Yesterday, I finally got to see Zappa. The recent documentary, directed by Alex Winter (of Bill and Ted fame), chronicles the life and rise to notoriety of a truly brilliant (and bizarre) musician/composer.
I have been an ardent fan of Frank Zappa ever since I encountered a vinyl copy of Overnite Sensation when I was 12 or 13, and heard a track entitled Dynamo Hum. It was loud. It was strange. It was lurid. And I loved it.
I developed an unwavering obsession with his music. I snatched up every CD and vinyl I could find/afford. His music was pure sonic rebellion, and represented the total annihilation of convention. I was hooked.
Young me was onto something. Frank Zappa fought against mediocrity, bullshit and the tyranny and ignorance of the music industry. He was a hero, and music was his sword.
While watching the documentary(almost 20 years after discovering Zappa's music), I realized that I am still highly appreciative of Zappa's genius, but for slightly different reasons.
He had tremendous vision, but he also worked incessantly. He was courageous and unapologetically himself. While his aloofness and lack of warmth earned him some criticism, he was just too caught up in bringing his vision to life to give a damn.
He created impeccable music, not so that he could meet some outwardly imposed definition of success, but so that he could listen to and enjoy it. And share it with others, with anyone who might appreciate something a little different — a little peculiar.
If I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be this: Zappa's talent didn't just come from being an oddball. It came from industriousness and persistence. He was so passionate about music that he even taught himself music theory in high school.
Despite his unconventional approach to music and life, he dedicated himself to the mastery of one thing. He wasn't dabbling and switching disciplines, looking for the right one and never finding it. He picked music, worked on it for 35+ years, and produced a staggering amount of recordings in the process: 62 albums while he was alive, and 54 posthumously.
Some may disagree with my definition, but here it is anyway: a genius is just someone who picks one thing and runs with it, finds the right people, and never stops learning.