Ron Onesti: It was hard for me to get past Dweezil Zappa's name
As I get on in my years (56 this week), I more and more appreciate the showbiz legends I grew up with. Unfortunately, many have passed on, and more continue to leave us almost on a monthly basis. And as their departure is a tragic loss of entertainment opportunity, many have legacies to carry on their extensive catalogs of music and performance styles.
I have been quite fortunate in that I have been able to "get close" to my heroes by virtue of the work I have done with sons and daughters who have "carried the torch." Many of whom have become as close as family to me, a relationship I so treasure. Deana (Dean) Martin, Carlise (Buddy) Guy, Lena and Louis Jr. (Louis) Prima, Nancy and Frank Jr. (Frank) Sinatra, Bobby (Jackie) Wilson, Carla (Sam) Cooke, Arianna (Telly) Savalas, Shirley (B.B.) King, Jason (Led Zeppelin's John) Bonham, Gary (Jerry) Lewis, Joey (Judy Garland) Luft, Cathy (Buddy) Rich, just to name a few.
This past weekend, we hosted another musical legacy at The Arcada, Dweezil Zappa. The eldest son of legendary pop culture icon Frank Zappa, who tragically passed away from cancer in 1993 at the young age of 53, completely blew the roof off the house, and was as cool as his dad would have hoped him to be.
Dweezil's reputation is not one of eccentricity, yet I still expected some sort of psychedelic dude with a touch of an awkward personality, making for a difficult day. His name alone points in the direction of a complex existence, at least to those not necessarily "in the know" about he and his family's history. It turns out my fears were an unfair expectation of this musical mastermind in his own right. The guy could not be any more of a stellar person and accomplished musician than he was at the show.
He is a fit, soft-spoken guy, very low-key and unassuming. He just walks through the theater with a guitar case on his back, smiling and shaking hands. I introduced myself and he complimented me on our theater, and I escorted him to the Club Arcada Speakeasy on the third floor, where he was to hold a master guitar class for about 25 lucky and adoring fans, from 10 years old on up to contemporaries of his famous father.
"He not only taught me a thing or two about playing, but also listening to him gave me an insight to what his dad was all about," said one master class attendee. I watched a bit of it myself, and he really came off as being sincere about truly sharing his knowledge.
I really only had a limited amount of time with him, as the day was quite packed. With all the stuff I could have asked him about his legendary icon of a father, I could not help myself but to ask about the origin of not only HIS name, but also those of his three siblings with equally interesting monikers. After all, Frank Vincent Zappa was 100 percent Sicilian. Why didn't he name his kids Maria, Tony, Vito or Josephine?
Dweezil was just a pet name Frank had in his head that stuck with him and popped out of his mouth when his eldest son was born. His first born, Moon Unit Zappa, was a daughter who was either going to be named Moon or Motorhead. She was named Moon, and "Unit" was actually her middle name, referring to her birth making the family a "unit."
His other son is named Ahmet after an imaginary butler (?), and his youngest, a daughter, was a noisy baby so she was awarded the name of Diva Muffin.
"My dad was a complex guy. He did things and said things as they happened in his head. He had no boundaries," Dweezil said.
"Yeah, but he obviously didn't care what it would be like for his kids to endure the heartless bullies in high school teasing about your names," I said.
"Actually, everybody thought our names were cool. Most of my friends wished they had creative names like us," he said.
With Frank Zappa's musical influences being a range from classical orchestrations to doo-wop and R&B, and his growing up in the tumultuous Sixties, it is easy to see that the depth of Frank's mind and social existence was evidenced by a body of work that included classical pieces and a library of more than 100 albums.
Watching Dweezil Zappa in concert as he and his band celebrated 50 years of his dad's music was inspirational at the very least. He played the music with such gusto, a passion from within I believe only a son can have. He properly represented the complexity of Frank's music, while at the same time provided a warm connection to the throngs of adoring Frank AND Dweezil fans.
Dweezil is a true professional with an amazing catalog of his own original music. It is also something to be experienced as the next generation of Zappa music keeps rock 'n' roll … interesting.
In an effort to do my part in fostering the legacy of Frank Zappa, I am thinking of making my "stage" name "Ronzil" or "Ron Unit." I already have been called "Diva Muffin" enough.
Or maybe I'll just keep bringing back the musical genius of Frank's legacy, Dweezil Zappa, to The Arcada.
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.