They're Doing the Interview of the Century – Part 2

By Den Simms, Eric Buxton, Rob Samler

Society Pages (US), June 1990


Part 2 of an interview originally published by Eric Buxton, Rob Samler & Den Simms in Society Pages USA issues 1-3, 1990. Typed up by Bossk (R). HTML by Bossk (R). Scans by Johan Lif; image processing by Bossk (R). Some typos that I [Dave Wilcher] found have been corrected; typos in this HTML document are probably mine. Original footnotes appear as numbers encased in square brackets; I have also added some footnotes of my own, which appear as lower-case letters encased in square brackets.

On December 22, 1989, Den, Eric and Rob sat down with Frank in the comfortable confines of his basement listening room for a four-and-a-half-hour chit-chat on a wide variety of subjects. The following is part two of our interview with Professor Zappa.

FRANK ZAPPA: We've changed over the boards, so we're no longer mixing the live tapes. We finished ... in theory, we finished all that. We're now getting ready for Synclavier mixes. I just took a job scoring my first TV show for Jacques Cousteau [1], which I have to deliver before I go back to Russia on the 15th.

ERIC BUXTON: You're going back to Russia on the 15th of January?

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah, and Cousteau is going to be over there at the same time, and I'm taking a television crew with me. I'm hoping to interview him while I'm there. I'm going to get video coverage of all that weird stuff that I've seen in Moscow, and even if I never get any of it on television, it'll certainly make an interesting Honker product, because I'll show people a view of the Soviet Union they never dreamed about before.

DEN SIMMS: What sort of weird stuff have you seen?

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, usually when you see stuff about Russia on TV in the United States, it's pictures of Red Square with tanks, y'know, and all that kind of stuff. It ain't like that. There's, like, regular people doing regular stuff. There's musicians, and painters, and film directors, and all different kinds of stuff there, and they're nice people. So, I hope to do some interviews with all different kinds of guys, and just take the camera around the places I've been, some of the art galleries, and let you know what the US media has not shown you all these years.

ERIC BUXTON: Some people have imagined that everyone lives in a cell, y'know, and that they're afraid to go outside.

FRANK ZAPPA: It's not true.

ERIC BUXTON: It's just ... on the surface, it's just like here, right?

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, it would be like here if you could go out and get something to eat whenever you wanted to. There are certain difficulties there, but during the four times that I've been there before, Stass [?] [a1], the guy who's been my host over there, has shown me as many different kinds of Soviet life, at different levels, as anything I wanted to see. He would take me to see it. So, I've seen the apartment of the famous artist there, and it might as well [have been], like, a Manhattan loft, totally decked out, and the guy drives a Rolls-Royce, and the whole business. That's a unique case. And then, I've been to a building that has a group of communal flats like typical communist communal flats, where different people, or families, live in parts of the room, and there's a list on the wall that says which day of the week which resident has to clean the entire building, which day of the week that person cooks for everybody else, and all this stuff, and ...

DEN SIMMS: Communism at work.

"All the people in the film business in Moscow have a restaurant where they all hang out, and they get drunk, and they sing. I mean, it's really weird!"

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah, well, y'know, it's grim, totally grim, and they guy I went to visit there is one of the most famous of the film directors in the Soviet Union, and he lives in this little box in this building, and the room that he lives in is just slightly larger than this. [Frank gestures at the room in which the interview is being conducted, about 20 ft. x 20 ft.] It's got a bed. It's got a table with a word processor, where he writes his scripts, an acoustic guitar, about fifty books, a bunch of paintings and some vodka bottles, and that's about it. I mean, I've seen all different kinds of things. And then, I've been taken to the ... all the people in the film business in Moscow, they have a restaurant where they all hang out, which is, like, an official government restaurant for people in the Russian movie business, directors, writers, actors, and so forth, and the food is fair, almost edible. But the people go in there, and they get drunk, and they sing. Whole tables of people just sitting there, singing their hearts out. I mean, it's really weird! [laughter] If you could imagine everybody in Hollywood eating at the same restaurant and just singing [laughter], you could never imagine this, but that's the way it is in Moscow.

ROB SAMLER: What ever happened with the woman you told us about, who has the, uh ... the all-finishing ...

FRANK ZAPPA: The liquid. [2]

ROB SAMLER: Yeah.

FRANK ZAPPA: She's still there, and I haven't been able to make a deal for her product on the West yet. I told her that, "So far, no customers."

ROB SAMLER: It's still a mystery, though, how it works ...

FRANK ZAPPA: I have the patent, in Russian, sitting in my briefcase right there, if you want to see it, but other than that, I have no idea how it works, or what it is.

DEN SIMMS: So, I get the impression that the Russian authorities have been pretty cooperative, as far as letting you see things, and just in general.

FRANK ZAPPA: I never had to ask permission for anything over there. I mean, the permission you get is your visa to go there, and to go there, somebody has to invite you, but once that's done ... I was never followed around.

DEN SIMMS: I can remember reading about somebody who was talking about being a tourist in Russia. [3] He was saying that you have to have their special Intourist [4] guide to take you everywhere, and so, I assume that situation like that has changed or lessened.

FRANK ZAPPA: No, you no longer need that. If you're part of a packaged tour, you would go through Intourist, but if you're a business traveler, the person who is responsible for you on the ground is the person who invites you, see, and if you reciprocate, and you want to have your Russian friend come over to the United States, they can't come unless you invite them. It's just rigmarole. Then, you're responsible for them while they're here.

DEN SIMMS: In the last few months, relations have definitely been improving with the Soviet Union. Has that made things easier for you?

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, I haven't been there since May or June. See, the first time I went was last February, so I went February, March, April, May. That's what it was. Once a month in the first part of ['89]. So, I'm going back again in January.

DEN SIMMS: I see. Then let me ask the question this way. Do you think that when you go back, that the improved relations between our two governments is gonna have any effect on what you do there?

FRANK ZAPPA: I don't know, because unless you're there to see what's going on, you can't really judge what's happening in the Soviet Union by what you see on US television. That's one of the reasons why I wanted to go in the first place, because it helped me refine my data filter. [5] Now, when I look at news footage about anything happening in the East Bloc, I can really sniff out the bullshit that they're feeding to you, because I've been there, and I've seen it, and I know how they try to lie to you in the US media about stuff. So, to say that relations have improved, well, maybe they have, maybe they haven't. I don't really know that unless I go there and see it.

DEN SIMMS: That's certainly the impression you get from CNN, and everything else, television, newspapers, and such like that. It sounds more optimistic than it did, say, midway through the Reagan era.

FRANK ZAPPA: Oh, that's for sure, but they don't have any choice, because it's just too obvious that things are changing ever [a] there. But you still get the whiff, especially on CNN, that they wish the cold war was still going on, and CNN broadcasts a lot of stuff that says Gorbachev is not going to last, and we shouldn't trust him, and you hear that stuff all the time. All the time, and I'm not convinced that that's correct.

DEN SIMMS: I kind of wonder about that myself. I have a friend who, although I love him a lot, his politics are completely in opposition to mine. He's a very staunch arch-conservative, and that's what I keep hearing from him. He says, "Gorbachev will never last. The guy'll never last. They're gonna have him out of there." I just wonder ...

"The whole way in which we conduct ourselves on an international level is very old-fashioned. It's arrogant, and we're gonna be left in the dust, because we need to rethink the whole way in which we relate to the other nations of the world."

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, just look at the facts. Even if he's out of there, he has had his impact. If they take him away, that ain't gonna change what's happening in the rest of the Warsaw Pact.

DEN SIMMS: Yeah, certainly. Even given what's happened just today with Romania ...

FRANK ZAPPA: I saw that the first second it came in on CNN! I jumped up out of bed, and I said, "Yea! Only Albania and Yugoslavia to go!" [laughter] Yugoslavia is halfway there. Albania is going to be a tough one to crack.

DEN SIMMS: What about Bulgaria?

FRANK ZAPPA: They've already had their reshuffle. It's still not as widespread as what has happened in Czechoslovakia. People thought that Czechoslovakia was going to be a tough one to crack, and they gave Romania no hope in some New York Times estimate, so I'm overjoyed with this. But now, the real Communist stinker governments that remain ... the big worry is China.

DEN SIMMS: That was going to be my next question.

FRANK ZAPPA: You still got stinkers in China. You got 'em in Cuba. And North Korea. These are real hard-line regimes, and it's going to take a lot to make changes occur there. But you can see that there's hope for China, because I don't believe that the average Chinese wants to live under that authoritarian system.

DEN SIMMS: What do you think about the recent developments with the trips to Russia that [National Security Advisor Brent] Scoecroft made?

FRANK ZAPPA: Scoecroft going to Russia, or China?

DEN SIMMS: China. Pardon me, China.

FRANK ZAPPA: I think it was a mistake.

