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John Tabacco

Composer, Songwriter, Producer, Engineer & Recording Artist

Holiday in Bad Doberan, Germany (Full Blown)

Event : Zappanale 13
Purpose : Statue dedication and festival to honor composer Frank Zappa
Date : 07/25/02 – 07/28/02

Woke up. Didn’t fall out of bed since I slept too close the ground and I couldn’t drag a comb across my head since there’s not much hair up there anymore. Yes. It was Thursday, August 25th, 2002 and my mind was racing with anticipation about this trip to a foreign country. Would I ever come back? Should I make out my will that was lighter than air? Actually all I could think about was making copies of sheet music for certain band members who might live in the world of forgetfulness. I walked to the Stony Brook university library where I knew I could make cheap but effective copies of the music we were going to play in Bad Doberan, East Germany. Note that I did not make copies of the bass parts because our bass player, Paul Adamy was always so prepared. He even re-wrote some of the charts himself and put all the music in a neat folder underneath sheets of plastic. He wouldn’t forget his music right? Little did we know the irony that would be upon us at the Zappanale 13. Cut to 12:00pm.

Nigey Lennon picked me up in her car. Candy Zappa was there for the ride and I met Paul Greenstein who was an old friend of Nigey’s. He was going to be our German translator. Seemed like a nice guy with dirty fingernails. Around 1:30pm the cheap limo came by Nigey’s abode and took us to Jay Rozen’s house. There, we picked up Jay and his tuba and then headed out to JFK airport. We arrived with plenty of time to spare. In fact, sax man Joe Meo and big band arranger Ed Palermo were there about an hour earlier than us - talk about vacation enthusiasts!

The security was tight but not as crazy as I assumed considering all the terrorist threats that keep popping up every hour on the news.

We took the Air France flight to Paris. The food was tolerable and I had fun pushing the tiny video monitor in front of me while listening to random SA3mp3s on a portable mp3 player, all of which were songs that I love. The soundtrack began. Though I was encapsulated in my own little world with the headphones on I was quickly shaken back to this reality when the flight all of a sudden ran into some pointed turbulence. The pilot assured us this was normal midway through the trip. I glanced out the window. Water. Nothing but water. And we were in a big metal thing thirty thousand miles above it. Too bizarre. I phased it out of my mind focusing on the thrills that lay ahead. I can’t say the same for Candy Zappa. She needed a stewardess (or waitress as Nick DiMauro would joke) to calm her down. She was freaked out but in a bad way. They gave her some sugar pills and a shot of some mysterious alcohol. That did the trick.

It took about 6 hours to get to Paris - kind of an overcast day. Don’t remember much about it except paying $7.00 for a small ham and cheese sandwich that had my food nemesis, mayo on it. The woman at the counter had lied to me about the mayo but I was in no mood to go over and return the poisoned morsel once it was opened. Bummer. After an hour we boarded a small jet to Berlin. As I was walking on to the plane through one of these scary airtight corridors, I passed Joe Meo who was being searched with a metal detector. They had him take off his shoes and the security guard took his guitar case and made a machine gun gesture towards him. I boarded the small jet and listened to Jay Rozen complain about leg room and how happy he was to sit in an isle that had an open space in front for his legs. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was actually sitting in my seat but it was ok. I spent some time going over the lyrics to the songs we were going to perform and then dosed off a bit among the snack interruptions. We arrived at the Berlin airport in an hour. The weather was a bit chilly, cloudy, and damp. Arthritis weather. Crew members from the Zappanale/ Arf Society - mostly kids in their early 20s greeted us and took us to the shuttle which lead us to the transportation to Bad Dobern. It was here I met the lovely Katerina who would be our main driver at the Zappanale. She was 21, a social worker who had a decent grasp of the English language and looked a little like Bob Ball’s wife Ann, which is not surprising since Ann is from Polish decent and Poland isn’t that far from Bad Doberan. Like most of the kids there, she was heavily into cell phone usage and she smoked a lot.

Due to an airport strike of sorts back in Paris, Air France didn’t send over Jay Rozen’s tuba.

