Cherry Bomb Unzips Frank Zappa
Lumpy Gravy Never Tasted So Good
Your little magnolia blossom has just finished a delirious Frank Zappa week here in Fun City—and wow! All I can say is I wish every night was Halloween. First I caught the first of his sold-out Halloween shows at the Palladium, then his swell stint on Saturday Night Live, and, finally, an extremely personal interview in his suite at the St. Regis—I mean, in the living room of his suite.
Now, here's a man I've regarded with near-reverence for at least ten years. He used to do these crazy, brilliant, mind-boggling shows at the Fox Theater in Atlanta with various incarnations of the Mothers of Invention, and I never missed one. Even though he wanted his audience to get into it with him, I found he had a reputation for being a difficult, dictatorial performer to work with—especially if you were a member of the "completely meaningless" press, as he once remarked. It was, therefore, with real fear and trembling that I approached the super-plush hotel with my faithful photographer, Eileen, in tow.
And there he was, crouched and glowering on the couch. I'll tell ya, I was just stunned. Forget your Mick Jaggers and your Robert Plants—this guy is gorgeous up close! Frank Zappa radiates an animal magnetism, a bumpy allure his photos have never approached, and I'll play Suzy Creamcheese to his Uncle Meat any day. Establishing verbal contact, however, was something else:
ME: Oh Frank, I just saw your show, and I saw you on Saturday Night Live, and you were just FABULOUS! How did you get on the program—I mean, are you good friends with the cast?
FRANK: First off—I have no friends. (LONG PAUSE)
ME: But weren't you on sometime last year?
FRANK: Oh yeah, but my manager had been trying for two years to set it up.
ME: And you wrote that song about the Coneheads.
FRANK (WARMING SOMEWHAT): Yeah. The Conehead is a way of life. I think Americans are beginning to realize it means something important. Unfortunately, TV hasn't taken the big step to capitalize on it. They should have a Conehead series on NBC—a situation comedy every week. That would be great! Only the Coneheads, though.
ME: Now you're playing another magical mystery Halloween gig at the Palladium—I hear scalpers are getting $40 for single tickets with no trouble at all.
FRANK: The high point of our tour—we started out three months ago with some outdoor festivals in Europe—is coming to New York. The Palladium is the best place in the world! We've been there for the last two years—maybe 20 shows. Know why it's the best? Because there's an orchestra pit they can move up so I can walk out into the audience and talk to them and shake hands. Most groups play with the pit down to leave a safe space between them and the audience—but with my band, we've always had some kind of participation. And here, with that open space and the size of the stage, I can get people to come up and dance and fool around. What show did you see?
ME: Late Saturday night
FRANK: Oh yeah—the mongoloids. I've gotten to know some of them by name, as they volunteer their services. Butch—that muscleman who grunted across the stage in a ripped shirt. Then the next thing I know, someone's making monster faces at me. But when he jumped up on the stage, I realized it wasn't a mask. The guy had snot dribbling down his face, and he kept grabbing me. Things started getting out of control. And the cops—remember those two police who came up onstage to dance? I pimped them up with two girls from the first show. "Take my night stick, baby, and let's rock!"
ME: Do things ever get too wild in scenes like this?
FRANK: Well, you know, I was knocked off that stage in London in 1971—I spent a year in a wheelchair. Prior to that, I'd never carried a bodyguard with me, but now I always do. He's in the next room right now—so don't you girls try any funny stuff!
ME: I never realized rock could be so ... hazardous. I guess a lot of your fans really like to get physical.
FRANK: Oh yeah. They wanna touch—remember the Plaster Casters? We were opening for Cream at the International Ampitheater in Chicago. I was friends with Eric Clapton from before, and we were talking in the dressing room, and he said, "This chick's been trying to get in touch with me. You won't believe what she does. You've gotta come back to the hotel and meet her." After the show, right, there she was, sitting in the lobby, carrying a big briefcase with the insignia "Plaster Casters of Chicago" on the side. Eric gave her the nod—I think her name was Cynthia—and she got into the elevator with us, with her friend. The friend had a paper bag full of statuettes of dicks they'd made. They were after Eric's wienie, but he wasn't going for it, so they figured maybe Frank would. I wasn't interested, either, but I did spend two hours talking to them about their project. Yeah, actually it started off as a school project assignment, making casts of whatever they wanted with the stuff dentists use—alaginane. One girl was supposed to give you a blowjob to get your wienie standing up, while the other mixed the chemicals. So, every time a new group came to Chicago, they'd make history.
ME: Do you think your type of show might have encouraged them? I mean, one critic called you "pornographically delightful." Did you ever set out to, um, gross out your audience?
FRANK: No! I've never done anything like that! That's the fantasy of some drug-crazed hippie's imagination. It has nothing to do with my music, or the real world. But my fans do do some weird things, I'll admit. There was this girl from Chicago, Laurel, who won a contest. And I was first prize—I mean, she could come backstage and meet me. And she gave me a present—a Mason jar with one of her turds in it, rolled up into the shape of a cannonball.
ME: Gads, that's worse than the mail I get at the office.
FRANK: I didn't know what to do. I just said, "Thank you," and put it down on the dressing- room table. That was when I had the Mothers with Flo and Eddie, and Jim Pons was playing bass. I'd planned to just leave it in the dressing room—but no, Jim got curious to see if it was real. Was it or was it not a piece of poop? He carried it around for awhile and finally took one whiff—and yecchh! It was real. One of our more imaginative Chicago fans.
ME: Do you have a lot of girls following you around?
FRANK: Not so many as the boys. Girls usually don't like to listen to the music that we play. Regular, cute ones like to listen to disco so their buttocks can pump up and down while they're dancing. There are some pretty fine girls in my audience—but the largest percentage are guys like Butch and Meatball. Guys who jerk off to this very magazine. They're totally dedicated. We always do five or six shows around Halloween, and most of 'em buy tickets to every show. And they give me all kinds of gifts, from roses to whips—to me, a real wholesome guy.
ME: But, over the years, some of your lyrics have been very suggestive, even obscene.
FRANK: Obscene???? I won't deal with that word. I don't believe in that concept of obscenity. That a single word uttered in a lyric is obscene ... is preposterous.
ME: I'm really honored that you're giving me this interview. In the olden days, especially, our magazine was looked upon as pure raunch.
FRANK: Well ... I really don't have the need for magazines like yours, but it's certainly not beneath me to appear in one. And my drummer, Vince, is crazy about you. And Butch and Meatball ... and Eraserhead ... right?
ME: So where are you off to once this New York gig is over?
FRANK: We've made another movie, and we're gonna show it to some investors—a concert film of our last Halloween show at the Palladium. Some people say, "Oh yeah, another concert film," but this is really special—because we've never done a concert that was anything like anyone else's!
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net