Hypothetical Interview With Frank Zappa by Frank Zappa As Told To Suzie Creamcheese & Rodney Bingenheimer
By Frank Zappa
WHAT'S SO SPECIAL ABOUT THIS GROUP, THE MOTHERS, AND WHAT IS THIS WEIRD 200 MOTELS ALL ABOUT?
This is a silly analogy, however . . . Imagine the head of a pin. On the head of this pin is an amazingly detailed illustration of some sort. It might be a little thought or a feeling or, perhaps, an obscure symbol. It might be just a picture of a sky or something with birds in it . . . but it's on the head of this pin, remember, and it’s infinitely detailed. Now, imagine this pin is not a pin. . . it’s a musical note with a corresponding physical action, like the secret raising of an eyebrow to add special emphasis. Even in a recording studio where nobody can see you do it.
Now, imagine enough of these abstracted pins (with the needle part chopped off to save space) to fill an area as large as the North American Continent and most of Central Europe, piled to a depth of 80 feet. Now, imagine this area is not geometric space. Imagine a collection of decades (the exact number to be disclosed eventually). Pause.
Do you know about EARTH WORKS? Imagine the decades and pile of stuff on them subjected to extensive long range conceptual landscape modification. Housing. Offices. People live there and work there. They even make movies there. Imagine that you could be living there and working there and not even know about it. Whether you can imagine it or not, that’s what the deal is.
WHAT IS IT? LIKE A PLOT OR SOMETHING?
Not exactly. What I’m trying to describe is the type of attention given to each lyric, melody, arrangement, improvisation, the sequence of these elements in an album, the cover art which is an extension of the musical material, the choice of what is recorded. released, and/or performed during a concert, the continuity or contrast of material album to album, etc., etc., etc. . . . all of these detail aspects are part of the BIG STRUCTURE or THE MAIN BODY OF WORK. The smaller details comprise not only the contents of THE MAIN BODY OF WORK, but, because of the chronology of execution, give it a “shape”, in an abstract sense.
SO YOU SAY YOU’RE AWARE OF THE “OVERALL SHAPE” OF THE GROUP’S OUTPUT SO FAR . . .
I say we’re not only aware of it, we control it. It is an intentional design.
YOU THINK THIS MAKES THE MOTHERS BETTER THAN SOME OTHER GROUP?
It makes THE MOTHERS different, certainly. We do not claim that control of conceptual continuity automatically insures superiority on any level. The reason for explaining this process is to simply let you know it exists, and to give you some criteria by which to rationally judge what we do. It is not fair to our group to review detailed aspects of our work without considering the placement of a detail in the larger structure.
LISTEN, NOBODY PUTS TOGETHER A POP GROUP, SIMULTANEOUSLY PLANNING YEARS OF ABSURDLY COMPLICATED EVENTS, LIVES OUT THOSE EVENTS, THEN WRITES ABOUT IT IN A PRESS KIT AND EXPECTS SOMEBODY TO BELIEVE IT. YOU’RE NUTS.
The basic blueprints were executed in 1962-63. Preliminary experimentation in early and mid-1964. Construction of the project/object began in late 1964. Work is still in progress.
NO WONDER YOU GUYS NEVER HAD A HIT SINGLE.
I’m sure you realize that total control is neither possible, nor desirable (it takes the fun out of it). The project/object contains plans and non-plans, also precisely calculated event-structures designed to accommodate the mechanics of fate and all bonus statistical improbabilities attendant there to.
YEAH, SURE . . . I’M SUPPOSED TO WRITE SOMETHING ABOUT YOU GUYS AND I’M A LITTLE PRESSED FOR TIME, SO WHY DON’T YOU JUST TELL ME NORMAL STUFF . . . LIKE WHAT YOUR GROUP SOUNDS LIKE, MAYBE. . .
What we sound like is more than what we sound like. We are part of the project/ object. The project/object (maybe you like event/organism better) incorporates any available visual medium, consciousness at all participants (including audience), all perceptual deficiencies, God (as energy), THE BIG NOTE (as universal basic building material), and other things. We make a special art in an environment hostile to dreamers.
I STILL DON’T GET IT. . - ART? WHAT ART? ROLLING STONE AND ALL THOSE OTHER GROOVY IMPORTANT PUBLICATIONS HAVE CONVINCED ME THAT YOU GUYS ARE NOTHING MORE THAN A BUNCH OF TONE—DEAF PERVERTS, FAKING IT ON THE FRINGE OF THE REAL ROCK & ROLL WORLD . ,ALL YOU GUYS DO IS PLAY COMEDY MUSIC‘ SO I SHOULD BELIEVE THIS CRAP ABOUT A CONCEPTUAL PROGRAM SPANNING DECADES?
