Frank Zappa Interview Part II
By Dave Turner and Lisa Weisberg
Buzz, March, 1988
HERE IT IS, - Part Two of our in-depth, up close, candid, cozy interview with FRANK ZAPPA; If you missed Part One, you missed a lot, but don't let that keep you from reading this and don't let that keep you from registering to vote either. The scene is set in FRANK ZAPPA'S basement recording studio. Dave Turner and Lisa Weisberg are made to feel at home.
DT: When did you first feel like, "Well, this is it. I've made it."?
FZ: I've never had that feeling. When you've made it, you're done, right?
DT: Yeah, but you don't still consider yourself to be struggling, do you?
FZ: You don't think I work 14 hours a day right now?! I mean, I still put in the hours, I still do the work. You figure it out. Do what I do, and earn a living at it in the eighties in America. You don't think that's not some kind of a miracle? ... And that's a constant struggle.
DT: What happens if Albert Gore becomes President?
FZ: Oh, think that there'll still be rock and roll, it'll just be quite a bit uglier than it is now. I mean, people will always have the desire to make rock and roll records, and they'll always have the desire to sell rock and roll records. Most of the people making these records do it because it is a business, and if someone says, "You can't do this", they won't complain. They'll just keep making records, but they'll get blander and blander. There'll still be rock and roll, but compared to what it really could be or ought to be, I don't think it'll be all that terrific. But, I don't expect that Albert Gore is going to become president, and I certainly hope we never see Tipper Gore in the White House. Can you imagine Tipper saying, "Just say no"?
DT: The whole PMRC (Parents Media Resource Group, or old farts for a music-, and possibly fun-free
FZ: No, they were on television. Danny Goldberg debated Tipper Gore on Crossfire last week. The same ... old ... shit!
DT: I guess nothing changes.
FZ: Well, some things do, and other things just start smelling bad with age. I think this is one of them.
DT: Are you still actively fighting the PMRC or have you said your peace, and are now just taking things as they come.
FZ: Well, people call me for interviews on censorship type topics all the time, like that Gannette interview that I did today. I don't hold myself out to be an authority on it, but the reason they call me is that they know that I'll at least open my mouth, and give an opinion, whereas other people will play it safe, and won't say anything, because they don't want to offend anybody. How can I lose? I've already offended everybody!
DT: Are you up on what Jello Biafra is doing on his anti censorship tour?
FZ: I know he's on tour, and he's made an album of some of it, but I haven't seen it. He's been over here (at the house) a few times. I've met him, but he's not a close' friend. I supported him during his trial. We put out something called a Z-Pack, and I provided him with all that data (on the PMRC, and censorship).
DT: Do you think 'shock radio', the Howard Sterns of the world, are hurting the fight against censorship?
FZ: The more they (shock jocks) rub them (the PMRC) the wrong way, the better it is, because one of the things about the FCC is intrusion into free speech situations is ... ultimately it's going to have to come to some kind of a court test, because the FCC charter does not state that they have the right to be a censorship organization. The FCC is in no way chartered to censor, it was designed to be a regulating body to keep one man's transmitter from fucking with another man's transmitter.
LW: Then, what lets them censor radio stations?
FZ: Well the thing is that under the Reagan administration, excesses have occurred in terms of over regulating certain types of behavior, and excesses have occurred in the opposite direction, in de-regulating other types of behavior. As a matter of fact, if they continue to regulate the airlines, we might have safer skies, and if they slack off on the radio, we might have better radio. If they just use it as a threat, eventually there's going to be another test case like the one that the 7 dirty words ruling came out of, and basically, its extortion. The FCC extorts broadcasters by threatening to take away their licenses for infringements which are usually the result of complaints from an extreme, right wing, tiny bunch of individuals.
