Frank's Favourite Topic: Creeps Are The Backbone Of This Country
By John Bryan
Frank Zappa, a freaker who's always "on stage," an innovator both in sound and styles who helped create the current L.A. hip predilection for all-day costumes, full, bushy hair, strangely barbered beards and mustaches, is coldly and deliberately aware of the effects he produces in his people-environment. He knows exactly where America is at ("Creeps are the backbone of the country"), has carefully studied that backbone as well as any man living, and can blow your mind with his descriptions of the gruesomely real but hilarious lifestyles of freaky people with imagination.
"The appearance of our group borders on the grotesque," he said in a recent interview. "Somewhere between the grotesque and bizarre. And the common man on the street doesn't want to take the chance of finding out whether or not these people are sissies or not. Most of them aren't, by the way. They're really nasty motherfuckers."
Zappa, a mature drill-master who rehearses each song his group performs to the point of exhaustion, also arranges every group movement offstage. He explains:
"There are certain concrete problems that one has to handle day to day. Like unpleasant people on the street, things like that. You develop a certain methodology to handle them. In our group we've developed certain interesting numbers we perform live on the street when people become offensive, or just obnoxious. Or redundant.
"We have these signals which I make with my hands, which indicate that the members of the group are supposed to make certain noises with their mouths. Like, at the airport the other day on that moving rubber walkway, we're going toward the plane. All these people across the hall facing us, going the other way away from the plane. They were obnoxious. So I gave a signal and then – " (Zappa gives his hand signal, the other five Mothers respond with one of the most nauseating cacophonies of earsplitting belches, vomit-sounds, cackles and screeches ever heard outside Dante's hell).
"The other people go their way," he continued, pleased with the rapid but noisome performance, "and they know a little more about being obnoxious in public."
"What happens," I asked, "when you meet people who want to fight back? Do they throw things at you from a safe distance?"
"Well, you see," says the Head Mother coldly, "we just finished working five months in New York. Left here last spring because we would have starved if I hadn't picked up a little doing arrangements. New York's now home base. We were the ones throwing things at the audience.
"We threw vegetables at them, walnuts. We threw them at 'em like rocks. They picked 'em up and ate 'em. Some tried to throw the things back on stage, but we said, 'You can't do that. You're advised not to return these things to the altar.' And it stopped."
Zappa learned how to be successfully freaky in his home town of Ontario, California during the years before he formed the Mothers of Invention and brought them to Los Angeles – and notoriety – two years ago.
"I'm starting to write songs about the creeps I knew in Ontario," he said. "The real backbone of the country. Ideal with incidents, real historical incidents from my past which relate to the problems of bizarre individuals in the context of a very unpleasant society.
"Like the small town weirdos I knew in Ontario. They were just weird. They were from the Ozarks, two brothers. No, you wouldn't call them iconoclasts. They were just creepy.
"I think you should give real credit to creeps like Harry and Roscoe. If it weren't for the work creeps like them are doing, where would this country be today?
"Like the creep who figured out the banana hoax last spring, the one which kept Madison Avenue busy all summer. Or what about the people who moved on to take over the word 'psychedelic' as the ideal thing to sell dresses and nail polish?
"So, like, the creeps really help out, you know. And you really shouldn't be so unkind to them, 'cause they're really there for your benefit. They're going to invent all the interesting things that will make your life worthwhile.
"Now these people didn't want to do anything special or smash any conventions. They just wanted to be creepy. They wanted to make it as easy as possible on themselves, of course.
"But in a small town like Ontario it's really hard. And most of my background has been living in these little, shitty towns.
"Ontario, California has different kinds of houses, but the brains are all the same around you. Like we lived next door to a plumber for three years. Not that anything's wrong with plumbers – but they have certain attitudes about life which seem to conflict with the manner in which I conducted my household.
"Even though we were living in the sticks, I was hosting creeps from within about a 200-mile radius of my genetic research laboratory there. And the neighbors were very upset about it because they just didn't look like the way these people looked.
