A Pre-Tour Interview With FZ At His House – January 12th, 1988
By David Turner & Lisa Weisberg
Mother People, #38-39, 1988-1989
Frank Zappa's mailbox has no name or number on it, but, Jim Nagel, Frank's publicist, told us how to recognize it. We pressed the little button next to the intercom, and asked if we were in the right place... We were. A woman came downstairs and introduced herself as Elizabeth, and led us into the studio to wait Frank came down and led us to a dark den-living room sort of place with a piano, TV, and tons of license plates that people have sent Frank with "F ZAPPA", "ZAPPA", "HOT ZITS" or other cutenesses on them. This is where Frank watches the news ... lots of it ... and this is where we spoke to Frank.
Dave Turner: I had no idea that this whole house was like a studio...
Frank Zappa: Well, only the bottom part, we live upstairs.
DT: A bunch of these questions will be sort of ... well ... there won't be too much rhyme or reason or order they'll just...
FZ : ...That's fine, that's just like America...
DT: Do you get tired of doing these interviews?
FZ: Oh, no ... I mean, some of them are stupid, but ... I did one a little bit earlier with Gannett Newspapers about the Larry Flynt-Jerry Falwell supreme court case. Things like that can be amusing, but the ones that go, "What do you eat for breakfast" and that kinda stuff...
DT: Well, there are a few of those in there.
FZ: Well, I answer them anyway, but if I hafta choose, I'd rather do that (the first variety) kind of interview.
DT: When you turn on your radio what kind of music do you listen to?
FZ: I don't have much recreational listening time, but if I'm in the car usually I don't even listen to the radio ... but what I've been doing recently is, since we have a couple of really good classical stations in Los Angeles, I'll turn them on and listen to classical music on the way to work.
DT: I suppose you don't listen to your own music in a 'recreational' fashion...
FZ: No, because by the time I finished making the record, I never wanna hear the thing again because I've heard it too many times.
DT: For the record. What are your children's full names.
FZ: Dweezil's name is Dweezil. Moon's name is Moon Unit. Ahmet's name
is Ahmet Emuukha Rodan (Rodin?), and Diva's name is Diva.
DT: Will Dweezil be playing with you on tour?
FZ: Well, he's already played with me on tour a few times. He had his debut when he was 12, in the Odeon Hammersmith in London, on our European tour. He played on 4 different dates in different places in Europe, and then we played together at the Universal Ampitheater on Dec 23, 1984, which was the last concert we did, but, it's doubtful that he'll be on any of the dates on this tour, because he and Moon have just made a deal with CBS for a television pilot, and they are probably going to be shooting it at the end of March or April, so they'll be involved...
DT: When would that be aired?
FZ: I don't know... They sold the pilot to CBS, so ... watch for it ... I don't even know what it's gonna be... Some kind of a sitcom... I don't have anything to do with it, it's their project.
DT: Who's playing with you on this tour?
FZ: Chad Wackerman on drums, Scott Thunes on bass, Ike Willis on guitar and vocals, Bobby Martin on keyboard and vocals, Ed Mann on percussion, Mike Keneally on 'stunt' guitar and keyboards, and the horn section is Albert Wing on tenor sax, Paul Carmen on alto and baritone, Kurt McGettrick on baritone and bass and E flat contrabass clarinet, Bruce Fowler on trombone, Walt Fowler on trumpet.
DT: "Stunt" guitar...?
FZ: Yeah, 'stunt' guitar that's kinda written out intricate parts, like orchestral parts.
DT: Will you be playing a lot or conducting more on this tour?
FZ: Oh, I do both, depends on the show, it's a different show every night, depends on which songs are in the show.
DT: So there aren't any rules like: this song I conduct, this song I play...?
FZ: Oh, there are rules, of course, I mean ... y'know ... why should I play guitar in a song that there's no guitar part in? Why should I just interject myself in the middle of something that doesn't need it. Oh, there'll be enough guitar in the show. I don't think anybody'll be disappointed about the quantity of guitar solos...
