Zappa

By Mike Gold

The Seed, December, 1970


During the past few years, the Frank Zappa mythology has become increasingly more concerned with movies. Rock newspapers and articles have been discussing the Uncle Meat movie (from which the record of the same name was born) which was supposed to have been sixteen hours long. Rumors of a movie named after the Burnt Weeny Sandwich record started coming around just about the time the “original” Mothers of Invention split up. 

Zappa and the “new” Mothers – Aynsley Dunbar, Jeff Simmons, George Duke and Mark Volman, with veteran Mothers Ian Underwood and Ray Collins [1] – were in town November 21 to play the Auditorium Theater, and Zappa told the Seed about his movie-making plans. 

SEED: Whatever happened to the Uncle Meat film?

ZAPPA: Well, we can’t find anybody to finance it, but I have another film project that I was shopping around and we managed to get a budget from United Artists to finish that one. We’re going to shoot it in January and February in England, and it’s called 200 Motels. It has to be delivered to United Artists by November 1st of next year for a Christmas release. It’s budget is $630,000. 

(200 Motels was first performed as a sort of symphony this past Mothers Day by Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, assisted by Zappa and the Mothers. They were only able to perform about one and one half hours of the two and one- half hour symphony. Some of the lyrics from 200 Motels are on the Chunga’s Revenge record.) 

SEED: Just how badly do you want to do films? I understand you shot a considerable amount of footage for the Uncle Meat project.

ZAPPA: Well, it’s not exactly a fixation, but that was one of the things I was interested in when I first got out of school but the opportunities to do that on the scale I wanted to do it just weren’t there until I did something else. In other words, if I make a reputation in the record business then it’s easier for me to get a budget to put together the ideas that I want to see on film, instead of making a $1.98 movie.

SEED: I understand you’re using professional actors in 200 Motels. What’s the film about?

ZAPPA: It’s a musical film. The villain is played by Theodore Bikel. He plays a guy called Rance Muhammitz who owns a town called Centerville. He’s got an orchestra called the Centerville Philharmonic, which bit the bag last season financially. He owns everything in town – the Calamus Parlor, the Redneck Restaurant, the psychedelic nightclub, he’s got it all covered. It’s the orchestra that he used to keep around so he could listen to Wagner every once and a while because he’s got this Nazi-type syndrome they didn’t do too well, so He’s looking for a way for the orchestra to bread even,

That’s one sub-plot that’s happening. The main thing that’s happening in the film is it’s the diary of how you go on the road, it makes you crazy.

SEED: Will the soundtrack be similar to what was performed in Los Angeles?

ZAPPA: The album from 200 motels the film will include that orchestra music, it will include all the other songs that we sing, and it will be on United Artists. We have a waiver from Warner Brothers that United Artists could release it because they’re financing the film. And they said that no matter how much music is in the film they’ll put it all in the album, even if it’s four records.

SEED: Do you think a four record set by the Mothers will sell? I mean, you’ve always had this “No Commercial Potential” image.

ZAPPA: As far as I’m concerned, it’s just the idea that we went and did it, if it doesn’t sell at all, its too bad. I wanted to make that movie, I will make that movie; I wanted to put out a four record set, and we will do that. 

(At this point, vocalist Ray Collins loudly shouts out “Right On, Frank!” in a faked deep voice.) 

SEED: Are you writing the flick as well as producing it?

ZAPPA: I’m directing it, I’m scoring it, I’m cutting it, and I’m writing the script. Cal Schenkel (art director for Bizarre/Straight Records, and responsible for the collages and weird shit on most of the Mother’s records) is handling the art direction, he’s designing the sets; there’s a lot of animation involved in it, he’s designing the characters for that and that’s going to be executed by a company in Los Angeles that does commercials.

SEED: Are you dissatisfied with the $630,000 budget?

ZAPPA: I’m surprised we got any at all. If you were to see the project on paper, I don’t know whether or not you would have taken it. It was amazing, because we went to the head of United Artists, we gave him a tape that had a half hour’s worth of songs on it, a ten page treatment of the plot line, and some clippings and a couple of photographs. He studied it for about five days, we had a meeting, walked into the office and before we even sat down he said “We’ve got a deal.”

SEED: How will 200 Motels affect the group’s career?

ZAPPA: This tour ends in Europe December 17th, and then I’ve got about three or four weeks to finish the pre-production on the film, then we shoot and I’ve got some video post-editing – part of the film is being done on video tape – and we won’t take any more concert dates until May (Mothers Day), when we take about ten days. We’re supposed to do a big pop festival in Cologne, Germany, in August, and that’s all the concerts we’re doing next year.

      I have to put out another Mothers album prior to the release of the 200 Motels album because that won’t come out until next Christmas. It’s probably going to be a live thing. I’ve recorded a concert in Beloit which really turned out groovy.

SEED: Any plans on releasing another record like Weasels Ripped My Flesh, representing the unreleased work by the original group?

ZAPPA: Not for about five or six years. 

The review of Chunga’s Revenge in the last issue of the Seed criticized Zappa for crediting himself with the record and not the Mothers on the front cover. Zappa cleared this up during the interview.  

“At the time we started recording Chunga’s Revenge, it was with the same personnel that did Hot Rats. And then I got side-tracked on some other things, like working on the Uncle Meat film and things like that. So when I went back into the studio, I was already working with these players (the Mothers) so I figured I’d use them as a rhythm section.” 

      Zappa went on to explain how a Mothers record would sound differently, even though it might have the same musicians. “This band (the Mothers) does probably three times the amount of vocal material, and it’s got a different kind of stage presentation than the other band had.” 

      The concert wasn’t a bit like Chunga’s Revenge. Volman, Collins and Simmons performed some highly polished stage routines. Ray Collins has been with the Mothers so long he’s developed a comedian’s sense of timing. Like Zappa said, the Mothers performed a tremendous amount of vocals, more so than either of the two previous Chicago concerts which featured fairly much the same group. They surprised Mothers freaks with a lyrical version of the classical-type track, Holiday in Berlin, from Burnt Weeny Sandwich. After several requests for Louie-Louie, Zappa sang it very slowly, enunciating its cretonic lyrics, and thereby making the audience feel foolish. 

      Even more surprising was the crowd itself. The last audience at the Auditorium Theater for a Mothers concert barely filled 25% of the house. This time, the place was sold out, and some folks paid up to $12.50 per seat. This wasn’t Dick Gassen’s price – he was merely charging $6.50 for the best seats, but the scalpers seemed to have a field day; When Mothers of Invention concerts begin selling out in Chicago, one honestly begins to wonder what this city’s coming to. 


1. All through the article the writer confounds Howard Kaylan with Ray Collins.

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