YOU BEEN DOING THIS STUFF FOR 7 YEARS.
Almost 10 years if you include pre-planning.
SO WHY DIDN’T I EVER KNOW ABOUT ANY OF THIS STUFF? I’M AWARE AND INTELLIGENT AND EVERYTHING. - I PROBABLY EVEN INTERVIEWED YOU BEFORE -. . HOW COME YOU NEVER MENTIONED IT?
There are several possible reasons:
1. Maybe you never asked because when they sent you to do an interview, you never heard any of the albums so perhaps the long-range continuity wouldn’t occur to you.
2. Maybe you never asked because when they sent you to do an interview, you had never seen THE MOTHERS perform live, and the conceptual aspects of this phase could not be described without you having seen many concerts.
3. Maybe you never read any of the other interviews where this phenomenon was briefly described producing varying degrees of semantic confusion.
4. Maybe now is when you should know.
WHY DON’T YOU GUYS JUST PLAY ROCK & ROLL LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE AND FORGET ALL THIS OTHER CRAP?
Sometimes we do play Rock & Roll like everybody else (Sort of) Our basic stylistic determinant is Rock, only sometimes it gets extrapolated into curious realms.
YOU PROBABLY GET INTO THAT “CLASSICAL ROCK” . . .REAL INTELLECTUAL WITH UGLY CHORDS AND THE BEAT’S NO GOOD - - -
Any association we might have with “serious music” has to be considered from a Rock viewpoint because most of us are strictly Rock musicians. Therein also the element of humor to consider.
YOU GUYS COULD NEVER REALLY PLAY ANY GOOD ROCK & ROLL . . . YOU’RE NOT SERIOUS ENOUGH . . . YOU, COULDN’T EVEN PLAY ANY GOOD SERIOUS MUSIC ’CAUSE YOU’RE NOT SERIOUS ENOUGH, HAVE YOU EVER CONSIDERED EMPLOYMENT IN ANOTHER FIELD?
I would like is bring to your attention at this time one of the tenets of our group philosophy: “IT IS, IN SPITE OF ALL EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY, THEORETICALLY POSSIBLE TO BE ‘HEAVY’ AND STILL HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR.” (We direct this specifically toward people who suffer feelings of ambivalence when given an opportunity to laugh at themselves.)
And another precept which guides our work: “SOMEBODY IN THAT AUDIENCE OUT THERE KNOWS WHAT WE’RE GOING, AND THAT PERSON IS GETTING OFF ON IT BEYOND HIS/HER WILDEST COMPREHENSIONS.”
WHAT THE HELL IS 200 MOTELS ALREADY?
As far as I’m concerned, 200 MOTELS in a SURREALISTIC DOCUMENTARY. The film is at once a reportage of real events and an extrapolation of them. Other elements include 'conceptual byproducts' of the extrapolated 'real event' In some ways the contents of the film are autobiographical.
HOW DID YOU EVER GET TO MAKE A MOVIE IN THE FIRST PLACE?
I have been interested in the potential of various visual mediums since 1958 when I first started shooting 8 mm films. As a composer, I feel that visual elements, organized using structural techniques commonly associated with musical architecture, provide exciting possibilities for conceptual exploration
YEAH, BUT HOW'D YOU GET ANYBODY TO PAY FOR THIS THING?
After having several appointments with people who normally finance films, and having them run screaming into the distance after a partial explanation of the project, by mere chance we took it to United Artists. Mr. Picker looked over our folio (10 pages of “treatment,” 2 boxes of tape, and some clippings in case he never heard of our group) and said: “You have a deal . . . get me a budget.” (Perhaps it was a little more elaborate and erudite than that.) We left the office, got a budget & a bunch of lawyers and work began in earnest, (Pre-production actually began in 1968. I had been working on and off since that time to prepare the choral and orchestral music, composing about 60% of it in motel rooms after concerts on the road with THE MOTHERS.)
WELL . . . SO TELL ME . . . WHAT IS IT?
200 MOTELS is a SURREALISTIC DOCUMENTARY, but it might also be helpful is think of the overall “shape” of the film in the same way you might think of the “shape” of a piece of orchestral music, with leitmotifs, harmonic transitions, slightly altered repetitions, cadences, atonal areas, counterpoint, polyrhythmic textures, onomatopoeic imitations, etc.
YEAH? WELL, I HATE ORCHESTRA MUSIC . . . I DON’T HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT, AND I ONLY LIKE ROCK & ROLL. IS THIS A ROCK & ROLL MOVIE OR WHAT?
