Frank Zappa launched the careers of scores of musicians, but he also gave some artists their first turn in the spotlight. One of them was Neon Park, aka Martin Muller, a Bay Area poster artist who earned himself overnight notoriety for his cover art on Weasels Ripped My Flesh, one of the Mothers of Invention albums Zappa released in 1970.
Park was working for a design group called Family Dog when he got a phone call from Zappa, who asked him to come down to Los Angeles for a meeting. According to Park, Zappa showed him a men’s magazine with a cover showing a shirtless man standing waist-deep in bloody water, trying to fight off a mob of bloodthirsty weasels. The accompanying article was called “Weasels Ripped My Flesh.” Zappa challenged Park to come up with something even worse, and the resulting image was so disturbing to contemporary sensibilities that Zappa had to face down Warner Bros., which at first refused to release the album, and then the printing company, where one of the employees refused even to touch the painting.
One of the performers on that album was a slide guitarist named Lowell George, who started the band Little Feat after quitting (or being fired from) the Mothers, and who was sufficiently impressed to use Neon Park for the cover of the Feat’s second album, Sailin’ Shoes. Park’s paintings are on all the classic Feat albums, and the Zappa boost established him as a commercial magazine illustrator as well.
Park called his style “Zen Voodoo,” and in later years he broadened his magic realist approach with a series of taped paintings in which he would paint successive images over the same canvas, each time peeling away strips of tape to create a blurring between the images. When a degenerative disease kept him from using his hands to paint, he took to writing poetry, tapping it out one-fingered on a typewriter as the disease worsened.
The disease that finally carried Park off in 1993 was amyotrphic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, commonly konwn as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” When his doctor delivered the diagnosis, Park reportedly said, “And I don’t even like baseball!” For that kind of savoir-faire, and in keeping with the spirit of Zappadan, we raise a glass of some Pop Art colored beverage to the memory of Neon Park.