Phi Zappa Crappa Interview: Peeking Into The Bizarre Mind Of Rock & Roll's Original Madman.
Interview by Dave Fass and Dave Street
Frank Zappa is one of the legendary figures to emerge from the sixties world of rock n' roll. In the following interview, he unravels his philosophy and candidly speaks his mind on drugs, sex, politics and music. The interview was conducted by ACID ROCK editor Dave Fass and New Wave Playwright / Rock Columnist Dave Street, whose new play, Alive At The Factory, opens this December in New York City.
ACID ROCK takes a trip inside the intricate clockwork that's contained within Frank Zappa's head, so that we could tap and relay back to you all of that information stored away in those wizzing, spinning wheels of his.
STREET: Where did the concept for the Mothers begin at?
ZAPPA: At a club called the Broadside in Pomona.
STREET: Did you just wake up one morning and have a flash of the name Mothers?
ZAPPA: I thought it was a cute name.
STREET: Did it signify anything to you in terms of the youth culture in America at that time?
ZAPPA: There wasn't any. Madison Avenue hadn't begun to talk about youth culture yet.
STREET: Do you think that youth culture began when Madison Ave. started promoting it?
STREET: How did you see yourself fit into the acid rock scene of the sixties, in terms of the philosophy that was going around and the lifestyle that was going down?
ZAPPA: I was laughing at it.
STREET: You didn't think it was very worthwhile or meaningful?
ZAPPA: I never was too fond of hippies.
STREET: You're not a hippie, then?
STREET: What do you think a hippie is?
ZAPPA: A hippie is somebody who puts a leather band around his head and gets stoned and dresses like the guy next to him. There was so much conformity that the people become servants.
STREET: And you're opposed to this conformity?
ZAPPA: I think it's good for the people who like to conform and not good for me.
STREET: You say you were laughing at the scene in the sixties. Do you see your music as an extension of your laughter?
STREET: Was there on anger in with that laughter, too? Like in songs such as Who Are The Brain Police?
ZAPPA: No more than usual.
STREET: And what's that?
ZAPPA: Well, the songs are pretty much a direct extension of my regular personality.
STREET: How heavily were you influenced by the drug use, particularly the acid use that went on at that time?
ZAPPA: I fired a lot of people because they were burnt out on it.
STREET: Is that one reason for the constant changeover of musicians in the Mothers?
STREET: What is the reason for that?
ZAPPA: Because to live is to change and to change is to live.
STREET: So it's part of the growing process?
ZAPPA: That's right.
STREET: Do you see yourself as a cultural herb, maybe an anti-pop star?
ZAPPA: I'm not a pop star. I'm a legend.
STREET: But when you were a pop star...
ZAPPA: I never was a pop star. Pop stars are cute and wear nice clothes.
STREET: What did you consider yourself?
ZAPPA: I was a musician.
STREET: And no more or less?
FASS: Do you see yourself breaking away from rock n' roll and going more towards jazz roots?
STREET: You're staying with rock n' roll?
ZAPPA: I like rock n' roll. I don't like jazz.
FASS: Do you find that it's a better way to express yourself in your lyrics with rock n' roll style?
ZAPPA: I never heard a jazz song with good lyrics.
STREET: When's the lost time you heard a jazz song with lyrics?
ZAPPA: Yeah. So I mean if you're gonna say words, rock n' roll is definitely the medium.
STREET: What do you think of punk rock?
ZAPPA: I think it's gonna be the next great humiliator of the rock n' roll journalistic circuit.
STREET: Do you think it's that already?
ZAPPA: No, it hasn't reached the two front covers of Time and Newsweek with what's his name on the cover?
STREET: Johnny Rotten?
ZAPPA: No. Who's the one they announced last year was gonna be the new Bob Dylan?
STREET: Not Iggy Pop.
STREET: Richard Hell?
ZAPPA: God, there's so many of them. The guy from New Jersey.
ZAPPA: You've heard of Springsteen. Yeah.
STREET: But do you really think he's part of punk rock?
