We are currently amid Zappadan, an annual observance that pays tribute to the late Frank Zappa. Beginning on the anniversary of his death of December 4th, the holiest of all Zapptist occasions concludes blissfully on December 21st, the creation date of the almighty. While it would be difficult to list his every achievement and influence over the years, Frank Zappa is best remembered as a rock & roll innovator, a spirited free-thinker, and a cultural mad scientist. Oh, and I guess he invented The Wave?
I have always been curious of the origins of The Wave. The popular spectator pastime involves a stadium crowd to lift their arms in succession, thereby creating a pulsating human current that ripples and crashes. A simple Google search of the subject reveals a man named Krazy George Henderson to be its creator. George was a local celebrity and self-proclaimed “professional cheerleader,” who would often show up at sporting events to invigorate the crowd. It was at an Oakland Athletics game on October 15th, 1981 where Krazy George was believed to have orchestrated the very first wave. After years of perfecting his craft, it was here when George’s vision was fully realized. But apparently he wasn’t the only one. Television host Robb Weller claims that he had led the first wave at a University of Washington football game on October 31st, 1981—mere weeks after Krazy George’s first tube had barreled over in Oakland. Regardless of who did it first, it was at the widely-televised 1986 FIFA World Cup that incited the tradition. For that reason, many sports fans refer to the popular activity as the “Mexican Wave.”
I don’t intend to be brazen with my skepticism of the subject, but The Wave wasn’t created by Weller or Krazy George. It was invented by Frank Zappa. On June 27th 1969, Zappa and the Mothers of Invention performed at the Denver Pop Festival, a psychedelic three-day concert held at the Mile High Stadium in Colorado. Joining the Mothers on the bill were some serious heavy-hitters of the era, including Creedence Clearwater Revival, Big Mama Thornton, Iron Butterfly, Three Dog Night, and the very last performance of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix even performed the “Star Spangled Banner” at the Denver Pop Festival, an event that would soon be obscured by the peace & love behemoth that was Woodstock just two months later. Unlike Woodstock, however, unruly attendees and gatecrashers were tear-gassed during Hendrix’s set, causing disturbance to those in the grandstands.
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention played before Iron Butterfly on the first day of the festival. Their set contained a whimsical array of classic Mothers numbers including “Hungry Freaks Daddy,” “The String Quartet,” and “A Pound for a Brown on the Bus.” The last song of the performance was more of an improvisation, wherein Zappa attempts a stunt that he refers to as “Teenage Stereo.” Playing conductor to an audience of 50,000, Zappa calls on successive sections of the crowd to make gestures and odd noises (such as clapping and vomiting sounds) when pointed at. The sound travels throughout the stadium in a metachronal rhythm, thereby demonstrating this new human instrument “in stereo.” What Zappa hadn’t realized, however, was that his playful experiment would eventually become a sports fan phenomena that continues to make “waves” to this day.
More after the jump…