The Fake Fake Zappa Story: A Snuggie® In Outer Space, A Party Bus Gone Wrong, and Plenty Of Government Conspiracies
Patti-Cake Bowman was the fattest groupie to arise out of the hippie era. She even outweighed “Mama” Cass Elliot, and for many rockstars, was quite a novelty in the psychedelic rock community out of California. Although Elliot was obviously not considered a groupie, people often considered Patti-Cake not to be a groupie as well, but just as someone who had a lot of ties and influence in the music business. Because of her music industry connections, Bowman had the opportunity to tour the Americas, Western Europe, and even spent some time in Australia and Japan. Some of her exploits included Little Feat, Edgar Winter, The Moody Blues, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Tom Jones (the lyricist), and of course: Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Unconfirmed rumors included The Rolling Stones and Iggy Pop. Patti “Cake”, as she was called, even had spent some time working with the infamous Cynthia “Plaster Caster” Albritton team out of the LA Area (the women who made casts of rockstar dicks) mostly as the “blow-girl” (but some guys just weren’t getting hard enough). After several falling out incidents (mostly because of jealous thin groupies who couldn’t believe that such an obese woman could actually upstage some of them in bed) Patti-Cake Bowman was systematically erased from Rock History. Very little of her story exists, save a few newspaper clippings and some blurry photos. So far, there is little to nothing on the web about Patti and I hope to give her the honor she is due with this story of how I, Fake Zappa, was born.
One of her methods was to get an “in” with the groupies after a big gig (often in the form of supplying them weed) and she would tag along to some of the wild backstage parties, often as the designated driver because of her ability to hold her liquor. She often drove a large passenger van (not a VW Bus) which she used to charter small groups around LA, Chicago, Vegas, and NYC who specialized in allowing all kinds of activities and substances that were not allowed with major charter companies. (Could this have been an early form of the commercial “Party Bus” phenomenon?)
Another thing she was known for, was pushing a lot of artists to “fill the side with one song” as she would taunt songwriters and frontmen to produce albums the way she liked it. Some might say that albums like Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother and Close To the Edge by Yes were results of her influence including songs like In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly and especially the iconic Sister Ray by The Velvet Underground. She’d banter these men claiming that “stoners prefer a song that’s about twenty minutes in length, give or take a few minutes”. In a private discussion, Frank Zappa himself noted that when he was mixing the song Little House I Used To Live In, he said, “the fat lady made me do it or she’d sit on me again”. Otherwise, his original plan for the piece was to cut it up into individual tracks like Side A of Absolutely Free. Zappa gives credit to several creative influences that came directly from groupies, however he, like so many artists seemed ashamed to have associated with Ms. Bowman. (She was bitterly refused to be a member of the GTO’s.) One thing I know for sure though, is that wasn’t the last time the fat lady would shag Mr. Zappa (although I was not told what position they were in when I was conceived).
Early in 1973, Bowman just happened to be working a charter (a huge rented bus at that time) when Frank was finishing a session and she had parked next to where Zappa’s band had been working. Although there are a few different versions of the story, it went something like this: Patti-Cake invited the men (and specifically, only the men) in the band over to her bus for a nightcap (sorry, Ruth, go home). She poured them shots of tequila and whisky while her and her girlfriend began to arouse some of the guys. One of her methods of seducing a man was to challenge him in a drinking contest, and win. Frank happened to already have had a few beers earlier (and maybe a few more) and also considering how small of a man he was, he got quite intoxicated. The two women had a little contest of their own to see which one of them could swallow the most “cream” from various members of the band that night. That didn’t last long because the guys all seemed to want more than just oral. Therefore, they turned off the lights in the bus and got naked. The bus shook. The rest is history.
So, that’s the story of my conception, and some might argue that my bio-dad might have been one of the other members of the band. That’s highly doubtful because Frank himself reemerged in her life after I was born and insisted on naming me. To make matters even more tacky, he also insisted that I were to be kept a secret and to not use the name Zappa.
The story gets even more bizarre. Patti had lost her ability to drive due to an injury in her right foot a few months later and had to spend most of her time in bed, where she gained even more weight. To make things even more strange, she didn’t even realize she was pregnant. There were so many other things going on with her health that nobody, including herself, even considered there was a pregnancy. She was staying at a university hospital where she got free care if she agreed to partake in some experimental painkillers which caused her to hallucinate.
Because there was an aerospace department at the university, she was chosen to partake in yet another experiment. Having direct connections with NASA, one of the professors was involved with a study about the health benefits of zero gravity on men and women with health issues, primarily those who were considered morbidly obese. Through the university health department, one of the doctors suggested Ms. Bowman and she was considered with a panel of other chubby people, mostly older men. It was getting into Mid-September and the team was having a tough time screening enough qualified applicants.
