By Robert Levin
These articles are being published in GO Magazine in order to allow Mr. Zappa, who has been one of our most innovative forces of rock music, an opportunity to present, in his own words, (Mr. Zappa has often been misquoted and misinterpreted in the press) to a large segment of public his views on the break of up of the Mothers and the status of rock music in this country.
The material on these pages represents the opinion of Mr. Zappa and may or may not reflect the opinion of GO Magazine or any radio station that distributes GO Magazine.
"The values of the people who consume music are so perverted and corrupted by ad men and that sort of crap," Frank Zappa said over the phone from Los Angeles, "that they have no real criteria for what is good or real. The Mothers didn't sound like the stuff they heard on the radio so we weren't accepted as music."
Zappa had taken time out from a heavy recording schedule (the Jean Luc Ponty album he mentions in his adjoining press statement) to respond to questions about the recent disbandment of the Mothers of Invention. Reports which lay the blame for the group's demise on Zappa's private ambitions and which suggested the possibility of a law suit against Zappa by the other members of the unit, have apparently caused him no small vexation. Such stories, he asserts, are grossly untrue and typify, in their "idiocy and inaccuracy" the very circumstances which made it impossible for the group to continue.
"Our records sold well, but to the limited audiences that already liked us. We couldn't reach the people who needed to hear us. Radio stations wouldn't play us – even 'underground' stations which just play as many blues records as they can. Our stuff, without being listened to, was categorically thrown into the garbage can by radio station programmers. There was no alternative but for us to separately get into other things. I think the members of the group had talent that would have been very difficult to maximize in the Mothers where their talents were ignored by the public. One good thing is that they will now be able to bring what they learned with the Mothers – the skills they learned with the Mothers – to other groups and situations and help spread the word around a little bit.
"The problems," Zappa continued, expanding into the scene in general, "are ignorance, the church, greed and complete misunderstanding of the word love. True, people are tearing this and that convention down, but they're not proposing valid alternatives. I would like to see changes that are better than what we have now, but I've seen no evidence of them.
"The majority of Americans still like to drink beer and watch baseball games on TV with their stomachs hanging out, or watch a good fight and see somebody win. People don't believe that peace is really good. At best if they want peace it's because it's fashionable. Even businessmen are making the peace sign now – and buying bush jackets. And the peace sign is something that a kid who feels alone and out of things can pick up easily and use just to be in. Most of the kids who are sticking up two fingers now were sticking up one finger not too long ago."
Didn't he see any genuine revolutionary energies and possibilities coming out of rock?
"The rock scene is absurd. I hate love songs – they gag me. It's very difficult for me to accept the love song as the ultimate art form. And a lot of these soul groups who talk about how much soul they have – like they're out there sweating – and looking at their watches.
"Yes, revolutionary things ARE happening in rock, but MOST of what passes as revolutionary is bullshit – tawdry stuff, the notion of an ad man. The Mothers were revolutionary. Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band – a lot of people aren't going to like this – is the only group I've seen that really makes it in terms of originality, devotion and intense feeling for what they're in to. Most other rock groups belong to the entertainment syndrome.
"The blues thing in white rock is ridiculous and embarrassing. It's embarrassing to hear most white rock singers singing the blues. It's embarrassing that THEY aren't embarrassed. White blues players are deluding themselves – a Brooklyn accent singing "Baaaby!' Agh! B.B. King plays and then he invites all these white musicians in the audience on up to the stage and they play all his licks and he pats them on the head. White players using Negroid mannerisms on the guitar is the same as the Japanese synthesizing miniature TV sets."
Zappa, although he admits to bitterness and exasperation about the failure of the Mothers to survive, has not retreated into brooding seclusion, but gone straight ahead with his work. The Jean Luc Ponty album, for which he has written all of the music and which will include numbers from the Mothers' repertoire as well as some "classically"-oriented pieces, is a project with which he is intensely involved at present. A number of good jazz musicians are participating in the sessions and Zappa is conducting them with, apparently, great pleasure.
"I'm getting a chance to work with other musicians and to bring some of the ideas and devices I developed with the Mothers to other musicians. I'm conducting the way I conducted the Mothers – using hand signals and a lot of the musicians are very excited about the approach.
"But listen to this. I heard the other day that some bullshit girl singer is getting a hundred thousand dollars for an album! We're having five sessions for the Ponty album and with all the musicians who are on it we got a budge of eight thousand dollars. Right? It's ignorance. The public is not ready to listen to long instrumental things. They can't hear them. They hear certain aspects of the guitar... fuzztones... but they can't hear plot or thematic development in a guitar solo. Drum solos they've always been able to hear – especially if they're loud and if you don't break meter. It's a problem of education. Education has to start in school. Radio stations have to do it.
Zappa is also preparing for a concert at Albert Hall in London in late April. The concert will encompass a broad representation of his music and include compositions from all the various forms – rock to ballet music – in which he writes.
Still another project is a television show (Go, Oct. 10).
"It will be shot in the basement of my house – so many weird things go on in my basement. People – friends, musicians – will simply do what they want to do. We're going to do it as a syndicated thing, not a network thing, so that we can have complete control over it. Someone has already agreed to shoot the pilot."
Zappa has been an important, if largely unacknowledged, force in contemporary popular music. The influence of his Mothers of invention upon other groups (including the Beatles and the Stones) has been pervasive and profound and, with some dozen albums still in the can, the Mothers influence should continue to be felt for some time.
Zappa on his own well, there is no telling what a talent of the size and range which he commands might achieve. Certainly his future work will have wit, energy and weight. No less could be expected from him.
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