Say A Good Word For The Groupies, Frank
By Keith Altham
TO THE great grey mass of the general public, Frank Zappa is a bad man suspected of corrupting the morals of our Youth and the perpetrator of musical obscenities from a great height with the aid of his evil crew, the Mothers of Invention.
He is, to a misguided mass, a freak, weirdo or charlatan and they, of course, arrive at this conclusion without ever having met the man or made any attempt to understand his motivation.
For the defence, I took time out to interview good old bad Frank at a house in London shortly after he had finished shooting his epic film '200 Motels' for which he expects "the world's worst reviews" and in which Keith Moon portrays a nun and Ringo Starr plays Frank Zappa – "can you imagine anything more absurd?" asks Frank in vindication of the latter piece of casting.
Zappa ambled to the door of his London residence, stepping over a six foot doll-like effigy of himself which lay in the hall and proffered a limp hand and a limp "Hello" adding that he had just arisen and was about to take breakfast in the shape of an enormous hamburger, so would I excuse him while he ate.
It comes as something of a surprise to meet the man of the infamous reputation to discover he is painfully introvert on meeting strangers, (He double bluffs this one by saying things like "I'm shy but I don't like to talk about it") hyper sensitive ("I have that clipping in which Eric Burdon called me the Adolph Hitler of rock and roll") and seldom raises his voice above a whisper.
He feels with some justification that the Mothers of Invention have been unfairly treated at the hands of the critics and has little time for U.S. rock and roll Critics.
"It's very easy to use words like pornographic or obscene as it tends to sell more copies of your newspaper if you put it into your headlines," said Frank.
"Conveniently enough, the Mothers generally get the 'smut of the week award' because writers associate them with something that is weird or dirty and this is subconsciously implied in everything I have seen written about the group."
In view of Frank's attitude toward the Press it seemed surprising that he had agreed to any form of Press reception?
"I didn't want a Press reception. I didn't want anyone on the set of '200 Motels'. That was a contractual obligation which we had to United Artists."
It is becoming increasingly apparent that certain American artists visiting this country, specifically Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, are refusing to do any Press interviews.
"Gee I wonder why?" unsmiled Frank.
And yet most people would accept the fact that the level of rock and roll journalism has improved along with the music over the past few years.
"I would say this," said Frank. "The level of pop journalism in the UK seems to be superior to that of the U.S. although it may be an illusion, however, neither are good. There are, of course, exceptions to everything and I'm sure sprinkled throughout the world there are a few good rock and roll writers and, to you brave few, I salute you. To the rest of you guys – I hope you earn a living!"
Does Frank believe rock critics serve any useful function?
"Yes, they help to sell the records of the lowest quality! Let me also say that I don't spend every waking minute beating my chest and saying "I'm misunderstood" – it doesn't matter. don't you understand that?"
The most recent piece of infamy heaped upon Zappa's head came from his banning by those bastions of public taste at the Royal Albert Hall – you know that place were they have all those nice boxing matches amongst other things – who alleged obscenity in his programme.
Perhaps not surprisingly Mr. Zappa is not in favour of censorship.
"The only reason I can see for the employment of censors is that at least it keeps them employed in areas other than the governmental departments where they might do more harm. I think that all information should be made available to everybody. How can anyone be expected to arrive at the correct conclusion about religion, sex or violence – the current social hang-ups – unless they are able to assess from the maximum amount of available information on the subject?"
Zappa believes that obscenity and pornography exist largely as a result of ignorance in the mind of individuals
"Those terms exist for people like lawyers and those who believe that 'screwing' is dirty because the only way they can get 'hot' is to think that. Those people need medical help."
He has defended with some vigour the role of the much maligned groupie in the rock industry and has sponsored people like the Plaster Casters of Chicago. His reasons are at least humanitarian.
"I never realised that groupies were a persecuted minority until Rolling Stone began writing about them as if they were dirt. Some people assume that any girl who takes her pants off for a guy in a rock and roil band must be a pig, a dog or some kind of preying mantis!
"To me groupies are girls that you meet on the road. Some are nice, some are nasty, some have a sense of humour, some have none, some are smart and some are dumb. They're just people!"
It is interesting to note that Zappa's more crude references stem not from inadequate vocabulary but are a part of his drive for effect concerning issues which he believes need attention.
He commands attention by adopting a position of attack as the best form of defence, and his shock tactics produce publicity.
That is essentially what Zappa is about – bringing things out in the open – underlining the fact that sex is not a substitute for love and violence is indefensible even when it is sanctioned by the Law.
Zappa is an active social conscience and he attempts to expose the motives of our society and, in particular, the so-called rock culture so that they might be put in some kind of perspective.
There are no sacred cows in Zappa's morality and he refused to accept a conditioning or standard of behavior advanced by the Establishment often under the guise of morality. Zappa's heartfelt shriek is "Why?" and no one escapes the net.
"One of the things which worries me most about the youth of today is their inability to laugh at themselves," said Zappa. "For example, if I appear at the Roundhouse and poke fun at that dirty old middle-aged man it's O.K. But if I make a reference to dirty long haired drug infested hippies there's an immediate 'you can't talk about us like that attitude!"
'200 Motels' deals with some of those social anachronisms and includes a number of new tunes like 'Your Dick Your Dork', 'What's the Name of Your Group' and 'Ringo's Walk' what does Frank hope he will achieve with the film?
"I imagine that all entertainment products are designed to decorate a certain amount of time so I've decorated two hours and forty minutes of somebody's time. The whole thing is an exercise in the absurd and I should like to say that Keith Moon has a great future ahead of him as an actor."
If Zappa is misguided in any of his actions, you may be assured of one thing – he is sincerely misguided!
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net