The launch was scheduled for late September and for various reasons, all the men were disqualified (mostly for scheduling conflicts and some because they were suffering with life-threatening conditions, but my guess is that they were scared off because of the contracts) and Patti was selected, although quite reluctantly when they soon learned more about her questionable background. After some coverup attempts, the team brought her to NASA. Not only that, she was so drugged up that somehow she didn’t fully understand what she was agreeing to. Also, all the other launches going on during that period were considered priority and thus should not postpone the September 28th launch date.
Since she was looking for a career change, and they promised to compensate her for several years after she signed the nondisclosure statement, she reluctantly got on the private airplane and headed out of state to the launch site, all within a 24 hour period. Although this was originally a three man vessel, she had to fly solo because of her massive size at that point. They had also recently perfected an autopilot system and assured her that if there was an incident that they would guide her step by step if she needed to pilot the craft manually. The engineers also designed a special array of straps to keep her in the large seat that they had installed.
The launch was flawless and considered a great success. They had told the press that this was an “unmanned test flight” because of their fully functioning autopilot system and that’s how history would remember this launch, although you can’t even find any evidence of that either. Ironically, “unmanned” can be interpreted as having women on board. I suppose NASA thought that was about as funny as putting fat people in space. I often wonder if this was one of the events that led to a general loss of interest in spaceflight? They really must have been running out of ideas back then.
Since Bowman had absolutely no training and not a lot of briefing about spaceflight, she assumed that what she was feeling during liftoff was totally normal for any astronaut. What she didn’t realize was that the launch had started to induce labor. Once she got into orbit around the earth, Patti was instructed to float loose in the microgravity and journal her experiences into a tape recorder. They had led her through a brief tutorial and she was to undo her restraints, arm the recorder, and float around for three hours while speaking into a compact microphone.
As it was her custom, she loved long dresses and hated wearing underwear. Oddly, NASA didn’t see the need to have her in a spacesuit, however the way I see it, I am led to believe that they didn’t have enough time to design a suit that would actually fit that behemoth of a lady. They also supplied her with a sort of insulated robe/sleeved/hooded/blanket thing (could this have been the invention of the Snuggie®?) It had already been several hours since she first entered the craft and was not allowed to bring any of her medications she was taking. I think the US government saw her as “expendable”, and also considering the fact that she really didn’t have any close living relatives in addition to the fact that the music community basically turned their back on her after she got hurt.
When the pain in her foot returned, it was about the time she was able to roam freely around the craft. This particular vessel was designed to carry a small payload which they had designated for the experiment. When she floated over to the empty cargo area, the amazing sensation of weightlessness was so gratifying that she completely forgot about her aching foot. She also was still unaware of her pregnancy until suddenly, something very unexpected caught her by surprise.
A lot of her energy was spent trying to focus on working the tape recorder, holding the little microphone, and trying to talk as her massive body was bouncing from wall to wall. It’s hard to say just how many minutes she tried to record; I would suppose there was roughly ten to twenty minutes of recordings made, although most of the lost recording would have not been her actually speaking. She would let go of the mic trying to use both hands to grab handles to stay still while still trying to dictate her experiences. About that time is when it happened: her water broke.
In fact, her water broke and shot almost exactly in the direction of the tape recorder. It ruined a four-hour reel of audiotape plus caused the equipment to eventually seize, spilling tape out of the machine. Her labor was tedious and lasted almost the entire time during the allotted radio silence. She wanted to call for help but decided that it would be better if none of them knew what was going on. A few times she tried but was so preoccupied with the delivery process that it was too difficult to return to the cab area and try to operate the radio. There was also fluid stirring more and more all over the inside of the craft in addition to several feet of audio tape also floating around in zero-g.
This was not only her first child she had ever given birth to, there was nobody to assist, including the fact that not even gravity was available that could have helped bring that baby out. After several more tries, she finally pushed and alas, became the first mother to give birth in outer space. Although it must have been an awkward mess, and extremely painful, she managed to wipe up most of the fluids, cut the umbilical cord, and strap herself back into her seat just in time for reentry.
She wrapped the newborn boy (me) in the insulated blanket (which was also very absorbent) and held me close as we entered the earth’s atmosphere. There were a few times when ground control would check in and she had to make sure I wasn’t crying while she was transmitting her messages. I believe that one of the main reasons why she tried to keep the birth a secret was the fact that NASA would have blamed her for knowing she was pregnant and not disclosing that in her interview. She was also in shock, in tremendous pain, and severely panicking; therefore you can’t expect anyone going through such an ordeal to be thinking clearly. There are very few cases in recorded history where a woman gave birth without realizing she was even pregnant, and she decided it would be doubtful that they would believe her that she didn’t know she was nine months pregnant.