Now of course it is a known fact that what makes a vacation interesting is the amount of missing luggage you have to deal with. In this case, I was spared the horror. That was not to be the case for two of our band members. Due to an airport strike of sorts back in Paris, Air France didn’t send over Jay Rozen’s tuba. Kind of hard to miss since it was in, as Ike Willis put it, in "Devo Packaging". Basically it was a big cardboard Yamaha box with lots of tape around it. The Paris airport also managed to forget a piece of luggage from our always prepared, rock solid bass player Paul Adamy. This was bad news because Paul’s baggage included all the bass sheet music for Ed Palermo’s arrangements as well as the music I wrote out for the Lennon, Tabacco and Zappa group. Paul, after talking to the authorities was promised that his luggage and the tuba would arrive sometime the next day. Suffice to say he went straight to bed after we arrived at the hotel. Irony at it’s best! Jay Rozen continued to be neurotic about the whole thing and rightly so. A tuba is an expensive device and he was going to lead the actual Zappa statue dedication with his acoustic arrangement of Frank Zappa’s song "Sofa". The orchestration of which was tenor sax, baritone sax and tuba.

The busing situation to take us to Bad Doberan was a little wacky and cramped but everyone managed to hop on a van or a Ford Euro. The trip to our final destination seemed to take forever and Katerina’s smoking didn’t ease the uncomfortable-ness. We drove for two and a half hours passing a myriad of farmland patches and dark forests feeling all crunched up and sweaty. I couldn’t wait to go to the bathroom. In the back of my mind I kept thinking of the day before leaving the States how I found some blood in my urine. That made me a bit uneasy as you can imagine, but it was too late to go visit a doctor. Since I was not in any pain I ignored it and I’ve been regular ever since.

The first day in Bad Dobern was rainy and rather gloomy. If this was the basic nature of this area in terms of weather I wasn’t pleased. The hotel we were staying in only had given each room one key and it looked liked I would have to share one small room with Paul Greenstein the trip’s sarcastic jester. It was rumored that Mark Berman and his girlfriend demanded a separate room for themselves and this would have made sleeping there for me a real nightmare. Fortunately, the Berman couple got their own suite and our hotel room had two separate rooms in it , so that was a plus. I let Mr. Greenstein sleep under the room with all the partying going on after midnight. I needed rest. The driver, Katerina came back for us and took us to Wolfhard Kutz’s abode for some lunch. Wolfhard was the brainchild behind this festival. Anyway, he and his lovely wife and their dangerous dogs greeted us outside. Everyone introduced themselves, shook hands etc…and we were lead into his quaint dining room with a big oval table. They offered us a make shift meal of clumpy white rice, some cheeses, carrots, grapes and some salami with rolls. This set the pace for most of our future meals at Bad Doberan. Not quite what I was expecting but we all had a nice broken English chat concerning freedom and listening to tales about Wolfhard’s problems with the German Gestapo policies; especially concerning the acquiring of Frank Zappa music which at one time was illegal, just like in "Joe’s Garage".

…Frank Zappa music which at one time was illegal
Afterwards, Wolfhard took us to see his Zappa, memorabilia / record collection which covered every known bootleg record or CD that concerned FZ. He even had an Eyeinhand Sampler CD that had the song I wrote with Nigey "It’s Just A Black Guitar" on it. Thirty minutes later we were on our way back to the hotel and then to the actual festival. I checked out a bit of the first Zappanale tribute bands and was impressed. They were called was "Cosmic Debris". Quite a good group of musicians who did not have to be coaxed to get into the spirit of FZ’s precise and comical music. Other than the bass being way too loud, the enthused crowd of around two thousand were fairly happy. The next group to play was Thana Harris and Bob Harris both of whom had worked with Zappa in the 80s. Thana performed FZ’s "Flambe" with Don Preston on keys. She sang it flawlessly. Better than the recording she did 20 years ago. I was impressed

Later both husband and wife performed the Steve Vai song "The Boy Girl Song" and then played an original number which had a nice CD 101 flavor to it. They ended with Jimmy Carl Black going up on stage singing Zappa’s doo-wop song "Love Of My Life". I went back stage after that and bumped into Thana Harris. I complimented her on her singing and her face totally lit up. She had a nice vibe. I met for a second time, Bobby Zappa - Frank’s brother and he introduced me to Bill Harris who is a Hollywood reporter for the Enquire. I recognized him as a film critic on TV. A pleasant guy who used to know the Zappa family from way back when. Who would have guessed? I was also greeted by Englishman Andrew Greenaway owner of the website called idiotbastardson.com. He had requested a month earlier I perform "Two Steps Forward / One Step Back". He would get his wish later. Amazingly, Andrew took a slight interest in my music and the Sa3mp3s I could make, but I could not chat with any intelligence with him due to the loud bass overtones emanating from the group on stage. I kind of slipped away discreetly hoping not to offend him. He was a bit sloshed anyway. I returned to our lodgings and quickly fell into a deep sleep.

