Frank Zappa of the Mothers of Invention – the Hard Guy who doesn't radiate love ...

By David Griffiths

Record Mirror, September 2, 1967


An American copy of the Mothers of Invention LP "Freak Out" was the first example I ever saw of the influence of psychedelia on pop music. But any notion that the Mothers would be exponents of the non-fashionable Flower Power was quickly dispelled by a meeting with Frank Zappa, in London to promote the group set up an Albert Hall concert next month.

For Frank – chief singer, talker and composer of the Mothers – does not radiate Love. He does not gladly tolerate fools (i.e. people who disagree with him) and is very likely to tell them to fool off. He writes Hard Guy songs ("Shut your fooling mouth about the length of my hair" is, more or less, a line from one of them) making fun of San Francisco's would-be-hippies, cabaret club singers, middle class values – just about anything Frank is an aginner.

Play A Loser

"I hate to think we are American," was one of his observations to me. Asked to elaborate he said: "Nobody likes to play a loser – in the Vietnam situation and every other way. I think the American social system is inequitable."

He described his visit as promotional. "We want to gear our product to the local market. We do this in the States too – I find there are regional variations in taste and we try to cater for them." At this point our conversation was interrupted by a phone call from Paul McCartney who wanted to arrange a meeting. After Frank had spoken with Paul he said: "Paul McCartney was disturbed that I could refer to what we do as a product but I'm dealing with businessmen who care nothing about music, or art, or me personally. They want to make money and I relate to them on that level or they'd regard me as just another rock 'n' roll fool."

He said he hated the whole phoney San Francisco drug-rock scene. "Most of the people there are vegetables. Over a year ago I was approached by a group of San Francisco lawyers and businessmen who wanted the Mothers to move from New York to San Francisco, which they wanted to turn into a centre of music for commercial purposes. They wanted to make it the Liverpool of the West Coast! No, I haven't seen Liverpool and I don't want to."

The Mothers don't get their product player on American radio and most of the teenage magazines ignore the group. "In London, a girl reporter told me that her editor didn't want any mention of us, or the Fugs, in his paper. Our fans, if you can call them that, range from six to 80 years old, with the majority in the 7 to 28 bracket. We're not jazz, or pop, or R & B. But in every town there's one screwball, a bit of an outcast who is ridiculed but also perhaps slightly revered because he dares to think differently. He may like our music. So may his screwball girl friend. Others on the fridge of his social circle get to hear about us and form a central clique. We sold 170,000 'Freak Out' albums without any airplay.

"Most of the young kinds come to hear us and whom I meet are short-haired, clean-cut kids from the suburbs. I meet more of them than the long-haired, bearded love-in kind ...

"The social values in American towns are ridiculous. Everybody wants to be thought a Good Guy. The last thing they want said about them is that they think a lot." Doesn't Frank want to be thought a Good Guy? "Well, I won't come to blows with anyone who calls me that but it's not what I'd value most."

Courteous

Still, I mustn't give the impression that Frank Zappa likes going around being impolite. He was perfectly courteous to me and even gushed to a lady journalist that he thought London wonderful, a pretty city. "And so clean. Compared with New York I'd be prepared to eat off the sidewalk here."

How very charming. But, of course, I couldn't help wondering if this was part of the process of gearing the product to suit the local market.

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net