When she was taken from the vessel, she kept me hidden in that Space-Snuggie® thing until she was immediately sent to the nurse’s station on board the boat that retrieved her. That is where she revealed that she had a child with her. One of the nurses fainted while the other attended to my needs. When the men tried to enter the room the nurse replied that the “subject isn’t decent at this time” and that she was recovering fine. The truth was, she had three patients to attend to, which included reviving the other nurse.
After several minutes, it was explained to one of the chief engineers about what had happened, and he decided to cover up the entire incident. He even created a story about why the vessel smelled so bad and had so much residue all over the insides in addition to the broken audio recording equipment. (Chicken broth? I don’t know…) Ms. Bowman was sent to a military hospital where she was hidden from the public and stayed with other unwed mothers while she regained her health. It was also about that time when she started walking better again.
While in the sanatorium, Patti made some calls to try to get through to various men who had played in Frank’s band earlier that year. It just so happened that Mr. Zappa had answered the phone one day and seemed happy to talk to Bowman. He had heard about her foot injury and mentioned about his injuries he had suffered a few years earlier. They had a fairly lengthy conversation and although she never said anything about being in space, she did mention having recently given birth and wanted to let the men know in case any of them might be interested in claiming the child as theirs.
Zappa had dealt with this sort of thing before (with band members) and was very calm during the conversation. Then to lighten the mood, he mused, “does the boy happen to have a mustache like me?” She chuckled and replied that the kid wasn’t black, nor was he pale. Frank went silent on the phone for a moment. He said that he’d come up with a good name if he was going to claim to be the father, because it was becoming quite clear to him who the father really was.
Several more days went by and Patti had a tough time getting a hold of Frank. Also, she didn’t want him to know she was being held at a secret government facility including the fact that she felt threatened to reveal any information because of the sensitivity of the whole experiment and everything else going on at the time. She finally got through to Zappa and he was very glad she caught him, although he also seemed very awkward as well.
Frank told her that him and Gail decided early on that if they had another boy that he would be named Ahmet, after a beloved colleague of his. Then in despair, he also stated that the name would be reserved for a boy born to him and his wife specifically, not necessarily his second male offspring. Then Frank continued that he decided he wanted to keep all this a secret. He also came up with an idea that he could add Ms. Bowman to the payroll to offer some support to the child until she could support herself. She got upset and refused his money.
Frank then asked what he could do and she asked that the boy could keep the Zappa name in addition to Frank choosing his given name. Another moment of silence was followed by Frank being apprehensive. He proceeded to tell her that he had a crazy idea that if the mother insisted on the father selecting a name for the boy, that although it couldn’t be Ahmet, it would be something very similar. He continued to talk about the fact that, ironically, Ahmet had an illegitimate half brother that his father kept a secret from him until Ahmet was older. The name was an old traditional Turkish word used for ancient nomadic tribes meaning “wanderer” in their dialect. He said it was pronounced “Fah-kay” and spelled as Fake but with an accent over the letter “é”.
When Patti was finally discharged from the military ward, she was met by the same chief engineer who had insisted on covering up the “labor in space” incident. He arranged for a special birth certificate and needed her input before they proceeded. Although Zappa insisted on Patti using the name “Bowman” for the name of the mother as well as the child, when asked who the father was, she spitefully decided to put “Zappa”. The chief engineer assumed she wanted to play a little joke and went along with it, although we don’t think he even knew who Frank Zappa even was. He was old fashioned and was looking for a way to put a different last name anyway, so he used Zappa instead of Bowman.
Things got even more funny when she filled out the paperwork with they baby’s first name. She entered in, “Faké” and told him how it was pronounced. He didn’t seem to care about any of those details, just as long as he could get her to disappear and not to tell her story to the press. In addition to this naming nonsense fiasco, she never did select a middle name, and nobody bothered to ask her why. I suppose she was so upset about everything that she just never went to the trouble. The other mothers staying with her heard the rumor that she had given birth in space and would use the name, Rocket Boy. I guess some of the other mothers would say stuff like, “hey Patti, how’s Rocket Boy doing? Is he hungry again? Anything we can do to help?” So, if I do have any middle names, I suppose the closest thing would be something like this: Faké Rocket Boy Bowman Zappa. I don’t know.
Patti remained under governmental protection until about the time I was in elementary school. She was still receiving funds and healthcare from the military under “miscellaneous funding” and grew tired of how much control they wanted. Because of this, it made things impossible for her to get married and even date men. She also wasn’t allowed to smoke weed or even drink alcohol. Tensions arose more and more and I often had to be appointed various “guardians” and was told that my mother was “unfit” for parenting. Another upsetting thing was that she refused to regard me as a Zappa. She filled out all the paperwork with my name as “Faké Bowman” unless it came to matters where she had to produce documentation. We used to try to tell people to remember the Japanese rice-wine drink “saké” in order to try to get my name right, but it was amazing how many people had never heard of saké.
