Frank Zappa – Right or Wrong?
A New Angle
By Colin Germano
Editor's Note: Although most magazines edit interviews before they are published, we felt that Frank Zappa's thoughts should be reproduced in their entirety, because they give a lucid insight into his abnormal genius. Because of its intensity and length, we decided to run the interview in three parts.
Happ: Have you ever had a break from music?
ZAPPA: What do you mean, a break'? You mean a vacation?
Happ: No, a long break, like, did you ever step out for a year or two?
ZAPPA: No, why bother? This is what I like to do.
Happ: Is this what you wanted to be?
ZAPPA: Sure. It's the best of all possible worlds. I thought for a minute about being a cowboy but that never really worked out. Every little kid wants to be a cowboy or a fireman or something. After that, I wanted to be a chemist, but that didn't work out, so I became a musician instead.
Happ: When you were in school, did you have any idea about what you were going to do or what you were going to be?
ZAPPA: I knew I was going to go into music. By the time I was 18 I was pretty sure of that.
Happ: It's hard to believe you picked up the guitar at 18.
Happ: Because you play quite well.
ZAPPA: Well, shit, I'm 42 years old. I've had a lot of practice playing the guitar.
Happ: Most people who play guitar as well as you do have been playing for quite some time. They usually grew up with it.
ZAPPA: No, I changed over late. I'm glad I started with the drums.
Happ: Do you ever play the drums now?
ZAPPA: Very seldom.
Happ: You've got a lot of really good hidden melodies in your guitar licks. They're so fast and lengthy. Didn't you once put out a classical album?
Happ: I've never heard it. It would be really something to hear you playing classical music.
ZAPPA: On the classical album I'm not playing. It's just an orchestra playing my music.
Happ: Do you consider yourself a serious vocalist?
ZAPPA: Nah! I just do it 'cause it's easier for me to do it than to hire somebody to do it. I've tried hiring dynamic lead vocalists over and over again, but usually they either have trouble singing the words because they don't believe in 'em or they have trouble getting the point across in the lyrics. The thing that I do best is I can at least get the point across
Happ: When I saw the concert portion of your movie tonight, I noticed a lot of audience participation. Is that common for one of your performances?
ZAPPA: In New York it is.
Happ: You like New York?
Happ: Done a lot of concerts there?
ZAPPA: Yeah. We've played there probably more than any place else in the world.
Happ: That's your favorite place?
Happ: You ever live there?
Happ: How long?
ZAPPA: Year and a half.
Happ: What part?
ZAPPA: In the West Village.
Happ: How come you didn't stay?
ZAPPA: Got to be a little bit complicated because Moon was born and that's really not a good place to raise kids, I don't think. So I moved back to California.
Happ: Are all your kids from your current wife?
Happ: Did you have any kids from your first wife?
Happ: What about drugs? Have they ever entered your life?
ZAPPA: Nope. I don't use drugs and never did. Didn't see any reason to. What's so great about using drugs? Look at the people who use 'em. They're fuckin' vegetables.
Happ: Did you look down on people who were using drugs?
ZAPPA: It was very easy to look down on them. Most of them at that time in the '60s were on the ground. We worked with the Grateful Dead in San Francisco. They were the opening act and the audience was laying on the floor, I mean, there was so much marijuana smoke it looked like a swamp scene with a fuckin' purple haze up to your knees. It was so dense that in order to get out of the place you had to be careful where you walked 'cause you could hardly see the faces through the haze. But that was an exaggerated situation, to see a whole room full of people on the floor like that. But generally speaking, most of the people who use drugs just turn into vegetables. They never had anything interesting to say and when they weren't doing their little trip, whatever it was that they were on, they were spending the rest of their waking hours trying to figure out how they were gonna get some more drugs. That just seems like a stupid life.
Happ: What do you think about the commercial success of "Valley Girl"?
ZAPPA: It's ridiculous.
Happ: You mean the way they ate it up?
ZAPPA: Yeah, it's ridiculous. It's nothin' to do with the song. It's ridiculous. It has more to do with people's desire to get into some kind of a trend and consume some sort of stupidity than it does with the song.
Happ: With the approach you have and playing the music you do, I would imagine that you didn't achieve financial security for quite a while. How long did it take?
ZAPPA: Fifteen years. We didn't really start selling large quantities of records for about 15 years after the time we released the first one.
Happ: How were you living?
ZAPPA: Just average.
Happ: You must have put a lot of money in this new movie (Baby Snakes). I would imagine at least $250,000. Did you have any investors for that?
Happ: You used all your own capitol?
Happ: Did you look for an investor?
