Zappa Paints a Picture Of Two Worlds Divided

By ?

Billboard, May 10, 1969


Frank Zappa drew a picture of two worlds -- the pop/hippie musicians and the vintage recording company executives -- and analyzed how the underground looks at the establishment.

In his speech on understanding the underground artists, the president of Bizarre, Inc., said that undersground acts are not as practical as executives would like them to be. "The record industry should remeber that the music sounds that way because of the environment in which the kids live. They have a concept of music as art. You don't understand their music and the way they look. Most a%r people know nothing about music, but look instead for the commercial potential."

Zappa blamed the American educational system for not teaching courses which relate to today's music and as a result, have had the effect of not properly training young people for careers as serious pop musicians. Yet, he said, the underground bands haave been using techniques which educators claim are forbidden in composition. "Parellel fifths and parallel octaves are a moving sonic experience for young minds. Most pop groups are crawling with such devices, yet the schools say they are forbidden because they don't sound good."

A lot of the underground sounds are raw, Zappa said, and the fact that they assault the ears helps contribute to the misunderstanding about the music.

Look for Chords

"You call it noise, but you don't look underneath it for the chords or melody lines." Zappa said that a musical generation gap is an "expression of fear on the part of older people. There's a feeling that the young kids are out to get you and this colors the way record companies treat underground acts."

Record executives don't like or understand the underground acts, Zappa contended, and to ameliorate this situation, he suggested that executives "go down and sweat with the kids in the psychedelic dungeons.

"A lot of the underground acts don't care about making a hit record. They're interested in making an artistic expression."

These underground acts, Zappa continued, are a different kind of person. "Some of their bodies are chemically altered and they have leisure time activities that would be very foreign to you."

Zappa's biting attitude toward his audience alienated some people, but it offered the long-haired leader of the Mothers of Invention's insights into the most mystical area of the music field. "You should care about the artictic merit of the music you're selling," Zappa warned.

Zappa categorized the underground's terminology for record executives as "old -----." He countered that by saying record executives call underground kids "creeps."

Zappa spiced his talk with a number of four letter words. This use of unprintable words caused a stir at the seminars. Mike Maitland, president of Warner Bros. - Seven Arts Records, which distributes Zappa's Bizarre Records, told Billboard at the conclusion of one seminar that he " saw no need to shock." Maitland added he would have to licten closer to future Bizarre products to see just what kind of material W-7 was distributing for the independent company.

Personal manager George Greif, in reflecting on Zappa's comments about the poor quality of American education, said that universities should establishchain in music where record production could be taught.

This prompted NARM's executive director, Jules Malamud, to add that the cost of establishing a teaching position was $250,000 a year.

Continuing with the topic of education, WLIB-FM personality Billy Taylor said that by the time a child reaches the first grade he has an established musical opinion -- usually bad, and that with proper sponsorship, programs can be developed in schools exposing pop and jazz music.

Company Hippie

The "company hippie" was a source of comic relief for Zappa. He classified the "company hippie" as a pacifier for groups with little or no power. "But he will turn on with them, and he might even be their connection."

Musicor president Art Talmadge said "instead of telling us where to get off, tell us something constructive." To that Zappa answered that a half-hour TV show would be a good vehicle for promoting underground acts.

W-7 Records general manager Joe Smith wanted to know in what areas LP production costs could be reduced. Zappa said he felt a change of attitude among groups to stop topping each other in hours spent in the studio, would result in lower recording costs. "There will be live recordings again, with fewer overdubs and getting away from the track by track concept," Zappa said.

Korvette's merchandising manager, David Rothfeld, brought up the subject of refusing to stock albums which contain questionable material. "I don't believe in obscenity or pornography as a concept," Zappa replied, adding that it would be a good idea for executives to help "explain to people that the word ---- on a record won't kill them."


This was Frank Zappa's speech in the First International Music Industry Conference, held in April 20-23, 1969, Paradise Isle Hotel, Paradise Island, Nassau, Bahamas.

See also 1970-01 Understanding The Underground, Record Mirror, January 17, 1970.

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