I Played Drums for Frank Zappa — Didn’t I?

8 Jun

by Roger White

One of the few nice things about growing old is that the more ancient you become, the less you can be blamed for how quirky and oddly selective your memory is. We boomers (aka flower children, hippies, yippies, Owsley’s owls, hepcats, heads, groks, hipsters, space cadets, longhairs, psychedelic cosmonauts, merry pranksters, etc.) are also able to bask in the added bonus of being able to point the flying fickle finger of forgetfulness at all that, um, consciousness-expanding experimentation of our salad days as yet another source of our cumulus-dotted craniums. Or is that cranii? Craniundum. Whatever.

As one sage and far out philosopher once pined: “If you remember the ’60s, then you weren’t there.” At times, I regard this statement as the deepest of the deep—an epistle of the era; other times, not so much. “Let’s see, so if I remember being at Woodstock, then I wasn’t really? But Santana was there, so does that mean he actually wasn’t? It sure looked like him. Could have been a body double. Hmmm, what’s Wavy Gravy’s phone number?…”

Regardless, what I’m chirping about isn’t just the occasional fortuitous forgetting, such as conveniently deciding to help a buddy configure the surround sound in his far, far West Texas cabin on the very weekend your wife’s sister’s extended family was slated to hit town.

And it’s not just about ungraciously unremembering, like hiding comfy in your cube while your coworkers render the fourth “Happy Birthday to You” of the week in yet another forced bonding ceremony in the breakroom, complete with dry cake and strained smiles and laughing hard at all the boss’s jokes, ha ha ha, oh, God.

And it’s even more than just a nice, fat case of what I call the “lazily laying asides.” You know what I’m talking about here: cleverly delaying emptying the dishwasher, mowing the lawn, putting your dirty clothes away, or cleaning up the dog’s indiscretions on the carpet until somebody else takes care of it—all in the name of thick fog in the old noodle. “I didn’t see it, I swear. Without my glasses, it looked like a dark, skinny chew toy.”

No, as satisfying as these little geriatric perks are, I’m referring to good old (are you ready for this alliterative ace?) narcissistic nostalgia. Witty words, eh? Just call me an emperor of expression, a duke of declaration, a guru of, uh, some word that begins with “g.”

Friends, narcissistic nostalgia is that endearing trait we old-timers display now and again that involves taking a mental bicycle pump to a personal brush with greatness from long ago and puffing up that memory into a full-blown, if somewhat fraudulent, fat tire of genuine stardom. These episodes generally occur in social settings, such as parties, class reunions, corporate happy hours, or waiting in the endless line for the john at the most recent Stones concert. (I hear they’re on the road again, by the way. Rumor has it this tour’s going to be called either “Steel Wheelchairs” or “A Bigger Bed Pan.”)

Narcissistic nostalgia, or NN as it’s known by those who study this sort of thing, is nothing new. Folks rustling through the autumn leaves of their years have been exhibiting traits of NN since Biblical times, when a graying David kept rehashing to his tribe about how he beaned the 30-foot-tall Goliath with a single tiny pebble. David’s peers actually recall that Goliath stood only about 5’ 8” and that David was packing heat—but by the time David was a doddering old king, his buddies figured it was better to let him tell the story his way.

Thus it is with us geezers today. I had my own NN experience recently, and it took my wife to gently sweep my cobwebs (thankfully out of earshot of my rapt audience).

Now, as I recalled it, it was about mid to late ’70s. I was living in Dallas-Fort Worth with some musician pals of mine. Frank Zappa was tooling through town when his drummer got hold of some bad herbs just before the Mothers were scheduled to play the Tarrant County Convention Center. One of Zap’s bandmates had swung by our place with the news and asked if anybody could sit in on the skins for the evening’s gig. “I’m your man,” I said—and the rest is history.

Well, NN history. My dear wife knew me then, and here’s what really happened: It was 1985. Jimmy Carl Black, Zappa’s drummer from the Mothers of Invention days, dropped in to see a mutual friend I was living with in Arlington. Jimmy Carl scored an impromptu gig at a place called The Hop in Fort Worth but didn’t have his drum kit with him. So he played on my little old set that night, and those babies never sounded cleaner.

And that, dear compadres, is the closest I came to playing drums for Frank Zappa. I still say the NN version is better.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Oak Hill with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

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4 Responses to “I Played Drums for Frank Zappa — Didn’t I?”

  1. stevebknight June 8, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    I rode up in an elevator with jerry lee lewis once. just sayin’

  2. Laura Bloemker June 9, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    Jimmy Conners walked by me in a Houston restaurant, said hello, and squeezed my shoulder. I was a tennis geek as a kid so this was a major life event for me.

    • oldspouse June 9, 2011 at 10:07 am #

      Now, ya see, Laura, this is just what I’m talking about. Sprinkle a litte NN history on this, and you and the Bad Boy of Tennis had a little fling!

      • Laura Bloemker June 10, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

        Some tennis masters event was in town, and we heard when we got there that Bjorn Borg was supposed to be there too. He never showed. Taking NN into account, I’d say he stood me up.

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