ZAPPA: I'm saying that along those some lines. He hits both covers of major magazines with rock journalists saying; "Yeah, this is it." It's all a hype. And then the next thing you know they call it punk rock and now those guys are gonna be writing about punk and how great it is. Unfortunately, a lot of people who are writing rock criticism today weren't around during the sixties or they'd already know that punk rock already happened folks. It was better already.
FASS: What was your reason for doing a new four album set and having it retailed for twenty-eight dollars?
ZAPPA: The main reason for it is that a single LP with eighteen minutes on a side doesn't give you very much scope to do anything elaborate. So it's being simultaneously released with a single LP.
FASS: Are you hoping to make more sales with the single LP?
ZAPPA: The single LP is for the people who can't afford the box. And the box is for the people who are interested in things other than what is on the single LP. The box has everything from orchestra music to punk rock to country music to jazz to standard guitar stuff.
STREET: Is that your total statement on American culture from where you began to now?
ZAPPA: No, just a handy contiguim of everything I've been working on recently in all different fields. In the way people write about me in different magazines, they can only judge me by what's come out of the most recent albums. And since you can't really show any scope on an individual album, it's hard for me because most of my songs are too long. If you're doing all singles, if you're doing all short songs, maybe you can get ten short songs an album, but my songs run seven, some twelve minutes.
FASS: Are you trying to hit AM with some of the songs on the album?
ZAPPA: Well, there's one song on there that'll probably get some just because it's completely stupid, and it's also short.
FASS: Is it true that you don't want to be asked what happened to Wild Man Fischer?
ZAPPA: I answer all questions. Wild Man Fischer, as far as I know, is still walking around the street with an album under his arm.
FASS: What would you say he's doing?
ZAPPA: I have no idea. I haven't seen him in three years.
FASS: What was he doing when you last saw him?
ZAPPA: He was walking around the street with an album under his arm.
STREET: Do you know what album it was?
ZAPPA: His album.
STREET: Do you like punk rock music yourself?
ZAPPA: Some of the songs. I like a couple of the songs that Blondie does.
FASS: What in particular?
ZAPPA: Sex Offender.
STREET: Are you trying for any special audience with what you're doing now?
ZAPPA: Well, we don't tailor make our audience. You never know who's gonna show up at those concerts. Especially when you get to New York, the age range is fourteen to fifty.
FASS: Have you found this tour successful?
ZAPPA: From attendance?
STREET: How about artistically?
ZAPPA: I think artistically it's been successful too, but it's been real rough because the routing is hard. The cities are spaced weird. And sometimes the travel day beats the shit out of you before you get to the concert hall.
FASS: Has there been a lot of strain due to the fact of going on tour and also because of your break away from Warner Brothers?
ZAPPA: No, nothing that a person such as myself couldn't handle.
STREET: Do you have any plans to do any more films, like 200 Motels?
ZAPPA: If somebody gives me the money, I'll make more films.
STREET: Is that why you made it? Because somebody gave you some money?
ZAPPA: I made it because I wanted to make it, but it would have been impossible unless somebody else paid for it because movies cost more than records.
STREET: So if somebody paid for it, you would like to do another one?
STREET: What would you do it on? Any ideas?
ZAPPA: Science fiction.
FASS: Would you be acting in that?
ZAPPA: Probably not.
STREET: You'll direct it?
STREET: It sounds like you already have plans and a plot.
ZAPPA: Yeah, I've already got stuff written and I've shopped it around but with no results so far.
STREET: Would you wont to say what it's about?
STREET: I've seen you around New York City, in clubs like Max's Kansas City, with your body guard. Do you know who I'm talking about?
STREET: What's his name?
STREET: Was there anything special that happened to you that prompted you to get a bodyguard or did you always have one?
ZAPPA: No, I never carried one until I got injured in London.
FASS: What happened?
ZAPPA: A crazy person knocked me off the stage.
FASS: How did he do that?
ZAPPA: The guards supplied by the hall were off to the side getting high when this guy jumped up and grabbed me by the arm.
