Crabtown Observed No. 12: The Rock & Roll Regrets of Richard Snyder

“God’s third mistake was the invention of the poodle . . .”
— Frank Zappa

Richard Snyder, the coolest cat on Orchard Road in suburban Linthicum back in the days of four-way “windowpane,” regrets missing the unveiling of the Frank Zappa statue in Highlandtown.

Zappa conducts his band at the old Baltimore Civic Center, now First Mariner Arena. Photo: Richard Snyder
Snyder regrets it as only a 56-year-old former long-haired devotee of Zap Comix can regret sitting on the couch after a long week of work instead of attending a once-in-a-lifetime chance to pay homage to a hero of his youth.

“I hate myself,” said the 1972 graduate of Cardinal Gibbons High School. [R.I.P.]

Snyder — a rock and roll disciple since Beatlemania and a Zappa fan from his late teen years — was only half-kidding. He made up for the blunder with a nocturnal visit to the statue at Eastern Avenue and Conkling Street last week and a passel of Frank stories.

“When I was at Gibbons there were always a couple of freaks headed to the art room with stacks of albums under their arms instead of books,” said Snyder, a part-time photographer with vintage shots of Zeppelin, the Faces, Nils Lofgren, J.B. Hutto and the great Johnny Winter.

Richard Snyder in the 1970s. Photo: Senor Guantes Collection
Those 33 rpm LPs being carted around Gibbons were typical “freak” music of the early 1970s: Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and a guy who could single-handedly outplay all of them: Baltimore’s own Frank Zappa.

In the art room — the sanctuary for many a high school kid bored in the classroom and not interested in sports, precisely the kind of student that Zappa was in the days of doo-wop  — Snyder heard Frank for the first time.

“It blew me away,” he said. “If all you knew back then was the Beatles and the Stones and you heard “Hot Rats” for the first time . . . man, it was something I wanted to be a part of. Even if I didn’t quite know yet what it was or how to be a part of it.”

Snyder’s portal to the other side of the radio appeared in the guise of a cranky old newspaper vendor named Abe Sherman who proudly served in both World Wars.

“A couple of us would catch a city bus at Gibbons and go downtown to the Pratt Library [on Cathedral Street]. We told our parents we were going to do homework,” said Snyder, whose father [James “Dick” Snyder, 1928 to 2008] was a professional musician and member of the U.S. Army Field Band, a clarinet and sax man who loved the Big Bands and had no patience for hippie horseshit.

Snyder at Zappa statue / 09.23.10. Photo: Macon Street Books
“We’d get off the bus at the library and then walk around the corner to Abe’s” bookstore at Park Avenue and Mulberry Street in Baltimore’s old Chinatown. “It was the only place I knew where you could get counter-culture books by Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman and ‘Soul on Ice.’ On the ceiling he had the poster of Zappa sitting on the toilet. I’d seen the picture in magazine and I had to have it. He got on a ladder, pulled out the pins and sold it to me.”

[Abe Sherman likely had even less love for the counter-culture than Snyder’s father. But Abe — who sold out-of-town papers next to the Battle Monument on Calvert Street for years before moving to Park Avenue — knew a generation of suckers when he saw them. And so stocked his store with incense and black light posters and books by treasonous men.]

The earnest young hippie — who in his naivete once showed his father footage of The Who smashing their instruments at the Monterey Pop Festival as evidence of the passion inherent in rock — put the Zappa toilet poster on the back of his door of his bedroom. Because the door was usually open, his father never saw it. Or if he did, the father of six — whose reaction to The Who was swift and negative — had other fish to fry.

Richard Snyder still has the poster of Zappa taking a dump purchased from the fabled Abe Sherman all those years ago. Its fate has come to symbolize Snyder’s behavior on the day the truly bizarre came to pass at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Conkling Street: the unveiling of a statue of Frank Zappa in front of the public library.

“It’s rolled up in a tube in my closet,” he said.

5 comments

  1. Lorraine 7 years ago

    In the immortal words of F.Z. “The poodle bites; the poodle chews it.”

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  2. Tim 7 years ago

    As one of the descendants of the late and surely great Dick Snyder, I can truly say that his hockey temper towards the mild, but undoubtedly influential antics of Frank Zappa, The Who, Led Zeppelin and all the other big names in rock, was sorely wasted. When I think of all the malarkey that has been spawned from the influence of these icons (not to mention the bands that followed), I strongly believe that if ol’ Dick Snyder had a chance to hear just one of the many bands that I have been exposed to… Well let’s just say that we would have spent a great deal of time trying to screw his head back on. If you were to do the math, starting from a band like Led Zeppelin, and led yourself through the ages to some of the underground bands of today… Quite frankly it just doesn’t add up. The transition from rock to metal is staggering

    Led Zeppelin gave way to Kiss and then you have shock rock. Kiss gave way to Motley Crue and then there was glam rock. Motley Crue saw the dawning of Metallica and, like the name, gave way to metal (which would later be referred to as thrash.) Metallica was the gateway drug to other genres like black metal, death metal, grindcore, death core and it only gets heavier. All I am saying is if the ears Dick Snyder were ever exposed to any bands such as Pig Destroyer, GWAR, Waking the Cadaver, Belphegor or even Marilyn Manson, I think he would have felt a little bit differently to the clearly childish antics of The Who, especially when you compare it to an act such as biting the head off a bat. I’m sure when that little incident occurred the children of Dick Snyder did all they could to keep that out of all the news that passed by their father’s eyes.

    In the end, if ol’ Dick Snyder had just received a message from God, that told him that this rock thing is only going to get worse before it gets better, then maybe he would have spent some quality time with his son and enjoyed these “crazy kids on stage” a little more. Sadly it never happened and Dick Snyder is no longer with us R.I.P. Though for those of you who wonder why I, an advent disciple of metal, never chose to expose my grandfather to the music I have come to love my reasons are simple: While scaring old people with loud incoherent babble is a treasured past time of mine I keep it outside the family.

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  3. ursusdave 7 years ago

    I got a warm feeling reading that Richard – whom I don’t know – still has his Zappa crappa poster, though it be stashed away in a closet. Most of us old Rock ‘n’ Rollers have a poster or two rolled up in a tube and stored away somewhere. Someday, one or more of our stored away posters may be taken out and hung up in the right place – at the right time. Frank Zappa was all about perpetual growth and change, so it is good to take a poster down and store it. Richard may display it again – someday, or it may become a treasured decoration on one of Richard’s grandkids or great or great-great grandkids doors or walls – someday. And those possibilities gives me a warm feeling inside.

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    1. Jackie Snyder 7 years ago

      As the only child of Richard Snyder I claim rights to the Zappa crappa poster and all other rock-n-roll paraphernalia 😉 Thanks, dad for making me listen to Zappa and Beefheart at age 7 which taught me to love weirdness!

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  4. Karen 7 years ago

    I thought it was a very interesting story. You really captured ( that which is) Richard. Fun and quite charming. And Zappas impact on a young guy of the 70s hit home for a lot of fans. I’m glad that Baltomore has the honor of displaying the sculpture .

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