For me, the second most memorable musical event in my drawing career was Frank Zappa’s appearance in Vancouver, even though it took place a year before Chuck Berry’s.
Not so much in terms of the quality of the drawing itself, but for ‘being there!’
A truly wicked musician and, really, he was a much worse bad boy than Chuck Berry.
Earlier that day of the Vancouver concert, Zappa endured some harassment at the Canadian border upon his arrival and was cursing Canada all to hell. All night long on stage, he insisted he’d never, ever be back here again. Boy, was he angry.
And he hasn’t, because in the meantime, he died at the unexpectedly young age of 52. Possibly his jig was up for defying his guardian angels too long and too often. After some cajoling with his managers and bodyguards for permission to do this, I drew him at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, from behind the curtain of the right wing backstage. Once I was established in my spot, nobody was interested anymore and I was left in peace to do some super-fast sketching, trying to keep up with this gothic whirling dervish. At some point, he was clutching a rag-doll in lacey panties upside down, gesturing, as you can imagine, you know . . . And I got him!
After the gig, there were young women – girls, really – lined up at the ‘Green Door’ entrance in the corridor. What for? Wasn’t Zappa a ‘man of a certain age?’ Yes, and so is Mick Jagger, right?
All dollied up, I hazard to guess they had something else on their minds than discussing the considerable literary and compositional merits of Zappa’s complicated music. It made me wonder, trying hard not to assume things. How would I know what was going on, really? I didn’t go backstage and never met ‘the man’ this evening, but asked myself how another famous performer would get away with not getting convicted for sleeping with underage girls, unlike Chuck Berry. Some things about beloved celebrities should remain a mystery (you don’t want to have writers’ private lives influence your take on their writing too much either). Ultra-smart Zappa’s musical career is, of course, fantastic and endlessly interesting to this day, with a large cult of followers who recite his lyrics verbatim and continue to perform his songs and orchestral pieces in halls big and small all over the world.
Due to the nature of this demonic portrait, it hangs in a, shall we say, ‘less publicly exposed’ place in my house, but I don’t love it any less. Here are two more quick sketches from this session: