from a 10-minute piece of film, then handpainted each frame individually.
At 16, the young nonconformist developed ulcers.
After graduating high school Zappa married his first wife, Kay, and struggled to support himself writing soundtrack music for films and composing avant-garde music that no one would perform. He took music theory courses at several colleges before quitting formal education in disgust.
For a time, Zappa worked as an art director at a greeting card firm while playing in cocktail lounge show bands at night.
In 1963 Zappa received royalties from a film score he wrote years earlier and used the money to buy a good electric guitar and open his own recording studio, Studio Z, in Cucamonga. He spent days experimenting with his own recordings while playing bars at night in a band called the Muthers.
Studio Z folded after Zappa made a 10-minute porno film for a used car salesman who turned out to be an undercover policeman. Zappa was arrested, served 10 days in jail and was on probation for three years.
The stage was set for Zappa to take on everything he felt was phony and corrupt about American society. He moved to Los Angeles and formed the Mothers of Invention, which became a kind of ad hoc house band for a growing society of post-beat, pre-hippie noncomformists who Zappa dubbed "United Mutations."
Zappa has sparred in public debate with Tipper Gore, wife of Vice President Albert Gore and co-chairman of the Parents Music Resource Center, a lobbying group intent on policing the lyric content of popular music by rating records.
It was after the record industry complied with the PMRC's request for ratings on rock records that Zappa started a one-man lobby to protect his free expression.
"Once all that stuff started happening anybody stating the case at all. I have the right to state my side of the case as an independent guy."
In his statement to a congressional committee on rock lyrics chaired by Gore, Zappa claimed that the ratings system was a violation of his constitutional rights and that its focus on only rock records was a protectionist strategy by Gore to favor the country music made in his home state of Tennessee.
Zappa's image changed subtly as he grew older. His lampoons had often been accurate enough to outlive the subjects they skewered, and his seemingly tireless ability to speak out eloquently in defense of artistic freedom added an almost statesmanlike quality to his speech.
Zappa was sought out as a public speaker after his Senate testimony, giving a keynote address attempting to retrieve contributions made by PTL members to Jim and Tammy Bakker.
"Since 1985 I'm probably more famous for having Slade Gorton tell me I didn't know anything about the First Amendment than for any song I ever wrote. It may even come as a surprise to people that I play the guitar."
Zappa saw the Soviet Union as an especially ripe market and made numerous business trips there in recent years. He took a commission for arranging for amber from the Soviet Union to be sent to a U.S. company for jewelry. He even ventured into journalism with "Frank Zappa's Wild Wild East," a series of interviews he conducted during a trip to Eastern Europe and aired on Financial News Network.
"I don't have anything against making a profit," he told the Los Angeles Times.
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