Ending the Cold War brought no end of benefits to the U.S., including Baltimore’s little civic problem: Where should Baltimore put a bust of Frank Zappa, donated by Lithuanians to his birth city in honor of his standing for freedom?
More than a year ago, Baltimore accepted a bust of Baltimore native Frank Zappa. Valued at $50,000, the bust was a gift from a Lithuanian Zappa fan club.
Since then, officials have been debating where to put it.
His family lived in the 4600 block of Park Heights Ave., then moved to Edgewood in Harford County. Zappa’s father, a chemist and mathematician, had a job nearby at Aberdeen Proving Ground. They moved to California when Frank was 10.
Until they met last night, some members of the Baltimore Public Art Commission, which voted unanimously to accept the gift of the bronze sculpture – valued at about $50,000 – were also unaware of Zappa’s connection to Charm City.
However, the donors of the bust, who come from much farther afield – in fact, from a nation Zappa never visited – are well aware of his background.
“We’re honored to have a chance to present this Frank Zappa monument to the city of Baltimore,” said Saulius Paukstys, 43, the president of one of the biggest and arguably most dedicated Frank Zappa fan clubs in, of all places, the Republic of Lithuania. “As an artist, and much more than that, he has meant a great deal to the Lithuanian people.”
If Zappa has been something of an unknown prophet in his own land, people like Paukstys, a photographer, have long held him in high regard as a symbol of free expression in the post-Cold War former Soviet bloc.
“Before 1990, you have to remember, [Lithuanians] could not criticize society,” Paukstys said through an interpreter. “Frank Zappa was a voice of freedom.”
After 1990, when Western music became available in their home country, Paukstys and friends like Saulius Pilinkus, an art historian, often gathered to listen to Zappa’s music. The fan club they started eventually numbered more than 300. Most were well-educated aesthetes who appreciated the fact that Zappa was more than a rock-and-roll star: He was a symphonic composer, a fact that appealed to a people whose love of classical music is part of their history.
Zappa’s followers number in the millions in the U.S. People who don’t see eye-to-eye on much of anything else agree on Zappa’s genius. Even old sobersides California Judge Ben Davidian is a Zappa fan. (He was especially fond of Zappa’s deeply philosophical question about a Salt Lake City fan’s letter: “Suzy Creamcheese, what’s gotten into you?”)
Zappa’s bust will be one more very good reason to visit Baltimore, in addition to crab cakes, Babe Ruth’s house, the C&O Museum and Sabatino’s.