Zappa: Viewed / Interviewed

By Mark Lagerkvist

Kaleidoscope, October, 1971

Despite two months of advance warning, Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention took Beer City by surprise.

A crowd of 5800 appeared at the Arena to see Zappa's troupe as well, as Fleetwood Mac and Rory Gallagher. Gallagher, backed by a bass guitarist and a drummer, shined on his lead and turned in a solid, crowd-pleasing set. Fleetwood. Mac, however, didn't quite make it. Between Kirwan's ego-antics and quantities of mediocre material, Fleetwood fell apart.

But at least the crowd knew what they came to hear. The stage area was extremely congealed, with everyone searching for a choice seat. Zappa placards began to appear. Anticipation.

The Mothers hit the stage, with Volman wearing a plaster rabbit head, and started farting around with the PA. Until, "This is a song about vegetables, they keep you regular and they're good for you" Zappa's intro to "Call Any Vegetable.

In their set, the band didn't do any stuff off their two recent albums, but stuck to oldies such as "Any Way the Wind Blows" and "Sharleena", spiced with unrecorded material like "Wino Man". The new Mothers were tight and precise, a predictable characteristic of a band with so much talent. Unfortunately, the two ARP synthesizers weren't coming through the PA, which detracted from the overall sound.

A good portion of the performance, was devoted to satirizing the Milwaukee-area culture, such as the following dialogue between Frank and Mark:

MARK (in imitation of a teenage girl): Where can I go to stuff my wat-worst in Mil-walk-eeeee –

FRANK: At Roy Roger's Roast Beef just a few –

M: Where can I go to learn the polka with Lawrence Welk –

F: At Art and Donnie's Dance Studio where –

M: Where can I go to watch the Milwaukee Bucks looooo –

F: At the Memorial Auditorium where you can –

M: Where can I go to drink beer until I puke in the Areeeeena –

F: In the dressing room of the Holiday Inn...

The Mothers closed with "Sharleena" and a Moog ending and did "Who Are the Brain Police" for an encore after recieving a standing ovation. Some people were disappointed at the lack of filth that Zappa and the boys didn't display, but there are a number of theatres and porn shops round town...

The whole show came off rather well, and Daydream Productions, who had been planning the extravaganza since July, gets a gold star for their efforts. Zappa, Fleetwood Mac, and Gallagher for fourinnahalf calms ain't bad. Should be interesting to see what their next concert's gonna be.

The following is an interview between myself and Zappa, with a few other Mothers getting in their licks. THE battle raged during Fleetwood Mac, interrupting Frank from his book on magicians and amusing the rest of them Mothers, who were making sandwiches (tuna ?). I regained my self-respect when Zappa went on the David Frost Show two days later and made Frost look even worse than he made me. (WHEW!) This is what went down:

K'SCOPE: A couple of years ago, when you broke up the old Mothers of Invention, you stated that the kids wouldn't know music if "it came up. and bit 'em on the ass." Do you think that's true of the audience of today or –

ZAPPA: Well, you have to realize, why I'd say a thing like that in the first place. It's not because people are basically stupid, it's because they haven't recieved the criteria to judge the difference between something good and something bad. It would have been impossible for us to continue what we were doing without the audience having some criteria and I was in no position to supply the criteria for them.

K: But do you think they're any better equipped now to appreciate what you're doing?

Z: No, but we're not doing the same thing so it doesn't make so much difference.

K: Electronic synthesizers such as Moogs. You're using three I understand –

Z: Two ARPs and one Moog.

K: Do you think that these will have a major effect on the direction music will take?

Z: You have to understand the workings of a synthesizer to be able to appreciate the mathematical possibilities.

K: What do you plan to do in the future as far as movies go? Do you think "200 Motels" was a success aesthetically?

Z: Yes.

K: Do you think it will be a success financially?

Z: Yes.

K: Do you plan on doing any more movies?

Z: Yes.

K: Do you have an idea on what you're planning on doing?

Z: Yes.

K: Meanwhile, teenage rock editor is getting cut to shit by Frank Zappa.

Z: Why, because I say yes? Ask me a simple question and I give you. a simple answer.

K: Is there anything in particular that you're planning on doing movie- wise?

Z: Yes. One called "Billy the Mountain", probably.

K: Is there any particular message your group is carrying now, over against the past?

Z: Have you listened to our music?

K: Yes.

Z: Then decide for yourself.

K: I heard that you were suing MGM-Verve (the Mothers' former record company) for cheating on record royalties.

Z: It's true.

K: Anything you'd like to expound on?