To make matters worse, because whoever was printing birth certificates at the time were unable to typeset anything but standard English lettering, Faké had been written literally as “Fake” without the accent on the “e”. Although we insisted that it was pronounced as “Fah-kay”, nobody in preschool, kindergarten, and anywhere after, was willing to call me anything but “Fake”, which rhymed with rake and lake and literally was considered the word “phony” like I was some kind of artificial person. Basically, I was not only considered fatherless, I was also regarded the same as a plastic flower or some kind of knock-off cologne. I was never treated as a “real boy”. (That’s why I can’t watch Pinocchio without crying.) Soon after starting school, my mother, Patti-Cake herself, mysteriously disappeared while I was in the classroom one afternoon. I was told she had to live far away that that I was given “permanent parents”. I think the whole thing was yet another government coverup like her having to be experimented on and having to lie about so many things.
If that’s not sad enough, when I was graduating from high school, I composed a piece of chamber music dedicated to my biological father, Frank Zappa. After several weeks of trying, I got through to the Zappa household and spoke to Gail. She said that Frank was in Europe at the time. She also said that because of his health, he probably wouldn’t be able to attend my graduation. The weird thing was that she didn’t seem to be surprised at my claims to be one of his kids nor did she try to deny anything I was saying. I often wonder if she had gotten so many calls from people making outrageous claims and unreasonable demands that she decided not to argue and hang up on calls like that. After all, there wasn’t any follow up, even though I tried calling back, I couldn’t get through to Gail nor could I speak to Frank. I also wonder if she really did know about me and just wouldn’t admit it?
There had been times over those early years, that Frank would make references to my birth mother, but not officially on record. I was told when I was in my 20’s that a portion of Zappa’s 1981 album, “You Are What You Is”, was actually dedicated to Patti. The last part of Suicide Chump, Jumbo Go Away, and some references toward the end of the album about a woman being forced into serving the government, self-harm, and the obvious references to obesity, were about her. Zappa fans over the years are in such denial about this story that I no longer volunteer this information unless they happen to have an open mind and insist on knowing. They have even gone so far to say that I claimed that the song “The Idiot Bastard Son” was written specifically about me. That’s just plain stupid. That was written several years before I was born including the fact that I never had a dad, even a stepfather, who had ever served in congress.
There were also rumors about Captain Beefheart penning songs abut her as well on the infamous Zappa-produced album, Trout Mask Replica. “Pena”, “The Blimp”, and “When Big Joan Sets Up” were in question but I have my doubts especially considering the real backstories to these pieces. I do often wonder if my beloved birth mother was trying to guilt-trip Mr. Zappa during the late 1970’s, and if the lyrics, “Jumbo don’t you cry… Jumbo this is goodbye” might have been quite literal. Perhaps they had remained in some kind of secret long-distance friendship? Maybe she changed her mind and decided to accept his financial support? Maybe her disappearance may have been interpreted as suicide when Frank no longer heard from her? I also wonder if they knew anything about her coverup stories with NASA, the drug testing, and her disappearance? There are questions that only Frank himself would be able to answer if he was still alive.
He died a few years after my high school graduation and I was kept out of all the family business and totally ignored as if I was just some crazed and desperate fan. Over the years, there has been some talk about a “space boy” birth in various tabloids, a mention in a rock fan zine about the mysterious “blimp-sized groupie who’s responsible for the 20 minute rock song”, and a few rumors about “Dweezel Zappa’s secret brother named after Ahmet Ertegun’s secret brother”, in addition to a handful of government conspiracy theories that mention the “fat people in rocket ships”, or something like, “only in America could they cover up the disappearance of a 600 pound woman” (she wasn’t quite that big) and “psychedelic pain medication experiments in the early 1970’s” coverups”. I do often wonder why I am so fucked up though. Could it be those experimental medications? Could it be because I was born in microgravity? I also have a weird kindred spirit to Frank that I can’t explain unless I actually am a Zappa. I have done so many creative things over the years that seem to parallel a lot of Frank’s work, however I’m not a very good band leader nor am I a driven businessman like he was; but in my defense, if I didn’t have so many mental problems, I sometimes wonder how I would have turned out. If paternal DNA testing was available back in the early 1970’s, would that have changed my life? Would it have been harder to keep me a secret if we had that kind of solid evidence? I’ve gotten shit all my life for living with this absurd name on my birth certificate, Social Security card, and driver’s licenses. All I know is that I am, reluctantly, Fake Zappa.