This is a “ROCK & ROLL Movie” and it is also an “Or What”. Granting the fact that THE MOTHERS tend to operate somewhere on the outermost fringes of your real-life ROCK & ROLL Consciousness, the film is an extension and a projection of the group’s specialized view of and participation in this intriguing arm of contemporary human experience. In other words, 200 MOTELS deals with things like:
Life On The Road
Relationship To Audience
Macrobiotic Peed & Tie-Die Shirts
. . . but deals with these things in ways you might not expect (or approve of), simply because THE MOTHERS is not your average sort of Pop Group, and if, for instance we have experience with Groupies on the road, these experiences will not be very ordinary. Our Relationship To Audience is not ordinary, One Group Personality-Chemistry is not ordinary . . . therefore an ordinary documentary based on our exploits wouldn’t be ordinary, and a SURREALISTIC DOCUMENTARY extended from these circumstances might seem to be just a little peculiar at first.
WELL . . . IF YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT IT IS, TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS IN IT . . . SOMETHING . . . ANYTHING . . . HELP ME . . . .AHHRRRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHH)
First of all, there is no chronological continuity stressed. This is done to convey the sort of time-space reference alteration a group can experience on tour. On the road, time is determined by when the road manager wakes you up, when the plane or bus leaves, when you set up equipment at the hall and check your sound system, when you play your concert, and what you do for recreation after the show, Space is indeterminate. Motels resemble each other. The same for planes and buses. Concert halls may vary a bit, but over a period of years they also blend together. Audiences vary/blend is a similar way.
When we go on tour, especially long tours, life in the group begins to resemble life in the army. Each concert is a campaign. On such tours it is possible to not know where you are (Is thin really Vienna?)”, sitting in your room, dealing socially most of the time with other group members, you might as well be in Los Angeles. We seem to carry a “mystery bubble” of L.A. consciousness on the road. Inside of this “bubble,” strange things happen.
The situations contained in 200 MOTELS were organically grown inside 4 years worth of these “bubbles”. These concepts, extracted from within the various time’ warps, with as much care as our $600,000 budget would permit, form the basis of the filmic event,
WHO’S IN IT BESIDES THE MOTHERS?
Theodore Bikel plays RANCE MUHAMMITZ, Ringo Starr plays LARRY THE DWARF, Keith Moon plays THE HOT NUN, Jimmy Carl Black (The Indian of The Group) plays LONESOME COWBOY BURT, Martin Lickert plays JEFF, Janet Ferguson & Miss Lucy Offerall (GTO) play THE GROUPIES, Don Preston & Motorhead Sherwood play slightly modified versions of THEMSELVES, Mr. Barber (our Road Manager) plays AN ANXIOUS VACUUM CLEANER, and Miss Pamela Miller (GTO) plays THE ROCK & ROLL INTERVIEWER, Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, the group's two lead vocalists are featured, also playing modified versions of THEMSELVES,
ARE YOU IN IT?
A little bit.
WHAT’S RINGO STARR DOING IN A MOTHERS MOVIE?
l asked him to play the role of Larry The Dwarf. He accepted because he said he was getting “ . . . a bit browned-off” with his good-guy image.
I HEARD THIS MOVIE WAS SHOT ON VIDEO TAPE . . .
The video-tape-to-film process used in 200 MOTELS could easily start a new production trend. 200 MOTELS is the first full-length feature film to use this system, and some of the new optical effects made possible by this electronic technique are bound to attract the curiosity of adventurous film makers, One of the best things about these visuals in that most of it can be done while shooting (not in a lab where controls are uncertain and costly) and instant decisions can be made about colors, textures, shapes, super- impositions, dissolves or mixtures of any desired length and density, as well as matte shots, done electronically with amazing precision. Other effects are possible (such as the combination of several scenes, each of which is already a montage) during the video tape editing stage. 200 MOTELS was shot in seven days, with video editing for 11 days, followed by refinements in the 35 mm stage (at the usual film-handling work rate) of 3 months, sandwiched in between several concert tours, I personally supervised all stages of editing.
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO ACCOMPLISH WITH THIS WEIRD MOVIE?
For the audience that already knows and appreciates THE MOTHERS, 200 MOTELS will provide a logical extension of our concerts and recordings. For the audience that doesn’t know, doesn’t care, but still takes a chance every once in a while on a new idea, 200 MOTELS will provides surprising introduction to the group and its work. For those that can’t stand THE MOTHERS and have always felt we were nothing more than a hunch of tone-deaf perverts, 200 MOTELS will probably confirm their worst suspicions.
The first part of this article was originally published as Hey Hey Hey, Mister Snazzy Exec!
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net