with a Ghost
By Beppe Colli
Oct. 10, 2017
It was the third week of September, and while surfing the Net I
happened to read some news about "Frank Zappa to go on tour, as a
hologram" or something like that, which I completely refused to take
seriously. It sounded quite ridiculous, and - of course - totally impossible to
believe. If true, such a thing would be totally beyond the limit of what's
acceptable, something with such a horrible taste that I refused to accept it as
true. Also, I had to finish a review, had some business to attend, and so on
and so forth. Case closed.
A couple of days later I found the very
same news appearing on quite a few newspapers, full-page. So it had to be true.
But was it technically feasible? It appears so, there are already a few (more
limited) instances, also an upcoming tour titled Dio Returns, where the main
character is the hologram of the famous singer, who died of tumor in 2010.
And while my mailbox started filling with
messages asking have you heard and what do you think, I wondered who could have
thought of bringing such a horrible idea to life (so to speak).
The firm that's working on the Zappa hologram is called Eyellusion -
the same one, I read, that's dealing with the Dio Returns tour - and the whole
thing gets the approval and the full collaboration of the Zappa family, or,
better said, the Zappa Family Trust, which deals with such stuff.
The story was presented under the title
Frank Zappa - Back On The Road: The Hologram Tour.
"I'm thrilled that Frank Zappa will
finally be going back out on tour playing his most well-known music as well as
some rare and unheard material". So spoke Ahmet, a Zappa son. "We are
also planning on staging Joe's Garage The Musical with none other than Frank Zappa
himself starring as The Central Scrutinizer."
The weird thing is that Zappa died in 1993.
Are we to believe that having his hologram on tour is the same as having him in
the flesh? I wondered about what kind of musician would participate in this.
The whole thing can be placed in front of a familiar background that
makes it sound quite logical, money-wise. One can examine the thing on two
levels, one objective, the other quite subjective, the solid news at one's
disposal being quite limited and highly speculative, since there are lawsuits
involved, and lawyers, and many documents are not available for the general
audience to consult, and the main characters, when speaking in public, always
talk in a way that's intended to only benefit their side.
When it comes to the objective side, we all
know that nowadays the market for music sales is small, and decreasing in size,
something that artists try to balance by doing more concerts. It goes without
saying that this scheme is highly inflationary, as experience has already
shown. So there's a very strong incentive to stage bigger "events".
A long time ago Zappa sold quite a few
records, and his concerts were very well-attended. While today, I'd say his
market share to approximate zero.
So it's only logical that in order to make
more money he has to tour, even if he's dead. But I think there are more than
enough live videos, some of them official and quite recent, that show him at
his live best. Who are the people who are supposed to pay in order to attend a
concert where they can only see his hologram? I also wonder if his fans - who I
assume to be the great majority of this potential live audience - will consider
the "human side" of the equation with the same aplomb as those who
are promoting the tour.
Then we have what I consider to be the subjective, speculative side,
and here doing a Web search using the words "The Feuding Zappas" will
show readers more than they need to know.
A lot of things that happened after Zappa's
death are shrouded in mystery, and even the day-to-day commercial activity
appeared sometimes to be capricious, at times surprisingly counter-productive.
What I understand is that the death of
Zappa's widow accelerated an explosion that had its legal seeds planted in the
distant past, a conflict that increasingly appears almost impossible to solve.
The average fan can only read bits and
pieces that are quite difficult to understand: the old, famous house put on
sale; the dubious fate of those audio and video tapes; the crowd-funding in order
to finance a documentary; and so on. Then, all those lawsuits and quarrels.
In my subjective opinion, Dweezil - the son
who plays the guitar - attempted to earn some bread with the formula Zappa
Plays Zappa. While the other son, Ahmet, whose qualities I've never seen
clearly shown in the open, now appears to want to cut his legs using whatever
means available: so, sending the ghost of their father on tour could be the
ultimate effort in order to take away Dweezil's (quite small, I'd say)
Of course, having this machine in full operation necessitates the
work of highly skilled musicians whose name fans can immediately recognize. One
can read quite a few names on the Web, but - with just a few exceptions - it's
not clear to me if those names are of people who have already said yes or who
have been asked but have yet to decide. For instance, at first Adrian Belew
declared he was onboard, then that he was not, having noticed that audience
reaction proved the matter was "divisive".
Here comes a fine article which appeared in
the San Diego Union Tribune, where former Zappa sideman Mike Keneally offers
his side of the story:
"I was invited by Ahmet last week to
be a part of this." (...) "I'm so intrigued by the idea. I'm already
seeing a lot of hand-wringing online about it, but I'm interested in the
potential for something pretty dang mind-blowing".
Of course, upon reading about the hologram
everybody did speculate about Zappa's opinion about the whole matter. Keneally
appears to know:
"I think Zappa would be hugely
intrigued by the technological aspects," Keneally said. "And I
seriously doubt he'd be concerned with any perceived sacrilegious aspects - he
was never too concerned with keeping things sacred! Actually, I can easily imagine
him watching this show with a huge grin on his face."
Now it's the time for me to tell readers about something they will
have a hard time believing. I can only tell the tale, just as it happened.
I entered my room, and there on my couch
Frank Zappa was waiting for me. Something I don't see every day for sure.
"C'm 'ere", he told me swiftly, "and tell me about this stupid
story that's making the rounds over there. Jimi told me I'm supposed to appear
as a Dancin' Fool with a bunch of clowns, and he usually knows about this
stuff. Nicolas Slonimsky thought the news appalling." Then, after a brief
pause, he said "Are you sure you know how to spell it? It's
A servant of the truth, I gave him the
official press release. Zappa exploded: "Ma chimminchia dici me'
figghiu", or something like that (the Sicilian dialect of the Palermo
district not being exactly my forte).
"You have more stuff?". I gave
him the article off the San Diego Union Tribune. After reading, Zappa looked me
in the eye, and in a measured tone he said: "Keneally is a nice man, but
he has to get his priorities straight." Then, "Could I have a cuppa
I went to the kitchen, prepared the coffee
(a very aromatic type I hoped he would dig), went back to the room, and...
well, he was gone, leaving only a strong smell of cigarette smoke in the air.
I know it sounds difficult to believe, but
it's true. Should I e-mail Keneally?
It's entirely possible that this whole hologram thing proves to be
legal, and that - all technical difficulties being overcome, after many
rehearsals - the ship will sail.
But side-by-side with legal aspects about
brands and such, there is a moral dimension to consider.
I'll try to be clear.
Here at Clouds and Clocks we've always
operated by giving everybody a level playing field, the attention given to
music being completely independent from such factors as size and importance of
a given distributor, P.R., or record company. The same does not necessarily
happen elsewhere, and readers can easily see the amount of space devoted to
artists dramatically change according not to the quality or sales of their
work, but to more "mundane" factors. Our attitude here entails a
This very same moral stance entails that we
proudly present our middle finger - it's "rigid 'n stiff", to quote
the mustachioed Maestro - to the whole hologram enterprise.
So, starting from today, Clouds and Clocks
will not review any Zappa product approved by the ZFT brand anymore. The same
will be true of all releases by musicians who will decide to take part in the
© Beppe Colli 2017
CloudsandClocks.net | Oct. 10, 2017