Frank Zappa never went to Lithuania and had absolutely no connection to the country. However, the youth of Lithuania had a connection to Zappa—he was the icon of their newfound freedoms. This is evidenced in the Frank Zappa memorial near Vilnius’ city center.
Lithuanian photographer Saulius Paukstys briefly met Zappa after a 1992 concert in California. He, like a surprising number of young Eastern Europeans, connected with the experimental musician’s style. The way Zappa pushed boundaries in music and in life was inspiring to the culturally adrift youth of the newly “liberated” countries of the former Soviet Bloc. Statues of Marx and Lenin had been torn down, and their plinths stood empty.
Zappa died of cancer in 1993. The small artist Republic of Uzupis wanted to commemorate their patron saint, but Paukstys, as president of the Frank Zappa fan club, saw it as an opportunity to assert truly democratic independence in the new era. If the government would allow them to erect a statue of the man who sang “The Illinois Enema Bandit,” it would truly be a sign of a new era.
Though the fan club gathered signatures, approvals, and funds for the Zappa memorial, authorities were suspicious. Why should Vilnius have a statue of someone with no connection to the city, particularly someone with such antiestablishment messages? A member of the fan club pointed out that Zappa had vaguely Jewish features, and as the government was very big on promoting Jewish history at the time, that was reason enough.
A bust of Frank Zappa was sculpted by 70-year-old Konstantinas Bogdanas, the same artist who made the statues of communist heroes that dotted the city so many years before. The bust, along with a psychedelic mural behind it, were unveiled in 1995. The Vilnius military band performed various Zappa singles at the ceremony, which ended with a fireworks display.
Following the memorial, Zappa’s popularity has only increased in Lithuania. The fan club is still accepting members, and a Zappa Love Letter Club functioned as a bohemian dating service for a while.
Know Before You Go
Especially when on foot, look for the mural, as the monument can be hard to spot initially.