A personable couple came to the MFA shop, and as I waited on them the lady picked up an eraser, finding herself a little disappointed that it bore the image of a cat’s head, and the word meow.
The gentleman inquired delicately after the reason for the disappointment, and the lady suggested that the cat might have said woof, instead. (The Element of Surprise, you see.)
So, I offered, “There is something like that on Zappa’s Barking Pumpkin logo.”
Zappa’s pet name for his wife, Gail (it was necessary for me to go on to explain), was pumpkin; and allusions to this in his discography reach back to the second album by The Mothers of Invention, Absolutely Free, whereon there appears the “Invocation and Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin” (a title borrowing some resonance from scenes in Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps, not surprisingly).
Gail (like Frank himself, I continued) was a smoker, and the smoker’s habitual cough was thus the origin of the phrase barking pumpkin.
In 1981, when Zappa established his own record label, he christened it Barking Pumpkin Records, whose logo shows a pumpkin with a speech balloon, showing arf! in Gothic typeface. Facing the pumpkin is an astonished cat (hackles raised) with its own speech balloon. The cat’s startled outcry consists of two Chinese ideograms signifying (I am led to understand) holy shit.