He knew just what he liked

The Baltimore Sun

Frank Zappa gave Maryland more than just the first 10 years of his life. He also gave his home state one of its most memorable moments in legislative history.

Never before, nor since, I'm guessing, has someone testified to the state Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, "I like nipples."

That was back in 1986. My excuse for revisiting this tawdry episode all these years later: Baltimore is preparing to erect a statue of Zappa, yet another of its offbeat natives.

Zappa and his family left Maryland while he was a grade-schooler. He was a famous, 45-year-old rocker, living in California, by the time Maryland was mulling a ban on the sale of "obscene" music to minors.

The House had already passed the legislation, sponsored by Del. Judith Toth, a Montgomery County Dem, of all things.

The Recording Industry Association of America turned to - who else? - Bruce Bereano, lobbyist for smoking, gambling, boozing and - vice of the moment - singing.

"Someone told me that Frank Zappa was big on this issue, when Tipper Gore had tried to label music cassettes," Bereano recalled the other day. "I didn't know who Frank Zappa was. I checked with some of my more funky friends. I made a cold call out to California to speak with him. They didn't think it was a legit call at first, but I persisted. And I got him on the telephone. I proposed, at my own expense, to fly him into Annapolis to testify against this bill."

Zappa, already scheduled to come east for a Johnny Carson show, agreed.

He did not disappoint.

In one of the funniest moments, he read aloud the state's definition of obscene.

A particular female body part was deemed taboo.

"I like nipples," Zappa told the committee, deadpan. "I think they look good. If you are going to look at a woman's breast, if you take the nipple off, which is the characterizing, determining factor, what you've got is a blob of fat there. And I think that when you're a baby, one of the first things you get interested in is that nozzle right there, and you get to have it right in front of your face. You grow up with it, so to speak. And then you grow up in the state of Maryland and they won't let you see that little brown thing any more."

The crowd in the hearing room roared.

The bill died in committee.

A suit, a book, a desk and two wristbands

Will Wilson, a San Francisco Democrat who's painted pictures for Michael Jackson and Penthouse, has an unlikely client in Bob Ehrlich.

Unlikely, that is, until you learn Wilson and the former Gov go back to 1963, when they were both first-graders in Mrs. Schlenker's class at Emmanuel Christian Day School.

"We were best friends," Wilson said. "We took different paths. I don't think either one of us understands the other's work."

Even so, there was no question who would paint Ehrlich's official state portrait, which will be unveiled June 3 at St. John's College.

Wilson said Ehrlich put it to him this way: " 'Billy' - he calls me Billy - 'you're going to paint my portrait.' "

The assignment was one of the toughest ever for the artist, who's created an album cover for Jacko (Blood on the Dance Floor) and painted a woman in an Army jacket for Penthouse (not as racy as it sounds, Wilson says).

"The better you know your subject, you go into subtleties that you wouldn't even be aware of," said Wilson, who is still putting on finishing touches.

"When I'm with the painting, do I feel like I'm in the presence of this person? And Bobby, it was difficult. ... It took me a long time before I captured what I was going after. ... Just being a local kid from Arbutus becoming governor. But at the same time, the presence and the power of the governor."

The portrait remains under wraps, but Wilson shared some details.

Ehrlich is shown in the governor's office, sitting on the corner of his desk, holding a book. He's wearing a suit. But in an informal touch, two plastic wristbands peek out from one sleeve. The orange one promotes disabilities awareness. The blue one honors Conner Hopf, an Ellicott City boy who died of Tay-Sachs disease.

Guess who'll be looking over her shoulder

Kendel Ehrlich's official portrait gets its official unveiling along with her husband's, but it's already on display on the artist's Web site.

The former first lady, decked out in a strapless green gown, stands on the curved Government House staircase. Behind her are pictures of the Ehrlichs' two sons, Josh and Drew.

Also visible is the corner of a larger portrait - the one Wilson painted of the former Gov. Annapolis artist Moe Hanson worked with Wilson to incorporate part of his painting into hers.

"She really wanted the family there," Hanson said. "I wanted her to be the main focus."

The paintings-within-the-painting were the happy compromise, if you can imagine such a thing in Annapolis.

There's always a kid brother

Mike Miller was chairman of that Senate committee way back when Zappa testified. Highlight of the future Senate president's career, if you ask Miller's kid brothers.

"My younger brothers, particularly one who is 13 years younger than myself, was a great Frank Zappa fan and was quite excited. He was just impressed that his big brother got to meet him and talk to him."

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