Woke up early around 6:00am (no clock to speak of anywhere) to explore this little Disney World type town (Bad Doberan). Not much going on early Saturday morning so I put on a pair of headphones connected to my friend Paul Michael Barkan’s mp3 player. Plopped in a disc with 239 of my favorite existential mp3s on it and proceeded to walk about. Of course with a soundtrack around you, the whole landscape becomes a surreal movie and it really brings the experience to another level, especially if all the music you hear has heavy duty sentimental / nostalgic value. I proceeded to walk along many cobble stone roads. The main street that cut through the town had rail road tracks for a little train the locals call the Molli-Bahn. The The Molli-Bahn is a steam driven narrow gauge railway that comes by every hour starting at 9:30am and takes you to the Zappanale festival field and the Baltic sea beach. It’s kind of a Disney like trolley that travels no faster than 20 miles an hour. Very quaint - except for this real loud bell they ring to let you know the train is approaching. Not a sleep friendly bell if you get my drift, Anyway, I found my self somewhat able to read most of the signs in German and made my way to a landmark church that was originally constructed around 1100 A.D. I forget what music I was listening to when I first saw the church but it really enhanced the experience. As I cautiously creeped into the main entrance, Vince Guaraldi’s classic "The Great Pumpkin Waltz" came on and that instantly stirred up some really melancholy feelings. Had I been here before? Maybe I astral projected here once while living in Centerport. I started to sweat a bit. A few tourists began to enter the church and that woke me back to this reality. Time to leave. The weather was trying to clear up but it was still a bit moist and gloomy - real atmospheric.

The forest surrounding this place was the kind you think about when someone reads you "Hansel and Gretel": deep dark forests with only the tree growth visible on the top half of the tree. The bottom part is clean. All the trees are like this. It was a real healthy looking environment where all the animals that don’t use condiments live. I saw only a few birds but no road meat or squirrels and I also noticed that the insects there were easier to deal with. If they flew near you (even bees) you could scoot them away and they would leave you with no hassle. What’s that all about? After cutting through a maze of narrow paths with medieval gardens and broken down cloisterettes I decided to head back into town. After a few minutes I realized I was lost and a quick pang of panic (a feeling I haven’t felt in a long time) set in. This was stupid because the area in which I was walking is very close knit and circular. A comforting tune came on in the headphones and eventually I got my bearings. I finally made my way back into town and hung a left in to the outdoor restaurant that was an adjunct to the hotel I was staying at. There in a corner table by himself, reading a book, smoking some Pall Malls was none other than Ike Willis from Zappa’s band back in the 80s. The voice of Joe on "Joe’s Garage"; how wonderfully odd our paths should cross after twenty-two years of listening to this man sing. I saw some other fellow Ed Palermo Big Band members so I gravitated to them first. Eventually, Ed himself introduced me to Ike and he seemed liked a nice guy. His voice is of course what struck me first (very much the same way when I saw Terry Jones of Monty Python fame at Borders in Westbury. I remember hearing Terry yelling "Spam, Spam, Spam and Spam" in that ridiculous high female British voice and I almost cried because I had heard that voice for so long as a kid - and now there was it’s maker only three feet in front of me! – Great memory. But I digress. Ike did a fast, funny chat with us and he sounded just like he did on all those FZ records. "One Adam 12 see the Mammy Nun!" It was just too cool for words.

About this time Paul Greenstein decided that later he would take a train for a day to Berlin. Of course that made having one key to the hotel room less restricting. I walked around a bit soaking in the local color (mostly beige), buying some cheap razor blades, Tic-tacs and a few candy bars. Ed Palermo’s Band was going to perform that night and I was anxious to sing with them the Mother’s classic song about incest: "Magdalena". I went over the lyrics in my head a bunch of times. The airport finally delivered Jay Rozen’s tuba and Paul Adamy’s luggage containing the all the sheet music for the bass parts. Things were starting to look up.

That afternoon was when the FZ monument dedication / ceremony took place. I took a quick stroll down the main street. Suddenly, around the corner in front of me I saw Jimmy Carl Black, an original member of the Mothers Of Invention and Indian of the group. I raced up behind him and said: "Hey Mr. Black what’s going on?" "I’m John Tabacco from Nigey’s band." He immediately knew who I was.