STREET: What do you think the future of rock n' roll music is?
ZAPPA: I think it's all based on merchandising. More and more musicians are gonna write music for program directors rather than for the kids, who actually listen to it. That seems to be the trend today.
STREET: Do you think that's one of the bigger changes from the sixties to now?
ZAPPA: Well, in the fifties it was people who did whatever they could with whatever they had 'cause everything was prejudiced. And then a few white people came along and said, "Hey, let me chew on my cigar for a minute and take this particular medium and find a way to merchandise this." So they started addressing some of the black groups in ways they could shine up their material and in certain instances get it across the color lines and put it on white stations which opened up a bigger market for their sales. Then, in the sixties, you had stupid people who were trying to look like English people. They were okay when they were playing surf music, but then in order to survive in clubs they had to change their costumes and they also had to do something that American bands had not done in the past. They had to play their own music and sing at the same time. And this was the beginning of the self-contained group. There's your capsule of American music.
STREET: What year are you talking about there?
ZAPPA: The early sixties. Prior to that time, a band was the musicians and the guy in front who was the singer. And usually he didn't play an instrument. Then with the British invasion you had self-contained groups that could sort of sing and sort of play and struck a happy medium.
FASS: What such groups?
ZAPPA: The Beatles did it.
FASS: The Who?
ZAPPA: Yeah, the Who. Herman's Hermits, too.
FASS: Were you striving to hit more of a commercial audience when you produced the Zoot Allures album?
ZAPPA: No, that was just the first album I decided to play as much music as I did by myself.
STREET: When you wrote the song Wind Up Working In a Gas Station were you thinking of anyone in particular? Anyone you had known from your experiences?
ZAPPA: No, I was thinking about who goes to college.
STREET: What's your favorite song on the Zoot Allures album?
STREET: How come it's your favorite?
ZAPPA: I just like it.
FASS: It's a very descriptive image.
ZAPPA: It's got a rhythm to it.
STREET: What's your favorite album out of all the albums you've done?
ZAPPA: Lumpy Gravy.
STREET: Any special reason?
ZAPPA: Because it's so odd.
FASS: The odder the better?
ZAPPA: No, I just happen to like that one.
FASS: What outside forces might have influenced your creation of Freak Out?
ZAPPA: What outside forces?
FASS: Yeah, what outside influences might have been...
ZAPPA: They're all listed on the inside of the album.
FASS: More than names. Was there a certain culture scene that inspired you to do that?
ZAPPA: Umm. There's just an amalgamation in LA after that disaster in high school.
STREET: The first time I saw you was either in '65 or '66 at the Garrick Theatre in New York. You had a giant phallus that you put shaving cream on. And you came out in drag singing My Boyfriend's Back. Do you remember those gigs?
STREET: Has your attitude towards women changed since those days of free love, hippie rock and all that?
STREET: When the country was in its free love days of hippie rock.
ZAPPA: Has my attitude towards women changed? No.
STREET: What was your attitude towards women?
ZAPPA: I think they're stupid. I think to be placed up against men is really stupid. I think everything works out. I think it's preposterous for women to think that they're really good. And I think that it's preposterous for men to think they're superior. 'Cause they're all stupid. They're ALL assholes.
STREET: Do you know anyone who's not an asshole?
ZAPPA: And the sooner they realize they're all assholes the happier they'll all be.
STREET: Who's your favorite author?
ZAPPA: Dick Corberge [Cordwainer Smith].
STREET: What did he write?
ZAPPA: The Game Of Rats and Dragons.
STREET: Is that your favorite book?
ZAPPA: It's not a book. It's a short story.
STREET: Is that your favorite short story?
ZAPPA: Well, I like that and the Battle Of Los Semel [Ballad Of Lost C'Mell].
STREET: What's the first short story about?
ZAPPA: The first short story is about hyper space and the problems of transporting people from one place to another because there are creatures called dragons who live in hyper space.
STREET: Did you identify with it?
