The Zappa Family Trust’s recent revelation of plans to peddle a phantom Frank is causing no small amount of consternation amongst long time Zappa fans. Some say the whole idea of a fake Frank is creepy. Others surmise that a Zappa hologram might be a novel way to present the late composer’s music to a new generation of tech-minded millennials. If and when a phantasmagorical Frank Zappa steps onstage in 2018, it’s sure to drop some jaws, but it won’t be because Frank’s the first deceased performer to front a band. In fact, artificial entertainers have been alternately wowing and disappointing audiences for quite some time.
Tupac did it, sort of
In April 2015, Tupac Shakur strutted onstage, flexed his muscles, and shouted, “What the fu*k is up, Coachella!” Quite an amazing feat for a fellow who’d been dead for 15 years. Media outlets reported the resurrection as a hologram, but it was not exactly that. The thousands of spectators who saw Shakur prowl the stage while delivering surrealistic beyond-the-grave performances of “Hail Mary” and “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” actually witnessed an amalgam of CGI and a reflection trick employed by magicians more than a century ago, according to Gizmodo.
Tupac Shakur’s posthumous appearance in Coachella differs from the proposed Frank Zappa hologram in substantial ways. For one thing, the Tupac image was totally 2D. Adapting a trick devised by 19th century optics investigator John Pepper, AV Concepts recreated the late hip-hop legend by way of computer generated graphics reflected off a curved sheet of Mylar foil. The Zappa hologram envisioned by the ZFT is expected to be a full 3D holographic rendering as provided by Los Angeles-based tech outfit Eyellusion.
Dead Dio slated for posthumous tour
Finnish fans of the late Ronnie James Dio will have a chance to see the spectral countenance of the late Black Sabbath frontman when the “Dio Returns” tour kicks off in Helsinki on November 30. Scheduled to tour South America, Asia, and Australia, the dead rockstar’s tour will arrive in the U.S. next spring. Ronnie’s widow, Wendy Dio, called her advance peek at the Eyellusion holographic image of her dead husband “absolutely amazing” and “quite, quite scary,” according to the Kansas City Star.
Dubious duets in holographic history
A projected image of 80’s pop chanteuse Madonna appeared with anime band, Gorillaz, at the 48th annual Grammy Awards in 2006. Two years later, a black-and-white Frank Sinatra hologram shared Grammy show singing duties with Alicia Keys. One year after that, Celine Dion traded lyrics with a holographic Elvis Presley in what NPR deemed “an unholy union” on American Idol.
The ethics of pop puppetry
While describing a smattering of duets-with-the-dead, NPR pop culture analyst David Wagner posed the question many are asking today in regards to upcoming concert appearances by a long-deceased Frank Zappa. Is it in any way ethical to make digital marionettes of musicians who have no say in the matter? Wagner noted that despite the fact that holographic resuscitation of dead musicians can indeed be done, the world might be a better place without a fake Frank.
[Feature image by Evening Standard/Getty Images]