Long time ago on British TV there was what I guess you might call a talent show titled Opportunity Knocks. Each week host Hughie Greene offered young hopeful singers, comedians, magicians, variety acts, you know the kinda thing, the opportunity to make it big.
Among those who did make it big were the likes of Mary Hopkins who sang “Those Were the Days” and was quickly signed to The Beatles record label Apple. There were quite a few others who are better known over here than over in the US.
And of the many people who did take part but never made it big, there was always some kind of novelty act—a bodybuilder who flexed his muscles and inflated hot water bottles with his mighty breath; impressionists whose speciality was imitating the sound of railway engines and planes taking-off; belly dancers; bird-handlers who pushed little budgerigars on rope swings then made them hop thru flaming hoops; and last but certainly not least, those hobbyists who made music out of everyday objects such as kettles, washboards, radiators, hoover attachments and alike.
These freaks reminded me of Frank Zappa’s appearance on The Steve Allen Show in 1960, when the precocious young musician impressed with his ability to play a bicycle.
At the time, Zappa was earning a living playing cocktail lounges and writing a score for a film called The World’s Greatest Sinner. As he explained to Steve Allen during his appearance he had also written a “bicycle concerto.”
I suppose I have to ask, what kind of twenty-year old goes on national TV to promote himself as a player of the bicycle other than one who is utterly desperate for recognition? Not just any kind of recognition but one that highlights an interest in the avant garde, some serious musical intent and (you guessed it) a zany sense of humor.
That Zappa pulls off all three says much for his talent, ego, and ambition.
Then again, this whole thing is big nod to John Cage’s appearance on I’ve Got A Secret in 1960, when the famous composer played various household objects including a soda syphon, a watering can and a bath though was unable to turn on and off five different radios due to a union dispute—he banged on them instead.
Allen is game for a laugh and plays the bumbling avuncular host admirably—even if he does make far too many cringe-worthy jokes.
Zappa shows his host how to play the bike—using a saw, plucking the spokes and blowing in the handlebars—before presenting a little something he prepped earlier. It’s all jolly fun and it even sounds like some of the music Zappa would later record and release.
Have you checked out the Zappa doc’s Kickstarter page? Visit ‘Who the F*@% is Frank Zappa?’