DEN SIMMS: I have sort of mixed feelings about it. I mean, it behooves the situation to at least have some sort of ... we can't have any effect on them, in terms of helping democracy come along, if we don't have any sort of relationships with them, but at the same time, there is something to be said, in a moral vein, about doing business with people who are using their tanks and guns to suppress what happened in Tiananmen Square.

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, let's just say that our foreign policy is not consistent, and it's not well thought out. I think that it's riddled with right-wing ideology, and when you have ideology as a block to logic, you can't really be effective. You have to look at all aspects of it. There's different ways to analyze every situation, and I don't think that the people who are in the business of analyzing, or the ones who have access to power with that analysis, have necessarily provided informed advisories to the guys who make the decisions. I just think that the whole way in which we conduct ourselves on an international level is very old-fashioned. It's arrogant, and we're gonna be left in the dust, because we need to rethink the whole way in which we relate to the other nations of the world.

DEN SIMMS: In what way? In not being so much the "speaking softly while carrying a big stick" kind of a country?

FRANK ZAPPA: We don't have a fuckin' big stick! [laughter] Nuclear weapons are not a big stick! You can't afford to use that stick, OK!?

DEN SIMMS: That's true. The use of nuclear weapons constitutes suicide.

FRANK ZAPPA: That's right. That's not a stick. So, we have no stick. We've got an army we just sent into Panama! We stand a good chance of having our butts whipped in Panama! [laughter] Where's your stick!? You know, it's like being a joke. We shouldn't be the world's policemen. Nobody asked us to be the world's policemen. If you want to lead in this regard, look at the way those students behaved in China. They have a respect for the myth of democracy in the United States. If they actually knew how little people cared for democracy in this country, they probably never woulda stood in front of the tank. But the legend of, y'know, "America, the home of the free and the brave" ...

DEN SIMMS: That's the hope that they have.

FRANK ZAPPA: That's right. The thing that you have, to lead people in other nations with your point of view, is the moral certitude with which you conduct your business on that high level, not whether or not you're going to send in troops.

DEN SIMMS: I mentioned Bulgaria a little while ago. I understand you attended the concert of the Bulgarian ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Bulgarian Women's Chorus. Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: What did you think of that?

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, I loved the music, but I went backstage after the concert, and it was very, very depressing, because it looked to me like the three male members of the entourage that were playing the musical instruments, the way they were dressed and the way they behaved backstage, it looked to me like they were secret police, and the behavior of the women, the way they were lined up in these little rows backstage to shake hands with people, it just seemed to me so controlled, and it was that ugly aspect of communism that was dangling over the backstage aura of the thing that really turned me off, but I still like the music.

DEN SIMMS: The music, that was good?

FRANK ZAPPA: Fabulous.

members of the Bulgarian Women's Chorus

members of the Bulgarian Women's Chorus

DEN SIMMS: Yeah. Unfortunately the tickets had been sold out locally, where I live, and I didn't get a chance to see it, but I just recently ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, you know what it was like ... you heard the CD? [6]

DEN SIMMS: I have just recently been turned on to recordings of them, and I was blown away. That's pretty unique stuff.

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, can you imagine walking into a room, and sitting down, and the lights go down, and here come twenty or thirty of these women, dressed in native costume? No "one, two, three, four", no big count-off or anything. No conductor in the first part. They just lined up and what came out was an exact replica of that CD. In tune!

DEN SIMMS: That's great. Yeah.

FRANK ZAPPA: Boom! Singing! I couldn't believe it. There were a couple of minor fuck-ups later on in the show, and then, they had a woman who was conducting the chorus on the second half, where they were doing it not in native costume but in concert dress, but it was astonishing, because anybody who has ever tried to carry a tune, and stay in tune, with no musical accompaniment, has to respect that many people, who sang that kind of harmony, totally on the beat. Just fabulous. It was amazing.

DEN SIMMS: In my school days, I participated in a capella choir stuff, and it takes a lot of work.

FRANK ZAPPA: This was Olympic grade performance, no question, and I understand that in order to join the chorus, every three or four years, they have contests where thousands of women from all over the country come and compete for a job in this radio chorus.

DEN SIMMS: Well, I hope they keep sending them around the world, because there was a lot of respect given to them by the Western world. I read quite a number of newspaper articles ...

FRANK ZAPPA: But you see, they performed in Europe many times before they came here. It's also part of our foreign policy to exclude certain types of performers from certain countries. I mean, the US government has made it difficult for, let's say, "punk" or "protest" groups, from even England or Ireland, to come to the United States because there are certain things tat we are censoring out from other people's cultures ... Eric, you're doin' good. From this point of view, this is very well-balanced. The only thing that is disturbing is that rag at the top of the twig there. [7]

ERIC BUXTON: Oh, I thought that was a yellow ribbon, like, for the hostages of something. [laughter]

FRANK ZAPPA: No, I think that was a little marker that the salesman at the Christmas tree lot hung on it to say it was sold. Well, maybe ... yeah, let's leave it on there for the hostages. [laughter] For the new hostages in Panama. For that CBS producer that we still don't know what happened to. Good thinking, Eric. Just keep me honest, here. [laughter]

DEN SIMMS: OK, back to some musical questions. As Stage, Volume 2, you released that whole unit of Helsinki. Is there any possibility that you would consider doing that with one of the shows from 1988?

FRANK ZAPPA: Um ... no.

DEN SIMMS: You don't think so?

FRANK ZAPPA: No, but what I'm gonna do is put out an album called The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life, which will be all stuff from '88, but from all different cities. The reason for it is that there was no one show that was one hundred percent fabulous, and I think that if you're going to listen to an album like that, especially of that kind of a band, the best way to represent that band is to take all of its primo performances and glue 'em together.

DEN SIMMS: In "Marqueson's Chicken", there is a vamp [8] in, I believe, 21 [rhythm]. Is that ...

FRANK ZAPPA: [Frank hums the vamp]

DEN SIMMS: Yeah, and in "Trouble Comin' ...", you used one in thirteen [rhythm] [9].

"Warner Brothers had made it impossible for me to get a record contract with anybody, and I couldn't go into a recording studio, in an act of desperation, I took my four-track and hooked up a bunch of dipshit equipment here in this basement, just like every other garage-band guy would do."

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: Both of those vamps had been utilized previously in, I believe, 1978.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah, and also in "Keep It Greasey", the Joe's Garage version.

DEN SIMMS: Hmm ... I hadn't realized that.

FRANK ZAPPA: Listen to "Keep It Greasy" on Joe's Garage, and see if you don't hear that.

DEN SIMMS: OK, good. Do they have any titles, or what are the origins of those things?

FRANK ZAPPA: Where did they come from?

DEN SIMMS: Yeah.

FRANK ZAPPA: A long time ago when I was involved with this lawsuit with Warner Brothers, they had made it impossible for me to get a record contract with anybody. There was a period of time when I was kind of locked out of the music business, and since I didn't have a recording studio at the time, and since I didn't have a contract, and I couldn't go into a recording studio, in an act of desperation, I took my four-track and hooked up a bunch of dipshit equipment here in this basement, just like every other garage-band guy would do, and I was making some one-man tapes here. That's where those things came from, from that period when I was doing little rhythm-box tapes in the basement.

DEN SIMMS: Is there any relationship between "Thirteen" and "Tink Walks Amok"? Are there parts of that that were utilized in that, too?

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: Yeah. OK. What happened with the Albert Wing ... I have it written here as the "Wing/Pollack marriage" ... that happened?

FRANK ZAPPA: I haven't seen Albert since the tour, so I can't tell ya.

DEN SIMMS: Was that a marriage that took place, or what?

FRANK ZAPPA: I think that is was ... I was shown a bogus marriage certificate. [10]

DEN SIMMS: Right. That's what I'd seen that prompted the question.

FRANK ZAPPA: Right. That's all it was.

ERIC BUXTON: I was present at the ceremony. I was in the hotel room.

DEN SIMMS: Where you there? What happened?

FRANK ZAPPA: You should be interviewing Eric. [laughter] He's the eyewitness to most of the stuff that went on.

Bruce eats the Bible, artist's conception (Phin Urban)

Bruce eats the Bible, artist's conception (Phin Urban)

Warren Cuccurullo in 1977

Warren Cuccurullo in 1977

ERIC BUXTON: They just ... in a drunken stupor, they were stickin' together for the whole tour, and they wanted to get married, and Bruce is supposedly an ordained minister ... that's right. I forget which town it was but there was a whole bunch of girls from New Jersey, who were having, like, a bachelorette party, and we were just hanging around the hotel, gettin' ready to go to sleep, nothin' to do. Bobby Martin said "I just found this whole room full of girls who want to hang out and drink and party." We went to the room, and we had a rippin' party all night long, and it climaxed with this marriage ceremony [laughter], and Bruce Fowler, he performed the ceremony, and he ate the pages of the Bible that he was reading from.

ALL: [much laughter]

FRANK ZAPPA: Just to seal the deal.

