Yoko Ono calls Frank Zappa “one of the geniuses of our time”

Frank Zappa

It’s no surprise that Frank Zappa and Yoko Ono’s paths crossed as two leading lights on the stranger side of alternative and art rock.  They were adored or despised. Or the figures pioneered a more experimental sound, encouraging more mainstream acts to embrace something a little different.

While they respected one another, Ono and Zappa’s relationship was always going to be strained. Yoko Ono was becoming the Beatles’ first lady, using her artistic background to introduce John Lennon to more left-field sounds. But Frank Zappa was the unlikely Laurel Canyon king.

Zappa’s log cabin was a pivotal meeting place for the Los Angeles music scene. The musician not only led Mothers Of Invention in the hills of Laurel Canyon. But he also housed and helped numerous other musicians. He assembled the GTOs and turned Pamela Des Barres and her groupie posse into a band. Zappa’s social circle was a who ‘s-who of counterculture. It included Alice Cooper, Jeff Beck, Captain Beefheart, and others.

Frank Zappa, on the other hand, despised drugs. It’s commonly assumed that an artist this wild and crazy must have been heavily indulging in the hallucinogenic heyday of the 1960s and 1970s, but not Zappa. On the other hand, in the late 1960s, Lennon and Ono were heavy drug users. It resulted in a strained relationship between Zappa and the couple.

They all performed together in an experimental concert in 1971. When Ono refused to stop screaming into the microphone, two members of Zappa’s band put a bag over her head. She kept singing. And somewhere amid the chaos, Zappa’s irritation turned to admiration. He must have remembered the performance fondly because a live recording of it appeared on his 1992 album. The album Playground Psychotics has the track ‘A Small Eternity With Yoko Ono’.

Frank Zappa would go on to praise Ono, thanking her in the liner notes to his 1993 album The Yellow Shark. Her contribution is unknown. But the baghead incident fostered a relationship of mutual respect, inspiration, and a seemingly unique understanding of what the other was attempting to do after that. They could have been a vitally affirming friend for one another. But both push the limits of not only rock but music in general.

That appears to be the case for Ono. She stated about Zappa, “We come from more or less the same background. The classical avant-garde, though in our work we expressed ourselves quite differently.”

“As a composer, I felt a close comradeship to him amongst more rock-oriented singer/songwriters”. Ono continued, expressing her clear and strong respect for the artist. As an artist who never really gets his due for his role in rock and his work pushing the genre into stranger and more daring places, Ono is demanding more credit for Zappa.

Ono seemed to know everyone. The Plastic Ono Band not only collaborated closely with Lennon, McCartney, and the rest of the Beatles. But they also collaborated with Eric Clapton, Keith Moon, and others. She has been recognized as an icon by Anonhi, Kathleen Hanna, and Sonic Youth, to name a few. However, for Ono, Zappa has always stood out as a leader.  “He is one of the geniuses of our time and will always have a place there,” she said. She added, “He will go on and on and on!”

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