DT: You mentioned in an interview, about a year ago, that you weren't at that time playing guitar...
FZ: I wasn't, I stopped playing after the concert in '84 and spent all my time working on the Synclavier.
DT: When did you start playing guitar again?
FZ: I started ... we've been in rehearsal for almost 4 months, so...
DT: Is there any chance of you playing with Flo and Eddie again?
FZ: Well, they've considered the possibility of being guests on some of our dates, but we have no plans for it (as of yet).
DT: This is something that has been bugging me for years... What does 'Knirps for moisture' (from the song "Penguin in Bondage") mean?
FZ: Well, 'Knirps' is the brand of a folding umbrella, and when I was in Australia ... y'know ... I'm walking by this store, and here's this little wizened umbrella sitting in the window with a sign next to it, proudly proclaiming that the name of it was 'Knirps', and I thought, "what if I was designing an advertising campaign for this umbrella and ... we didn't want it to be overstated, so it would say 'Knirps for moisture "'.
DT: Is it German?
FZ: It is a German product...
DT: I have noticed a 'sprinkling' of German in your music...
FZ: Yeah ... it's a fascinating language.
DT: So, is it just a personal fascination with the language?
FZ: Well, I respect the German people, and I have respect for the German language. I think that it's an interesting language in the way that it's put together, and (pauses)
Most Americans, when they think of Germans, the first thing they think of is Hitler, and all that kind of shit. The history of the German people predates all that World War II bullshit, and there's actually a certain amount of anti-German sentiment which is kept alive in the United States by reruns of war movies, and as long as Americans are force fed stereotypes of all different ethnic groups, it's very difficult to imagine this country taking its place as a model citizen among other nations if their view of other nations is colored by Hollywood, or colored by the media, who use ethnic groups from all over the world in a stereotyped way. I mean, if you think of an Arab, you don't know what an Arab looks like unless he's got a bag over his head. Americans think all Arabs wear bags over their heads and carry machine guns, and it's stupid! Mexicans wear sombreros, lean against a cactus and go to sleep. Y'know what I mean? Italians sell bananas, turn a crank, and a monkey dances in front ... or else they have polished nails and they have a machine gun. There's more to life than that... I thought that the German language was interesting partly because, to me, some of the words sound so hilarious, and the structure of the compound words makes it possible to make phonetic jokes, and build them into songs.
DT: Have you ever read a piece by Mark Twain about the German language?
FZ: No ... is it funny?
DT: Of course, he's...
FZ: He's a funny guy ... Sagittarius. We have the same birthday, December 21.
Lisa Weisbery: ...mine's the eighteenth...
FZ: It is ... hey ... you're on the A-Team! (laughter)
DT: Well, I missed being a Sagittarius, I'm a Scorpio.
FZ: They're never to be trusted. I've hired some, they all turned out to be weasels.
DT: Let's see if I can break that mold...
FZ: Well ... you could have had an astrological implant.
DT: You mean I could be sort of a ... test tube sign? ... Is everything in the Frank Zappa collection going to be released on disk?
FZ: Yeah, it's gonna take a while, there are a lot of albums.
DT: What are these albums such as "It's the Season to be Jelly ", and "Trick or Treat" that I've heard referred to as authorized bootlegs'.
FZ: There are no authorized bootlegs. I have never authorized a bootleg, anything that says 'authorized bootleg' is still a bootleg, and is not authorized!
DT: I've heard all these stories about how you had to use some sort of computerized magic tricks to re-record the drum and bass tracks on some of the albums you had to remaster in order to record them digitally ... what's the real story ?
FZ: That wasn't the way that it was done We transferred the original master which, in the case of "We're Only in it for the Money" was eight tracks and we transferred that to a 24 track digital machine leaving 16 empty tracks, so if we wanted to we could put 16 tracks of drums down. What I did was, I turned off the original drum tracks, and had Chad Wackerman come in and play new drum tracks which were digitally recorded, and they sound much better than the original ones, and had Arthur Barrow replace the bass parts. That's only on "We're Only in it for the Money" and "Ruben and the Jets"
All the rest of the albums that have been remastered are made from the original tapes. No magic tricks, I don't know where you got that ... I know someone did that to a Doors song...
