The Island-Ear Interview: Frank Zappa
Interviewing Frank Zappa may not be a very comfortable experience but it certainly is an intriguing one. Zappa did not seem to be particularly enthused with the interview situation, but he was accommodating and provocative.
When you meet Frank Zappa you discover that he's not as weird as his image projects. In fact, with the aid of his new short haircut he seems as normal as the next person. What he has to say (in his music and conversation) is not exactly run of the mill stuff.
Zappa has sustained for 14 years, gathering an increasing amount of devotees with each album. He's been able to do this not only because of his musical genius but because he's been his own man following his own best instincts. These instincts have sparked controversy but he usually emerges scarless. Frank Zappa is nobody's fool.
IE: What happened with the concert you were to do with the Viennese Symphony Orchestra?
Zappa: The show was a combination of the budget of Austrian television the city of Vienna and The Zed Bank (the bank bought 6,000 tickets in a 14,000 seat hall). Everything was ready to go when Austrian television withdrew their part of the budget in the amount of $350,000. They took it out about a month before the concert was supposed to happen. So I sent my manager to Europe running around trying to find another European television company that wanted to tape it. We couldn't do it. It was the summertime and he spent a month waiting for the people to return from vacations. The city of Vienna kept their part of the budget in. The orchestra was paid for but in order to do the show they had to pay to bring me in, the crew that were to operate the PA system, several members of the band They had to pay to bring us over there and to keep us in Vienna for two weeks of rehearsals and for the shipping of the equipment. Now that's a lot of money. If the television didn't pick that up then who was suppose to pay for it? Me? Was I supposed to go to the bank and take out $350,000 which wasn't there and say 'I will now spend this money to hear my music'. That's crazy... Let me tell you what it costs me not to have the concert. The amount of money just to get the music ready, plus my manager's plane fare, hotel rooms and phone calls back and forth from Europe for a month put me in for $100,000's. $100,000 and I didn't hear a note.
IE: What was your response to the ADL's protest of "Jewish Princess"?
Zappa: It's very simple. l don't think that the ADL is a rational organization. I think their attack on me is unwarranted and irrational. Any ethnic group which maintains an organization which amounts to an advertising agency is in trouble. The ADL is an advertising agency for Jewishness. They manufacture a freeze-dried fake image of all Jewish people that they sell to anybody who is not Jewish. They imply that all Jews are the same. That's not true. It's a waste of time to try and advertise like that and to control the image of a whole people. There's no way that the Jewish people can live up to the artificial description that the ADL wants to put out.
IE: Can't you understand their concern?
Zappa: No, not at all. Are they trying to tell me that Jewish princesses don't exist? If they are, they're really wrong. If they do exist what's the big deal? What's the harm of the song?
IE: Have you received any protests for "Catholic Girls" yet?
Zappa: No. Nor do I intend to. The song wasn't designed to offend people nor was "Jewish Princess" designed to offend people either. Those were all fair journalistic, comments about things that do exist.
IE: Joe's Garage deals with censorship. Is that a result of the ADLs protests?
Zappa: No. If you live in America and pay attention to what goes on around you every day, it's pretty hard to ignore the fact that most of this information that you are allowed to receive about the world at large has gone through censorship. Whether it's the kind of censorship that says no dirty words, or the kind where the news is monitored by the superviewpoint of the broadcaster who presents it, it's all censorship. I think that it works contrary to the course of civilization. If you don't have all the facts how can you make a rational decision? If you don't have all the facts how can you expect the theoretical process of democracy to function? If the people control the information that you receive you're going to always be led around by the nose.
IE: "Joe's Garage Act II," the follow-up is going to be a double record set and will be released in November. Isn't that a bit quick?
Zappa: If they weren't related it would be quick. It was originally planned as a three record set. It was split in half because of the economic conditions right now. I think it's reasonable that if people want to follow the continuity of the story … If I wait six months then nobody will be interested in the second part of "Joe's Garage." I'll put it out in November and maybe people will be interested in giving it as a Christmas present.
IE: After you did "Saturday Night Live" the people connected with that show had some complaints as far as your performance. They said you improvised more than you should have and strayed from the script.
Zappa: I did two things on the show that upset them a lot. The first thing I did was spitting out a mouthful of potato chips and iced tea in the Coneheads skit. The way the skit was organized was that I was to do whatever Aykroyd did. He would eat and I would eat. He would drink and I would drink. I was keeping up with him until it was my turn to say a line, and in keeping with him I had a mouthful of this muck. I couldn't talk and I couldn't swallow it ('cause it tasted horrible) so I stuck my head between my legs and blew it out. As far as I'm concerned, that was the only good thing that happened on that show. The other thing I did was also in the Conehead skit. When they held up that Warner Bros. album of "Studio Tan" they wanted me to say "This is a collection of my latest sound patterns" and I said "No, this is an unauthorized collection of my latest sound patterns." Because I suspect that there's some sort of mysterious link between those people and Warners Communications. There was no way that I was going to give Warners assistance on that album. No way! Besides, they had written this material for me in their show where they expected me to play myself, but they were causing me to express ideas that I wouldn't do as Frank Zappa. Because of the average intelligence of the average TV viewer, this is tricky business. It's hard for them to disassociate a person saying lines versus a person just talking on television, especially when the person is playing himself. When they originally asked me to do the show they indicated that they wanted to have me involved in some of the writing. But they vetoed every idea I had and crammed other things down my throat that I didn't really want to be involved with, but I didn't have a choice. It was a situation where you make the best out of a bad deal. Also, I'm a guitar player and a composer. I'm not an actor and I'm not even a singer. I go on this show and I'm supposed to be entertaining. If that were my show and I was to have someone on who was supposed to be the host and I knew that there were some liabilities in the acting department, I would spend a little bit with him to make sure it comes off right. The way it works on that show is that everybody else already knows how to read cue cards, do the stuff and the whole routine. Logic would dictate that you'd spend a little bit more time with the one that doesn't know how to do that in order to make the show come off. What they did was they spent three days working on one of the dumbest skits in the show because it was hard to stage and I didn't know what the hell I was supposed to do. And they tell you don't memorize your lines because they're being changed right up to airtime. There's no way you can practice for it and you have one week in order to get the show together. So at the time I went on there, I didn't know what was going on.
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