"It frightened them. It wasn't because these people had long hair or bizarre clothes or anything. But a creep's got that certain look about him, you know? It's in their EYES. Plumbers can't stand it when the creeps look at them, you know. It's one thing to call somebody up in the afternoon and say the toilet's acting up as long as they don't have to look you in the face when they fix it.
"So a few of my new songs will deal with the problems of such unpopular persons in this other-directed society. Creeps like Harry and Roscoe.
"Now Harry was about 20 years old, and he was the best guitar player in the area because he knew how to play every Chuck Berry solo note for note as in the record.
His brother, Roscoe, was 17 and he had a father named Gus and a mother named Gert. And Gert worked at Ed's Cafe, which was a truck stop and was open all night. And Gus was a furniture salesman.
"They came from Arkansas and the whole family was very familified, you know. They had their relatives around and they were sort of country people. But they had these strange habits.
"Like the young kids would sneak up behind the parents with cigarette lighter and wait for them to fart so they could burn Mom's and Pop's farts. And, of course, they'd do that to each other.
"Like a Madison Avenue type has his Presto Lighter ready to whip it out on anybody who has a cigarette in his hand. These guys, you know, if you looked like you had a fart coming out of you they had that cigarette lighter ready to go.
"They'd worked it out to a science. I have tape recordings of Harry explaining things like the process of fart burning, which is the exact equivalent of the combustion engine because you have to perfectly time the fart, the intake exhaust, you know. I mean, weird.
"Okay. That was one area, Then, of course Roscoe saved his noomies (boogers, to you) on the window of his room. Had this little room in the house so his mother couldn't get in. He'd covered this window so you couldn't see through it. Until one day his mother saw it and made him scrape it off. It took him a day with a chisel, Ajax, screwdrivers, razor blades. You see, he'd had all his friends come over. Everybody who had come in his room had put a booger on his window. It was like an offering to God, you know. Same thing.
"And then Harry at that time decided he didn't want to live in the house anymore. There was a tool shed in the back and he wanted to move in there. In the same way that a lot of kids like to camp out in the back yard in a tent when they're young.
"So he had to have a tool shed and he moved out there and, of course, there was no place to go to the bathroom in it. And it just so happened that at that time he was living in the shed Jim Sherwood, otherwise known as Motor Head, the fun and merriment manufacturer for our band right now who plays the soprano saxophone, the crash cymbals, the tympani and the tambourine and dances with baby dolls all over the stage. Jim moved in with Harry and he's also a creep.
"So when the two of them had to go to the toilet, instead of going outside to piss on the grass, they had these Mason jars in the shed that the mother had saved up to can with. So they'd take a jar down and they'd both piss in it and they were both too lazy to take it outside and dump it.
"So they'd save it until they had eight or nine gallons of piss. And then it got to be status to piss in these jars. So they'd have people over there for what you'd call a piss party once in a while, and they filled mere jars. And they'd save all the stuff.
"Well, it got old, you know, and they still hadn't thrown the stuff out. And they'd even stopped living out there. So one day somebody noticed – about two months later – that things were growing in the jars.
"And they were alive and swimming around. So they started playing games with them. Harry would take one of the little animals out – which happened to be white and about the size of your little fingernail with a black dot in the middle of them. And they also grew tails.
"So he'd take these things out and he'd put them on the tool bench and take a nail, drive it in there and the thing would shrivel up and this juice would squish out.
"You know, I have recordings where he describes his experiences with these little animals. Until finally the father found out about this stuff. They were stinking and some of the jars were open, you know. So he made the kids flush all the jars down the toilet where, I'm sure, they're multiplying right to this very moment."
"So you're writing hymns to creeps like Harry and Roscoe," I said.
"Yes," said Zappa thoughtfully, pulling at the long black hairs of his angular beard.
"Songs in praise of creeps, you know. You tell them. Tell the creeps. If there's anybody out there that nobody likes ya, never mind. We like ya a lot."
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net