DT: Why did you have to re-record these tracks in the first place?
FZ: In the case of "We're Only in it for the Money" the 2 track master tape was stored so badly, the oxide had fallen off of it, and you could see thru the tape, so it wouldn't play. The only way to be able to release it is, I had to go back to the original material. Do you know how many edits are in that album? Billions! ... and I had to reconstruct all those edits, so I figured, "Well, I like the material that's in there, I think they're good songs, and since it was one of the first things that we did a digital 'tweeze' to, I said, 'Why not bring it into the twentieth century, get rid of the old mono drums that are on there and put on a new, better sounding drum part.'" Some people will hate it, but most people will like it, so I did it. I did the same thing to "Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets", altho, I could have released the original 2 track music which was recorded on 12 track. We used a prototype Skully 12 track recorder. There was 8 track, 12 track, 16, 24 (mumbles a few more numbers – we get the picture) ... anyway, after I did those 2 things (albums) I figured, "Well, that's enough, I'll just leave the rest of the stuff alone. The 2 track masters are salvageable, I'll just EQ them, and put them out." So we haven't "tweaked" up any more of them.
DT: Would you say that changing technology has actively changed the way that you write?
FZ: Well if you have an inquisitive mind, and somebody shows you a new tool, and you're a composer, the first thing you want to do is to figure out how you're going to use the tool in the context of what you write. So, here comes the Synclavier (sampling synthesizer), and it allows you to do some things that you couldn't do before. Yes, it certainly has changed the way I write.
DT: Are there any artists that you have never worked with, but would like to?
FZ: Not really, I'm not really a collaborating kind of a guy. I have got enough problems of my own, rather than sharing the burden with another artist.
DT: What about the Jean-Luc Ponty album?
FZ: Yeah, I produced an album for World Pacific Records called "King Kong". They hired me to produce the album, and had him play some of my tunes.
DT: Was that their doing?
FZ: I didn't know about it beforehand...
DT: How do you choose the artwork for your album covers?
FZ: Oh, it depends on the project. Some albums need a cartoon, some need typed, some need a photo ... just depends. The other thing that bears on it is the time constraint. If you have to get it out in a hurry, you won't have an elaborate painting or cartoon or whatever you wanna do.
DT: There were a series of 4 or 5 albums on Warner Brothers that had similar cartoon covers that you sort of squeezed out in a hurry.
FZ: I didn't do those, Warner did 'em. Those albums were tied up in a lawsuit, and, what they did was, they packaged them, and I had nothing to do with those covers, and we got sued for them, and settled out of court.
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, I 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 America) issue seems to have quieted down, or at least left the spotlight in the media that it once had.
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 piece, 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 Gannett 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's 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.
LV: 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, it's 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 administration 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 blowjob 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 they 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 the 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 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: Have you ever thought of running for public office?
FZ: Yeah. I was contacted by the Libertarian Party. They came here, and they wanted me to run for president on their ticket. And, I said, "Well, show me what your platform is... And if I like it, I'll consider it." This guy flew here from Norman, Oklahoma, and we had, like, a 5 hour meeting right here in this room. That was about 3 months ago, just before their convention. And, I went thru their platform, and I studied it, and I looked at it, and some of the stuff I liked, and some of it I didn't. And I said, "I can't really stand up and support your platform whole heartedly because some of the stuff you have in here is either wrong or stupid. And, in order for me to be a candidate for your party, would they, in fact, nominate me if I couldn't be an ideologue and go the whole 9 yards." And, he said it was doubtful whether they would support you at the convention if you didn't just spew the whole thing. And, I said, "Well, I'm not your boy. Thanks a lot. Goodbye."
DT: What do you do outside of music and politics?
FZ: Well, I watch the news. I probably watch 5 times the amount of news that the average person my age watches. First of all, L.A. has a lot of channels, so I can just whiz thru the news, and try to read between the lines.