ERIC BUXTON: He ripped them right out and started chewing on them, and that was the marriage ceremony. [laughter]

FRANK ZAPPA: They didn't tell me that part. I'm sure that woulda wound up on stage. They always leave out the good stuff.

DEN SIMMS: OK. Who is Rondo Hatton? You've introduced yourself as Rondo.

FRANK ZAPPA: Rondo Hatton was a character actor from the old movies who had a disease called acromegaly.

DEN SIMMS: I never heard of that one.

ROB SAMLER: It's like elephantitis.

FRANK ZAPPA: That's right. He had a real big and grotesque head, and he was a character actor in some horror movies in the old days.

DEN SIMMS: Um-hm ... so why would you introduce yourself as him?

FRANK ZAPPA: Why not? [laughter]

ERIC BUXTON: Was he "The Creeper"?

FRANK ZAPPA: I don't know what the movie was. He was one of these ... at one period in American film history, he was the classic ugly guy. Somebody had to carry on the tradition. [b]

DEN SIMMS: You've got, needless to say, a whole bunch of exotic items lurking in your vault, such as, oh, there's something like a conversation of, or definitely, there's a video tape of Al Malkin demonstrating the blow job on a banana. [11] I've heard an interview where you're telling someone about a tape that was made, where, uh ... who was it ... Warren and someone else are fighting over the girl that each one of them is trying to fuck.

ROB SAMLER: Meatball?

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah. That's Al Malkin.

DEN SIMMS: Things like that. What other kinds of exotities are lurking down there?

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, I've got a videotape that was made in the promoter's room in Pistoia, Italy, when he had refused to pay some parts of the crew, and he was in danger of not paying the band for going on, and the manager that I had at the time, Bennett Glotzer, had just punched this guy out. [laughter] He was about a foot and a half taller than him, and he just hit him in the face about fifteen times. I heard about this, and I told Nordegg, Thomas Nordegg, who was operating the video camera, "Thomas, go and take pictures of this." And so, he dutifully went in there, and nobody believed that the camera was rolling. He got coverage of this meeting with these guys, I mean, they have this table full of lira, and there's all these mafia-looking guys, and they're shoveling this stuff around, and this promoter is explaining in these very lame terms why he hadn't paid, and [laughter] Bennett, y'know, like, screaming at him, and Thomas just walking around there very calmly video-taping the whole thing. I got that. Then a few years later, this promotor, Francesco Sanavio [?] [c], came to Los Angeles, and he had the nerve to call up and say "Can I come over?", and I said "Sure. Come on over", and I made him watch the tape, and he said "I didn't believe that there was any tape in the camera." Here he is looking at himself doing all this stuff. He's in jail now. [laughter] In Italy.

Thomas Nordegg

Thomas Nordegg

ERIC BUXTON: Never believe there's no film in the camera. Never.

FRANK ZAPPA: That's right. Not with Nordegg, that's for sure. [laughter]

DEN SIMMS: I'm kind of surprised that you didn't have somebody doing a "Thomas Nordegg" in '88.

FRANK ZAPPA: Because there's only one Thomas Nordegg, and he was working for Warren Cuccurullo.

DEN SIMMS: Or just someone lurking around with a video camera during that tour.

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, see, I couldn't afford to do that. Thomas did it because he just wanted to do it, and he was getting regular salary to be the keyboard roadie on that tour in '82, '81 and '82, and he just decided to get into the video. And he wasn't getting paid any extra money for doing it ...

DEN SIMMS: Voluner for t on his part.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah, something he loved to do, and if he hadn't been that deranged about doing it, those tapes wouldn't exist.

DEN SIMMS: More power to Thomas. Some good stuff came out of that.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah, he's a fabulous guy.

DEN SIMMS: We've heard this thing called "Lost in a Whirlpool" or "Lost in This Whirlpool" ... [d]

FRANK ZAPPA: "Lost in a Whirlpool".

DEN SIMMS: "Lost in a Whirlpool". OK. What are the origins of that? Was it a demo tape or something?

FRANK ZAPPA: No, it was the very first ... it's the earliest tape that I have a copy of, from when I first started taping stuff.

DEN SIMMS: From the Cucamonga period?

FRANK ZAPPA: No, that was 1957! [e]

DEN SIMMS: Really? That's the date on that?

FRANK ZAPPA: That's right, and "Lost in a Whirlpool" was taped on one of those tape recorders that you have in a school in the audio/visual department. We went into this room, this empty room at the junior college in Lancaster, after school, and got this tape recorded, and just turned it on. The guitars are me and my brother and the vocal is Don Vliet.

ERIC BUXTON: Reel-to-reel?

FRANK ZAPPA: Reel-to-reel. 1957.

ERIC BUXTON: And you composed the, uh ... you wrote the words?

LOST IN A WHIRLPOOL

Well, I'm lost in a whirlpool,
Yeah, baby, my head is goin' round,
Well, ever since my baby flushed me,
Oh, been goin' round,
Yeah, 'round 'n' around,
Well, I'm lost in this whirlpool -
I keep goin' down and down ...

There's a big brown fish
Lookin' at me!
He ain't got no eyes!
How could that motherfucker possibly see?
Ooh, baby, baby,
I'm gonna be afraid he gonna touch me!
Well, I'm lost in this whirlpool
Oh, I can't even see!

Baby,
Won't you come help me?
Pour some Drano down
And get the plunger right after me!
I'll let you know a little secret, baby:
I'm gettin' tired of all this pee ...

(Plunk those stringers, Mother Goose!)
Oh, my head's in the noose! 

Mee, wee-wop! [f]

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, the story of "Lost in a Whirlpool" goes back even farther. When I was in high school in San Diego in '55, there was a guy who grew up to be a sports writer named Larry Littlefield. He, and another guy named Jeff Harris, and I used to hang out, and we used to make up stories, little skits and stuff, you know, dumb little teenage things. One of the plots that we cooked up was about a person who was skindiving – San Diego's a surfer kind of an area – skindiving in the San Diego sewer system [laughter], and talking about encountering brown, blind fish. [laughter] It was kind of like the Cousteau expedition of its era. [laughter] So, when I moved to Lancaster from San Diego, I had discussed this scenario with Vliet, and that's where the lyrics come from. It's like a musical manifestation of this other skindiving scenario.

DEN SIMMS: What about another thing we've heard similar to that called "Fallin' in Love Is a Stupid Habit"?

FRANK ZAPPA: What is that?

DEN SIMMS: Yeah.

FRANK ZAPPA: What is it? I don't know what you're talking about.

DEN SIMMS: Oh, it's a ... from what I understand, it was a demo tape that you made for Jimmy Carl Black, that has ... what I've heard is apparently you playing, y'know, sitting and chording at the piano, and sort of humming some words. You're not familiar with this?

FRANK ZAPPA: That's not me. Never.

DEN SIMMS: I'll be darned.

FRANK ZAPPA: First of all, I don't play the piano, so it ain't me. [12]

DEN SIMMS: I'll be darned. Are there any compositions from the Grand Wazoo-Waka/Jawaka period that we haven't heard, that either weren't released on the albums, or perhaps, weren't played live, or anything from that era, that's still lurking out there unlistened to by your fans?

FRANK ZAPPA: Actually, when the Grand Wazoo did its tour, I think five cities, there was some reel-to-reel tape made of that, and there's some live recordings of that band, but they'll never come out. The quality of that tape is not that good.

DEN SIMMS: They won't be released because the quality is sub-par?

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah, it's just, like, they're more like souvenirs than real recordings.

DEN SIMMS: Do you plan on doing any more lecturing?

FRANK ZAPPA: I got a letter inviting me to Chicago for three days, to Chicago University, sometime next year. I don't know, I may do that. I occasionally get invitations to be a speaker at graduations, and things like that, but ...

DEN SIMMS: You've said that you consider any type of organization of material could be construed ...

FRANK ZAPPA: As a composition.

DEN SIMMS: ... as a composition. Is there anything that you could construe as composition, as something that could be thought of on those terms, that you could to that would be like lecturing, or like something else, that would be public performance, or in public view, that you could do that wouldn't lose you four hundred grand when you go out on the road and do it?

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, the thing about lecturing is there's no overhead. It's, like, probably eighty percent profit, what you get for going out, but at the same time, I've got a rate that I charge for going out and speaking, and it's a minimum of fifteen thousand dollars, so there's only certain places that have the ability to pay that kind of rate, because in order for me to go there, I have to stop working here. It takes two days out of my life to go and come back and to do this kind of stuff. That's what it costs to get me to show up some place and talk.

DEN SIMMS: That's the parameters of that. What about doing something, um ... lecturing with the Synclavier, or something like that?

FRANK ZAPPA: The minute you involve production, the minute you have an audio manifestation, you're talking about overhead. You have a crew. You have the PA system. You have trucking for the PA system. You have the soundcheck in the afternoon to make sure it all works, and now, the whole idea of going in and just talking to somebody ... well, you know, I tried it once before with digital tape ...

