The man stopped the silver BMW 3.0CS in the middle of the narrow street. He emerged dressed in khaki pants, boat shoes and a bright green polo shirt with thin, yellow, horizontal stripes. He absent-mindedly turned the car over to a blond parking attendant who was dressed in the fashion of an Australian outrigger club.

A woman with a very wide-brimmed straw hat got out of the passenger side. “Oh look, honey, there’s a line,” she said. With one hand she secured her hat; with the other, she pointed to the concrete Bauhaus exterior of 72 Market Street, a restaurant set in the middle of a decrepit Venice side street.

A maitre d’ was standing at the door, holding a clipboard. “You must have a reservation,” he said, addressing the group of people in front of him. “You must be on the list. If you are not on the list, then you can not get in.”

“Are we on the list?” the woman in the straw hat asked. The man in the green shirt did not answer. He jingled his pocket change and stared at a trio of girls in iridescent string bikinis, making their way like flamingos toward the beach.

Two young men with long hair, sunglasses and baggy shorts took their place in line. They looked as if they had just hitchhiked in from another state. One was wearing a T-shirt bearing the words Smart Patrol .

They watched a kid in commando gear skid up on a skateboard and train a plastic Uzi on the crowd.

“Hey, dude,” one of the longhairs said.

“I could mow you all down,” the kid announced, then skated off.

“Imagine that,” the woman with the straw hat said.

As the line advanced, the maitre d’ regarded the two in sunglasses skeptically. “You have reservations?” he asked.

“For sure,” one of them said.

“Got it covered,” said the other one.

All these people must register,” a woman with a severely short haircut said to no one in particular. “Press included .” She stepped aside to let pass a photographer carrying enough equipment to cover a war.

Inside, elaborate hors d’oeuvres were set on tables with crisp, white cloths, and bottles of wine were being poured at a well-appointed wooden bar. At a smaller bar, a waiter in a floral-print tie methodically shelled oysters.

“I think people should begin to take their seats,” the short-haired woman said as she swept through the bar into the dining area, which was separated from the front of the restaurant by a glass-brick wall.

Folding chairs had been assembled in the middle of the room, with tables at the side. There was a gleaming black baby grand piano sitting in the front; one wall was completely filled by a painting of exploding psychedelic pastels that seemed to represent springtime on another planet.

“Isn’t it divine?” the woman with the straw hat asked, embracing a friend. “I think it’s the most interesting thing happening on the Westside, don’t you?”

“My book . . . ,” a bald man at one of the tables was saying. “My book is like science fiction.”

“Science fiction?” the woman with him asked.

Like science fiction,” he said, swallowing an oyster.

As the short-haired woman took a microphone and began bringing people to order, Frank Zappa–dressed in a black T-shirt, sweat pants and black sneakers–came into the room.

“Welcome to the last of this year’s Market Street lecture series,” the woman at the microphone said. “We’ve had a wonderful year, and we thank you for your enthusiasm and support. Unfortunately, our host, Tony Bill, is unable to be here today. He’s busy directing a movie in New York.” She smiled brightly at the audience, who regarded her in a deadpan manner.

“But I’m sure he would want to have been here,” she said, clearing her throat. A spasm of feedback came off the microphone.

“Our very special guest today needs no introduction,” she continued. “He is a true musical pioneer . . . a gifted and respected composer . . . an outspoken social critic . . . and I’m sure that when future historians look back at the 20th Century. . . .” She glanced over at Zappa, who looked back with a placid expression. “I’m sure they will recognize Frank Zappa for what he is–one of the geniuses of American music. Please welcome . . . Frank Zappa.”

There was vigorous applause as Zappa took a seat at a folding table. “OK, two things,” he said. “First thing–anybody who’s offended by crude language or references to bodily functions should get out of the room right now.

“The second thing–for you people in front–is that there is no guarantee that sitting close to these speakers will not damage your hearing for the rest of your life.”

He swiveled in the chair to look at the enormous speakers on either side of the room. “This isn’t the best acoustical environment to listen to digitally recorded music, and in order for the people in back to hear it properly, the volume has to be high enough to cause possible radiation burns to the people in the front row. So what we’ll do is play this first number, then check the level to see if everybody survived.”