People who love wild and wooly radio never call up and say, "Yeah, that's great! Keep it up!" It's that little old ... so and so who calls up and says, "You said brassiere! And, it was before 10 o'clock at night! And so, I want your license taken away!" I mean, there are some sick fuckers out there who do that because that's all they have to live for. These are the same people who write letters to television stations, and say, "I saw her nipple sticking thru her sweater on that show, and I don't think children should see that!" People need psychiatric help. When they dumped all these people out of the insane asylums they didn't all go sleep in the street. Some of them moved into suburbia, and started writing postcards to the FCC.
DT: Do you think there's a point when you have to draw a line (about what isn't harmful)?
FZ: What line? I mean, whose pencil, what line, and where do you draw? What criteria are you going to use? We pretend to be a free society, and we pretend to be an adult society, but if you look at the facts, our news is just as contrived, and controlled as Pravda! And broadcasting in the United States is being held hostage, to a degree, by the FCC, and they have no right to do it. And, the rest of the damage is done by the people that actually own the stations and the newspapers, because they're all buddies with the administration, whoever the administrator is ... They're in there sucking butt because every administration has to work closely with the media. Let's face it, that's how they get their propaganda out.
DT: It seems that they feel that hearing 'Fuck' on the radio is going to be harmful to little Johnny ...
FZ: Well, if little Johnny doesn't know what Fuck means, how's it gonna hurt him?
If little Johnny doesn't know what a blow job is what does he register when he hears it? Y'know, little Johnny has never heard the word 'Cornhole', then what's he gonna do? I mean, what the fuck is this with little Johnny? In a minute, little Johnny is going to be big Johnny. Do you want him to be a weasel? Do you want him to grow up to be George Bush?
My theory is that there is no word that you can say or noise that you can make with your mouth that is so horrible that it will send you to burn forever in that lake of fire! It's not gonna happen. It's raw, unbridled superstition for these people to claim that words can harm you. I mean, let's look at it in the other way. If they claim that words have this mysterious power over people, well, 99 percent of on the songs on the radio deal with the topic of love and we use the term loosely. So, kids have heard love, love, love, love ... the minute they turn on the radio. Do you see any kids doing love? I see them doing crack ... but not love. So, it's bullshit!
DT: You did mention before how contrived our news is.
FZ: Of course it's contrived, but once you know how its contrived, you can understand the editorial viewpoint. CNN, for example, when you see where they're really coming from, you can subtract their bias, and get some sort of facts. Sometimes the amount of bias that is imposed in these things is so laughable that it gives you an extra layer of entertainment. I mean, I can watch the news, and as I'm subtracting their bias, I am laughing my ass off, that they have the nerve to think that people would really fall for that. It's so fucking partisan.
LW: And you work those 14 hours a day .
FZ: Well, that's part of the work. Actually, I don't get to do it (watch 5 or so news shows) every day, but I manage to do it at least 5 times a week. And the rest of the time I'm doing interviews. I do an amazing amount of interviews.
DT: That's what comprises most of those 14 hours ... ?
FZ: Interviews? Fuck, no! Basically, what I'd be doing right now, if I wasn't talking to you, is ... I'm trying to finish the editing on the new guitar album. I'm almost done, and I'm hoping to get that out within the next 2 months. I've got some photos over there (points over there) that I want to use for the cover, and after I finish the editing, I've got to write the liner notes, then I gotta select the photos, then I gotta call the guy who's doing the layout, and coordinate all this stuff, and get it all done before I go on the road. So that's what I do. I worked last night until 8 o'clock in the morning and went to bed. I got up at 1 o'clock with my nose running all over the bed (Frank has the flu today), and I've got a rehearsal tonight from 6 until 2 o'clock in the morning every night until the equipment ships out.
DT: At least 10 years ago you said on Saturday Night Live, "Frank Zappa doesn't do drugs?" (and most people said, "Yeh ,right ... ") What is your stand on drugs?