DEN SIMMS: Yeah, you did something in Santa Monica [13], and one up in San Francisco. [14]

FRANK ZAPPA: I also did one at the college in Northridge. [15] The unusual result there was that people didn't wanna listen to the music. They just wanted to talk. They wanted to ask me questions, so basically, I had to shut the music off and sit there [laughter] and answer questions. I think that there's a different kind of audience that comes to see me if I'm just talking, and I'm always happy to answer the questions, because that's usually the funniest part of the thing. I don't really like giving a speech, y'know. I'm happy to answer questions, but it seems a little bit presumptuous to climb up on a ...

DEN SIMMS: What about the speech you did for ASUC? [16] Did you have fun doin' that? That was a great speech, by the way!

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, that was a different situation. They begged for that. They asked for it, and so, I wrote the thing out, and really ...

DEN SIMMS: It was pretty spiffy.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah, piled that one on 'em.

"They didn't know what I was going to say, and they did not enjoy it. Actually, there was quite a bit of backlash at the subsequent banquet, where I was forced to sit at a table with some composers that had attended. The drunker they got, they started attacking me at the table. It was really quite laughable, people with their mouths full of peas getting vehement over this stuff, and it was pathetic."

DEN SIMMS: That's something that one of these days I want to return to my college, to College of Marin, where I met Scott, and play the tape that I have of that some of my instructors. There's some of 'em who wouldn't wanna hear it, but there's a couple who would really laugh along with me on that.

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, the result in Ohio was that most of the people didn't want to hear it either. In fact, the way it was done, I was at this little podium, and then, on the stage with me, seated in chairs, was the music faculty, y'know ...

DEN SIMMS: [laughs] Oh, God!

FRANK ZAPPA: ... sitting like a bunch of puppets onstage, and they didn't know what I was going to say [laughter], and they did not enjoy it. Actually, there was quite a bit of backlash at the subsequent banquet, where I was forced to sit at a table with some composers that had attended. The drunker they got, they started attacking me at the table. It was really quite laughable.

DEN SIMMS: Really?

FRANK ZAPPA: Y'know, people with their mouths full of peas [much laughter] getting vehement over this stuff, and it was pathetic. [laughter]

DEN SIMMS: They musta been squirmin' while they were sittin' onstage.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah. They were squirmin', but I don't believe that what I said was really all that much ...

DEN SIMMS: It wasn't damaging. Like I said, there's some of the instructors that I had, that could listen to that and take it as tongue-in-cheek, and not worry too much about being spoofed in that regard, 'cause basically, it's true.

FRANK ZAPPA: People take themselves too seriously. C'mon! have a laugh for a minute! If you choose to be a composer in the United States, you have to know before you start doing that, that you're not buying into a life of glory. You're really entering into society at lower than the bottom rung of society, because, y'know, drug dealers have more respect in the society than composers, 'cause at least they perform a useful function for somebody [laughter], but who needs a fuckin' composer?

DEN SIMMS: Right. We've heard talk of some possible things that you were thinking about releasing. One was Phase Three [g]. What's the status of that?

FRANK ZAPPA: I did some more work on it two weeks ago. As a matter of fact, this German documentary [17] basically concerns itself with the putting together of Phase Three.

DEN SIMMS: I see. Yeah. I guess, actually, we've heard you talk about that on numerous occasions, and what you always seem to say is "Well, there's new Synclavier stuff that I want to ..."

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, that's a fact. It's not done, and I'll tell ya that the material that's in it, it's so unique, and I think the concept is ... it's a real special album, and I don't wanna release it until I've optimized it. I coulda put it out a year ago, but I would've regretted it, just because of what's come along with the software on the Syncalvier.

DEN SIMMS: That gives us good reason to be patient.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah. I mean, it's not like I'm lazy.

DEN SIMMS: What else is gonna come out, as far as live recordings, from 1988? Like, a "Broadway ... – Part Two", or ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, no ...

DEN SIMMS: The Best Band You Never Heard ...?

Frank explains the rules to "Make a Sex Noise"

Frank explains the rules to "Make a Sex Noise"

FRANK ZAPPA: The major thing from '88 is gonna be the album The Best Band You Never Heard ..., and the stuff that doesn't go in that, some of the oddities, like the "Make a Sex Noise", from, um, Binghamton, and maybe even the medley that we did with "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling", coupled with "The Godfather" [18], that's more stuff for You Can't Do That on Stage .... I think "Stairway to Star Wars", I mean "Star Wars Won't Work" [19] is also for You Can't Do That on Stage. [h]

DEN SIMMS: How 'about the Mystery CD? [20] You were thinkin' about making a CD of those two Mystery Discs ...

FRANK ZAPPA: The Mystery Discs? I got a little problem for next year, which is our twenty-fifth anniversary year, and the major goal is to have the entire catalog out [on compact disc]. That's releasing a lot of material. It seems like the Mystery Disc would be something that would fit into that, but it would be a lower order of priority than the rest of the stuff. [i]

DEN SIMMS: How 'bout The Lost Episodes?

FRANK ZAPPA: That, I think, will come out next year. [j] I think that that's something that people should get a hold of.

DEN SIMMS: That you feel pretty determined to wanna complete and get out there?

FRANK ZAPPA: It's done.

DEN SIMMS: Keneally told me about somethin' that you were thinkin' about called Cover, where you had even envisioned a manhole cover, supposedly, as the album cover, and then, having it all cover tunes.

FRANK ZAPPA: Occasionally I think about doin' things like that, but it seems like too much work for too little result. I mean, it's somethin' that I would laugh at, maybe ten percent of the fans would laugh at. I think most of the fans would be more interested in hearing new material.

DEN SIMMS: Your fans really liked ... I think I can vouch for the fans in saying that people did like Broadway the Hard Way a lot ...  

Short Interruption 

DEN SIMMS: We really wanna thank you for doin' this interview.

FRANK ZAPPA: Hey, it's the least I can do, y'know. If I've got a fan, I owe them this!

DEN SIMMS: Well, there's a lot of other people who don't look at their fans quite that way, y'know.

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, they're wrong.

ERIC BUXTON: Did Jim [Nagle, Frank's publicist] tell ya what we're gonna do with this, y'know, the the magazine that we're putting out, and everything?

FRANK ZAPPA: No. Hm-mm.

ERIC BUXTON: Well, basically it's a fanzine that's been ... we meant to give you some back issues to look at. It's been put out already for the last ten years ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Oh, I have some of the back issues of ...

ERIC BUXTON: It's Society Pages.

FRANK ZAPPA: ... yeah, of the Norwegian version.

ERIC BUXTON: And they're just ... they just can't do it anymore, y'know, for various reasons, and they offered us the opportunity to take it over, and we decided to do it. We're gonna maintain a lot of integrity, both technically, and, uh ... spiritually, or whatever. We're gonna eliminate all the bootleg ads or endorsements. No references to any any bootleg vinyl ...

DEN SIMMS: This is somethin' I was gonna say. You've probably seen some of these things, other fanzines, Zappalog [k] and things like that ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah.

"I don't mind the grapevine. What I mind is guys who rip me off and make a profit from it. It depends on what the intent is. If the intent is to rip me off, then I hate it. If the intent is to find out what's going on, then I think it's fabulous. "

DEN SIMMS: The one thing that we are all in absolute agreement about, that we want to do differently than what other people have done, between the three of us, we don't like bootleg records. We don't like the idea of what a bootlegging is all about. At the same time, there is a little bit of a ... uh ... I was trying to find a way to describe it ... we have definitely helped out education, as far as understanding your music, by the way of getting cheezy tapes that are done in concerts, and the other things, that are kinda collected and passed around like baseball cards in a little grapevine that exists among your fans.

FRANK ZAPPA: I don't mind the grapevine. What I mind is guys who actually take the stuff, and try to rip me off, and make a profit from it. They're also ripping off the fans, because they're getting sub-standard versions. This is gonna be great!

ERIC BUXTON: We don't deal with people like that. A lot of people, they'll press a vinyl bootleg album ... I go into record stores, and there's stacks of boot "alternatives", they call 'em. That's bullshit, and also, a lot of people who trade tapes will do it where ... you send 'em two or three tapes, and they'll send you back one filled up with material ...

DEN SIMMS: It's what's commonly known as the two-for-one deal. You send 'em two blank tapes, they'll send ya back one with music on it, and essentially, I look at that as being ... it translates into money. It's the same deal.

ERIC BUXTON: Not only is it immoral, it's illegal. That's the unauthorized recording of sound.

FRANK ZAPPA: That's right. No question. It's a violation of two copyrights. It's a violation of the (C) copyright of the compositions. It's a violation of the (P) copyright of the master tape, which I own, of the performance.

