Frank Zappa is one of those artists who could make music out of almost anything. If you ever needed proof of that innate ability then his 1963 appearance on the Steve Allen show is all the proof you need.
Not only does the 22-year-old Zappa take to the television studio to provide a little bit of Zappa charm but he also manages to crank a tune out of regular bicycle and prove his creativity with every note.
Before his death in 1993, Zappa had carved himself out a very reliable niche. He was the perennial agitator. Never content with the basics of humanity, Zappa always pursued the purest form of artistic endeavour and it saw him become a bastion of free-spirited artistry in the face of a corporate world.
While Zappa’s career was firmly ingrained with that ethos by the time of his death, in 1963, with Zappa not yet in the limelight of the music business, he was showing all of America that being a musician is something that comes not from instruments but from the heart.
Now that’s not to say Zappa didn’t have a few tools at his disposal. The mercurial artist is given some drumsticks, a bass bow, and the ultimate in instrumentation two standard, run of the mill bicycles. The noise he makes from these tools is truly mesmerising.
The young Zappa gives a demo of the instruments, showing Allen the kinds of sounds that can be plucked from something so ordinary. Next up, Zappa is given the ample backing he deserves as he plays ‘Concerto for Two Bicycles’ with the house orchestra, culminating in a bit of good old fashioned fun.
The real joy in this clip, for us, is the idea of the audience watching this unfold at home. This shaggy-haired rock and roll musician coming on to prime time TV to deliver a lesson in extracting music from kids toys, must have been a point of conversation at the water fountain for many days after.
It may all seem rather trivial, perhaps even a bit silly. But, in fact, Zappa is enacting his creative vision in his first shot on TV. The singer is not only showing that everyone can be a musician if they put their heart into it but he’s also displaying the unwavering personality that would push him so far in the annals of musical history.
Watch a young Frank Zappa play the bicycle on the Steve Allen Show, 1963.