GREEN RIVER, UTAH
After scanning the radio forever, I finally found a radio station featuring a variety of hip hop music. I was pleasantly surprised by the blend of mainstream, underground, and international artists. I’d never heard French rap on the radio anywhere but in France. Yet there I was in the middle of Utah, jamming out to IAM.
“Welcome back!” the DJ said. “This is the 24-Hour Hip Hop Radio Takeover! We’re playing nothing but hip hop for 24 hours in an effort to raise money for our own station. If you’d like to make a donation, call us now or visit us online!”
I was grateful to hear this news, especially from a radio station coming out of Colorado. Now I didn’t have to change the station the rest of the drive.
At the end of the hour, the DJ bid us adieu and a new voice came on in his stead. The voice was bright, bubbly, and squeaky AF. It was nervous, shy, young, naive. The girl it belonged to couldn’t have been a day over 19.
I didn’t recognize a single song in the next block. I could tell by the instrumentals and lyric patterns it had all been made in the last ten years. She was obviously into the underground stuff, whereas I was about as mainstream as one could get.
“Welcome back!” the new DJ said excitedly. “Guess what, everybody? We have a special guest here who stopped into the station to make a very generous donation! Um… I’m sorry. What did you say your name was again?”
“That’s right! I’m sorry. Tell us what you do for a living, Mr. Zappa.”
“I’m a musician. Well, I was anyway. My days are over now. I was just passing through Colorado and wanted to see what the kids were listening to these days. I enjoyed this station so much, I decided to stop in and make a donation.”
“And we are very grateful for your donation. Tell everyone how much you donated.”
“Ten thousand dollars. That’s right! Ten grand. Nothing makes me happier than supporting young people’s love for music.”
“And we are very grateful for your support, sir. So you said you’re a musician. Have you ever had any hits on the radio?”
“Oh yes. A long time ago. A long, long time ago. It was decades before you were even born. I was a rock and roll legend. But you know, rock and roll would be nothing without the influence of jazz and blues, and that’s why I’m so thrilled to support the hip hop community today.”
“I’m sorry I haven’t heard of you before. I don’t really listen to much rock and roll. It doesn’t, um, speak to my experience the way hip hop does.”
“It’s all right, sweetie. We all have different tastes. That’s what makes the world such a great place. So tell me, what inspired your playlist selection tonight?”
“Ummm… I guess I wasn’t thinking about it. I was just playing some of my childhood favourites.”
Both Frank Zappa and I felt old at the exact same time. How I longed to hear some early-to-mid 90’s West Coast gangsta rap to make me feel young again. They chatted on the radio for a few minutes longer before returning to the music.
Sometime later, I was relaying this story to my extended family at a holiday dinner.
“Are you making this up right now?” my uncle asked me.
“No, of course not. I really heard Frank Zappa take over a college hip hop radio station.”
“Betsey… Frank Zappa has been dead for over twenty years.”
I was stunned.
“Uh, yeah. Everyone knows that.”
I rolled my eyes. Nothing annoyed me more than people who acted intellectually superior to others just because they had different musical tastes.
“Well, I didn’t know that. I’m like the girl in the story. I don’t listen to that stuff. Obviously, I prefer pop, rap, reggae, and jazz.”
“Maybe it was an impersonator,” said my first cousin.
“Maybe it was his son,” suggested my second.
“Maybe it was a practical joke,” said my dad. “That check was probably fake.”
“Whoever it was, it was not Frank Zappa.”
“How do you know?” I asked. “Maybe his spirit likes to travel around and hand out cash to young people struggling to make it in the music industry.”
“You know, I can see actually that.”
We debated the mysterious donor’s identity for a few minutes longer before the conversation moved on. To this day, I still get chills down my spine whenever I think of Frank Zappa’s Radio Takeover.