DEN SIMMS: And at the same time, certainly from my point of view, I have to admit that I, perhaps, feel a little bit less than pure as the driven snow, because, perhaps having some cassette tapes that were recorded in concert, trading them around, might be, certainly from a lawyer's point of view, breaking some of those copyright regulations, and such, too.

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, look, it depends on what the intent is. If the intent is to rip me off, then I hate it. If the intent is to find out what's going on, then I think it's fabulous. I'm glad that somebody takes an interest in it, and I'm glad they enjoy it, and whatever I do is for other people's enjoyment here, y'know? But just like anybody else, who wants to get ripped off? I'm not interested in bending over. So ... there you have it.

DEN SIMMS: That's great to have you articulate it that way. It's somethin' that I have sort of thought that you probably felt that way, but never heard it articulated that way, so, that's nice that you put it in words.

ERIC BUXTON: The three of us, we're the ones runnin' this, and we're operating strictly on a not-for-profit basis. Any money we take in, we're either gonna hold it, and use it to improve the quality of the magazine, or if we have any money left over, we might have a party, where everybody can get together. We're not taking any money for our own selves out of it.

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, even if you could make a profit on it, I wouldn't mind that you did, 'cause you're doing work, you know.

ERIC BUXTON: It's a labor of love. [laughter]

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah, but if you're doing work, and you make a profit, I'm not gonna say "Hey! Eric!", y'know. Make a profit. Capitalism could be a very good thing for you.

DEN SIMMS: OK. Here's somethin' I've asked you about twice, and both times gotten kind of an answer that just sort of fluffed things over, so I wanna try to sort of pin you down on this.  I would really like to get a hold of scores of your music, but in the way you currently put out music, it's really expensive, and a guy like me simply just can't afford it.

FRANK ZAPPA: There's no other way.

DEN SIMMS: Well, there's these things called "pocket scores". Needless to say, you know what those are.

FRANK ZAPPA: Sure.

DEN SIMMS: They're small. I just wondered that given the fact that you've got the Synclavier, and with computer printing, if there is a way that those scores could be cheaply reproduced and printed off, and put in some little form, like, a pocket score that we could send away for to Barfko-Swill, for ten or twenty bucks, or somethin' that we could afford, and be able to look at scores to those pieces.

FRANK ZAPPA: I wish. There's no cheap way to do it, because in order to prepare the pocket score, you have to go to printing plates, and do all the rest of that stuff, OK? The total amount that it would cost me to prepare, in that medium, is in excess of what I could make from selling pocket scores, so if you wanna have a score right now, the only way to do it is to have it reproduced from the actual onionskins. It's a full-sized score. I don't do it. I have to send it out to a place called Judy Greene music, and they duplicate those things, and it's very expensive. A full-sized score is about two hundred fifty dollars.

DEN SIMMS: All right. So, I suppose the limitations on that is that you need to have enough people who are willing to spend the money to pay for the overhead of having that done, and the overhead is a little expensive.

measure 8 of "Pink Napkins"

measure 8 of "Pink Napkins"

FRANK ZAPPA: Correct. Yeah. It's not something that you can solve with the Synclavier, because in order for the information to be in the Synclavier, someone has to type it in.

DEN SIMMS: Someone has to type all that stuff in there. Yeah.

FRANK ZAPPA: That's right, and they get paid lots of dollars per hour for doing this work. So, there's no easy way to do it.

DEN SIMMS: Yeah ... OK. Well, that satisfies me on that.

FRANK ZAPPA: Does that pin that answer down for ya in the most, uh ...

DEN SIMMS: It doesn't make me feel any better, but it relieves my anxiety of thinking that the question hasn't been posed to you in a way that you really understand what it was that I'm after.

FRANK ZAPPA: It just means that in the past, when the question was asked, I was not doing very well in answering it, but I think that ... if you want to see what the scores look like while you're here, I'll march into the other room, and you can look at 'em.

DEN SIMMS: Well, the kind of thing that I like to do [is something that] ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Is follow the music?

DEN SIMMS: ... I've shown a few people who don't have musical training in their background. This is something that Scott and I used to do in school a lot. He was somebody who I used to have a lot of fun doing this with, which is listening to music and reading along with the score on it. That's just a wonderful thing.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: One of the things I like to do, I like to listen to "Pink Napkins", and watch that music ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Go by ...

DEN SIMMS: ... in that guitar book [l]. It's beautiful, y'know, and it's not so much thinking [in technical terms] ... y'know, a layman can do this. Somebody who can tap their foot 4/4, and knows that four of those taps come in every one of those measures, can sit there and look at this page, and watch it flow and rise, and if it's scored for an orchestra, watch when the music gets loud, all of a sudden, lots of notes appear on the page, and all that. You don't have to be trained to be able to learn how to do that ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: ... and I've always found it to be a really wonderful experience to have that visual counterpart for the music.

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, I wish I could provide it, but y'know, first of all, the sales of the orchestral albums is very small, meaning there is a very small portion of the audience that's even interested in that kind of stuff. Secondly, the cost of preparing those scores, out of all the people who've bought the orchestral albums, I'm sure that an even smaller percentage of them would want to have a score.

DEN SIMMS: Obviously. Yeah. Not as popular as Beethoven.

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, that's for sure. But given choice between spending ten or twenty bucks for a score, or ten or twenty dollars for an album of something, most people would spend it for something to listen to, rather than something to read ...

DEN SIMMS: Sure. Of course.

FRANK ZAPPA: ... and, y'know, this is ... it's not AT&T here. We have limited resources of what you can spend to ...

DEN SIMMS: Well, I'm really grateful to Steve Vai, and I guess, uh, who was the clarinet player? What was his name?

FRANK ZAPPA: David Ocker.

DEN SIMMS: David Ocker, for doing the work that they did for the guitar book.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah, and also, another copyist was Richard Emmet, another very good copyist. [21]

DEN SIMMS: Well, a definite thanks to those guys, at least from me, for certain. Here's another thing that causes people like us, who like to archive stuff, and collect stuff, and know what stuff is, that sort of causes us headaches, and gives me a little bit of a challenge, which I like, which is the fact that certain songs wind up having different names as time goes by. A good example of this is "Monde" [m] being put out on a recording as "Let's Move to Cleveland", and also being known as "Kreeg-ah Bundolo". How does that happen with songs? Os that done purposefully, or just, y'know, what happens with that?

"A guy who wears a leisure suit with an enormous medallion, that's 'monde' according to Colaiuta. So the title was 'Young and Monde', the idea that someone could be mond before their time."

FRANK ZAPPA: OK, well, the song ... that's got an interesting history. In 1968 ... I can't remember the guy's name, but he was a concert violinist. He asked me to write something for him, so I started writing a piece for violin and piano and that's where "Monde" came from. "Monde" is ... I never completed the piece for violin and piano, but there was enough if a group of sketches for the thing, that I could, at the point where I had a band who could actually play it, I could build a stage arrangement out of the group of sketches that were originally destined for violin and piano. The first band that tried to play it was the band with Roy Estrada, Terry Bozzio, Napoleon and Andre Lewis.

DEN SIMMS: Exactly. Right. Sort of a prototype of what came later.

FRANK ZAPPA: That's right, and at that time, it was called "Canard du Jour". [22]

DEN SIMMS: Aaah. Yeah. I'd heard that phrase, and ...

FRANK ZAPPA: "Duck of the Day". So ... that didn't go very far, and the next time I had a band that was capable of playing it, it was the band with Vinnie as the Drummer. [23]

DEN SIMMS: 1980.

FRANK ZAPPA: No, Logeman was the drummer in '80. Vinnie came along ... after ...

DEN SIMMS: Yeah. Vinnie was there in '78 too, I guess, and '79. [24]

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah. "Monde" is a concept that was developed by Colaiuta. You know the drummer on the Tonight Show, Ed Shaunessy?

DEN SIMMS: Sure.

FRANK ZAPPA: OK. Ed Shaunessy is "monde". A guy who wears a leisure suit with an enormous medallion [laughter], that's "monde" according to Colaiuta. So, the title was "Young and Monde", the idea that a person could be monde before their time, OK?

DEN SIMMS: I see. Yeah.

FRANK ZAPPA: And that's why we used to sing at the end "So young and monde", OK? But, you talk about obscure, how ya gonna get that concept across to anybody, other than sittin' and doin' an interview like this? Um ... "Kreeg-ah Bundolo" came about as a result of a conversation with Ike about the old Tarzan books, where all the fake native talk that they used to have in the books [laughter], y'know, like, that's the way that natives talk in Tarzan books. "Kreeg-ah bundolo. White man come. Fire sticks kill." [n] [laughter] All that kinda stuff. And then, "Bon-do-lay-boffo-bonto" was contributed by Ray White, who claims that it is a Swahili expression meaning "white people taste good" [much laughter], or "white people are good eating", or something, I don't know what ... but, that was the joke that he contributed, so ... we did that for a tour. And then, "Let's Move to Cleveland", we got tired of singing "kreeg-ah bundolo" at the end of the end of the song, and it was just, like, the secret word would be, on those shows in '84, we would change what we would sing at the end of that song. It wouldn't always be "Let's Move to" something else. It could be anything. You get a bunch of syllables that'll fit that part of the song, and you just sing it. That audience in Cleveland was so good, that's the reason we sang it and the end of that performance ... "Let's move to Cleveland".

