Listen to the lost song that Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa recorded together as teenagers in 1958
(Credit: Jean-Luc / Barry Stock)

Did Frank Zappa really eat Captain Beefheart’s faeces on stage?

There are a few legends in rock ‘n’ roll that are seemingly too crazy to be believed. One such legend that caught our attention was the folkloric tale of the time Frank Zappa ate Captain Beefheart’s excrement while on stage.

Frank Zappa is one of the most mercurial and changeable artist rock has ever seen. The serial agitator has made a career out of surprising his audience and perhaps a “gross-out contest” with his friend Captain Beefheart isn’t that far-flung a concept—but surely the final crescendo is beyond the pale for even Zappa.

The story goes that while Zappa and Beefheart shared a stage they became embroiled in the aforementioned sport of kings, a gross-out contest. Rumour has it that the contest allegedly saw Beefheart up the ante and take a dump on stage, likely pleased with himself with what he assumed would be a decisive blow. In the gross-out stakes, it’s hard to top actual poo. Enter Frank Zappa.

According to legend, upon seeing the pile of excrement, Zappa did what any sane frontman would and scooped it up, putting the poop in his mouth as he did. It’s the stuff of nightmares and not exactly the kind of thing you expect to see at a gig.

It’s certainly one of the more ludicrous rock stories we’ve heard over the years and that’s because it is entirely false. While it’s true Zappa was a peculiar performer, it was also true that his music had no real form or structure and never relied on conformity, and it was even true that he had named his children Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan and Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen—this was a step too far for even Zappa.

One can expect to see Iggy Pop mutilating himself on stage, Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off a bat or indeed GG Allin just existing, and feel that eating faeces isn’t that much of a jump. But despite all those fans who claimed to have seen it happen, the musician says the claim is false. Besides, at that time, Zappa was a far more conservative performer than many people would assume.

Zappa was also quick to put the story to be in The Real Frank Zappa Book when he clarified the story: “The other fantasy is that I once took a shit on stage. This has been propounded with many variations, including (but not limited to):

[1] I ate shit on stage.
[2] I had a ‘gross-out contest’ (what the fuck is a ‘gross-out contest’?) with Captain Beefheart and we both ate shit on stage.
[3] I had a ‘gross-out contest’ with Alice Cooper and he stepped on baby chickens and then I ate shit on stage, etc.”

In fact, Zappa even received plenty of congratulations for his insane performance: “I was in a London club called the Speak Easy in 1967 or ’68. A member of a group called the Flock, recording for Columbia at the time, came over to me and said: ‘You’re fantastic. When I heard about you eating that shit on stage, I thought, ‘That guy is way, way out there.'”

A dilemma must have arisen in Zappa’s mind at this time. Does one take the infamy and run with it or put them straight? Zappa went for the latter. “I said, ‘I never ate shit on stage,’ He looked really depressed—like I had just broken his heart,” remembered Zappa in the book.

He closed out the page with the most forthright statement on the matter: “For the records, folks: I never took a shit on stage, and the closest I ever came to eating shit anywhere was at a Holiday Inn buffet in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1973.”

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