Artist As Genetic Design Flaw
Frank Zappa has been entertaining audiences worldwide with his brand of sardonic humor and unique, eclectic music for nearly twenty years. He has played some "killer" guitar along the way, led many an orchestral foray into the inner and outer peripheries and beyond, written and directed several visual attacks against the collective unconscience in the form of feature length motion pictures such as the recent 'Baby Snakes' and the classic '200 Motels' (released years before MTV started polluting the airwaves with the mindless garbage they call "video art"). He is, after forty-plus albums, one of the most diverse composer/filmmaker/musicians ever to wander the wastelands and cruise for burgers.
Speaking of wastelands, Francis Vincent Zappa, Jr. was raised in southern California, went to high school in Lancaster, hung out with the likes of Don Van Vliet (a.k.a. Captain Beefheart), taught himself how to play guitar and write music. By the tender age of twenty-four, he had scored a feature film, 'The World's Greatest Sinner', a low-budget thriller.
He started one of the first independent recording studios, Studio Z, in Cucamonga, started playing gigs at The Whiskey in the mid-sixties where he and his group were discovered by a Verve label rep and signed as a "protest act" under the name Mothers of Invention. His first album, and the first two-record rock set to be produced by a major label, Freak Out, appeared in 1966. It was an ambitious project, a collection of various musical styles ranging from doo-wop to "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet", a piece Zappa described as "what FREAKS do in the studio at 1:00 a.m."
Since then, Zappa has unleashed all kinds of albums, Lumpy Gravy and Joe's Garage, Acts 1, 2, and 3, being his favorites. This self-described "regular guy" hates television, doesn't read newspapers, and is especially put off by rock journalists ... "writing about music is like dancing about architecture."
We spoke with Frank about people, God, art and animals. We explored the roots of his cynicism, and found him to be a committed fatalist. Is there hope for Frank Zappa? You decide.
CHEN: So, Frank, what's your view of the current state of the Earth?
ZAPPA: Not exactly terrific.
ZAPPA: There's a design flaw in the human organism. I can state some absolute proof about why people are not as fantastic as they think they are. I mean, did you ever see a dog become a lawyer? As far as I'm concerned, any creature other than the human species is better.
CHEN: Well, we're extincting one to three species every day and it's going to rise to one an hour within ten years, we're poisoning groundwater, eroding our soil base and on and on.
ZAPPA: It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of guys.
CHEN: Do you think our problems are innate, or do you think it's just our corrupt philosophy?
ZAPPA: Innate. You're not going to fix the design problem. The design problem is built into the human species because it was born to destroy.
CHEN: You don't think there's any way we can evolve?
ZAPPA: I don't think so.
CHEN: Okay, in your music you've referred to the common belief in a deity and that God is dumb.
ZAPPA: Well, we're just dealing with logic there because religions say that man is made in God's image. If that is exactly true, then God is in pretty bad shape. I'm a devout pagan. It's the only religion that works,
CHEN: Why do you think it works?
ZAPPA: It gives you back what you put into it. None of the other religions do.
CHEN: What do you tell your kids about possible Earth death?
ZAPPA: The same thing I'm telling you.
CHEN: There's nothing you can do about it?
ZAPPA: Well, you were born a human being, okay, it's tough tuchas.
CHEN: Don't we have a responsibility to do something about it? What about innocent animals and other life forms? It's not their fault.
ZAPPA: I know it's not their fault. What you can do is try to make life comfortable for them because they are superior. If you have animals that you live with at your house, then you have to respect those animals and realize that they're in a lot better shape than we are and don't be so arrogant because you can talk and write. What's so terrific about the means of communication that we possess? Have you ever heard a politician on television?
CHEN: Right, but don't you think that we can evolve out of that? I mean, we have evolved to this point.
ZAPPA: I'm not convinced that we've evolved at all. I tend to doubt all that stuff because these are fairy tales that were told to us by other people and I never saw another person you could trust. Not to the extent that you could trust a dog or cat. See you have the idea that we've been corrupted, that we started out pure. I don't believe that's true. I think we started off exactly what we are, a really inferior type of animal life. I think that it's part of the design. We're the only animal species that exhibits the type of arrogance and the special type of incredible ignorance that is rampant in human beings. You have to realize that it's incredibly ignorant to do war. Other animals don't. They kill, but they don't engage in war. And revolutions always make things worse. See, the one thing that sets human beings apart from other animals is their laziness and stupidity as well as their ignorance and their arrogance. We have this fantastic package of all the worst elements in the universe built into "what people are". That's why they become things like lawyers and ministers and accountants. Look at it this way: I think that dogs and cats are wonderful but you can train them to be mean. I think that people are basically pretty shitty, but you could maybe have a chance to improve them. Maybe. It's easier to make a dog mean than it is to make a human be nice. I see that the only inevitability is that the human species wilt fulfill its destiny. Which is to destroy everything.
CHEN: That's your bottom line?
ZAPPA: I think that's what people were designed to do. Maybe in a few hundred thousand years or maybe a few million years, we'll be somebody else's oil.
CHEN: So in the meantime, what are we supposed to do?
ZAPPA: I think you should resign yourself to the fact that you're shit.
CHEN: I know that, but I do have a small space in my head where I can generate a little integrity and do something creative for survival.