He cued his engineer and settled back to sip a cup of black coffee as a five-minute instrumental track was played. The audience adopted a listening pose, as waiters circulated through the room filling wineglasses.

“How was the volume?” Zappa asked when it was over. “OK?” People nodded their heads. The two guys in the sunglasses flashed thumbs up.

“Didn’t it sound a little muffled to you?” Zappa asked. “A little boxy? No?” He stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Well it sure sounded that way to me. What do you think, should we boost the high end, or pull something from the low end? Incidentally, that music was all played by machine. There were no human beings involved.”

A blonde in a turquoise jacket leaned over to whisper to a man writing in a reporter’s notebook. “He’s brilliant,” the woman said. “I mean . . . literally . . . brilliant. When you think of the accomplishments . . . the scope . . . the talent. . . .” She trailed off with a wordless gesture.

“This next selection is called ‘Porn Wars,’ ” Zappa said. “This is on an album titled ‘Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention.’ On it, you will hear excerpts from the Senate committee hearings on pornography in music videos. What I did was to take the voices of the senators and the witnesses involved, put them through a computer, and turn them into the music. But, you will clearly hear some of the statements that were made, and you will be able to judge for yourself the sanity of these people, or their suitability for public office. Remember–these folks represent you.”

“My fellow senators,” a voice boomed out of the speakers, “after viewing some of these so-called rock videos, I must tell you that never in my life have I seen such disgusting filth. . . .” And then, in time to a machine-like rhythm, the voice began to change. “Filth . . . f-f-f-filth . . . f-f-f-f-f-filth . . . .”

“I would recommend some sort of action . . . ,” another voice said, as a saxophone began to play. “For the sake of our children. . . .”

“I think we’ve come a long way beyond Elvis here,” a woman said, her voice escalating to a high-speed whine.

“I never listen to it,” a man said adamantly. “Never listen . . . neverlisten . . . neverneverlisten. . . .”

“I think we’re all against censorship,” said someone who sounded like Mickey Mouse.

“FILTH!!” a voice shouted.

“DISGUSTING FILTH!!!” a deranged chorus chanted.

“BEYOND ELVIS,” a voice cried, drowning in an echo.

The music faded. “If I may say so, senators . . . I believe that this is the most important single issue confronting the Congress of the United States today.”

“Isn’t that inspiring?” Zappa asked. “The most important issue facing Congress. Not the MX. Not ‘Star Wars’ or Nicaragua. But! Rock videos , ladies and gentlemen!”

He stopped to light a cigarette. “Now if you think there’s something more important these elected officials could be doing with their time and your money, then you should do something about it.”

“Like what?” someone asked.

“What do you mean, ‘like what?’ Like pay attention. Like get involved. Believe me, these people who want to tell you what you can read or what you can hear–or whatever it is they want to do–these people are organized. They have mailing lists. They persevere. They’re relentless. And where are you? You’re at the beach. Most people in this country don’t even bother to vote, which is appalling. Everyone should vote.”

“I never vote,” the woman in the turquoise jacket whispered. She sniffed and pinched her nose. “I don’t know . . . it’s a personal thing.”

A heavyset woman with a scarlet ponytail tiptoed over to the table where Gail Zappa was sitting and pointed a camera at her. Mrs. Zappa made a demurring motion as the flash exploded in her face. The woman with the ponytail smiled, crept a little closer, and exploded the flash again.

“Sometimes people say I write songs about stupid things,” Zappa said. “I happen to love stupid things. So listen to this.”

“The dangerous kitchen . . . ,” Zappa’s voice sang out of the speakers. “If it ain’t one thing it’s another . . . in the middle of the night when you come home, the bread things are all dry and scratchy . . . the meat things where the cat ate through the paper . . . the soft little things on the floor that you step on . . . they can all be DANGEROUS. . . .”

“The brain cells of the man,” the woman in the turquoise jacket said. “The intellect.”

“Sometimes the milk can hurt you . . . if you put it on your cereal before you smell the plastic container . . . and the stuff in the strainer . . . has a mind of its own . . . you could die from the DANGER of the DANGEROUS KITCHEN!”

The two guys in the sunglasses applauded loudly. “Cool,” one of them said.

“Way cool,” the other answered.

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons]

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