That threw me for a loop. I confidently shook his hand and chatted briefly about the song Nigey Lennon wrote for him to sing called "Stolen Cadillac" which apparently he really dug. It’s a white trash country tune that he was going to sing with Candy Zappa. Perfect for his register and demeanor. He was curt but friendly and insisted we get together later for a quick run through of the tune. I said ok and raced off to the park. His mind was actually more focused on the dedication ceremony so that was understandable. I sat down near the mock Zappa museum they had constructed in some Gazebo shaped building in the park and chatted a bit with Don Preston the great Mother’s Of Invention keyboard player. I told him he was a big influence on my keyboard soloing and he just smiled. Sitting next to him was Pamela Des Barres the famous groupie from the 60’s who wrote a book called "I’m With The Band". Though she had sunglasses on I recognized her smile and superficially chatted with her a bit. Very intriguing vibe this woman puts out. She sticks out in a crowd. Of course what would you expect from the most famous groupie ever?

Of course what would you expect from the most famous groupie ever?
Pamela told me she was a bit surprised that the Arf society flew her out here but made very little use of her knowledge of FZ. Nigey Lennon was quick to notice our interaction and quickly steered me away from her. "She’s here to spy for Gail Zappa", Nigey whispered.

I don’t know how true that was, but I was soon distracted by the sight of ex-Mother, Napoleon Murphy Brock. Nigey introduced me to "Nappy" (as he is affectionately called), a very charismatic fellow who sported a white 70’s disco looking suit. He was very polite but a bit too busy for many questions. I asked him if he would sing the song "Village Of The Sun" with us but he diplomatically replied, " I never sing any thing unless I have a rehearsal". Fair enough I thought. He then handed me a flyer about his new CD that would be available real soon. There was something kind of sad about it but I refused to analyze my feelings. I quickly turned my attention to another ex-Zappa member, (one I had previously worked with back in L.A on Nigey’s CD) who walked by. Why it was Mike Keneally! We laughed and talked a bit. He looked a little heavier than I remember and a lot older. Soon after, Nigey and I tried to round up a few folks for a group acapella of "Love Of My Life" the 50’s Zappa classic which was quickly becoming the song I would most associate with this event. We talked to Thana and Bob Harris and some other folks, but the singing was not to be.

The dedication was beginning to take shape around 12:30pm and skies had cleared up. The weather was warm but not humid; actually quite lovely. A woman artiste began positioning various raw vegetables to spell out the word "Mothers" in the front of the "We’re Only In It For The Money" drum set on the center park stage. Don Preston (now 70 years old!) was asked several times if he would throw some vegetables during the ceremony. His reply was a firm "No way"! The trio of Joe Meo, Barbara Cifelli and Jay Rozen kicked off this illustrious event in 3/4 time with Zappa’s "Sofa". Totally suitable German sounding waltz nicely arranged by Mr. Rozen. I think Jay later said to me it was the high point of his musical career.

Oh pity the poor neglected under appreciated tuba player! The song came to a soulful end with Joe Meo wailing away and a bunch of speeches proceeded (expertly translated by Jim Cohen) concluding I think, with a rather funny one by movie critic Bill Harris. Eventually with all the remaining Mothers of Invention up on stage (except I think Mike Keneally) and lead by Don Preston, they huddled around one microphone and sang a wonderfully cranky version of "It Can’t Happen Here!" from the "Freak Out" album. Jimmy Carl Black then left the stage for something and there was a lull for a moment in the proceedings when all of a sudden a bunch of folks suggested we need someone to play the obligatory drum roll for the unveiling of the FZ statue. That someone was me. Though my technique was a bit rusty I managed to squeeze out a half way decent buzz roll and smash the cymbal and kick drum at the precise time. It was a very bizarre feeling and moment, but perhaps appropriate, considering Frank Zappa’s absolute influence on my life. With the unveiling of the statue, Candy and Bobby Zappa were invited up on the small stage to say a few words and admire FZ’s likeness in metal. But first, a blue, body painted Zappaesque look alike jumped on stage and put a crown of flowers on FZ's head and then another other guy saunter in and put a burning cigarette in his mouth. Now, FZ really looked authentic and mythological. Bobby started off with a short speech and then rubbed FZ’s nose for good luck. Candy quickly followed. The nose rubbing transcended from joke to tradition in a matter of seconds. So this is how traditions were born? Brilliant. Once the statute was placed in its exact location later that day (in front of where the Molli stops and the park begins), passer-bys were already seen rubbing FZ’s nose. It’s a great little tourist attraction. A hundred years from now who knows the condition of the nose? (Insert Woody Allen "Sleeper" gag here.)

