|from The Guardian:
presents Baltimore with a Frank Zappa statue
Friday May 9, 2008
When we were last in
eastern Europe, we almost made a sidetrack to Vilnius. We were enticed
by Lithuania's fascinating history and rich cultural heritage. But
mostly we just wanted to see their statue of Frank Zappa's head.
Now, at last,
Baltimore is taking a page from Vilnius' book.
Thirteen years ago, a band of plucky Lithuanian intellectuals pooled
their funds, solicited their friends, and built a bronze bust of the
musical iconoclast. Saulius Paukstys, longtime president of a
Zappa fanclub, even convinced authorities that the statue should be
erected in downtown Vilnius, in front of the Belgian embassy.
Zappa had died of
cancer just two years before, in 1993, but Lithuania's capital city was
an odd place for a tribute. Zappa was not, after all, Lithuanian (or
Belgian, for that matter). He had never even visited the place. But his
music was dearly loved by the avant-garde hipsters in the Lithuanian
independence movement - and these same intellectuals were the ones
running the show after the Baltic state declared independence from
Russia in 1990.
for this Zappa statue was also like a trial for the new system and the
newly established democracy," Paukstys explained to the Associated
Press this week.
Before long the Zappa
bust had become Vilnius' second-most popular tourist attraction (behind
the rather-less-quirky Museum of Genocide Victims).
This week, Paukstys
journeyed to Baltimore, USA, to make an offer to Frank Zappa's hometown:
would Baltimore like a bronze Zappa-head of its own? Baltimore's Public
Art Commission voted unanimously to accept the gift. "I think it's
incredibly generous," said commissioner Steve Ziger. "I find
the piece a good piece of art that I think we would be honoured to have
here. We just need to find an appropriate placement."
Paukstys and his
comrades had already arranged for the casting of a replica, and were
just awaiting the OK from Baltimore authorities before shipping it
across the ocean. The cost of creating and shipping the bust is
estimated at $50,000 (£25,000), but the city will be responsible only
for installation and maintenance.
Juozas Imbrasas, said he approved heartily of the project. "I hope
that replication of the original statue of Frank Zappa in Vilnius and
bringing it to Baltimore will perpetuate the memory of one of the
greatest artists of the [20th] century," he wrote. Frank Zappa's
widow, Gail, is also understood to have given her blessing.
All that Baltimore
needs now is a better source of Lithuanian dumplings.
undated photo provided by Saulius Paukstys, shows a cast used to create
a replica of a bust of musician Frank Zappa in an art studio in Vilnius,
Lithuania. The original bust, which typically sits in a public square in
Vilnius, can be seen in the background. (AP photo / May 7, 2008)
By Jonathan Pitts |
"What's new in
Baltimore?" Frank Zappa used to sing at the end of a long,
characteristically off-the-wall rock jam he called Clowns on Velvet.
What's new in Baltimore, the city in which the late rock star was born
in 1940, is evidently a public sculpture of Zappa himself, and the
strange tale behind the 15-foot statue that a public art panel accepted
as a gift to the city last night is as incongruous as Zappa's
genre-bending music career.
Most Baltimoreans are aware of their hometown's claim on Edgar Allan
Poe, H.L. Mencken and John Waters, but fewer know that Zappa, who made
more than 50 records between the late 1950s and his death in 1993, was
born in Baltimore, the son of immigrants from Sicily.
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
"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
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.
In 1995, Paukstys was so determined to commemorate Zappa's creativity
that he claimed to have enjoyed a personal correspondence with Zappa,
whom he'd met on a visit to the United States.
The fact that such a correspondence never happened didn't deter the
thousands of Lithuanians who crowded an exhibition of the letters in
Vilnius, the nation's capital.
The event created momentum toward the Zappa fan club's main goal:
getting a bust of the musician made and put up for permanent display. In
1995, the Vilnius city council signed on to the plan. Kontantinas Bogdanas,
the nation's best-known sculptor, created a bronze Zappa head, which was
mounted on a stainless steel column in a Vilnius park.
"It was a test of Lithuania's [new] freedom," Paukstys told
Rolling Stone magazine in 2002. The Zappa monument is still the second
most popular tourist site in Vilnius.
In time, the fan club decided to commission a replica of the piece and
donate it to Zappa's home country. Their first idea was to offer it to
Los Angeles, where Zappa lived for many years before his death, at 52,
of prostate cancer.
But by the time the replica was complete, Carlos Aranaga, a State
Department official who grew up in Baltimore, was working at the U.S.
Embassy in Vilnius and got wind of the project.
"I'm proud of Baltimore's cultural heroes," said Aranaga, now
stationed in Washington. "Mencken, Eubie Blake. To Lithuanians,
Zappa is like the Mencken of rock - a true iconoclast."
At Aranaga's suggestion, a contingent headed by Paukstys targeted
Gail Zappa, the musician's widow, has said she avidly supports placing
the sculpture in Baltimore, where her late husband's quirky views of
life fit with the work of such great local artists as John Waters.
Anne Perkins, chair of the city's Public Art Commission, said last night
that her panel, which was launched last August, is still working out
formal criteria by which to accept gifts of public art. The city must
fund installation and upkeep, decide what gifts are appropriate and
select sites that work.
But the same commission that recently had numerous questions that
stalled plans for a statue of former Mayor and Gov. William Donald
Schaefer proposed for the city's Inner Harbor had no trouble approving
the Lithuanian project. As part of his presentation, Paukstys screened a
video of an April 10 concert at which Lithuanian jazz, classical and
rock musicians performed Zappa's music in Vilnius.
"We're having a good time here!" Perkins exclaimed.
Board members satisfied themselves that the statue would call for
limited maintenance and that Zappa was a true cultural native son.
"He's part of a rich history of musicians from Baltimore, some of
whom the general public doesn't know about," panelist Steve Ziger
Ziger suggested making the monument part of a collection of similarly
themed sculptures. Others suggested the cultural corridor near the
Washington Monument, green space near the Baltimore Museum of Art and
the North Station Arts District as possible sites. Panelists also
supported the idea of a commemorative concert when the statue is
As the credits on the film rolled, and the general applause died down,
Paukstys and his interpreter, Arturas Baublys, who return to Lithuania
today, said they could have the already completed statue packed and
ready for shipping within 10 days.
"The only risk I see in Baltimore," Baublys said, "is the
seagulls. That could be a problem. Otherwise, we couldn't be more