Zappa au go go
By Jennifer Lois Brown
Interviewer: "But do you think anyone can every really be free?"
Frank: "Well, if you can't be free ... at least you can be cheap."
— ? ? ? —
At the Melbourne press conf. for the Mothers of Invention, a Scotch 'n' Coke crowd swill amongst and to the band in the American Dream of St. Kilda Road's Distillery discotheque ... mafiatic golden mean.
"Hey! A picture of Nixon would look really neat on the wall here, don't you think?" inserts Frank.
A pressured blonde skates through the meet, notebooks and lists bunched dramatically against her boobs, bent on the organisation of interviews with selected people in allotted time spaces.
Frank, wolf-eyed, has slunched his laconic, lanky self (entrenched in greenbubble great coat) into a wicker chair in an adjoining room. He murmurs husky answers to a disc jockey's mike and eyes newcomers. Omnipresent bodyguard, Numbar Nagnew (Sweetness-But-Firmness) and the lost fold look on.
A slow coagulation of reporters organises into an adjoining room. Tossing jibes like a fetid salad, they set up their machines, extract their notebooks, and wait ... fiddlesome.
Enter Frank, stage left. Enter question, in dribs and gushes and squirts. Socio-political questions from Nation Review. Album/film detail questions from Go-Set. Four-letter-word-bust questions from Truth. Interceptions and interpretations? from Digger. More SMUT queries from Truth. Frank's coffee arrives, black. He sips it and sidesteps the headlines ... an organic fusebox of nerve feedback and pure, freeflow current.
"Some people call your lyrics sexist. Would you accept that or do you see them as just an open portrait of your environment?"
"It's all reportage." Simple.
Many of Zappa's answers are cut back this sweet and taut; some expand with data, Mothers' folklore and lurid visual metaphors. He's one of the few rock prototypes around who can write a story just by opening his mouth and being fraudulent with his eyebrows.
He pulls on a Winston cigarette; he's all there.
A man who has seen the glinting zip of the Creature From the Black Lagoon is a man who has lived.
Frank Zappa is thirty-two years old, although he seems sixteen just as often. He made gunpowder at six, at first a lonely interest. He has two brothers and a sister.
His mother was a librarian, his father a mathematician, ballistics expert, meteorologist, and author of a book on gambling (which he didn't). At eleven, Frank grew a moustache which was to predecess the infamous.
He figured out his master-plan around ten years ago, and in '64 offered a piece understandably titled I Was A Teenage Maltshop (co-worked with high school cronie Cap'n Beefheart) to CBS television, but they didn't wanna know. Then came The Soots (pr. Suits), The Mothers, The Mothers of Invention and Hot Rats. The Mothers did five albums for Verve (and Verve is still rehashing), got ripped for royalties, signed with Reprise as The Mothers of Invention (through necessity, as the company thought "The Mothers" was a No-Go), and released, with Hot Rats, eleven more – all but one on their own Bizarre label, distributed through Reprise (WEA out here).
Frank still contorts if people ask him if he's a millionaire.
He has made a videotape movie called 200 Motels ("We'd stayed in approximately 200 motels, touring, up to the time the movie was made. I know, because I collect the keys") and was forced to halt production on Uncle Meat a while back, when "the backer saw what we already had on film and instantly pulled out," although the 16 mm. color film was only budgeted at US $30,000 at the time. (To take up production again will cost more.) The hassling and hustling to get 200 Motels into the country has already begun, via this tour.
Zappa has also written a musical for live stage and is planning a sci-fi cheapness-with- hideous - undertones movie, as well as all scores and lyrics of his various groups' albums.
Dislikes: Frank doesn't respond well to policemen, insulting interviewers, misquotes, water in the ears and soft-boiled eggs. ("Hard-boiled I could understand.")
Alternatively: He gets off on the sexual, the cheap (cheapness is one of Frank's main pleasures in life it would seem; e.g.: the giant genetically awry spider with nylon strings which only just and only occasionally catch the gleam of the lighting crew's eerie twilight, as the archaeologist's daughter screams out "Scotty! no! Don't go into the Cave of Danger!") assorted musics, rhythm n blues singers '55-'58 (well some) and their lyrics, artwork by his cover-designer Cal Shenkel, artwork by BRITTINI (celebrated Holiday Inn artist), After The Gold Rush by Neil Young, hoops, lewdicrous, and all things "hot" and "classical".
He doesn't like holidays, not a vegetarian. Zappa is his real name (Vincent is his second) and he is Sagittarius cusp Capricorn.
He has the next two Mothers' albums (Overnight Sensation and a live Down Under set) under production, as well as a solo.
Married twice ("I like being married"), Zappa is now congenially wed to Gail; they live in the Los Angeles countryside with a dog, some cats and their two children Moon Unit (F, 5) and Dweezil (M, 3).
Frank is also very interested in chemistry, which shows in his music, and almost became a scientist. He doesn't accept that neutrons, protons and electrons are the crux of the matter.
VIEW FROM ROW F
How many reactions can one band extort from a crowd? Playing Melbourne Thursday June 28 (yes, it was there), The Mothers did their thing while people cried and got horny and giggled themselves nauseous and slept. They played to those on the edge of their seats, and those underneath them. A few left, a majority held out, stomping, for the encore.
The Mothers played Zappa's music, hot stuff that burst forth from the rent flies of classification with a Late Late Show roar and rolled its timpani at you. NOW music, ariz from the coffin, metamorphosed anew each time it takes the stage...
On the deep left, Ruth Underwood, of the vibrant stick-wield, darting like a nubile baby red-fin shark in her playpen of instruments; marimba, kettle-drum, bass drum, small drums, vibes, spunk beyond comprehension.