ZAPPA: Did I identify with it? Well, I did at the time because the character had to sit there in order to catch the dragons. The operator of this security device had to sit in this situation where his mind was meshed with the mind of a cat.
FASS: Do you ever find it difficult getting musicians to play what you want due to the strange nature of your music?
ZAPPA: I find it difficult all the time.
STREET: Why do you gig in New York every Halloween?
ZAPPA: If you were gonna play someplace on Halloween, where would you play?
FASS: Do you do the hustle?
ZAPPA: No, I wish I could.
STREET: Do you like to dance?
ZAPPA: I used to, when I was a little bit lighter on my feet. But I had that accident, when I had my leg injury and now one's a little bit shorter then the other side so I feel awkward and stuff like that.
STREET: Do you feel pain?
ZAPPA: Only when it gets damp.
FASS: What made you use your bodyguard as the Halloween special lost year?
FASS: Can you describe what kind of character he is?
ZAPPA: No, I can't describe what kind of character. I just haven't ever met anyone else like him.
STREET: Do you think you can relate to the punk rock kids?
ZAPPA: What do you mean, relate to them?
STREET: Do you think they'll come to your concerts?
ZAPPA: Do you think I could have a coherent conversation with somebody with a safety pin stuck in his cheek? I mean, aside from their speech impediments.
STREET: Do you think they'll buy your records?
ZAPPA: Probably not.
FASS: Do you think the punk rock scene such as you see at CBGB's or the Bottom Line encourages prostitution?
STREET: Do you think it encourages anarchy?
ZAPPA: No, I think it encourages buying the merchandise specified by peer group pressure in that particular trend. In other words, it encourages people to put safety pins in their cheeks; it encourages people to buy leather goods; it encourages people to look a certain way; it encourages people to purport to espouse a certain attitude towards things.
STREET: Have you ever had a run in with the FBI or Secret Service because of the political nature of your music?
STREET: Do you think you're on the FBI files?
ZAPPA: Isn't everyone?
FASS: Do you care to talk about the incident that happened to your road manager several weeks ago?
ZAPPA: What do you want to know about it?
FASS: Well, what might have been the cause for it and what was it?
ZAPPA: I don't know. Why does anybody want to kill themselves?
FASS: Usually there are specific reasons why somebody wants to kill themselves. Do you know of any, personally?
ZAPPA: No, I think the ultimate decision to kill yourself is something that you just make up on the spur of the moment. A lot of people sit around and think it. "Oh well, I'll kill myself," and to actually do it is a decision you make in the privacy of your own suicidal chamber. He had been on the road for us for a week prior to doing it. I hardly knew the guy.
STREET: Whatever happened to Suzie Creamcheese? Are you still in touch with her?
ZAPPA: Which one?
STREET: The one that Freak Out refers to.
ZAPPA: The one that's referred to in the song or in the letter?
STREET: The one in the song.
ZAPPA: The girl that's in the song, her real name is Jeanne Gazter [Vassoir], and I think the last time I saw her was about two years ago.
FASS: Who is she supposed to symbolize?
FASS: Wouldn't you rather give us your interpretation of it?
ZAPPA: I think the letter is explicit.
FASS: Is it true that was the first double album ever recorded?
FASS: For rock music.
ZAPPA: For rock.
STREET: Was there incense on the cover of that album? I think I recall buying it and it was tinted with incense.
ZAPPA: No way. MGM was too cheap a company. You probably bought it in some hippie store where someone spilt oil on it.
FASS: What are your views on grass?
ZAPPA: I have no use for it.
STREET: Did you ever?
STREET: What do you think of its widespread use?
ZAPPA: I think if that's what they want to do then they should go ahead and do it.
STREET: Do you think people should be basically free to do whatever they want to do?
ZAPPA: As long as it doesn't infringe on the lifestyle of the others. I think it's very difficult to legislate against those things. And ultimately people will find out that that kind of behavior is non-productive.
STREET: Do you think rock 'n roll musicians should be responsible for the effect of their music on people's behavior?