ZAPPA: At one time, yeah, but it took too long so I just figured I'd do it myself.
Happ: Did that bind you financially?
ZAPPA: Such matters are not of a musical consideration.
Happ: Is Zappa your real name?
Happ: What did your parents think about what you do?
ZAPPA: My father's dead and my mother thinks it's OK.
Happ: When did your father die?
ZAPPA: '73, '74, something like that.
Happ: What did he think of it?
ZAPPA: I don't think that he liked it too much.
Happ: Did you get along with him?
ZAPPA: (pauses)... It was OK.
Happ: When did you move away from home?
ZAPPA: When I was about 20, 21, something like that.
Happ: Where were you raised?
ZAPPA: At that time we were living out in Cucamonga, Ontario... that area.
Happ: Is that where you grew up?
ZAPPA: No, I lived all over the place. I lived in San Diego, Monterey, Baltimore, Florida...
Happ: Would this bother you if I lit it up? It's a clove.
ZAPPA: Oh, one of those things? Well, I'll tell you what, why don't you wait until after you leave 'cause I don't like the way those things smell. If you wanna take a break and go out there and smoke...
Happ: No, that's OK. It's no big deal. Can I bum one of yours?
Happ: Does your wife live here?
Happ: Do you spend a lot of time with her?
ZAPPA: When I'm not here (in the studio). She's upstairs, I'm downstairs. We got four kids. She keeps pretty busy.
Happ: How old are your kids?
ZAPPA: 15, down to 3.
Happ: You gonna have any more?
ZAPPA: No, four's enough.
Happ: Most people would think someone as successful in the music industry as you would lead a completely different lifestyle.
ZAPPA: Well, people's imaginations do tend to run amuck.
Happ: A couple of months ago I thought – ya know, "Frank Zappa," if there was some way we could get in touch with him it would be a great story. I thought of an angle and thought "Frank Zappa... is he right or wrong? "
Happ: I know what you're thinking and, before I go on, know that I'm not speaking personally. I'm reporting. People form opinions.
ZAPPA: How do they form these opinions? Based on what kind of information? The answer is: based on the information that is applied by people, like, who put it in print. If you put that kind of crap in print, how are people going to form their opinions? They form the opinions based on crap. So if you write crap, that's what people's opinions are based on. That's part of the same problem that keeps Americans uneducated because what you do in your publication is what other people do in their publications, and they shine it on by saying, "Well, I'm not speaking personally," and they have the ultimate gall to presume that they understand the minds of the reader or the people who are picking the thing up. In doing so, they treat those readers as if they were fucking mental Pygmies or something when, in fact, they themselves are the mental Pygmies for treating the public in that way and giving them crap. So "Frank Zappa, is he right or wrong," don't give me this shit. I've heard all that shit for years. And it's not you personally talking. Maybe it's just the editorial point of view of your magazine. I don't need that kind of stuff. That's ridiculous. You call that an angle?
Happ: You have an angle. Your angle is providing for that specific group of people who wanna hear what you provide.
ZAPPA: That's an angle?
Happ: Sure, it is. Don't you think so?
ZAPPA: That's not an angle. An angle is "Frank Zappa – Right or Wrong." That's an angle in the corniest sense of the word. What I do is not an angle. What I do is a profession.
Happ: You appeal to a certain group of people, right?
ZAPPA: Yeah. Do you have any idea what that group of people is? No. If you had to draw a picture of one, could you? No! Because they don't look the same and they don't act the same and they're not all the same age and they're not all the same income bracket, and they're not all the same social background.
Happ: They all have something in common.
ZAPPA: Yeah, they got one thing in common – they don't want normal entertainment. They want something else. That's the only thing they have in common.
Happ: Do you blame people for being normal?
ZAPPA: ... I can see what leads to it, yeah. I'm not too enthused about the motives that drive people to seek normalcy 'cause nobody is born normal in that sense of the word. Nobody is born the same as 200 million other people so that they can proudly proclaim that they fit in. You're not born that way. You're born as a different organism. You're totally separate and apart from everybody else. And if you choose to conform and you choose to belong, then OK, go ahead and do it, but the motivations that are behind those choices are the things that cause the problems because the sacrifices people make in terms of their own personalities, in order to appear normal when they really aren't, are bad things and bad things happen because of that.
Happ: What do you think the motivations are?
ZAPPA: The simplest form of a motivation is: people will pretend to act normal so that they can have friends. Now, the friends that they gain by acting that way are not really worth it because they're acting that way, too. That means the whole relationship of those friendships is based on something artificial. It's like people who go around saying, "Have a nice day," when they don 't mean it at all, ya know?
Conclusion Next Month In May
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