A long time ago, in 1984, my friend Ned invited me to visit him in San Francisco. It seemed that the Exploratorium was presenting a series called Speaking of Music, and Frank Zappa was scheduled to appear in May. There was also going to be a concert by the Chamber Symphony of San Francisco a couple of nights before, featuring the American premiere of Zappa's Dupree's Paradise. Ned knew very well that I'd appreciate seeing those events - especially since I had subjected the poor guy to an extended dose of several Mdh (mega-decibel-hours) of Zappa during our time together as college roommates - and so he offered to get us tickets. Actually, I think he probably got us in to the Speaking of Music show for free, because Ned was in fact working at the Exploratorium then, making exhibits that I believe he hoped would warp the minds of children of all ages. (I think he achieved some level of success in that regard, by the way.)
So Ned got the tickets, and I travelled to San Francisco.
The concert was great (of course). They played Dupree's Paradise twice - the conductor apologized about not getting it quite right the first time through - and Frank even came out on stage to take a bow. But it was the Speaking of Music program that was the most memorable for me, because that turned out to be The Day I Met Frank Zappa.
Here's the story: As I said, Ned worked at the Exploratorium. So it was no problem for us to get into the auditorium about an hour before the doors opened, and take two seats in the front row. Now with some time to kill, I decided I'd have a look backstage. When I stuck my head behind the curtain, lo and behold, there was Frank, noodling around at a grand piano. There was nobody else in sight. Holy shit! I suddenly got so nervous that I couldn't think of one goddamned thing to say; of all the burning issues I had been dying to talk to Frank about for years, I couldn't remember a single one. But I walked over to him and introduced myself anyway. Frank was pretty congenial; I think we talked for about five or ten minutes about such things as astrophysics, Scientific American, guitar players, Alan Thicke, Italian bootleggers, and of course Frank's latest music projects. We also talked about what might transpire during the show that night, and I remember that he seemed to be eagerly looking forward to it (perhaps because it was going to be the first public hearing of a lot of the new music he had been working on?) Our conversation finally ended when some of the organizers appeared, to introduce Frank to the physicist Frank Oppenheimer, the founder of the Exploratorium. After some polite introductions and obligatory small talk, someone offered to arrange a private tour around the Exploratorium the following day for Zappa, but he was completely uninterested. (I got the distinct impression that Zappa had no idea whatsoever who Frank Oppenheimer was. Too bad - I think they probably would have liked each other.) Finally, everybody had to go get ready for the show, and so I left to take my seat.
The show that night was very interesting, I thought. The whole thing was videotaped - a few short clips can be seen in the Does Humor Belong In Music video - and there are also audience recordings floating around.
But hey: I GOT PICTURES!
I took 'em myself, from my vantage point in the front row (yes, I'm bragging), so chances are pretty good that you've not seen these before. If you wanna have a look, click here.
And just so you know: the program for that night included music by both Zappas - Frank and Francesco - a dance number featuring a life-sized puppet dancing to He's So Gay, a dramatic reading of Francesco: The Almost Fictional Life Of An Obscure Italian Composer, and plenty of questions from the audience. And at one point a woman asked if she could measure Frank's head for a sculpture she wanted to make: so Frank invited her up on the stage, and continued with the show while this person got out her giant calipers to get all of Franks important head dimensions.