“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.
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.
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.
“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.