Where Is Frank Zappa? Part IV
This is the last in a series of articles dealing with Frank Zappa – head mother of the Mothers of Invention. The series, generally, has presented some of Zappa's thoughts about various subjects, including kids, politics, music and today's society. In so doing, the reader may have gotten some in sight as to where Frank Zappa is at – if that is at all possible.
Us: How do you think the audience is reacting to you right now?
Frank: Well, I suppose they're picking it up a little bit quicker. If we come back to a place where we've already played, generally the response is better. They've already been through the basic training.
Us: We were intrigued by the insert in your "Only In It for the Money" album. Did it help your sales?
Frank: That cut-out page cost us 66,000 orders in California. Some stores refused to sell the album because of the nipple on the cut-out page. They were completely unaware that it belonged to one of the guys in the band. But that's O.K. It's still selling. They can't keep it from selling. They can refuse to earn the money themselves. It's strange that they should have such a moral twinge about selling our product when they've sold a lot of things that are a lot worse, if you really want to get into it.
Us: Record stores seem to have no compunction about selling an album with a naked Tahitian girl on it.
Frank: Well. the theory behind showing nudity in any kind of American publication, which includes record covers, is that there seems to be this thing in the back of everybody's mind that if the person who is shown without any clothes has darker skin than the average white American, that makes it O. K. because they're supposed to be savage and native, and they naturally go around like that. When you show a Caucasian without any clothes on, suddenly it becomes lewd, you can censor it. When a lot of kids were young, and they couldn't get their hands on any erotic material they can purchase now at bookstands, they used to get the National Geographic so they could look at the brown women nursing babies. The hot parts of the National Geographic Mark the pages! It's not easy to fight that kind of stupidity.
Us: When we interviewed The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, they said they were refused service from a cheap steak house, in one of the poorer sections of town, that is owned by a member of a minority group.
Frank: Well. I can understand that. It's quite possible for a person of any race, creed, nationality, color, or whatever, to be bigoted in one way or another.
Us: It's almost unbelievable.
Frank: It doesn't seem unbelievable to me. Actually white people. . . I mean if you use not only Negroes, but hairy people, Chinese people, etc ... . , the whole concept of bigotry is pretty widespread, and it happens on a lot of planes. And the way people discriminate against one another for all these stupid reasons . . . I guess they don't have anything better to do.
That's a pretty heavy indictment of your community when people are so concerned with things like hair, while they let their buildings fall apart. You've got some of the ugliest buildings in the country. It's a toss up between Philadelphia and Miami as to which is the ugliest city in the Union.
Us: Do you mean the modern buildings?
Frank: Some of the modern buildings are merely in bad taste, but the older ones that are all saggy and run down are depressing. I thought it was Tobacco Road when I came driving through. But you have a lot of talented kids here. There's seems to be a lot happening on a creative level in this town. I don't know how it happened in such a cruddy environment. Maybe it helped.
Us: Do you think there is a lack of culture in the United States?
Frank: I can't think of one area in the United States that isn't culturally deprived in one way or another.
Us: Are you including New York City and Los Angeles?
Frank: They're a little less deprived, but not by much. What is supposedly cultural in New York certainly doesn't reach any mass audience. They may have some more unique artistic events of the season, but who goes to see them? Where New York is at is WMCA. Los Angeles, I think, has a better chance to come across with some of the new artistic happenings. But they had a problem with their underground station, KPPC. The station was programmed by Tom Donahue. The station decided they'd made a lot of money and that they didn't need Tom anymore, so they fired him. Do you know what happened? The disk jockies grabbed all the records and walked out; just walked out of the damn station, and the groups in town picketed the station. The only people who would service that station with records was Liberty Records. And the following day, after playing all the weirdest underground stuff they could get their hands on, that station was playing, "Let It Be Him," by Vicki Carr, because that's the only kind of record they could get. There was a whole movement there trying to keep Donahue on the station.