ZAPPA: Like what, for instance?
STREET: Like with Kiss, whose music is almost entirely about sex. What if kids listening to it get motivated by it to do some heavy petting in their cars, for instance?
ZAPPA: Do I think people who get pregnant while listening to Kiss albums should file a suit against them?
STREET: I was thinking about the musicians themselves. Do you think they should take responsibility for how their music affects people?
ZAPPA: Well, I think they should if they're responsible people. But there's nothing worse than giving responsibility to an irresponsible person.
STREET: Do you think most rock n' roll musicians are irresponsible?
ZAPPA: No more so than the people who get elected and go to Washington. But I don't think the musicians are people who are geared towards responsibility. Most of them are geared towards making hit records.
STREET: Do you care how your music affects people?
ZAPPA: The people who it does affect are really fanatics who are already affected by other things.
STREET: Like drugs?
ZAPPA: Drugs, or super stress, or a weird childhood or some other factor.
STREET: So maybe you act as the catalyst that unleashes an already existing force in these people.
ZAPPA: I think that people who are in that kind of situation get catalyzed by any kind of audio stimulation.
STREET: Did you see yourself as a politically liberating force of the sixties?
STREET: Did you see rock n' roll music as a politically liberating force of the sixties?
ZAPPA: No, rock n' roll music eventually got used by the government.
STREET: For what?
ZAPPA: Carrying out political messages for unworthy candidates. It started off with concerts for McGovern and in the last election Carter had endorsements from rock n' roll bands. And that's becoming the trend.
FASS: What direction would you like to see rock music go in?
ZAPPA: I'd like to see it go where it wants to go.
STREET: Are you always going to be part of it, as long as you can?
ZAPPA: I don't have any intentions of quitting it. I do what I do, and the people who like what I do get my records and the people who like Kiss will get Kiss records.
FASS: Isn't rock n' roll music important to you?
ZAPPA: Of course it's important.
FASS: So then why don't you care where it goes?
ZAPPA: Because I'm only concerned with what I do. What am I, an arbiter of taste for the whole industry? Everybody is entitled to listen to whatever kind of music they want to hear, whether I like it or not. I think the more there is, the better there is because then it gets widespread distribution, then everybody gets their jollies.
STREET: Are you married?
STREET: Do you hove any kids?
STREET: Do you look forward to the time when you can retire with them?
ZAPPA: Actually, they look forward to the time when they can go on the road.
STREET: Do you socialize with other musicians?
ZAPPA: No, I find them extremely boring.
STREET: Do you socialize with any group of people; like writers or artists or are you pretty much by yourself with your family when you do have free time?
ZAPPA: Well, usually when I'm not on the road I just stay at home.
FASS: What's your favorite activity when you stay at home?
ZAPPA: Writing music.
STREET: You do that even when you're relaxing?
ZAPPA: I find it the most relaxing thing a person can do.
STREET: Is to create?
ZAPPA: Yeah. If you have an aptitude for something and there's nothing bothering you and nothing's in your way and all you have to do is sit down and do it whether you build model airplanes, write or write music if that's what you like to do and there's nothing to keep you from doing it then that's pure pleasure, just sitting down and doing it.
STREET: Have you had any conflicts with the censors over the years, like with your lyrics?
STREET: Did you usually win or did they usually win?
ZAPPA: Well, I usually managed somehow to get the correct information out. But it's a struggle.
STREET: Do you think that struggle is as much today?
ZAPPA: It's not quite as bad.
STREET: Do you think that's because you're established now? If you were just starting out, do you think it would be easier now than before?
ZAPPA: No, it's because I already punched a hole in the wall back in the sixties. That made it possible for things to happen now.
STREET: Do you think that musicians like you, who I think in that sense were politically liberating forces in the sixties, made it possible now for new things to happen and in that sense were, in fact, political forces of change?
ZAPPA: In that sense, yeah.
FASS: How old were you when you got into your first rock n' roll band?
FASS: What initially inspired you? Did you hear a record that gave you the inspiration?
