The days between Franksgiving and Zappadan were challenged this season by the exhausting effects of a global viral pandemic with a chance of light snow.
The Christmas season having formally begun with the passing of Thanksgiving into Black Friday is still a few weeks away from the astrological onset of Winter. In the meantime, as solar and lunar calendars wind their ways toward the Solstice — the sun setting earlier each day and the Kislev moon waning with each passing night — we come to Bummernacht, the anniversary of Frank Zappa’s death and the traditional start of the Zappadan festival and then light the first Chanuka candle one week later. These traditions alternately mimic and evoke the deliberate rhythm of our galaxy that pulsates with the flight and return of darkness and light in our world. A few days after this year’s Chanuka menorah is fully lit, when the waxing light of the Tevet moon is joined by the longer daylight hours, comes the Solstice and Zappa’s birthday, concluding the eighteen days of Zappadan. Coincidentally, or not, the Hebrew alphanumeric 18 (חי) spells out the word “life.”
It is futile to pigeonhole Frank Zappa. He was a complex purveyor of libertine sexuality, conservative economics, liberal public policy priorities, disciplined musical performances and a consistent genre-shattering iconoclasm. Whether attracted or repelled, the cumulative legacy of Zappa’s art may be held as any number of things to any particular observer but his conceptual continuity remains arguably rooted in Enlightenment modernity.
Essential to the spirit of Zappadan is the vital importance of art, intellect and creativity. Frank Zappa was and remains a serious artist who composed and performed some sweet and moving pieces of music and a good number of joyfully offensive and hilarious songs. Zappa released 62 albums in his lifetime and the Zappa Family Trust released about another fifty since his death, so far.
Having established himself by the 1980s and 90s as an independent artist with his own record label, Zappa achieved a hit on the Billboard Top 40, conducted and recorded his work with the London Symphony Orchestra, advocated for artistic freedom in hearings before the US Senate Commerce Committee that included Tennessee Democratic Sen. Al Gore in response to…