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Zappa Bust Unveiled

September 21, 2010

An eclectic crowd of Frank Zappa fans—mustachioed in leather, in tie-dye with braided beards, in masks, in drag, and sporting colorful top hats—gathered Sunday, Sept. 19, to witness the unveiling of the Frank Zappa sculpture at Highlandtown’s Southeast Anchor Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. As public officials prepared to reveal the bust of the uncategorizable Zappa, hundreds of people milled about Conkling Street and Eastern Avenue under trees festooned with floss, a reference to a Zappa song about moving to Montana to raise a crop of dental floss. The fans compared T-shirts, drank microbrews, and traded catch phrases: “What’s the secret word?” or “Frank Zappa’s not dead; he just smells funny,” or simply “Titties and Beer!” Judging by how many hands were raised when Pratt Library Executive Director Carla Hayden asked how many people were from parts elsewhere, perhaps half the crowd had traveled a long way.

Earlier in the day, Frank’s widow Gail Zappa and three of their children—Dweezil, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan, and Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen—held court at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson down the street, answering audience questions. We were off sampling the “yellow snow,” a mixture of limoncello and wine, but it was reportedly revealed—among other family secrets—that Frank had an inordinate fondness for Christmas trees.

The joyful, surreal scene would never have been if it weren’t for a few tenacious Lithuanians. Saulius Paukštys, Saulius Pilinkus, and Arturas Baublys—Zappa fans all—commissioned the original Zappa sculpture that has graced the streets of Vilnius, Lithuania since 1995. (Zappa, who in 1985 famously testified against censorship on Capitol Hill, has become a symbol of free expression in the former Soviet bloc.) The trio later decided that the United States ought to have its own sculpture, and raised the money to produce a replica. Baltimore was chosen because Zappa was born here. At Sunday’s ceremony, Paukštys spoke briefly and enthusiastically while waving a Lithuanian flag before ceding the stage to the mayor of Vilnius himself.

But Gail Zappa got the loudest applause. “When they asked me where this statue should be placed in Baltimore, I said, ‘Let’s find a community library,’” she said. “As Frank said, ‘If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want to get an education, go to the library.’” The crowd roared.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake took the stage next to proclaim Sept. 19, 2010 Frank Zappa Day in Baltimore. The drum rolled, the sheet was whisked away, and a wise-looking, ponytailed Frank Zappa head was revealed. Amid the cheers, Zappa’s children came up to thank the crowd. Diva was in tears. “Thank you so much for just loving my dad,” she said.

And then Dweezil and Zappa Plays Zappa launched into their set. Under the bust of Frank Zappa’s benevolent gaze, people of all ages and sartorial persuasions ecstatically swayed along to virtuoso guitar and drums, with lyrics such as “Ram it up your poop shoot.”

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