Wielding words 'like chemicals'
By Kim Martin
"One of the more imprecise things in the world," said avant garde rock composer Frank Zappa over a tasty, typical "road" lunch of limp French fries, steak and flat Dr Pepper, "is the printed word."
"There is no comparison between language spoken versus language printed," he said. Listen to language and see how words are being used and that a difference emphasis makes – stress on syllables and all. Take any word and pronounce it in any zone of nose, chest, throat and how it changes is never indicated in print." He illustrated by using "the crudest example 'heavy'," and pronouncing it in nose, chest, throat and somewhere else that produced a high-pitched, shrill screech.
"There are no adequate compensations," he added, "no matter how many italics you use."
ZAPPA SHOULD know. He has put vocal sounds – "words" – together that, combined with his music, have effectively given rise to a class of music unique unto itself. Nobody writes like Frank Zappa except Frank Zappa, period. It's been that way for more than ten years.
He calls the wild, semi-ringlet locks, for instance, that frame his face like so many twisted, black wires "snargles." He calls his 8-year-old daughter "Moon Unit."
"Words are interesting," said Zappa. "They're like chemicals. You put them together with a certain composition at a certain temperature and it will produce a certain compound." Vary that even slightly, he said, and you may get an entirely different compound. So with words.
"In knowing how words function," he explained, "any time I use a word there is enough conscious application of principles that I've got to explain (to whoever sings the word) how to pronounce it."
TO HEAR THE imaginative vocalizings of Zappa's lyrics – from a vibrato-edged "Chipmunk" chorus whine to a precisely enunciated, resonating baritone drone – is to understand that task. Zappa's music itself is also uniquely complex, changing rhythms as often as the weather changes in Texas. Forget about any sustained, hand-clapping boogie beat here.
But the creative meanderings of Zappa's music only reflect an aspect of the man behind its composition, and Zappa, 34, doesn't limit his creativity only to professional endeavors.
Daughter Moon Unit has two brothers: Dweezil, 6, and Ahmet, 1 1/2.
"They're actually admired in school for their names," said Zappa. The two older children attend public school near their home in Studio City, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles. "They take records to school and friends ask for autographs . . . Sometimes even teachers ask for autographs!"
"I've been to the school and seen how they are treated. Moreover," he added, "they like their names."
But Moon wasn't too happy to see her father leave on the present tour. She expressed those feelings in a drawing that she brought to Zappa while he was working in the basement of their home, he said. It was a drawing of him in a "Pipco T-shirt." It said "Frank Zappa playing guitar" at the bottom. Up in one corner, he said there was a picture of her head with tears in the eyes, captioned "Daddy please don't go away."
ZAPPA IS ON the road touring four to five months of each year, cut down from an average of seven months in past years. The rest of the time is spent recording, rehearsing and writing. Additionally, Zappa will travel behind the Iron Curtain on this tour for a four-day visit to Yugoslavia at the invitation of that country's government.
But when he is home, "everybody runs around 'nekkid' and has a good time. Anyone who wouldn't want to live that way is crazy. If they're shocked, then they've just got a strait jacket on themselves."
His newest album, "Bongo Fury," was recorded with Captain Beefheart live at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin ("Not chosen for its acoustic properties, but for the vibe of the audience"). It contains his first compositions about America's approaching Bicentennial celebration, "Poofter's Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead" and "200 Years Old."
What does he think of all the hoopla surrounding this country's 200th birthday?
"I THINK lT'S perfectly logical in an industrial nation," he began. "And it is quite an achievement to reach this state of corruption in 260 years. I mean, consider what's been accomplished:
"We stole from the Indians; we subjugated race after race in the name of God (they've got that spelled wrong, it should read G-N-P) and the immortal dollar-sign.
"And the U.S. has one export commodity to challenge eons. There has never been a better example of a society founded on the concept of greed. But watch out, the Arabs are catching on fast.
"I would recommend an alternate national anthem," Zappa volunteered (in case the old one wears out). "Adopt that Chubby Checker song about the limbo bar – 'how low can you go?' – and play it all next year.
"But we're really not in any trouble at all," he quipped," because the people in control of the machine don't want to lose their proﬁt."
Those people, he said, are "in the industry of personality control, a huge industry with branches disguised as church, educational system, government and official agencies – and the Maﬁa – and all those others that profit from controlling the minds of people.
"THAT INCLUDES newspapers and TV – a piece of the machinery devoted to steering the thoughts and actions of large numbers of people, equally divided between (the concepts of) production and consumption. The rest of the machinery just keeps it that way . . . "
Zappa had to run; there was a radio interview scheduled next. What's the most frequently asked question of him in the 100 or so interviews he does each year? "What kind of dressing?" he said.
"Somebody asks me a question," he added matter-of-factly, "and I'll answer it."
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net