On the June 23 edition of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, Dweezil Zappa spoke candidly about the ongoing emotional brouhaha that is the Zappa Family Trust, as well as his mother’s apparent mental illness.
“You know, here’s the deal. There’s no reason for me to be talking about this stuff in public other than the fact that we’re getting nowhere in private with lawyers.”
Maron correctly assessed the situation when he prefaced today’s podcast with the following.
“Dweezil Zappa is the only Zappa offspring that is the legacy of his father’s music in the truest sense of the word. As a guitar virtuoso, and as somebody who has spent his life mastering and continuing to try to master and put out into the world the music of Frank Zappa — he’s the guy. He’s the one with the talent and he’s the one being pressed.”
And pressed he is. Dweezil noted a smorgasbord of injustices served up by the ZFT that predate the widow Zappa’s demise in October 2015 and continue to this day. One such morsel of malfeasance involves the use of the band name under which Dweezil Zappa has been touring, recording and performing for a decade.
Ten years ago, Dweezil began performing his father’s music under the band name Zappa Plays Zappa. He did so because, as he told Marc Maron, “I’m a huge fan of the music, and I wanted his music to be heard by new generations — also the core fans that have been excited about it and supported it all these years.” That was Dweezil’s primary motivation for learning, rehearsing, and hiring world class musicians to perform the ofttimes complex and hard to master music of Frank Zappa.
His mother, whom he refers to as Gail, trademarked the band name. What was her motivation for doing so? According to Dweezil, Gail Zappa trademarked the name Zappa Plays Zappa “under the pretense that anyone with the last name Zappa could –if they wanted to– go out on tour and be Zappa Plays Zappa.”
“Right,” Maron interjected. “As long as they paid her.” “We can get to that,” Dweezil replied.
How many people with the surname Zappa are competent enough musicians to provide legitimate concert performances under that moniker? If you guessed “only one,” you’re right. As Dweezil told Marc Maron, he is the only person in the family with the chops to pull it off.
“That aside, there was a contract that was created by my mother that required me to pay a thousand dollars a show every time I played the music of Frank Zappa and I was supposed to, at a certain point, get some of the money rebated back to me. I don’t know why the contract was written that way.”
Dweezil surmised that Gail may have worded the contract that way just in case ‘anybody else’ wanted to play as Zappa Plays Zappa. She would then be able to show that she charged her own son thousands of dollars every time he toured under that name. This in no way explains why Gail Zappa trademarked the name of her late husband’s late friend, Captain Beefheart, as reported by Spin magazine in 2013, but that’s another story altogether.
Dweezil told Marc Maron that Gail also orchestrated a merchandise agreement that granted her a whopping 60 percent of all merchandise sales at Zappa Plays Zappa concerts, whether or not tee shirts and other merch bore the likeness or name of her late husband. Gail never paid Dweezil his 40 percent or any other portion of ZPZ concert merchandise money. Ever. In ten years.
Today, Ahmet Zappa continues to uphold “the ZFT rules” as strictly and as nonsensically as his mother. During the WTF interview, Dweezil said he would forget about the merch money if guitars given to him by his dad and ‘repossessed’ by his mom were returned. Dweezil explained that his father gave him numerous guitars shortly before succumbing to prostate cancer in 1993. After Frank died, Gail told Dweezil that since the guitars were in her house, they belonged to her. Eventually, she relented somewhat and told Dweezil he could have three of the guitars, but none of the cases.
Does this odd behavior indicate Gail Zappa was mentally incapacitated? When Maron flat-out asked Dweezil if he saw Gail Zappa as mentally ill, Dweezil described the following mother-son exchange.
Zappa Plays Zappa was getting ready to tour, and Dweezil told Gail that dates and details needed to be added to the Zappa dot com website. Gail ignored him for weeks. Eventually, she did answer his request for website tour updates with the following shouted non sequitur.
“I’m not just some groupie your father f*cked, you know!”
Dweezil told Marc Maron that certain Italian Zappa fans liken Gail’s behavior over the years to the ancient Greek myth of Medea. To refresh your memory, Medea was a woman — and mother — scorned by her husband. To exact revenge upon her straying mate, Medea killed their children out of spite. Dweezil noted the parallel between the “Medea Complex” and his own strange family situation. Maron deduced that Gail was full of resentment and hate, and may have enacted ZFT rules that make it hard for one son to earn his living out of spite for Frank.
Dweezil mentioned that the word “solipsism” might well have been coined to describe Gail Zappa. He said his mother “lived in a world where everything seemed to be about her” and had no regard for the thoughts of others. According to Dweezil, Frank never answered the phone. Gail did, and she made it impossible for many friends and family members to contact Frank. In fact, Frank’s brother, Bobby Zappa, visited Los Angeles with the hope of seeing Frank, as he was nearing the end of his life. Gail sent him away. Dweezil noted that he recently resumed contact with his uncle after 35 years and found his autobiography, Growing Up Zappa, to be a cathartic and enlightening read.
As if all this were not awful enough, it turns out that Gail Zappa lied to her kids when she told them their father had not left a will. “Did you get along with your mother?” asked Maron. “Ahh well, you can see it was difficult.”
Recently, the Inquisitr reported that the Zappa Family Trust had banned Dweezil from using the name Zappa Plays Zappa. In response, Dweezil changed the name of his touring band to the cumbersome Dweezil Zappa Plays the Music of Frank Zappa. Now, Ahmet says Dweezil cannot use that name, either. Renamed Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F@%k He Wants, the band launches their Cease And Desist Tour in Taos, New Mexico, on July 1.
Comedian Marc Maron podcasts two days a week from his garage in the Los Angeles suburb of Highland Park. The podcast pioneer, who has been romantically linked with Moon Zappa, told listeners that Ahmet Zappa was invited to participate in today’s podcast, but declined through his publicist. To hear the Dweezil Zappa interview its entirety, add the WTF with Marc Maron app to your device or visit WTFpod.com.
[Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images]