FZ: The thing about drugs is this ... the Libertarians kind of have the right idea on this: Basically, their theory is that you own your own body, and the government should get out of your face. But, you also do not have the right to harm other people or to impinge on their rights or space. So, let's apply that to drugs . If you want to get wrecked, and you could afford it, and you have a place to do it where the results of your behavior can't harm another person, I don't see any reason why you shouldn't be allowed to do it. I mean, if you want to hurt yourself, go ahead. It's like, if you want to jack off, go ahead, just don't 'spoo' on a public bus or something . Do whatever you want to do. Just don't get it in somebody else's face.
The problem with drugs is that most of the people that use the drugs, use it as a license to be an asshole. (They say,) "I couldn't control myself. I was using drugs. " So, that's supposed to get you off hook ... we'll, not in my book, it doesn't. But the minute you use the drugs, and you do something that interferes with the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of the guy next door, you're a criminal, and you ought to be punished for that especially if you're in a position where your actions could affect large numbers of people. Being a doctor, a legislator, a judge, an airline pilot, where somebody's life depends on you. You got no right to be wrecked. But, if you are home, and you got no place to go, and you want to, just blow yourself up ... Go ahead ... The drugs themselves ... There's a price for doing stuff to yourself. There's a price you pay for drinking too much, for eating too much sugar, smoking too much marijuana, using too much cocaine, or even drinking too much water. All those things can mess you up, especially, drinking too much L.A. water ... or Love Canal for that matter. But, if people had a better idea of what moderation is really all about, then some of these problems would ... If you use too much of something, your body's just gonna go the "Huh? ... Duh!"
LW: What do some of the other guy's in the band do (out side of the bands activities)?
FZ: Well, Bobby Martin has another project. He's building a house. He's out there at 6 o'clock in the morning hammering nails ... Scott Thunes has no other projects. Chad Wackerman sometimes does sessions. Keneally doesn't do anything other than this. Ed Mann usually teaches at Cal Arts, but he took a leave of absence for this tour. The Fowler brothers, the horn section, have another band called Air Pocket. They've done some tours. In fact, Ike's gone out with 'em.
DT: Well, he's got a solo album out ...
FZ: Yeah, he's got that album out ... Well, basically everybody's there full time once the rehearsals kick in. There's not much time to do anything other than learn the material, and drill on it. There's so much to learn.
DT: What will we hear on this tour?
FZ: Some old, some new. It's pretty mix and match. Some stuff we haven't done on stage in years, (for instance) "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue", and there's a medley that the old Mothers of Invention used to play in 1969 with "Let's Make the Water Turn Black", (also there's) "Orange County Lumber Truck ", "Oh No, I Don't Believe It " , the Theme from "Lumpy Gravy ", and "Strictly Genteel". We got 4 brand new songs that have never been recorded, and a twisted arrangement of "Tell Me You Love Me" where we've changed the words to "Why Don't You Like Me" and its all about Michael Jackson.
DT: Are you familiar with the Camper Van Chadbourn album (Camper Van Beethoven with Eugene Chadbourn), where they do that "Zappa Medley with "Let's Make the Water Black"?
FZ: No ...
LW: Didn't they have to get your permission?
FZ: Here's the way the licensing works ... If you write a song, nobody can record your song before you do without your permission. But, once the song is recorded, they can get what's called a 'compulsory license', and they can record the tune, but they have to pay you royalties.
DT: So, you should see a check from the Camper Van Chadbourn people rolling in any day now ...
FZ: Well, I'll tell my lawyer to go looking for one. Very few people do covers of my tunes.
LW: What are the dates on this tour?
FZ: Well, it starts on February 2, in Albany. We're in the United States until March 25, at Nassau Coliseum, on Long Island, so get ready for Nassau ... Europe starts on April 6 ...
At this point Gail came down to inform Frank that he hadn't eaten all day, and his dinner was ready. She offered to bring it down (after Frank had asked if he would like it), but we figured we had taken up enough of his free time ... Besides, if we had seen him eat, it would only have gone to prove that he is indeed mortal. And we wouldn't want to do that ...
This interview is based on the interview published in Mother People as "A Pre-Tour Interview With FZ At His House – January 12th, 1988".
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net