V&clav Havel

Ξ September 13th, 2005 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Politics and Society |

Previous piece reminded me of this... 😀

... Zappa's influence in the prehistory leading up to this event is a bit of an enigma. Havel had long been a fan of Zappa's music and even credited his music as part of the inspiration for the anti-communist revolution. A Czech group, "The Plastic People of the Universe," became an underground sensation and the group was thrown behind bars for disturbing the peace. Under Russian rule, many kinds of music were banned outright. The music of Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground were specifically blacklisted, and hence held a special signifigance both to the government and the revolutionary underground as representing freedom and independent thinking. Zappa was stigmatized into a kind of revolutionary hero, without him even knowing it.

    So imagine Frank's surprise when he arrived in Prague in January 1990 at the invitation of Havel, to find hordes of fans intimately familiar with his music only through bootleg copies of his albums, since his music was overtly contraband. Says engineer Dave Dondorf: "Frank was shocked at the adulation, if you will. It was well over the top. It wasn't subtle, it wasn't blase, it wasn't cool. I mean these people went nuts. It was like the 'King of Freedom' had showed up. It was pretty strange." Zappa accountant Gary Escowitz: "Frank was trying to figure out why is everyone there so happy to see him? Evidently, in Czechoslovakia, when young kids played heavy rock music, the police would tell them, 'turn off that Frank Zappa music'. All of a sudden, here's Frank Zappa! He was a symbol of freedom." One press conference attendee recounted how Russian police had threatened to "beat the Zappa music out of him."

    Zappa and Václav hit it off immediately. Zappa was appointed as "Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism". Czechs treated Zappa as a national hero, and he was even talking about applying for citizenship. Meetings were held with Zappa, Havel, his finance ministers and the Ministry of Culture and Trade. Frank had some ideas about increasing their tourism viability by converting some old castles into hotels and dealing with airlines to get more visitors into the country. There was also talk about credit cards and television shopping networks, both new concepts in Czechoslovakia. The main question was how to get western goods and services into the country. Two weeks later, US Secretary of State James Baker re-routed a trip through Europe to visit Václav Havel. At the time, Czechoslovakia was applying for badly needed aid from the US Government. Baker's message was short and simple: Havel could either do business with the United States or he could do business with Frank Zappa. It would seem Baker had a bit of an axe to grind, since Zappa had insulted his wife, Susan Baker, before a Senate Committee hearing in Washington DC back in 1985 regarding censorship of rock albums and the PMRC.


    As an addendum to the info above, the full transcript of the record labeling hearing before the committee on commerce, science, and transportation is here. There's actually some quite amusing moments in there, although for those you would be as well just to get the album 🙂


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