Way up front, Sal "Studs" Marquez, a-hangin' on his trumpet, a-swingin' and a-groovin'; then Bruce Fowler, the group's trombonist, looking strikingly normal and thinking about deviate sex and/or advanced topology, while the flu-eyed, seal-moed, rainbow beanie-topped Ian Underwood creams it out with a tenor sax solo filling in "Cosmic Debris".
To his back and left, you can just viz the busy top of Ralph Humphrey's head, quaintly emergent from his grand canyon of drums and cymbals; a clutch of microphones poised like metal rattlesnakes. Nevertheless, you can hear him spanking and showering that shit out. Likewise bassist Tom Fowler, Bruce's brother, whose head is fully visible, involved in an orbital and consummately, sexual motion; and who, with indecently funky George Duke – currently on Hammond organ – is giving, yes, that kiss of life to blues funk. Waka Ja.
Up front, Jean-Luc ("Prostitutes ... Paris ... Ponty!") with magic bow in hand, quivers; and Zappa cruises through chordal rhythm with quiet care ... six feet tall ("Do you have feet out here?") and definitely bandito with his redcheck ranch shirt hangin' down his bum and his moustache waiting to head the microphone off at the pass,
"Who you jivin' with that cosmic debris!
(Is that a real poncho, or is that a Sears' poncho?)"
HANDS UP ALL OF YOU
At the heels of concert one in Melbourne came the yapping Vice Squad.
Slinking backstage, maybe hoping to free some of the entourage with an impromptu dope-bust, they merely left the scene with a few warning snarls and empty jaws.
It was an audible "motherfucker" which conveniently loosed their leash; though deep suspicions were held as to how come the VS were at a goddam rock concert in the first place. And funny how Truth got hold of the story so fast.
"Yer not in America now, boy" added besuited VS heavy to Numbar, who just happens to be black. Ooo-woo.
Zappa freaked (he doesn't use dope, but is human), switched rooms, reregistered under the name of Steven Teech (pr. as in Yeech), and grabbed a no-elbow-room dinner at the Distillery a go go, well-fancied by autograph hunters and DJ's. The next night everyone felt better and the concert jumped like the vaginal muscles of a bitch in heat, subtly operated by a network of nylon stringlets.
Moving on along through Duke's have-a-ball intro to "Dupree's Paradise" and the satire/celebration of getting-back-to-nature, old cowdy stuff "Montana" ("a song about Dental Floss"), the band eventually wriggled into an improvisation on the mudshark theme (upon noisy and numerous request), featuring a demo Mudshark Dancing Lesson with a more self-sacrificial member of the audience (F), the band and the front row, then slithering into the new instrumental "Father Oblivion".
Auditioning Ausvocalist Barry Leef, fresh from Bakery, stepped onstage at Zappa's request to blast the crowd with a high-voltage rendition of Road Ladies (plus), which shook with confidence and energy.
"I just wanted to see what he'd do," said Frank. "He did awreet."
This time no Vice Squad, more groupies. A rose and a note for Zappa from the audience. Merry promoters in the dressing room, goo-goo-eyed girls out the stage door.
Oh the neon night and the twenty-four-hour room service! Oh the gypsy mutant melody of Frank's guitar through his numbered door ... keeping to himself! May it not be more than $10 a card game! May our souls and our percentages be saved for the taxman! Oh spirit of BRITTINI, watch over your ambassadors!
YES, BUT IS IT HOT?
Sunday night, the only vocals were on "Montana", "Cosmic Debris" and "Inca Roads" (by Studs Marquez a la smoggy ten-table cabaret); but compensatorily there were "Big Swifty", "Dog Breath, In The Year Of The Plague", "Father Oblivion", "Dupree's Paradise" and "Uncle Meat" (proper); with "Son of Mr. Green Genes"/"Chunga's Revenge"/"King Kong" en encore – instrumentals galore.
Overall, perhaps the playing lacked some of the spontaneity and bite of the first two shows, and Ruth missed her oxygen-flash solo of the night before, but much which was good occurred.
Bruce wheedled some outrageous things from his trombone ("It's a whole new instrument, when he plays it" says Frank); Jean-Luc consistently won (and rightly so) l'amour and kisses from the crowd, and Frank's guitar playing reached new heights of electro-magnetic spume.
It welled, it writhed, it schlepped; it was whimsical and volcanic in cross-circuiting passages – often seeming to work diametrically opposite the melodic/rhythmic support of the backing instruments. In "Cosmic Debris", Zappa slung in way down low, bit and razzled up through a turgid, lavic plateau, came all over the place, and licked it up with a true-corn fourteen-note exit before smoothie-ing into verse two.
Frank, Zappa, guitarist and everything else, is still developing at a truly heady rate. Keep your ears open.
KNIRPS FOR DAMPNESS
If there just happened to be more space, one could elucidate on Tina Turner and The Ikettes doing back-up vocals on the coming Mothers' and Zappa LPs("But I hate poodles!") and Karl the inflatable penguin, a street-purchase who let the Hoop of Fire go out, and all the jokes (private) on the LP covers, and the night road manager Marty got locked out in the nude with the backfiring extinguisher, and Don Preston's famous Monster act for Public Places, and the story of Uncle Meat, but as it stands there can only be Frank's favorite nitwit graffiti.
It was writ in the pissoir of some obscure truckstop in the US of A, and it goes like this:
In ink ... "SAVE OUR FORESTS". Below, pencilled; "don't fuck too hot of gals in em might catch em on fire."
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net