Us: What is a Moog synthesizer?
Frank: A Moog synthesizer is a keyboard instrument, an electronic music instrument, which is activated by a keyboard and a metal strip which you run your finger up and down... either of those two manually operated things, and the keyboard and the strip will set into operation a series of units which are all hooked together. These units will produce, modify or juggle a sound around. You can modify an existing sound with this instrument, or you can generate a tone electronically, shape it, repeat it, mix it. And this is all activated by the keyboard. Mickey Dolenz has one.
Us: Electronic music is not melodic, as we understand the word.
Frank: Your concept of melodic is obviously based on a harmonically rhythmic tune. You should allow for the possibility that the word 'melody' can be used in other circumstances. The concept of melody should encompass more than just a series of notes played against a chord, or something that you can hum after you've heard it. Melody, if you want to really abstract it, can be any sequence of events that flows together as a melodic curve. If I want to compose a melody that consists of three hits on a garbage can lid, leading into a siren, leading into someone taking a carton full of Coke bottles and dropping it on the floor, so long as it's preplanned and follows a melodic curve, that's a melody. It's just dealing with different sound material.
Schools don't teach kids that because they're not ready to comprehend things on that level. If they had a concept of melody that would allow for the linking together of dissimilar sounds like that to form what you will treat as a melody, it would become symphonic; but in a way in which most people are not familiar. But an audience which is not prepared to understand a melody in that sense would hear that as: "Hey! They just hit the garbage can three times. Now what are they doing? Oh! It's a siren." If they can't relate that first chunk, which is supposed to be the melody, they've got no hope in the world of following the variations on it. It would be very beneficial for all the people who listen to music to stretch their imagination, and open up their ears a little bit.
If they just didn't have all these preconceived notions and prejudices . . . it's just like the Negroes not allowing the hairy people into their restaurant . . . if people stopped being musically bigoted, they might find out they can get enjoyment from something like this. I defend anybody to play what he wants to hear. The job of a composer is to make what he thinks is music. Unfortunately, today it's hard to convince a lot of other people that what you're writing is music. Everybody is so hung up on music education. The school will teach you that a symphony consists of a bunch of violins, and they sit there and they do it like this, and if it sounds like Mozart it's a symphony. Big deal! That's a very narrow view, and so much has happened since the Classical period that is really serious music. People are taking musical ideas and trying to expand them and to really say something with what they're doing. They've really come a long way since the Classical era, but nothing is taught in schools about that. Kids who have studied music education are completely unfamiliar with composer's names, say, past 1890, and they're lucky if they get up there. You're very fortunate if you've taken a music appreciation course that will play something by Bartok or Stravinsky for you . And even then, the teachers will say: "This is modern music." Then they play the earliest pieces by these composers, and the kids think this is as far as they ever went, even though their style has changed a lot.
Us: Have you seen our magazine?
Frank: I have a couple of old copies of this magazine at my house. Not just because I'm in it or anything (see February 1968 . . . Ed.) I don't know where I got my hands on them. I laugh because I think it was a pretty dishonest magazine. I think generally, a lot of what went in there was designed to be too fake for the market it was supposed to reach. I think it talked down to the audience that you had. If I were to judge by what I read in that magazine, I would just automatically assume that everybody who bought it was a Cretin. Really. You had promotion things in there for groups that have zero merit and nothing to offer, and the only reason it was included is because you had this material available, and maybe there was some sort of benefit from the record company. I'm not condemning this magazine more than anybody else's, because there are so many that just publish that sort of stuff. It must be very hard. If you have a conscience at all, it must make you throw up when you go home to know that you're working on a magazine like that.
Us: Well since the March issue, we've made a concerted effort to completely revamp the magazine. We didn't like what we had been doing either. That's why instead of depending on promotional releases we're here to interview you.
Frank: Well best of luck to you. I wish some of the other magazines would try that.
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net