SOUND CZECH: Zappa & the Czech Revolution
In our Kickstarter pitch video, I listed a few of my favorite unexpected facts you should know about Frank... and one of the most unexpected is #9: that FZ was the face of an actual political revolution... in Czechoslovakia!
So, what on Earth does that mean? I'm so glad you asked.
How Zappa Became A Political Symbol in the Czech Revolution... Without Realizing It
Starting in 1948, Czechoslovakia entered a period of Communist rule... a period that didn't end until after the "Velvet Revolution" of 1989. when – in 1990 – Czechoslovokia held their first democratic elections in over forty years!
We'll get to the election in a second, but first let's jump back to 1967 – just before the "Prague Spring" reform movement in 1968 – when Zappa's album Absolutely Free was smuggled into the country. As Czech dissidents listened to it, Frank became a symbol of individual thought and freedom.
(Legend has it that when the youth in Czechoslovakia played rock music, the police would order them to "turn off that Frank Zappa music!”)
But this is where the story gets really strange.
In 1968, a radical Czech rock band formed under the name Plastic People of the Universe – a reference, obviously, to "Plastic People", from Absolutely Free. You can read more about them in Rolling Stone, but the important part is that their music, which authorities viewed as "full of obscenities" got them arrested. Their imprisonment, in turn, inspired a political dissident named Vaclav Havel to write a manifesto called Charter 77, which was one factor in getting him sent to prison from 1979-1983.
Fortunately, Havel's views put him on the right side of history, and on December 29, 1989, the Czech Federal Assembly unanimously voted to appoint him as President.
So, maybe it makes sense that in January 1990, the newly appointed President Havel invited Frank to come to Prague as his personal guest. When he arrived, FZ was shocked to receive a hero’s welcome, and to discover that he was considered a vital symbol of the country’s revolution. In fact, during that momentous visit to Prague, Havel appointed Frank Zappa as Czechoslovakia's "Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism.”
Of course, Frank being Frank, things got even stranger from there. That's because, in 1990, the U.S. Secretary of State happened to be a man named James Baker. And if that name sounds familiar, it's because FZ had already crossed paths with Susan Baker – James' wife – when she sat on the PMRC committee that Zappa so eloquently fought against just five years earlier. So, maybe it was out of pure revenge and spite that Secretary Baker famously declared to Havel: “You can do business with the United States or you can do business with Frank Zappa!"
Thus ended Zappa’s brief career as a diplomat.
Undaunted – naturally – Zappa would continue to advise Havel, sharing ideas about increasing tourism to Czechoslovakia, and introducing the concept of credit cards, which were unknown in Eastern Europe at the time. Visionary as usual.
I find this story pretty remarkable. The doc about Zappa that premiered at Sundance this year, Eat That Question, has some incredible footage of his visit. And we've already heard from Vaultmeister Joe Travers that there's an unfinished, never-before-seen documentary that Frank made while in Prague.
Definitely hoping that's among the things we can preserve and archive... and since we now have less than a week left, that makes this a great time to remind you:
The more we raise, the more we can save!
Final Countdown: Day 7's clip is on the way!
We don't take weekends off around here, so stay tuned later today for the FINAL COUNTDOWN clip of the day: a particularly feisty clip of Frank being interviewed about Reagan in the UMRK.
It's raw interview footage, so, much of it never aired, and it has never been circulated, which means we'll be the first to see it!
It'll be just for backers, so if you haven't done so yet, contribute to our Kickstarter at any pledge level to be among the first to hear and see this stuff — straight from the Vault to your inbox! — including yesterday's epic #FrankFriday installment: Frank chatting and jamming with Eric Clapton.
And of course, there's even more to look forward to tomorrow! Here's a teaser to share with your friends...
And there's more where that came from!
Here's to an epic weekend!
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