1971, Part 3

The Pit of Hell


Less than aweek after the disastrous fire at Montreux, Frank and the Mothers were onstageat the Rainbow. The first show of two scheduled for the evening of FridayDecember 10th was almost over. Amidst applause the band returned for anencore. Being England, home of the Beatles, Frank had chosen I WannaHold Your Hand. It's not entirely clear from various reports whetherthe band actually completed the number - In The Real Frank ZappaBook (p.114) Frank says 'I think we played I Wanna Hold YourHand,' but at the time had no idea what happened next. What I,horrified, read in the paper the next day was this:

Pop musician hurt during act

Mr Frank Zappa, aged 31, the pop musician, broke his leg lastnight in an incident at the Rainbow Theatre, Finsbury Park, London.

A man dashed on to the stage and Mr Zappa fell into the orchestra pit. Aman was later being interviewed by the police.
[Times, 11 Dec71]

These sober paragraphs scarcely did justice to the seriousness of thesituation.

"The band thought I was dead." says Frank in The RealFrank Zappa Book. "I had fallen fifteen feet down into aconcrete-floored orchestra pit, my head was over on my shoulder and my neck wasbent like it was broken. I had a gash in my chin, a hole in the back of myhead, a broken rib and a fractured leg. One arm was paralyzed."

It was a miracle indeed that he was still alive. Whether you take theheight of the fall as 10 feet (Miles, Frank Zappa - A VisualDocumentary, p.55), 12 feet (Michael Gray, Mother! is the Story ofFrank Zappa, p.107) or 15 feet (Frank, The Real Frank ZappaBook, p.114) it was a hell of a long way down. How had it happened?

"In those days," Frank explains, "I didn't carry a bodyguard;'security' was supplied by the local promoters. In the case of this concert,the security consisted of two big West Indian guys, at either side of thestage. During the encore, they were off smoking reefer someplace.

In their absence, a guy by the name of Trevor Howell had run up onto thestage, punched me and knocked me over into the pit."

Michael Gray, in Mother! is the Story of Frank Zappa, describesHowell pushing Frank "sharply in the back. Zappa fell forward, caught his footin a lead, twisted and fell twelve feet down into the orchestra pit. He wasunconscious for several minutes . . . " Although Frank never mentions it,Sounds (18 Dec 71) adds that "a monitor speaker fell on top ofhim."

Fortunately Mr Howell was not to get away with it. What exactly happened isunclear. According to Frank: "After he punched me, he tried to escape into theaudience, but a couple of guys in the road crew caught him and took himbackstage to hold him for the Police." Michael Gray has him "set upon by someof the audience, but . . . dragged off before he could be seriously hurt." Miles claims, sinisterly, that "Zappa's roadies then taught him a fewmanners."

In any event, Miles continues, he was arrested and charged with "assaultwith malicious intent to commit bodily harm. Bail was set at 100."

"Chaotic scenes ensued outside the Rainbow where the audiencefor the second concert were joined in the street by the audience from thefirst. Wild rumours that Frank had been killed flashed through the massivecrowd, and for upwards of an hour no one knew what was happening. Eventuallythe crowd dispersed, most of them none the wiser about the evening's dramaticevents.
[Miles, ibid.]

The theatre was quickly cleared and Zappa was rushed by ambulance to theRoyal Northern Hospital, Holloway. He was later transferred to the LondonClinic. Carol Osborne, press officer for Kinney Records, said on Monday thatthe hospital had put an armed guard outside Zappa's room to protect him againstthe people who had been trying to get in to see him. He's still badlyconcussed.
[Sounds, ibid.]

I was taken to a public hospital. I remember being in the emergency roomwhich, like the rest of London at that time of year, was freezing cold. Theywere clearly understaffed - a guy two beds down from me had his balls smashedin a brawl someplace, and was howling, unattended.

They couldn't give me anyanesthetic because I had a head injury, so after a while I just passed out, andwoke up later in a bad-smelling room with beds all around, in a circle, withcurtains hung between them. I remember the curtains parting in front of me anda black nurse coming in and seeing my face; like she had just seen a monster. I was pretty mashed up.

I was later transferred to the Harley Street Clinicwhere I stayed for a month. I had a twenty-four-hour bodyguard because theasshole who had hit me was out on bail, and we didn't know how insane he was.
[Frank, ibid.]

So, why did he do it? Singer Howard Kaylan, quoted in Sounds,said after the incident on Friday: "It all happened so quickly - it was justsuch a crazy thing. Someone said the guy's girlfriend was in love with Frank,or something."

"He gave two stories to the press. One of them was that I hadbeen "making eyes at his girlfriend." That wasn't true, since theorchestra pit was not only fifteen feet deep but twice as wide, and thespotlight was in my face. I can't even see the audience in those situations -it's like looking into a black hole. I never even saw the guy coming at me.

He told another newspaper that he was pissed off because he felt we hadn'tgiven him "value for his money." Choose your favorite story."
[Frank, ibid.]

At a press conference this week, Herb Cohen, Zappa's business manager, saidit was unlikely Zappa would be able to leave hospital for two or three weeks,and would probably be physically recovered in about another 10 weeks "but whenhe'll be able to work again I can't say," he added . . . Zappa is now fullyconscious and, according to Cohen, "really pissed off."
[Sounds,ibid.]

" . . . on the 12th [Frank] had an operation, which a clinic spokesman saidwas for 'an adjustment' to his ankle. His condition was said to be, as theysay, satisfactory.

The day after - Monday the 13th - the rest of the Mothers flew back toAmerica, leaving Zappa in the clinic."
[Michael Gray,ibid.]

The rest of the gigs in Britain were cancelled. Thus ended a sorry year.

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