Advertisement

Archive for Friday, August 9, 2002

Zappa fans flock to Germany

August 9, 2002

Advertisement

— Living in communist East Germany, Wolfhard Kutz used all kinds of schemes to smuggle in his beloved Frank Zappa records: secretive rendezvous with West Germans at highway rest stops. Hidden compartments in his car doors. Accomplices who sneaked albums across borders.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Kutz could pursue his passion openly, and created a fan club: the Arf Society, a reference to Zappa's Barking Pumpkin record label.

Thanks to the group, the little town of Bad Doberan, in an economically depressed area near the Baltic Sea, has become the unlikely site of an annual Zappa festival. This week, the town also dedicated a bronze bust of the late American musician in its central square.

The image, of Zappa in the 1970s, "represents him as a rebel and avant-gardist," said Kutz, 47. "That's the way we want to hold him in memory."

The town council initially was skeptical, Kutz said, but gave in after some hard lobbying and an Arf Society pledge to pay about $10,000 to build and care for the monument. He said the council hoped Zappa would draw tourists.

The town of 12,000 is already something of a magnet for Zappa freaks. Last weekend, the 13th annual Zappanale festival included bands from the United States, Sweden, France and Hungary, and a German-language play called "All About Frank."

The festival started in 1990 when Kutz threw a party and found a band that could play a few Zappa songs. This year, he said, some 2,500 people showed up for each of the three days. Eleven former Zappa band members played, and two of Zappa's siblings attended.

"It was incredible to see that kind of outpouring of love and respect for Frank," said Candy Zappa, Frank's 51-year-old sister, by telephone from California's San Fernando Valley. She attended the festival with her brother Bob.

"If I'd have known as a little girl living with him that I would grow up and come to a foreign city and see posters of my brother sitting on a toilet, I wouldn't have believed it," she said, referring to a well-known Zappa image that was used as this year's festival poster.

Frank Zappa died of cancer in 1993. Kutz, who owns companies that install cable and antenna systems, saw him perform live once. Kutz had become hooked at age 16 when he heard Zappa's 1969 album "Burnt Weeny Sandwich," which remains his favorite.

"It was because we were especially restricted, and Frank Zappa strove for freedom and democracy," Kutz said.

Zappa a cult favorite in the United States for his quirky, irreverent and often off-color lyrics (tunes like "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow," "Dancin' Fool" and "Valley Girl") had a significant following behind the Iron Curtain.

Czech President Vaclav Havel said after his death: "Frank was a friend of our newly emerging democracy ... a friend of our country."

Vilnius, capital of the former Soviet republic of Lithuania, already boasts a monument to Zappa, erected in 1995.

For Kutz, smuggling the Western records into communist East Germany and selling copies on the black market was an act of defiance that could have cost him dearly. After the fall of the communist regime, Kutz found in his secret Stasi police file that he had been under surveillance, and 21 people informed on his activities.

"I was shadowed my whole life," he said.

Now, Bad Doberan Mayor Hartmut Polzin, 45, said he supports the festival and new monument, although he doesn't personally see the appeal of the music.

"I have to say I'm not the biggest fan."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.