Zappa: rock's futurist still having fun
By Paul McGrath
"You don't see me selling used cars, do you?"
Frank Zappa replied with a slight smile of tolerance on his face when asked if, after 12 years and more than 20 albums, he was finding life as rock music's most uncompromising futurist a little tedious.
"No, it's as much fun as it ever was. The albums are fun, the performances are fun, but it's all the stuff in between that isn't."
He was referring to the travelling, the interviews, the talk shows and all the shuffling around that becomes part of the life in the business. He's currently one and a half months into a tour that won't find him home for any length of time for another five months. He'll get to hometown Los Angeles via Japan, New Zealand and Australia after his appearance tonight at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Zappa is travelling with a smaller band than anyone who has followed him would expect. He's been known to travel with more than a dozen musicians. Now it's down to a comfortable five, and all that means is that the ﬁve play harder and longer.
The hard work Zappa is noted for through every facet of the music he touches extends all the way down to picking the musicians. The ﬁve he chose tor this tour came out of 55 auditions. Fifty musicians went home unhappy, but Zappa had found five that could play his music. He does, however, have other requirements.
"They must be able to fit in with the rest of the hand; the faster they learn the material the better chance they have. They should have preferably no interest in drugs and must have an interest in hard work."
He's not kidding about the hard work. Zappa has his musicians play things that most couldn't and even fewer would ever think of. He does things with an orchestra that have never been done before, and some think shouldn't have been done to a dog. But he's not worried about a lack of acceptance.
"I never worry about being understood. there will always be people who won't. I just play what I want, and hope that there are enough people around like me."
Surprisingly enough, he worries less about acceptance now than ever before. He's buoyed by the reception of his latest album, Zoot Allures, which has had better reception than any previous, except for two cuts which are unacceptable to FM programmers more for the complexity of the music than the honesty of the lyrics.
"It's being played probably because of frenzied phone calls from audiences who have seen us," he said with a sly smile.
Zappa's life on the outer fringe of the rock world has contributed much in the way of mythology to the history books. Contrary to popular belief, he did not study under John Cage, and did not, he stresses, commit an extremely distasteful act on stage in New Jersey a while back that had even his most crass fans a mite grossed out.
"I was in Texas at the time. I think it's that people want to see somebody do it, so it might as well be me. If I had to do that sort of stuff to be in the music business, I wouldn't stay."
It's true, it might as well be him. He's done just about everything else, broken most of the rules, set mom's and dad's teeth on edge for a decade, and, by the way, produced more brilliant music in the space of a year than most do in a lifetime.
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