Frank Zappa’s imprint on music will live long in the annals of history. The singer and guitarist was such an undulating talent that he became synonymous with the pursuit of creative integrity. It was a baton he carried until the day he died in 1993 from prostate cancer.
Zappa would go out of the musical world the way he came in; by improvising. The musician would finish his tour in Czechoslovakia and Hungary in 1991 and wouldn’t take to the stage again before he passed away. Here, we revisit the clips that remain the last moments of a cultural phenomenon — Frank Zappa on stage with a guitar in his hand.
Zappa had enjoyed a wild life on and off stage before he visited Prague and Budapest in 1991. The musician had been at the forefront of music’s cutting edge during the sixties and never stayed too far away from the mercurial madness that drove so many artists into the history books.
An advocate for abnormal, Zappa always championed the odd, the eccentric or the downright bizarre. From announcing himself on mainstream television by turning a bike into a musical instrument to his unique views on the music industry, Zappa has always put art before everything else. It seems fitting, then, that his final moments on stage would be another shining example of that art being put under the spotlight.
Zappa was never one to champion a strict setlist and across all his performances, either with his band The Mothers or working with big-name artists like John Lennon and Pink Floyd, the guitarist liked his work to just come out of him, rather than to be coaxed. It’s an ethos that wouldn’t amount to a lot of commercial successes but it would put him down as one of the most influential artists around.
It’s easy to see this influence on the faces of those attending these shows. Only a few years on from the fall of the Soviet Union, somehow Zappa had made its way across the iron curtain and into the homes and hearts of many a fan. In the clip below, you can see this joy in the crowd and on Zappa’s face too.
He takes great pleasure in using his translator for inane remarks, smirking wryly as he makes them. He’s funny…but in his usual twisted way. However, he also finds time to offer the crowd, and the country, a heartening call to keep love in their hearts and their country “unique”.
Zappa, after tuning his instrument, then begins a swirling prog-rock guitar which somehow morphs into a slow jam reggae number, all while the band bop and meander seemingly of their own accord.
It is footage that typifies Frank Zappa in a nutshell. Zappa was a smiling giant of music, while his records may not have the radio-ready appeal of his counterparts, he makes up for it in humour, intelligence and a sense of adventure. Zappa was always on a journey, always travelling to find the next sound, always moving on to the next project, even on his final time on stage, he never let things settle.
Watch clips from Frank Zappa’s rallying final performances from 1991, below.