In terms of legendary status, you don’t get much more revered than John Lennon. The frontman of The Beatles, he was the tip of the spear of the ‘British Invasion’, and alongside his songwriting partner, Paul McCartney, he wrote the handbook for what a musician should and could be.
Without his input, popular culture would be a completely different beast from the one it is today. Aside from his songwriting, his guitar playing, singing, studio techniques all enacted radical development. In short, you could write a rather lengthy thesis on how John Lennon impacted the world, as he did it in myriad ways.
Although his personality has often been rightly regarded by revisionists as problematic, particularly his treatment of women in his younger years, one thing that has always endured about Lennon has been his sense of humour. His acerbic wit coloured The Beatles songs, films and media appearances, and as he got older, this was a feature of his character that never wained, and if anything, it became sharper.
Whether it be his take on glam rock to David Bowie, or his infamous quip claiming that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”, Lennon left us with many hilarious anecdotes. One person, who also felt the burn of Lennon’s verbal rapier was The Mothers of Invention mastermind, Mr. ‘Cosmik Debris’, Frank Zappa.
On his 1984 Interview Picture Disc, Zappa recalled: “A journalist in New York City woke me up – knocked on the door and is standing there with a tape recorder and goes, ‘Frank, I’d like to introduce you to John Lennon,’ you know, waiting for me to gasp and fall on the floor. And I said, ‘Well, OK. Come on in.'”
He continued: “And we sat around and talked, and I think the first thing he said to me was, ‘You’re not as ugly as I thought you would be’. So anyway, I thought he had a pretty good sense of humour, so I invited him to come down and jam with us at the Fillmore East. We had already booked in a recording truck because we were making the Live at the Fillmore album at the time.”
I don’t think anybody is surprised that Frank Zappa was indifferent at the introduction of John Lennon. This was Frank Zappa, the man who managed to successfully guide listeners out of Montreux Casino as it burnt to the ground. Nothing phased him.
The thought of him and Lennon deep in conversation is a scintillating one, as is the one of them partaking in a jam. It’s a shame the journalist’s recordings never came to light, as that would have been some experience.
Listen to Frank Zappa’s ‘Cosmik Debris’ below.