I never listened to Frank Zappa’s music, but I know he was friendly with Nicholas Slonimsky toward the end of the latter’s long life. Slonimsky was related to V. V. Vengerov, the celebrated Pushkinist, who is alluded to in Nabokov’s “Ada.”
Other Slonimsky relatives included an Russian inventor of the telegraph, who never bothered to patent it, which gave Samuel F. B. Morse his victory by default, as well as another relative who died in the Great Patriotic War (World War II) and who was, on his non-Slonimsky side, the last descendant of Pushkin. Such information, and much more, can be found in Slonimsky’s constantly amusing “Perfect Pitch.” I have also inhaled, in short but intense doses, Slonimsky’s anthology of damning reviews, at their first or early performances, of composers and performers, an anthology called “The Lexicon of Musical Invective.” There was a particularly funny one about a Russian critic’s response to Tchaikovsky, but now I’ve forgotten it. It’s not easy being 98.
Anyway, my original point, before the deliberate decision was taken to engage in deliberate digression, was, and remains, this: that if Frank Zappa was friendly with Nicholas Slonimsky (they were brought together initially by a shared admiration for Varese) and if Zappa’s life was music, he could not possibly have been a Muslim, that is, one who is likely inculcated with the idea that music is a bad thing, not to mention the fact that to Muslims, Slonimskys are also a bad thing. The very idea is absurd.
Yes, I know what you are going to say. What about Yusuf Islam, ne Cat Stevens, ne something else more in the Aegean vein? Well, Yusuf Islam is still, after all these years, unaware of the Islamic doctrine concerning music. He’s funny that way — and alas, not only in that way.
I realize that in a posting fourteen months ago, a reply to another post, I mentioned Nicholas Slonimsky. Here is that posting:
As for those Serapion Brothers, all such groups, even if individual members at the time or later on show talent, are always silly seeming, and embarrassing for all concerned. But especially when they have some stupid manifesto or motto, something about changing literature or art or stuff like that. If, as I suspect, the Serapion Brothers were boosters of “non-conformist art,” and since so many of them turned out to be Soviet conformists when they had the misfortune to live long lives as members of the Union of Soviet Writers (meeting this month of remaining members to be held in Dom Druzhby, the former Morozov mansion, for an evening of reminiscence and vodka and zakuski), I suspect they did programmatically begin as “non-conformists.” Then I wouldn’t touch it all with a ten-foot pole. On the other hand, Viktor Shklovsky was a member. Then there was that man named Vladimir Pozner. Remember back in the late 1980s, when the then-Soviet now-brave-new-something journalist Vladimir Pozner was on American television? All I could think of was “Serapion Brothers, Serapion Brothers.” Could he be the son, grandson? Well, I told myself, it’s a common name, a name like Ivanov, Petrov, Sidorov, or more likely Mikhail Levin.
Most interesting to me in the list of Serapion Brothers is the name of Mikhail Slonimsky, but only because I read a few months ago his brother Nicholas Slonimsky’s “Perfect Pitch.” Nicholas Slonimsky, the famous musicologist and the author of “A History of Musical Invective,” was related to all kinds of people — to the true first-in-time inventor of the telegraph, before Morse, a man who didn’t bother to publicly announce his achievement, much less try to get a patent (yes, I know the Soviets, the Bolshaya Sovetyskaya Entsiklopedia, was always claiming credit for Russian inventors, but in this case the story is not merely verisimilar but convincing, and true — la pura, sacrosancta verita), and also to Vengerov, the famous Pushkinist mentioned in “Ada,” the one who compiled that useful list of documents “Pushkin v zhizni” that…oops, sorry, no that was Veresaev, forget that, and also to the Polish poet Antoni Slonimski, who was much more famous in Poland than was Mikhail Slonimsky in the Soviet Union, and who died in a ridiculous and quite unnecessary automobile accident when the car he was not driving but riding in hit a pole, or another car, or something.
What the Serapion Brothers have to do with me I haven’t the faintest.
Oh, and by the way, did you know that the Bey of Algiers has a wart under his nose?