The ceremony came to a close and people were waiting in line to see the FZ museum which was filled with rare Zappa paraphernalia like posters, old records, a sofa, surreal art work along and two walls worth of Zappa’s discography and biography. Somehow I found myself with Nigey and Eric strolling down a narrow alley back to where my hotel was. We met up with bass player Paul Adamy, Jay Rozen, Joe Meo and Paul Greenstein and had ourselves a nice meal at a tucked away cafe. The chicken I ate there was unbelievably tasty. Best meal so far during this trip. After we were sufficiently stuffed I went to see Nigey, Candy and Eric’s hotel about a mile from where I was staying. It turned out to be a hospital / re-cooperation place with some beautiful views of the surrounding German landscape. I swear I could see the Stony Brook Health Science Center! Very quite place - real peaceful. Candy needed to pretty herself up for the show and Nigey and Eric tried to communicate to the hospital’s front desk clerk that they needed some fresh towels and could not dial out from their room. The woman behind the desk did not understand and a frustrated N and E retreated back up to their room.

I stayed outside listening to music while casing the manicured surroundings. I noticed Bad Doberan and the festival itself were pretty free of floating garbage. No empty coke bottles or tossed fast food wrappers. It was a very clean place and this made my stay a lot more enjoyable. They don’t even have an imposed seat belt law here! I could dig that.

Around 4:30pm Katerina picked us up in the van and we made our way back to the festival. The first group I saw was from Italy, Ossi Duri. They were quite good. Some of the band members were still in their teens but they tackled very difficult Zappa material like "Sinister Foot Ware movement 2". Ike Willis conducted and sang with them. That really solidified their Zappaesque sound.

Ed Palermo’s skimmed down big band went on next and it was a blast. They played really well and the audience loved it. First Candy Zappa was invited up to sing for Ed the bluesy "Directly From My Heart To You" and the crowd loved it. Then ex-Zappa guitarist Mike Keneally came up and performed Zappa’s "Spider Of Destiny" with Ed’s band. A premiere performance! Suddenly it was my turn at bat. I drank my carbonated mineral water (uggh!) and jotted up on stage. The music starts and I’m automatically singing "Magdalena" in front of 2000 Zappa fanatics.

I’m automatically singing "Magdalena" in front of 2000 Zappa fanatics.
Too make things a little more surreal - when I get to the chorus I have Mike Keneally on my left singing harmonies and on my right singing with me is Mr. big voice himself, Ike Willis. It was a bit intimidating, and laughable but I made it through the song with only a few muffled lyrical mistakes. The last chord plays and the crowd let out a big roar. I passed the audition! Log that memory in. I got off stage in a daze and talked to various ex- Mothers. Drank more mineral water - peed in a forest off the banks of the festival and was driven to the hotel. The town was dead, so I went to bed.

The next morning I woke up and got my self a croissant and a sugar cookie. Headed for the hotel’s outside restaurant and hung out with Barbara Cifelli and her husband. Ike Willis showed up and we chatted a bit. He politely told me of his intentions to smoke and that he would move to another table and I told him I appreciated that. The previous night someone had given me some tickets to ride the Molli to the beach. I had divvied up a few tickets to other band members and left myself two. The Molli pulled in around 9:30am and I hopped on thinking about the future while crystal clear music was playing in my earphones. Unbeknownst to me, Barbara Cifelli, her husband, Mark Berman our keyboard player, his girlfriend and Joe Meo took the same train. We met up at the last stop and headed for the water. It was a nice walk through the tourist town and it was hot. We found ourselves an empty spot at this crowded beach and Joe Meo was the first to venture into the cold (slightly radioactive - missing subs went down there) Baltic Sea. For some reason there were all these tiny jelly fishes coming to shore, so I stayed away from the water and wandered off by myself to get some ice cream.

I walked the streets translating whatever I could (which surprisingly was a lot) and bought another mineral water. Again, all of this surrounded by the sentimental songs I had playing in the mp3 player. I ventured down a few painfully dull looking streets, got bored, had a great soft ice cream cone and headed back for the Molli. I cried a bit in a dark corner realizing the futility of my existence but quickly got over it as the train approached and the appropriate tune played. I found myself in Bad Doberan again and grabbed a ride to the festival.

Jelly Roll / Try To Call Me


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