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The Death of Vaclav Havel and remembering his interaction with Zappa

Former Czech President Vaclav Havel died on Sunday in his country house in Bohemia… age 75. The artist/playwright who came into power on what was called the “Velvet Revolution” and created a democracy out of a Communist satellite was summed up by the NY Times:

A shy yet resilient, unfailingly polite but dogged man who articulated the power of the powerless, Mr. Havel spent five years in and out of Communist prisons, lived for two decades under close secret-police surveillance and endured the suppression of his plays and essays. He served 14 years as president, wrote 19 plays, inspired a film and a rap song and remained one of his generation’s most seductively nonconformist writers.

All the while, Mr. Havel came to personify the soul of the Czech nation.

Many people, however, are either unaware or forgetful of the brief relationship between Havel and Frank Zappa. This from the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Havel was a life-long supporter of The Plastic People of the Universe, the Czech underground, nonconformist rock band that fought against the Czechoslovak totalitarian regime.

Under the communist regime, the vast majority of western music was banned, yet the country’s dissidents and its underground movement widely circulated prohibited music that focused on free expression and human rights, such as The Velvet Underground and The Mothers of Invention, led by Lou Reed and Frank Zappa, respectively.

These two bands achieved huge fame in erstwhile Czechoslovakia despite being forbidden by the authorities, and they were favorites of Mr. Havel. The former president said these musicians were among his dear, personal friends.

In January 1990, Mr. Havel appointed Mr. Zappa as Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism, and cited Mr. Zappa as one of his many sources of inspiration. The two men were close friends before Mr. Zappa’s death in 1993, and the American musician was active in Czechoslovakia’s transformation back to a free-market economy.

Here are 4 Videos of the Zappa’s visit to the Czech Republic in 1990:

…and for today, here’s our music break … Frank Zappa is our Papa, recorded by Michael Kocab and musicians in Prague.

(Michael Kocab, composer of rock and classical music, singer, politician responsible for the withdrawal of the Soviet Army from Czech Republic in 1991. Member of the Czech Parliament, adviser of President Vaclav Havel, Leader of group Prague Selection and Prague Selection II (Prazsky Vyber)was also a close friend of Frank Zappa.)