On June 27th, Frank Zappa‘s avant-garde double album Freak Out! turns 50. His son, Dweezil, is celebrating the rich debut album by Zappa and the Mothers of Invention by touring pivotal tracks from the album this summer – and he isn’t risking any courtroom battles with his highly litigious family.
Dweezil, who has played for years under the moniker Zappa Plays Zappa announced he will be billed simply as: Dweezil Zappa. Driving the point home, the tour’s full name is 50 Years of Frank: Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F@%k He Wants – The Cease and Desist Tour. The moniker is a dig at Dweezil’s brother, Ahmet, who proposed that the Zappa Family Trust take all of the Zappa merchandise money sold on tour.
“All my efforts to do this, to protect my ability to do this, are so that I can continue play and so that the music isn’t overshadowed by any drama,” Zappa told Rolling Stone.
The Zappa Family Trust did not respond to a request for comment.
The Cease and Desist Tour will feature obscurer selections from Freak Out! including some haven’t been performed live, like the wall-of-sound “It Can’t Happen Here,” featuring Zappa doing multiple overdubbed vocals. “He never played the song live like he recorded it,” said Dweezil. “But we’re learning to sing it in the weird out of tune way that it is, with all these funny utterances throughout. … It’s a completely crazy thing to have happened at all.”
Dweezil said that the thing that struck him most about his father’s prolific composition style was his ability to recapitulate themes and characters over swathes of time. “All of his music is one composition that stretches from the Sixties to the Nineties,” Dweezil said.
On Freak Out! specifically, Dweezil looks at songs like “Who Are the Brain Police?” and “The Return of the Son of the Monster Magnet” as incredibly foretelling. “Pure insane distortion, noise, aggro feedback – there was no sound more dangerous than Zappa’s at the time,” said Dweezil. “In 1966, taking home the Mothers of Invention was like bringing a feral tiger home from the circus and asking to keep it.”
For younger listeners looking for an entry point into Zappa’s vast catalog, Dweezil recommends experimental rocker St. Vincent, whose rhythmic style and penchant for syncopation remind him of his late father. “The first thing I saw her do was a version of ‘I Dig a Pony’ on YouTube – she had two different microphones to create a special vocal effect and guitar style was really quirky in its phrasing,” said Dweezil. “She played similar fuzz-tone guitar like on Freak Out! and on [Zappa’s] earlier recordings.”
Dweezil said he continues to tour because it sustains his spiritual relationship with his father. He also believes it’s important to play the music live for fans and for newer listeners. He understands the impulse of the Zappa Family Trust to protect the integrity of his father’s music.
“But there is a difference between protecting the music and preventing people from hearing it.”