ZAPPA: No, I didn't get inspired by a record to start a rock band. I started at twelve, playing the drums, and at fourteen I started writing my own music.
STREET: Were you doing rock then?
ZAPPA: I was writing chamber music, and stuff like that. I tried to get it played and nobody wanted to play it, you know. And I kept writing more and more stuff. Orchestra music, stuff like that. I tried to get it played. Nobody wanted to play it. So I got a couple of guys and I got a band together.
STREET: And how many bands had you been in before you joined the Mothers?
ZAPPA: Probably three or four.
FASS: How many instruments do you play?
ZAPPA: I play the guitar, bass, a little bit of piano, percussion.
STREET: You formed your own record company now, right?
STREET: Okay, are you gonna be doing other people's music as well as yours, in terms of making records as far as the company is concerned? What kind of direction do you plan to go with it? Do you plan to record punk rock bands?
ZAPPA: Well, I don't have any punk rock bands in mind. But if I came across some that I thought were interesting, I might be interested in them.
STREET: So you're open to all sorts of music, as far as the company goes?
ZAPPA: Yeah, but my main concern is my own music.
STREET: Do you feel that it was necessary to start your own record company to go the direction you want to go now?
FASS: What was it that pissed you off about Warner Brothers?
ZAPPA: Well, first of all, they're not nice people. They lie. Second of all, on top of lying they do things to impede your career.
STREET: Such as what?
ZAPPA: Things like breach your contract and don't pay you money. That's why I have a suit against them.
FASS: How were they not nice people?
ZAPPA: Not nice people? Well, I think anybody that lies on purpose and tries to fuck you up is not nice. Especially when they're so concerned about the image they keep up in Burbank.
ZAPPA: Five million dollars.
STREET: Do you have any idea how long it might take you?
ZAPPA: Five years.
STREET: Then you can make your movie if you win your lawsuit.
ZAPPA: By that time, five million dollars will probably be worth about thirty five cents.
STREET: Have you ever had to become part of the established political system?
ZAPPA: No, I never wanted to be a fireman, either.
STREET: What did you want to be when you were a little boy?
ZAPPA: A chemist.
STREET: A chemist? How old were you when you started having this fantasy?
ZAPPA: About being a chemist?
ZAPPA: About five. I made gun powder when I was six.
STREET: When you wrote Call Any Vegetable had you had any experience?
ZAPPA: Calling vegetables?
STREET: No. Communicating with vegetables.
ZAPPA: Of course.
STREET: In what way?
ZAPPA: Vegetables and I have a great understanding. I eat them and they come out my asshole a little while later.
FASS: Do you get off on insulting people?
ZAPPA: No, but they do.
STREET: Have you ever told an audience to go fuck themselves?
ZAPPA: Of course.
STREET: Do you mean it?
ZAPPA: Of course.
ZAPPA: Because since most girls in the United States aren't really skilled and of course the guys are not far behind them in their lack of expertise the best thing for the audience to do is to fuck itself. Maybe by practicing they can get together and have a really good time.
STREET: Are there any major rock n' roll bands aside from yourself that you do listen to?
ZAPPA: I like Queen. I like Gentle Giant.
STREET: Do you think it's necessary to have a college education to survive in today's society?
ZAPPA: It's probably a detriment.
STREET: For what reason?
ZAPPA: Well, the only real reason for going to college is maybe you can go there and marry somebody who's got some money already. But if you want to go out and earn a living, the best thing you can do is get out of high school and get a goddamn job. Because all the degrees in the world aren't really gonna help you. You got people with fucking degrees in all kinds of stuff who wind up working in professions that require little or no education and here they spent thousands of dollars on getting it. And how does our society reward them? With dogshit.
STREET: If you couldn't support yourself as a rock n' roll musician, what else would you like to do?
ZAPPA: Well, I have several other manual trades that I can perform.
STREET: Such as what?
ZAPPA: I'm a pretty good film editor.
STREET: I guess that's it then.
ZAPPA: I hope you guys had a good time.
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net