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Dweezil Zappa won't let family drama keep him from playing his father's music
A decade ago Dweezil Zappa began paying homage to his late father Frank Zappa's music with a touring show called Zappa Plays Zappa.
But now, due to circumstances that make Frank Zappa's notorious taste for the absurd seem tame, (Dweezil) Zappa can't play (Frank) Zappa under that moniker any more.
Ongoing conflicts with the Zappa Family Trust, currently controlled by younger siblings Ahmet and Diva after their mother Gail's death last October, have forced Dweezil Zappa has had to abandon the established tour name. But he couldn't resist displaying his father's trademark humor, either, in renaming his summer road trip; after initially going with Dweezil Zappa Plays Frank Zappa, he's elected instead to christen the outing Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F@%k He Wants: The Cease and Desist Tour.
But how does he really feel?
"There's a lot of stuff that has been going on for a long time that people just didn't know about," Zappa, 46, says by phone from his home near Los Angeles. He began revealing the conflicts with the Zappa Family Trust during the spring, much to the surprise of fans and the music industry at large.
"For people to think it's just a squabble over a name is not all of it. There's a lot of things going on in terms of how the Zappa Family Trust is handling the estate, the upcoming auction, all kinds of things that are suspect, to say the least."
The battle is complex but also easy enough to understand. Even when his mother was alive, Zappa was required to pay the ZFT $1,000 per Zappa Plays Zappa show to perform his own father's music. He also had to turn over all proceeds from merchandise sales to the ZFT, although some of that money would be rebated to him. At a certain point that stopped, however, which put Zappa and the ZFT at odds.
"The money was being paid but wasn't being rebated to me," Zappa explains. "There began to be problems with all that stuff." That includes some of his father's guitars; after he passed away in 1993 Frank Zappa's arsenal was gifted to Dweezil, but after he began storing them in his father's home studio his mother repossessed them as property of the trust. She gave three back to him -- although not, Zappa notes, the ones he would have chosen -- while the rest are being put up for auction in the near future.
"Instead of trying to make that right and say, 'Yeah, we realize that was not something that should've happened, (the Trust) is like, 'Well, you can buy 'em back when they go on auction,'" Zappa says.
Despite all this he -- along with is sister Moon, who also has no controlling interest in the ZFT -- is hoping to resolve the issues without going to court. But even though he played music with Ahmet in the band Z, Zappa isnt necessarily looking to rekindle any familial harmony.
"There's no accounting for family when it comes to bad behavior," he says. "I'm not mourning the loss or grieving not having this connection to family because I don't want to be connected to people who are going to do things that are disrespectful and not recognize an injustice. I live my life in an 'in the moment' kind of way; If something is going on I will address what's happening, and if I have to move sideways to adapt, that's what I'm going to do
"I'm not going to spend a lot of time on the idea that, 'Oh, this is family. I've really got to fix this,' 'cause the thing to realize here is if someone is going to treat you in a way that's not respectful, why bother?"
The music, however, goes on -- especially since this year marks the 50th anniversary of "Freak Out!," Frank Zappa's first recording with the Mothers Of Invention.
"It just strengthens my resolve to play the music," Zappa says. "I've been doing this for 10 years already. Even if the way Gail treated it and the way Ahmet and Diva are treating it is never, like, 'Hey, thanks for keeping the name out there,' for me it's always been important to play the music.
"And with all of this stuff happening, I did sort of take the absurdity of it all and incorporate it into this tour, with the name. So if I go on and play Frank Zappa music, I'm just technically describing what is on offer at the concert, which is how the name is derived. I CAN play whatever the f@%k I want."
Zappa and company will be playing some of the "Freak Out!" -- including some songs his father never played live -- as well as some more early Mothers Of Invention songs amidst selections from the rest of Frank Zappa's catalog. "That it happened 50 years ago and you play it now and it still sounds like it's ahead of its time, that is what a lot of Frank's music is about," he says. "There's a bit of a theme running through the show, but I also want the broad variety of Frank's music to be there, too.
"He was so diverse and so unique and so ambitious in what he did. I just want to do justice to his genius, you know?"
Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F@%k He Wants: The Cease and Desist Tour
Tuesday, July 5. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St.
Tickets are $35-$75.
Call 248-399-2980 or visit royaloakmusictheatre.com.
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