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Zappa in Bronze

Lawrence Lanahan

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Saulius Paukstys with the Frank Zappa bust
(Arturas Baublys)
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The City of Baltimore has declared December 21st to be Frank Zappa Day. Zappa was born in Baltimore, but the city has only recently begun embracing his legacy. Last year, they held Frank Zappa Day in August, when Zappa's son Dweezil came to town for a concert. And next year the city plans on unveiling a new bronze bust of the musician. It was a gift from Lithuania. Lawrence Lanahan explains how Baltimore ended up with a big Frank Zappa head from Lithuania.

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Saulius Paukstys remembers the first time he heard Zappa. He was a teenager in Soviet Lithuania, and some relatives smuggled some Zappa records in from America. "It was very, very strange," Paukstys said. "I don't listen to music like this before."

After independence in 1992, Saulius and his friends helped get a bronze bust of Frank Zappa erected in a park in the capital of Vilnius. It's not the freaked-out, bushy-haired Zappa -- the bronze bust has a comforting look on his face and a long ponytail in back. And it's hard to see because it's eleven feet up on a stainless steel pole. Two years ago, Saulius decided America needed its own statue, so he went to the U.S. embassy, where he met a State Department employee. It was Carlos Aranaga, who just happened to be a Zappa fan himself.

"They didn't know where they wanted to put it, so I suggested to them that they consider Baltimore," Aranaga said. "Which coincidentally was my hometown. I knew of the Zappa connection to Baltimore. They hadn't been aware of that, but they thought that was a compelling reason."

It was compelling enough that Saulius brought in Arturas Baublys, a P.R. man and big Zappa fan, to help raise the $50,000 needed for the replica. Baublys says the Zappa statue has done great things for his city. "Considering that the Frank Zappa statue in Vilnius is the most visited place after the KGB museum by tourists," Baublys said, "we also wish that Baltimore having a Frank Zappa statue will deserve also more attractions for the city, and the city will remember him."

Paukstys and Baublys had wide support: corporate donations, a concert of Zappa music by a string quartet - some artists even sold their work and donated the proceeds. The original sculptor started work on the replica before Baltimore even had a chance to accept the gift.

Zappa was born in Baltimore and lived there until he was four. When he was 17, he spent a summer with family and met with the conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Fortunately for Saulius, the city has begun embracing Zappa's local roots. The City of Baltimore declared December 21, 2008 to be Frank Zappa Day. Last year, Frank Zappa Day was celebrated in August, when Zappa's son Dweezil came to town for a concert.

In the mid-eighties, Frank Zappa returned to Maryland to testify in front of the General Assembly against a bill that would have subjected rock lyrics to pornography laws. He also gave some wonky testimony at a U.S. Senate panel about the First Amendment.

It was on talk shows like CNN's "Crossfire" that Zappa really let loose. Conservative Washington Times columnist John Lofton asked Zappa, "Do you really think the founding fathers really gave us the First Amendment to defend songs that glorify Satanism and incest and suicide?"

Lofton was nearly apoplectic, but Zappa was phlegmatic, firmly replying, "Absolutely."

"You really believe that?" said Lofton.

"I believe it," said Zappa.

"You're an idiot, then," said Lofton.

"Tell you what," said Zappa. "Kiss my ass."

This attitude was part of the reason Zappa became a hero abroad, back when Lithuanians like Arturas Baublys were just beginning to enjoy subversive music out in the open. When the statue is finally unveiled in Baltimore, city officials hope to have live music and Zappa family members in attendance. But before the city decides on a site for the statue, they have to get the thumbs-up from the surrounding neighborhood, and officials say it will probably be at least six months before the statue goes up. Until then, Frank Zappa's bronze head will continue to stare at a wall in Lithuania at the U.S. Embassy.

Comments

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  • By MARK GARLAND

    From Hagerstown, MD, 08/09/2011

    Great job on the Zappa story, glad you keep an archive.
    fyi: Here are pix from the Zappa Day event in Baldimore.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/9716802@N02/sets/72157624992275890/with/5401431140/

    By Eugenie Nable

    From Baltimore, MD, 01/09/2009

    Any updates on the upcoming Zappa statue event? Where, what, when, who, and how? We've got friends who want to come from North Carolina, Colorado, Tennessee, New York, California, and Florida to participate in this joyful homage to a North American phenomenon, perhaps our greatest contemporary composer. Is there a Zappa Baltimore listserv to keep folks posted?

    By E Leikus

    From Baltimore, MD, 12/26/2008

    As a Lithuanian Zappa fan, living in Baltimore, I can't wait for this statue!
    God Bless Saulius Paukstys!!!

    By Deepinder Cheema

    From Birmingham England, 12/21/2008

    Saulis is a very adventurous, and a rather naughty spirited fellow. I met him in 1995 during the original build up to the unveiling in Vilnius. I hope Baltimore finds pride of place for Professors Bogdanos's magnificent creation.

    I was hoping when the news first emerged that it would have been erected today. Baltimorians could not have found a better civic team than what is already present.

    By Dave Pearson

    From Menominee, MI, 12/21/2008

    I miss you Frank!
    Thank you for everything!

    By Paul B

    From Amsterdam, 12/21/2008

    We will never forget you Frank Zappa!

    By J. Cantrell

    From Portland, ON, 12/20/2008

    Frank would've been 68, tomorrow...the BIG NOTE continues to vibrate.
    Arf!Arf!

    By Jim Longwill

    From Portland, OR, 12/20/2008

    Many thanks for the story just now regarding Zappa. It was amusing to hear reference to that bust of Zappa in Vilnius -- at a rather obscure place I happened by when we were visiting Vilnius last July. Certainly of all the things we saw on that month-long vacation, I never thought I'd hear about that particular item! I'll forward a couple pics if possible.

    By B R

    From Baltimore, MD, 12/20/2008

    Mayor Dixon, feel free to put the bust in front of my house!

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