Zap Out

By Tony Paris

Signal, October, 1977


Lumpy Gravy, Chunga’s Revenge, Hot Rats, Burnt Weeny Sandwich—they all sound like selections from the menus of those plastic 24-hour diners that are all over the United States around airports and bus stations.

Actually they’re not, they’re album titles from a man who has been to more of those diners than you or I will ever see. A man who has been recording and touring for over 12 years, a man who has been credited with winning a gross-out contest consisting of eating human excretion, (which he swears is totally untrue), a man who gave meaning to the words “weird” and “freaky” – Frank Zappa.

Zappa looked relaxed sitting on the sofa in his room at the Marriott Hotel as he sipped a cup of coffee. His sometimes wild, woolly jet-black hair was hanging free, instead of being tied back in ponytail as it was the night before during his sell-out performance at the Fox Theatre.

He was also hanging free. Not to say he didn’t have any clothes on, which he did, but he was not being tied back by any ego-tripping, cynical super-rock star image that he sometimes conveys on stage. He was sitting around drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. How much more down to earth can you get (except for smoking Marlboros)?

The man who has been labeled as having “no commercial potential” and who claimed “we’re only in it for the money,” is quite a businessman beneath his long hair and purple and yellow clothes. He is launching his own record company, Zappa Records, which is to be distributed by Phonodisc, (“They need me,” he mused), with the label’s first release being his own four-record boxed set entitled Lather, “simultaneously released with a single record for those who can’t afford the box.”

As to whether or not the single will be a success he continues, “Well, I don’t know whether it’s gonna be a number one single, but it’s stupid enough to get played on the radio. It’s called “Big Legged Emma.” You can’t get much dumber than that.”

Though he kids around about the intelligence of AM radio and singles, from a business viewpoint he realizes the importance and the struggle of getting a hit single.

“I think it’s important to get a record on AM radio cause if that one little piece of music on AM radio aims people in the direction of the album then it’s a tremendous victory.”

Over the years Frank Zappa’s songs have been far from dumb. In fact, many people have considered Zappa’s lyrics to be of high socio-philosophical importance on what’s going on within society. Zappa takes sarcastic, farcical stabs at whatever is prevalent in society, with hippies and sex being his main targets. Zappa has let nothing escape his cynical view.

His early subject, hippies, led to his latest subject of sex. “In the 60s, that’s what was happening. There were hippies, and that was more amusing than sex in the 60s. As you recall, back in the 60s there was the Sexual Revolution. People found out sex was okay.” Zappa continues, “Now, in the 70s, they’ve found out that there are problems that go along with it. I have songs apropos to those situations.”

Not only does Zappa sing about strange social behavior among people but it has also crept into his stage shows. As he finished his cup of coffee, he lit up a cigarette and eagerly related a story about a show at the Whiskey A Go Go in Los Angeles in 1968.

“There’s a girl in Los Angeles named Della who likes to get whipped. She came to the Whiskey with a child, handed the child to somebody and said. ‘Would you mind whipping me in the middle of the show?’’ and I said. ‘Sure, if that’s your idea of a good time.’ When she came on she had on a little skirt, had some tights on, had this big belt and she wanted me to beat her while the band was playing. I MEAN beat her, BEAT HER, to hurt. HURT HER! And I ‘sure,’ you know. ‘anything to please.’

Finally she wanted me to hit her with the buckle. She was a nice person, she just wanted to get beat, so I took the buckle and went BOW, like that," as he demonstrates, “and she went flying across the stage, just rolled up into a hall screaming. We’re just playing music,” he says. looking around matter-of-factly.

“So about two months after that," he continues, drawing from his cigarette, “we’re playing at the Shrine Auditorium and Della shows up again, and wants to get whipped. I say ‘Nah, nah, I don’t want to beat her, let’s get somebody from the audience.’ So I say. ‘Is there anybody in the audience who wants to whip Della?’ So Kim Fowley says. ‘Hey I’m really far out, yeh, fantastic. I’ll do it.’

He jumps up there and starts to beat her a little bit, but he’s making a big dramatic production out of it and the girl just wants to get beat, you know, and he wants to be a star while he’s beating her, and she’s going. ‘No way!’

Then this guy who’s named Skippy Diamond, who’s now a chiropractor in Los Angeles. Skippy’s this guy with a head built like a barrel, about 5’7". Kim Fowley’s 6-something, real skinny. Skippy walks up there, takes the belt away. Skippy’s normally a mild mannered guy, takes the belt away from Fowley, doesn’t beat Della, starts beating FOWLEY." Zappa says with wide eyes!

“And seriously. Fowley is on the floor with a microphone screaming for help at the audience and Skippy’s beating HIM, then beating Della, wailing around the stage with this belt, you know...I’m just playing, “Zappa finishes in laughter.

Such a scene would he unlikely onstage for him today because everything in his stage show is rehearsed and planned months in advance. During the show there is no free form improvisation except in very special cases.

Such an occasion occurred during his performance at the Fox. It was the seventh anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s demise and Zappa and the Mothers paid tribute to him with an impromptu Hendrix-imitation jam. Except for such cases everyone knows the songs before the tour begins, or they don’t go on tour.

Though one of his albums titles may claim it, Zappa and the Mothers are no overnight sensation and there is a method to their bongo fury madness. “I’m going to put out an album and do whatever I please. Anybody who likes it can buy it and anybody who doesn’t can buy anybody else’s records. It’s worked for 12 years, there’s not reason why it shouldn’t work for another 12.”

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