DEN SIMMS: Alright. Some other things that you've done that with ... "Moggio"/"What's New in Baltimore". I had some conversations with Scott early in the tour, and asked him about that, and he told me that as that was being rehearsed, that it went through several names, if memory serves me right, that it started off as being "Mystery Studio Song" ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: ... then went to "Furnished Singles" ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Um-Hmm.

"Diva was just waking up, and she was telling me about this dream that she had, that she had a tiny, little father named "Moggio" who lived under the pillow, and all this stuff, and that's where the thing came from."

DEN SIMMS: ... and then "Ne Pas Déranger", is that correct? In French, saying "do not disturb"?

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: And then, I suppose for the releasing of the recordings, you broke the thing in half, kinda, and released one as "Baltimore" and one as "Moggio".

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: So, that's the evolution, titlewise, of that.

FRANK ZAPPA: Right. Now, the story about what "Moggio" is, that's another strange story.

DEN SIMMS: Yes. Tell us that.

FRANK ZAPPA: One day, when Diva was real young, she crawled into bed with us, and I was going to bed, like, seven o'clock in the morning, and she had been sleeping in bed with Gail during the night. As I got into bed, she was just waking up, and she was telling me about this dream that she had, that she had a tiny, little father named "Moggio" who lived under the pillow, and went on with all this stuff, y'know, and gave me a complete scenario about this character that she was familiar with. So that's where the thing came from. Then, I found out a couple of years later, that one of the bus drivers, in fact, the driver on the '84 tour, that was his name! [laughter] His last name was Moggio! Mojo! Or somethin' like that. It was so weird! It is not a normal kind of a ...

ERIC BUXTON: Maybe she heard someone sayin' it ...

FRANK ZAPPA: No! I mean, she wouldn'ta heard me said it.

DEN SIMMS: Cosmik coincidence.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: OK. Of things along this line, and having to do with Diva, she came up with the concept for "Chana in de Bushwop". Is that right?

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: And yet, I don't quite understand about some aspect of that, like the French talk, and all that. What is that all about?

[Numerous members of the Zappa family enter with a very cute dalmatian puppy.]

FRANK ZAPPA: Oooh! Fabulous! [laughter]

AHMET ZAPPA: This dog is so cute ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Oooh! Look at that ...

DWEEZIL ZAPPA: The newest member of the Zappa family.

FRANK ZAPPA: Look at that face!

MOON ZAPPA: She says "Hello" ... [laughs]

FRANK ZAPPA: Oh, boy! You're a beauty! Does Dogess like her?

DWEEZIL ZAPPA: I think so.

FRANK ZAPPA: Is it a female?

AHMET ZAPPA: Yeah.

FRANK ZAPPA: Oh ... it's so adorable ...

ERIC BUXTON: Oh, it's so cute.

AHMET ZAPPA: What's it's name?

FRANK ZAPPA: Do I have to name it now, on the spot? How about Spot? [laughter]

DWEEZIL ZAPPA: We thought Toaster might be good.

FRANK ZAPPA: Toaster? Alright!

DWEEZIL ZAPPA: Tezmordo. Tezmordo's good ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Can I hold her?

AHMET ZAPPA: It's so cute.

DWEEZIL ZAPPA: It does have a little bit of a wind problem ...

AHMET ZAPPA: Frank, can I just tell ya how awesome this dog is?

FRANK ZAPPA: How awesome is it?

AHMET ZAPPA: No one could find it in the store. It escaped, and ran put to us. Like outside. We were outside at the escalators, out of the store. It found us.

DWEEZIL ZAPPA: It wanted to come home with us.

AHMET ZAPPA: It totally found us.

DWEEZIL ZAPPA: The dog did somersaults.

AHMET ZAPPA: The woman was, like, panic-stricken, and like, came outside to ... "Is that your dog?" I go "Yeah! We didn't buy any other dog." She said "Did you guys come in and get it?", and I go "No. The dog just ran out here."

FRANK ZAPPA: What a cute little dog.

DWEEZIL ZAPPA: I knew, though, when Gail came along onto the scene ...

AHMET ZAPPA: You decorated your tree, Frank!

FRANK ZAPPA: Eric Buxton did the tree. The dynamic Eric.

ERIC BUXTON: It's still lopsided. I think it gives it character.

AHMET ZAPPA: This dog is so cute.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yes, but it's quivering. It's nervous. It's, like, sensitive. It doesn't know what's goin' on here. Well, after it's gotten acquainted ... have the cats batted it yet, in the nose?

[At this point, the puppy emits an invisible cloud of deadly fumes.]

FRANK ZAPPA: OOOH!!!

ALL: [much laughter]

FRANK ZAPPA: That little ... Oooh! That dog DOES have a breeze problem! [much laughter] No wonder it's quivering. [much laughter] 

[exit Zappa family]

DEN SIMMS: [laughs] How many pets does the Zappa household have?

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, that's gonna be dog number two [after Dogess]. Well, let's see. We've got a white cat named Tweezer, which is actually wild, and it doesn't come in the house very often, 'cause the other cats don't like it, but it eats outside every morning about five or six o'clock ...

DEN SIMMS: And its name is Tweezer?

FRANK ZAPPA: Tweezer, yeah, and then there's the legendary Marsh Moff, the black one that sits on your shoulder and drools. [laughter] She is now commuting between our house and somebody else's house, and she occasionally comes over and drools all over the place. And then there's two black and white cats. One's named Spot, which is a male, and that's one of the reasons Marsh Moff isn't here so often, because Spot's been chasin' her out. And there's another black and white Persian called Fightey Bitey, which is the cat that rules the roost. She swats everybody else around. And there's a gray and white cat named Bill ...

DEN SIMMS: Yeah, I met him.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah. That's a nice one.

DEN SIMMS: Yeah. He's real nice.

FRANK ZAPPA: And we have a snake, and a turtle.

DEN SIMMS: What sort of snake?

FRANK ZAPPA: Gopher snake. It came in as an infant. It sneaked into the recording studio one day when the door was open, and at first we thought it was a rattlesnake, a baby rattlesnake.

DEN SIMMS: Yeah, they look like 'em.

FRANK ZAPPA: Then we looked it up and found out it was a gopher snake, and Diva wanted to adopt it, so we got a terrarium, and we put it up there, in back of the kitchen.

DEN SIMMS: Have you been able to feed it?

FRANK ZAPPA: Baby mice. Pinky mice, they're called.

DEN SIMMS: Yeah, sure.

FRANK ZAPPA: Now it shares its tank with the turtle, but it's getting so big that I think we're gonna have to allow it to go back to nature, because when it gets hungry, it'll now snap at Diva. It bit her the other day, so she can't play with it any more.

DEN SIMMS: OK. Back to Diva and "Chana in de Bushwop". What's the explanation on that one?

FRANK ZAPPA: Putting the French stuff in?

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah. Just what's the general meaning of that song?

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, y'know, the meaning is "let's entertain ourselves". I mean, the whole story of Chana is not contained in the song. The only part of the Chana story that Diva told me was "she lives in a tree, she's nine foot three ..." and the other parts of her story, that she told, is that Chana is a ghost, and the things that Chana does, they're not included in the song. So, I just took part of it, and then extrapolated it out into somethin' else.

ERIC BUXTON: Were all your kids as creative as she is, at this age?

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, remember "Frogs with Dirty Little Lips" was Ahmet's idea.

DEN SIMMS: Yeah, sure. Yeah. I saw you rehearsing that, I think, in Berkely, the day before that was performed. [25]

FRANK ZAPPA: Um-hm.

DEN SIMMS: That was one of the first times I got to sit in on one of your rehearsals, y'know, and we were dyin'. We were in hysterics on that one.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah, I think that's a nice little song. The secret part of "Frogs with Dirty Little Lips" is there's a musical joke in there. [Frank sings] [26]

DEN SIMMS: Sure.

FRANK ZAPPA: That is a type of cadence that was used in very ancient music. It's called the Landini cadence.

DEN SIMMS: I'd heard you use that phrase before, and wondered what it was. Yeah.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah. I mean ... you know what a cadence is?

DEN SIMMS: Sure. Of course.

FRANK ZAPPA: So you know the ones they use today. Plagial cadence, and, y'know, the other ...

DEN SIMMS: Right.

FRANK ZAPPA: So, the Landini has this funny resolution, and it's the sound of medieval music that I always enjoyed. But, if you do it over and over again, it's no longer a cadence. It's a hook.

DEN SIMMS: Right. Exactly. [laughs]

FRANK ZAPPA: Now it's the Landini hook that's in that song.

