Gail Zappa, best known as Frank Zappa’s widow, was reported yesterday to have died, possibly from lung cancer. My sympathies to her family and all who knew and loved her.
A few years ago, when researching Last Night at the Viper Room, I discovered that River Phoenix, at age sixteen, spent many nights hanging out at the Zappa house, which was a special place to be, in no small part because of Gail Zappa. “It was a really wild, eclectic mix of actors that would hang out at the Zappa family house,” musician and TV journalist Frank Meyer told me. “Some famous TV star would walk in and go off with Moon. Dweezil would be waiting for Warren DeMartini of Ratt to waltz in so they could go jam. And then Frank would just wander in, in his robe, and he’d make peanut butter toast, smoke cigarettes, and chit chat with the kids. He was actually very friendly, in his mysterious rock-star kind of way. There was a no-holds barred vibe at the Zappa compound, but it was weird, because Dweezil’s parents were around constantly. They just chose to give a shit about different things than your parents did. You could curse with the Zappas, openly curse. You could tell Gail to fuck off. She might come down unbelievably hard on you, but she wouldn’t come down on you for the cursing part. She’d come down on you for maybe being disrespectful or for having an immature, uninformed opinion, but you could curse around them as long as what you were saying was informed and made sense. Gail and Frank, they took you seriously. If you were there, hanging out with their kids, you were a real person to them and your opinion mattered. It was a very creative and intellectual place to be, especially for a young person when a lot of adults didn’t take you seriously.”