ZAPPA: Well, you're fighting long odds.
CHEN: We're articulating a revolutionary philosophy, an open-ended belief system that is based on the cause-and-effect laws of nature that govern our survival. We're saying we can and must now take responsibility to create our evolution.
ZAPPA: I don't think that's possible.
CHEN: Why not?
ZAPPA: Because we're destined to destroy ourselves.
CHEN: By who, by what? It's hard for me to believe that we've evolved from apes, etc., to destroy ourselves. We've still got a tiny bit of cleanliness in our brains. We have an objective intelligence. Why can't we use it to create our destiny?
ZAPPA: Are you going to catch the bomb before it comes down?
CHEN; No, but why wait for the bomb? Look, Mao started with nine people meeting in a library room. I'm not saying that that was a creative revolution, but a benevolent revolution is within the realm of the possible. It can happen, you know, a small group of people can turn things around. It's the ideas that have power. I mean I think it's irresponsible to just resign yourself to some black fate, and not even try to do anything about it.
ZAPPA: No, it's not irresponsible, it's realistic. It's not a matter of resignation either. If you look statistically at what the odds are against doing anything to alter all human behavior every place on the planet, you'll see it's not possible, because it's not just them or us. Anybody that has a brain can figure out how to make some kind of a weapon to ruin somebody else. That is the major activity that is taking place in every corner of the world and it's usually backed up by a religious system that reinforces the belief that what they are doing is correct because they are on God's side. "Get rid of these motherfuckers over here 'cause they don't believe in our book," and that's what you're up against. Look, it's been my experience in the "business world" in America and as a traveller to other countries, just in the framework of a rock and roll musician, as an observer in other countries, and my experience leads me to these conclusions: I have not found people of goodwill anywhere in any type of business, connected with any religion, nobody worth trusting, nobody who is ever secure enough in their own beliefs that they would trust themselves. I have not known anyone who wasn't willing to sell out for a nickel and any one of them is a potential murderer in terms of either pushing the button themselves for religious or political reasons or some sort of bizarre fantasy they have in their own mind that the way they see things is superior to the way that somebody else sees things. What I'm saying is that is human nature.
CHEN: Well, we believe human nature is a product of our genetic background and the philosophic promises that we base our perceptions and actions on, which is our conditioning. We don't believe this Earth-destruct flight that we're currently booked on is innate in that sense. We've evolved to the point where we can begin to create human nature. Granted, we're up against the greatest odds there ever were but what else is there to do?
ZAPPA: No, no, you're just an optimist. You just wish there was a chance. There's another way to approach it.
My recommended approach would be this: you can bet everything will come to an end. It's going to be ugly and it's going to be a mess, and it's going to be something that somebody did in the name of God, okay? Whether it's us saying that God's on our side because we're tremendous Christians and we're protecting our religion and our flag, or whether it's a Moslem saying that the infidels must die or whether it's a communist saying that there is no God and we're doing this for the people. The point is that they're going to do it in the name of something greater than themselves but you can bet your ass they're going to do it. There's no way around it. That is, I'm sure mathematics would bear me out on that. The statistics are staggering. That is what is going to happen. So the question is, what do you do with your spare time until you're a cinder? And the answer is, you do whatever you can that makes your particular life more beautiful and you get involved in art. 'Cause that's what makes things beautiful.
CHEN: Do you feel there's intrinsic power in art?
ZAPPA: No, I just think that if you had to choose between playing football or doing art, you'd probably be better off doing art. Because if everything does disappear, the only thing that is going to be worth digging up later is the art. Not the footballs, o.k.? To me, that would be a better way to spend your waning hours and that is what we're talking about.
CHEN: The twilight time.
ZAPPA: That's right. The twilight of civilization. You've already entered the dark ages.
CHEN: We never left them.
ZAPPA: We got out for about a minute, you know, there was a response for a couple of seconds. Then there was the black plague and they took the bandages and made books out of them. I mean, as much as they would like to make YOU think that Orange County was the original site of the Garden of Eden, it was not always here. Okay? So here you are, you get out for a little while and then what happens? God invents Republicans and you know, it's all over.
Interviewer Chen (commenting in June 2011):
How we contacted him . . .
We got a number for Frank Zappa, called it, and his rep called us back the same day. I didn't even have the questions ready because "stars" generally took months to respond, but Frank was accessible, which I think speaks well of him. I told the rep I'd call back in an hour because we had to set up the tape recording equipment. A few of us quickly generated some questions, called him back and we did the interview that day.
After the Zappa interview, one of our magazine sellers ran into Frank and he was very polite to her and thanked her for the interview. I think that he was pleased that his comments during the interview were left unedited.
I think the 1984 interview was good for its time. It would be quite a different conversation today in light the exponential increases in human knowledge, some of which both Frank and I would have picked up on, altering much of the tenor of the interview.
"I was in Topanga Canyon when they where interviewing artist/activist TV stars and authors of those alarmist books. So I suggest "Why don't we interview Frank Zappa?" This 1984 was a great article. If Chen didn't edit the truth out the genius FZ spoke. He predicted 911, said all humans are pieces of shit ... (Chen) was a little pissed but he said "It was the toughest interview he's ever done" ... "
Zendiks (from ray duke's myspace)
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net