DEN SIMMS: [laughs] Alright. Let's see what else we got here.

ROB SAMLER: Did you ever find a name for Mouldred, or a place to use that name?

FRANK ZAPPA: Mouldred? Not yet.

DEN SIMMS: You've been toying with that one for a while, huh?

"I believe Howard [Kaylan] made the statement that he didn't really feel that he could go on stage, at this point in his career, and sing songs about blow jobs, and keep his new young audience. They decided that it would be bad for their career."

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah, well, y'know. They come, they go ...

DEN SIMMS: Maybe the new dog can be called Mouldred.

FRANK ZAPPA: That doesn't look like a Mouldred. [laughter] That's a cute dog. It's gotta get that fuckin' dietary problem straight [much laughter] 'cause that dog can ...

ERIC BUXTON: It's probably what they fed him at the store.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah. Musta been a burrito! [hysterical laughter]

ROB SAMLER: Hey, what's a "Jack-in-the-Box ring job"?

FRANK ZAPPA: OK. There was an advertising campaign in 1969, with billboards all over Los Angeles, that showed this bag with onion rings dangling out of it, saying "Stop into Jack in the Box for a ring job." [hysterical laughter]

DEN SIMMS: Oh, that's hilarious!

FRANK ZAPPA: I heard that interview with Flo & Eddie in New York [27], and you mentioned that, so I figured I had to ask you that one, 'cause it sounded pretty mysterious.

ERIC BUXTON: They were just advertising rings?

FRANK ZAPPA: Onion rings.

DEN SIMMS: That interview, which you just did, where Flo & Eddie called you, you all sounded like you were enjoyin' that. A lot of good laughs all the way around.

FRANK ZAPPA: Um-hm.

DEN SIMMS: I understand that they did some rehearsing with you, previous to the '88 tour, and ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Yep.

DEN SIMMS: Why didn't that work out?

FRANK ZAPPA: Because they decided it would be bad for their career.

DEN SIMMS: Um-hm. They were doing that nostalgia thing, right?

FRANK ZAPPA: That's right. Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: They figured that they would do better with that.

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, I believe Howard made the statement that he didn't really feel that he could go on stage, at this point in his career, and sing songs about blow jobs, and, y'know, keep his new young audience [laughter], and I said "Fine."

DEN SIMMS: Such is life.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: Yep. OK. Would you say that Conlon Nancarrow is the predecessor of what you do with the Synclavier?

FRANK ZAPPA: Not completely. Certainly there's a huge influence, conceptually, in what Nancarrow did. In fact, when Nancarrow was in southern California, I tried to get him to come over, so I could demonstrate the machine to him, because here's a guy who pioneered a type of sequencer music, using a player piano, but it's a limited timbre. It's only the sound of that one instrument ...

DEN SIMMS: Right. That's right.

FRANK ZAPPA: ... and I just thought that the way his mind works, if he would learn how to use the Synclavier, [he] would be able to hear all different kinds of things out of it, but I never got him to come over, and I doubt whether he's ever gonna get into it, but, y'know, I have to tip my hat to him, certainly.

DEN SIMMS: He lives in Mexico City, doesn't he?

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: Yeah, he's come up with some interesting stuff. How did your association with Nicholas Slonimsky come about?

FRANK ZAPPA: When I was invited to be the host of this Edgar Varèse memorial concert ...

DEN SIMMS: In San Francisco? [28]

FRANK ZAPPA: No. In New York, at the Palladium. [29]

DEN SIMMS: Oh, yeah.

FRANK ZAPPA: ... I erroneously thought that since I was supposed to be introducing the works, that the audience would appreciate some background facts about his life, and stuff like that, that would be informative, not realizing the typical New York audience that would appear would be more "Hey, Frank! Hey ..." [Frank imitates rowdy audience sounds in a way which is impossible to translate into print] ... and all this kinda stuff, and they didn't wanna know.

DEN SIMMS: Right.

Nicholas Slonimsky

Nicholas Slonimsky

FRANK ZAPPA: But I didn't know that. So, to prepare myself for this, I knew that Slonimsky lived in Los Angeles, and since he conducted the premier of "Ionisations", I thought I would meet him, and talk to him, and get some inside information, and that's how I met him.

DEN SIMMS: I see. Yeah. OK. Yeah, that's right. I had heard somewhere that he had conducted that premier.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: Back in '67, the Mothers played some music at a Grammy awards ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: ... where you guys supposedly did some real bent version of ...

FRANK ZAPPA: "Satin Doll".

DEN SIMMS: ... "Satin Doll". Tell us about that.

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, we were hired as the entertainment at this Grammy awards show, and Duke Ellington was actually in the audience, by the way. [30] Woody Herman, I believe, was the band that would play the music when people got awards, and we were brought on to do a little fifteen-minute set, and this is a room full of people in tuxedos, and y'know, all fancy, fancy, fancy ... 

DEN SIMMS: This was before the Grammy awards were more of a rock-music-oriented thing, right?

FRANK ZAPPA: That's tight. Remember, in the old days, they didn't even want to give you awards for rock music, y'know, and it's only recently that I think they're even talking about giving you awards for rap music – not exactly on the forefront of musical expression.

DEN SIMMS: Exactly.

FRANK ZAPPA: So, we did our show with broken dolls, and rancid versions of ... y'know, just the type of ugliness that we used to do in 1967 [including "Satin Doll"]. After our set was over, I walked out, I think it was in the Hilton Ballroom, where we did this, and I walked off of the stage, and I was on my way to the toilet. This woman in an evening gown was walking towards me, and as she passed me, she said, under her breath, "That's the most DISGUSTING thing I've ever seen in my life", and I went "HEY! YOU! C'MERE!" And she stopped dead in her tracks, and walked over to me, just right up to me, and I stuck my face right in her face, and I, just as loud as I could, said "YOU'RE A PIG!" [laughter], and she was STUNNED! [laughter] It was like, the result was like if you took a wind-up toy, and hit it with a hammer, and it went crazy [laughter], and it started twirling around the room. [laughter] She didn't know where to go. She was "[Frank imitates the sound of a matronly socialite in befuddled confusion, which is impossible to translate into print]" [laughter], and she was just going around in circles out there in the lobby. [laughter]

DEN SIMMS: Oh, God. Oh, my. That's pretty funny ... um ... we've heard a little thing, that you used to open up the shows with, I believe in '78, called either "Revenge ..." or "Attack of the Knick-Knack People". What is it? Was it "revenge" or "attack"? Let's clear that up.

FRANK ZAPPA: [thoughtful pause] I can't remember, 'cause my tapes in there just say "Knick-Knack". Um ... OK. Remember I told ya about that period when I couldn't get a record contract, and I was just doing little shitty experiments here in the basement? That's part of what I was doing, gluing those little pieces of tape.

DEN SIMMS: Right. Doing that editing. When were the things that you glued together, when were those recorded? At that same time, or ...

FRANK ZAPPA: No, no, no, no ...

DEN SIMMS: I mean, I get the feeling that they sound Lumpy Gravy-ish, and ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah, it's all earlier sound sources.

DEN SIMMS: Was that put together for the exclusive use of putting on at the beginning of shows, or was it just a project that you did, and ...

FRANK ZAPPA: It was just a sound object that I wanted to make, just choppin' tape together, and then, since there was no way to release it anyplace, I thought people might enjoy hearing it, and we used it to open the show.

DEN SIMMS: Right. OK. Um ...

the program from the BSO concert

the program from the BSO concert

FRANK ZAPPA: I think it was "CURSE of the Knick-Knack People". [o]

DEN SIMMS: "Curse of the Knick-Knack People". Alright. Um ... you said emphatically that you were pretty distraught with the result of working with the LSO [London Symphony Orchestra] ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Um-hm.

DEN SIMMS: ... and all those problems. Did you feel any better about what happened with the concerts in Berkeley [31], and with that orchestra? Did they treat your stuff any better?

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, look, Kent is very fine and dedicated conductor, and the Berkeley [Symphony] Orchestra really put a lot of effort into it, but based on what I heard on the tapes, I mean, some parts, for example, of "Mo & Herb's Vacation" and "Bob in Dacron", they're playing them better than the LSO, faster, more accurately, but all in all, there's just not enough time or enough money to get everything nailed down to a really perfect ...

DEN SIMMS: Still the same basic problem.

FRANK ZAPPA: It's the same basic problem. It's an enormous amount of notes that you have to learn, to do a whole evening of that stuff, and when it's all unfamiliar, if the evening would consist of one of my pieces, and all the rest, things that they already knew, then, y'know, you could've probably had a better result from the concert, because there's less material they have to learn from scratch. They've already played Beethoven's Fifth, so there's never a problem there. If the music is brand new, nobody's ever seen it before, and they don't know how to play it, and if you're writing it in an idiom which is not a familiar idiom, you're gonna have performance problems. You have to be realistic about it.

