When a Texan like Secretary of State James Baker defends the honor of his wife, it doesn't matter how long he has to wait or how far he has to go to do it.
In the case we have uncovered, Baker diplomatically used his surrogates to ace an American rock 'n' roll icon out of a job as the trade representative from Czechoslovakia because the rocker had publicly insulted Baker's wife Susan.
This tale of international intrigue was told to our associate Dale Van Atta by sources in Prague and Washington. Incredible, but true, is the fact that Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel did offer the job of special ambassador to the West on trade, culture and tourism to Frank Zappa. That is the Frank Zappa--the man who has produced more than 50 albums including "Freak Out," "Burnt Weeny Sandwich," "Uncle Meat," and "Weasels Ripped My Flesh," the same Frank Zappa who named his children Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet, and Diva; the same Frank Zappa whose performance once featured a stuffed giraffe that squirted whipped cream on the audience.
He is many things, but diplomat is not among them, thanks to Baker. Havel, a playwright known for absurd satire, met Zappa in Prague in January 1990, and the two men hit it off immediately. Havel had long been a fan of Zappa's music genius and even credited his music as part of the inspiration for the anti-communist revolution. A Czech group, "The Plastic People of the Universe," named after one of Zappa's songs, copied his style and became an underground sensation in Czechoslovakia. Their revolutionary lyrics so irritated the communist government that the group was thrown behind bars for disturbing the peace.
That mobilized Havel and other artists to form a dissident group that led the opposition and, after communism was toppled, formed the nucleus of the current Czech government.
So Havel had plenty to thank Zappa for. He was so grateful, in fact, that he impetuously created the special ambassadorship for Zappa. The musician left town with Havel's praise in his ears and the adulation of hundreds of fans who treated him as a Czech national hero. He was even talking about applying for citizenship.
Two weeks later, Baker came to town carrying an old grudge. It dated from 1985, when Susan Baker and other well-connected Washington wives, including Tipper Gore, wife of Sen. Albert Gore, D-Tenn., formed Parents Music Resource Center. The group's objective was a music ratings system similar to the movie ratings, based on sex, obscenity and violence.
Zappa, the purveyor of all three in his lyrics, came to Washington for a showdown before the Senate Commerce Committee. He was unrelenting in his criticism of the ratings idea. He ridiculed Susan Baker and the others, calling them "a group of bored Washington housewives," and said they wanted to "housebreak all composers and performers because of the lyrics of a few."
Zappa even mimicked Susan Baker's Southern accent. This was too much for Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., who snapped at Zappa during the hearing, calling him "boorish, incredibly and insensibly insulting."
James Baker remembered the insult. When he arrived in Prague, on the heels of Zappa's appointment as trade representative, Baker had his surrogates convey his displeasure to Havel. It was delicately phrased as "advice," suggesting that "an American should not serve as a trade representative for Czechoslovakia." Baker's real objection was apparently twofold--he was still piqued over the insult to his wife, and he thought the appointment made Havel look amateurish.
So the Czechs, anxious to please the foreign minister of the world's biggest superpower, cooled on the Zappa appointment. They dragged their feet, explaining to Zappa that bureaucratic red tape was getting in the way. Several months later, Zappa was appointed unofficial cultural ambassador.
The successful conclusion of a duel is not something gentlemen boast about. So Baker was unavailable for comment and Havel declined to discuss it. Zappa, who is battling prostate cancer, was also unavailable for comment, but his confidantes report that he blames Baker.
Never mind the setback. Zappa is still a busy and successful musician, making videos under the label Honker Home Video (named after his nose), and selling memorabilia under a company he calls Barfko-Swill. And, he continues to fight the establishment. He hasn't driven since 1969 because he refuses to stand in line for a license. He rails against big government and taxes. He even hired two political consultants to do a "feasibility study" on a Zappa bid for president. Then James Baker would be out of a job.
Jack Anderson and Michael Binstein are columnists with United Feature Syndicate