Z: The suit charging them with criminal fraud.

K: As to reporting record sales?

Z: No, as far as a special deal they made that was actually criminal.

K: How was it criminal?

Z: It was a criminal fraud.

K: Is there anything in the youth culture that particularly bugs you?

Z: Yes, but I wouldn't want to bother you with it. I mean everybody's having such a good time, I wouldn't want to put 'em on a bummer. I become suspicious of people who describe progress as a society of beggars...

K: In "200 Motels", you do a satire on rock stars and their surrounding culture. Do you include yourself and the Mothers as apart of what you're doing a satire on?

Z: Everything applies where it applies. In other words, where the shoe fits, we wear it.

K: I talked to Howie (lead singer Howard Kaylan) before and we discussed your reputation, because a lot of people have said that you punch people in the mouth and excrete things on people's heads and other such things, and that the way you really are is different than that. Do you like that image, do you try to avoid it, or what?

Z: Well, am I punching you? Am I shitting on you? Draw your own conclusions.

K: How would you compare your new, reformed Mothers to the original Mothers?

Z: I would say they're different.

K: Are the new Mothers talented in anyway that the old ones were not?

Z: There are differences. In many ways this group is superior.

K: On the Jeff Simmons thing in "200 Motels", what actually happened with Jeff Simmons?

Z: Ask Mark and Howie.

K: Do you always try to give short answers?

Z: Yes, they're easier to transcribe and harder to misquote.

K: With the old Mothers, it seems as though you were trying to build up a strange reputation with the things that you were doing. Are you planning on continuing this reputation with the new Mothers or are you planning on getting more into...

Z: The thing becomes weird only in contrast to the surrounding environment. The Mothers at all times have acted normal.

K: Do you have any opinion about groups with a large following, such as Grand Funk, that aren't quite as talented as the Mothers?

Z: I have never heard a Grand Funk record. I don't know what they sound like.

K: Black Sabbath?

Z: I've never heard them either.

K: Mark (the second lead singer, Mark Volman), what happened with Jeff Simmons?

MARK: He was with the group. He quit. The rest of it happened when he was living with his folks.

K: How do you like your role with the group?

MARK: It's really easy. It's easy because I do things that are fun to do or easy to do. I don't really think about it, it's just that I don't do anything else.

Z: The Mothers at all times have acted normal.

MARK: Yeah, I really dig working with Frank and I really dig working with the rest of the band. There is no dirt in this band, only what we do on stage.

K: Do you have any qualms about putting out "200 Motels", in the light that "Uncle Meat" (Zappa's first attempt at movies) flopped financially?

Z: What do you mean "flopped financially"?

K: Howard was quoted in Rolling Stone as saying that you sank a lot ot money into "Uncle Meat."

Z: It was never released. It never had a chance to recoup it.

K: Never had a chance to recoup IT?

Z: It's still in my basement. It never came out.

K: Are you ever going to finish it?

Z: Someday.

MARK: Eating rye bread before you sing is not the answer. What do you guys do for a living?

K: Actually, we go to school. We go to a Lutheran school where they train pastors or something.

MARK: What things about the young people irk you?

K: I think they eat too much rye bread.

MARK: How'd ya like that? Clever. Not coming to support the Bucks. Is this where Three Dog Night plays when they come?

K: I dont think this place could draw Three Dog Night, but they had. Grand Funk here...

MARK: I'll bet they sold it out twice, didn't they? At $9 a seat.

Z: I want to go back to reading my book.

K: Thanks for tolerating.

Z: Okay.

From this point the conversation went across the room to Howard Kaylan and bassist Jim Pons. The following tidbits of information were secured:

The Mothers will be going on a European tour during November and December. Their "live" album is in the Top Ten throughout Europe.

The group didn't perform the group sequence at the Arena because they felt the PA was inadequate for dialog in a large hall.

Zappa conducts the band with hand, signals which indicate what song, key, codas, random singing notes as to pitch and volume, extraneous sounds, tricks, bits and pieces, and just about everything else. The Mothers know four hours of music and have no idea what they're going to play until Zappa gives the signal. But perhaps the most significant thing of everything that went on in the dressing room was Howie's final statement:

"The Mother's message started in 1965. The Mothers' message is very long range and I don't think you or your audience will even realize the implications of what that message is for a couple of years yet, because it's all a building process... before you know it you'll be dealing in waves, not in anything else but waves, and we'll be the first group into waves. You might not even need a record or a television to get your music, you may not need anything. Pretty bizarre concept none-the-less, but when people realize it can be done, we'll be the group doing it."

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at)