DT: You did mention before how contrived our news is...
FZ: Of course it's contrived, but once you know how it's 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...
LV: 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: Sounds like you're busy enough... Is there anything you feel you want to say at this point that we've missed?
FZ: Yeah! The most important thing! Why doesn't Mario get off his ass and run?! I mean, that's the most important thing right now. I mean, here's a guy who, I feel is letting the country down if he doesn't run. I don't care what is lurking in his background. I don't care what's in his fucking closet. I don't care who his friends are. This is a guy who can win! He's smart. He's tough. He's gotta get his ass out of that fucking ... state house, and into the White House ... and you can tell him I said so. I'll be saying the same thing on stage in Albany.
DT: What do you think about Gary Hart?
FZ: Look, he is an empty, plastic, yuppie from Colorado, who should stay in Colorado! Get out there! Go eat the fucking groat cakes! Go to a barbecue with John Denver, but stay out of the fucking White House! I mean, "Where's the Beef" is really the question. I can't see that man ruling anything with an iron fist. A weasel doesn't have an iron fist. That is not leadership qualifications. Would you follow him somewhere? If Gary Hart was in the White House, and said, "Okay, we're going to Nicaragua!", what are you going to do? Would you believe it? Would you do anything that man said? He's got no credibility! The only reason that guy scores high on the polls is because people have heard his name on television. They don't quite remember what it's connected to, but it's a famous name. That's the sad thing about American politics. Candidates are sold just like products. You don't really know what's in there. The camera doesn't lie too much. You look at Gary Hart, and look at the rest of 'em... I mean, nobody's home.
DT: Well, he looks nice...
FZ: Well, I don't even know if he looks so nice ... maybe if your name is Donna Rice ... (laughter) Well, when I saw Mario give that speech at the democratic convention after the one when Jesse Jackson made his big speech. Jackson was nothing, Cuomo made sense, he had balls, he made sense, he was delivering the goods, I thought, "Why, in the fuck, isn't this guy running?" And, gradually , people said, "Yeah ... well ... maybe you ought to ... " Who knows what pressures are on, keeping him from doing it.
LV: Who do you like in the race... ?
FZ: Well, I actually think that Pete Dupont is not bad. I don't really have that in depth knowledge about his background, but he seems to be a reasonable kind of a guy, not too right wing. Bob Dole has leadership qualities, but he's directly tied to the Reagan administration, and he's a close, personal friend of Jesse Helms. That turned me off to him. Al Haig knows quite a bit about military industrial complexes, if you want an iron fisted cretin in there, but I don't trust him any further than I can throw him. George Bush is a weasel, no question. Pat Robertson is a fucking menace, and Kemp should have stayed in sports... So, what do you got, on the Democratic side? Gephart is uh ... his idea for fixing the trade imbalance is a formula for disaster. Albert Gore is not a stupid man. I kind of like Al. He's got some strengths, but his biggest liability is that weasel in the blue dress. Now, Simon... If you really want a rerun of Harry Truman, he ain't the guy to pull it off. I liked Harry Truman. I'm old enough to remember Harry Truman. He was cool. Simon wants to be a cross between Harry Truman and Roosevelt, and it ain't gonna happen. He just doesn't have the stature. Dukakis did great in fixing his state up, but that is not a man who's going to sit across the table from Gorbachev, no fucking way! He's too short. Jesse Jackson is a demagogue, who's interested in only one thing, Jesse Jackson. Robert Tennyson ... he's a megalomaniac and he's also a minister. I don't want any hint of religion of any description infecting the laws of this country. You get a state of religion, and there is going to be big problems. Government is a business. It is not the way Robertson or Jackson try to describe it like the opportunity to wage some moral campaign to suddenly fix everybody up. What they're talking about is one specific brand of morals that I don't ascribe to, and
Out of space! The brief conclusion of this interview will be in issue #40.
Unfortunately there is no issue #40, #39 was the last Mother People.
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net