DEN SIMMS: What about the visual content of it? How much did you enjoy that, the puppets, and such?

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, there were certain parts of the puppet show that they couldn't finish on time, like the enormous wives from "Mo & Herb's Vacation". They never completed those things, so everything that was in the scenario, as it was written for the ballet, it wasn't all there. That was just another budgetary thing.

DEN SIMMS: What's "Dwell"? [a2]

FRANK ZAPPA: What is "Dwell"? Well, "Dwell" is a screenplay. It's extracted from the Them Or Us book. [p] What I've done is I've put together a 102-page screenplay that I've brought up to date. In fact, I worked on it about five days ago, and made some changes in it. I sent a copy of it to my new agent at ICM [32] to see whether he'll send it around, and then, a couple of days later, Beverly D'Angelo was over here, and we sat around, and we read the whole script. We had a bunch of laughs. She had never seen it before.

DEN SIMMS: Yeah. I saw here on [Late Night with David] Letterman the other night, where she had said something about ... I wasn't really listening to it, and she said the words "harder than your husband", and I went [Den demonstrates having his attention caught, and whipping his head around to see] ...

FRANK ZAPPA: She sang it in this new film she just did. [33]

DEN SIMMS: OK. It's a film?

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: OK. We'll be waitin' for that. What about the three groups that you had back in the early seventies, one of which is commonly known as the Hot Rats ensemble? Is that a proper name for that group?

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah. It only played a couple of shows. We did San Diego, and we did the Olympic Auditorium. [34]

DEN SIMMS: And then there was the Grand Wazoo, and a scaled-down version known ...

FRANK ZAPPA: The Petit Wazoo.

DEN SIMMS: ... as the Petit Wazoo. Is that, again, the correct way to think of that band?

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: OK.

"You know all the people inside the piano in LUMPY GRAVY? OK. Picture a dog, sitting in the corner watching human beings do that."

ERIC BUXTON: What was the inspiration for "Evelyn, a Modified Dog"?

FRANK ZAPPA: Lemme think about that. Good question [Frank pauses to consume a chocolate drop] ... You know all the people inside the piano in Lumpy Gravy?

DEN SIMMS: Um-hm.

FRANK ZAPPA: OK. Picture a dog, sitting in the corner watching human beings do that. [laughter]

ERIC BUXTON: We spent the day at the Los Angeles Zoo, and the orangutans were doin' that. They were lookin' at us like "What are these people doin', this constant procession of people?"

FRANK ZAPPA: Um-hm. They're in there going "What a miserable life, walkin' past cages, lookin' at a ..."

DEN SIMMS: Tell us about a composition that the old Mothers used to do that you called "The String Quartet", which we know of as "Pound for a Brown"/"Sleeping in a Jar". Why was that called "The String Quartet"?

FRANK ZAPPA: Because it was written when I was in high school, and it was a string quartet.

DEN SIMMS: I see. So that's the origins of those two compositions, the melodies that we would associate with those two songs originated from a high-school string quartet.

FRANK ZAPPA: Um-hm. '58.

DEN SIMMS: I see. Alright. There's also somethin' that the only title I've ever heard associated with it was something that was just loosely called "Ballet Music", which was some themes. Are you familiar with that, what that was? Cal you tell me anything about that? It came from the same time era.

FRANK ZAPPA: No, a bit later. That eventually would up in "Greggery Peccary". Those things were written during the '69 tour.

DEN SIMMS: OK. Also in "Greggery Peccary", there's a part of that that the Grand Wazoo was playing, which I think of as being "New Brown Clouds". Was that, at that time, a composition unto itself, or was that part of "Greggery Peccary"?

FRANK ZAPPA: It was part of "Greggery Peccary". "Greggery Peccary" was written in 1972, while I was in the wheelchair.

DEN SIMMS: Uh-huh. Ah. I see.

FRANK ZAPPA: And so was "Hunchentoot".

DEN SIMMS: Yeah. OK. Speaking of "Hunchentoot", who were the vocalists that you worked with back then, particularily the female vocalist? Who was that?

FRANK ZAPPA: God, I can't remember her name. Brooke ...?

ROB SAMLER: Was it Florence Marley?

FRANK ZAPPA: Nooo! No ...

DEN SIMMS: No. That was from a movie. That was from "Space Boy", or somethin ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Florence Marley! She was in this, um, science-fiction movie ...

DEN SIMMSQUEEN OF BLOOD. [q]

FRANK ZAPPA: ... where she plays a vampire from Mars. [laughter]

DEN SIMMS: What about the string quartet you wrote called "None of the Above", and there's the wind quintet, "Times Beach"? Will we ever get to hear them?

FRANK ZAPPA: You'll hear a piano version of "Times Beach" in Phase Three. [r]

DEN SIMMS: I see. What's the origins of "Sink Trap"/"Gypsy Airs"?

FRANK ZAPPA: [another pause for chocolate] All the music that was put together for the Lumpy Gravy album, these were done in segments. Excuse me, I'm tryin' to finish eatin' my candy here.

DEN SIMMS: Oh, feel free.

FRANK ZAPPA: Alright, let's see. It was, uh ... '66. This guy named Nick Venet, who was a producer at Capitol, came to me, and offered me the chance to write something for a forty-piece orchestra, to do a recording of that kind of stuff. I looked at my contract with MGM, 'cause we were signed with MGM at the time. Nowhere in my contract did it preclude me from being a composer, or a conductor. So long as I didn't perform on an album that was released by another company, I didn't think I had a problem.

DEN SIMMS: By "performing", you mean something with an instrument.

"In 1966, Nick Venet offered me the opportunity to write [LUMPY GRAVY]. I thought 'Whoa! This is fabulous. I'll just dive in there and compose my little buns off, and I'll get this performance.' I was writing around the clock."

FRANK ZAPPA: Right. I wasn't singin', I wasn't playin'.

DEN SIMMS: Right.

FRANK ZAPPA: Nonetheless, MGM refused to allow this album to be released, and there was an argument over it for a year, finally resulting in MGM buying the master tape from Capitol, and then, I added the vocal parts in there, and it came out. [s] But in '66, I used to live in this little house on Kirkwood, and I was renting this place, and this is right about the time Venet offered me this opportunity to write this music. I thought "Whoa! This is fabulous. I'll just dive in there and start composing my little buns off, and I'll get this performance." Well, shortly after receiving this commission, the landlord notifies me that his son, who is a dentist from the Midwest, is moving back to California, and we should get out of the house, so he can have his son move in. So, I got evicted. I have to move. I've got a deadline to do the recording session, I've got all this music to write, and I've got no place to do it. So Lumpy Gravy, all the music to that was written in these locations: the office adjoining Nick Venet's office at Capitol Records, after six PM, 'cause they had a little piano in there, and I would go down there, and work in there for a few hours; then I wrote part of it at the Tropicana Motel, with no piano, because we had to live there; and then, um, I took a short-term rental on another house in the Canyon, just prior to the recording sessions, and I was writing around the clock, and I had copyists coming over there at three o'clock in the morning and pick up chunks of the score, and go off, and copy the parts, OK? So, to answer your question, where do these titles come from? You gotta name these segments something, because you have pieces of it going out the door. It wasn't one whole finished thing, 'cause it had to be done in an assembly-line process, so ... there ya go, "Sink Trap". 

DEN SIMMS: It had to be ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Name it something. Get it out the door.

DEN SIMMS: It had to be identified in some way.

FRANK ZAPPA: Right. It goes back to what Varèse used to say: "Why do you call pieces 'Density 21.5' and 'Ionisations'?" He said "It serves as a convenient means of cataloging the work." [laughter] You could call it "Buddy". You could call it "Mouldred". [laughter] You could call it "Billy". You could call it "Sink Trap".

DEN SIMMS: What about the album Apostrophe (')? Was that like that, or is Apostrophe (') a concept?

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, an apostrophe is that funny little thing, y'know, that dangles at the end of the word denoting ...

DEN SIMMS: And it has a certain function.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah. It has functions. It denotes ownership.

DEN SIMMS: Ownership. OK. Is that what you were thinkin' of when you ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah. [t]

DEN SIMMS: Gettin' back to "Hunchentoot", are there any other songs that we'd be familiar with, that came about from "Hunchentoot", other than "Flambay", "Spider of Destiny", "Planet of My Dreams" and "Time Is Money"? Anything else besides those four that we ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Not that have been recorded ... oh, yeah! Wait. There's another one that's in the script. That's, um ... "Think It Over" ... "If something gets in your way, just think it over". Well, that's the Grand Wazoo theme. [Frank hums it]

DEN SIMMS: Right. Oh, right. Sure.

FRANK ZAPPA: That's what it gets sung to.

DEN SIMMS: Right. As you were humming "Think It Over", I was tryin' to think of what that is, and that was what you called what we think of as "The Grand Wazoo", at the time it was being performed live.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah. Um-hm.

DEN SIMMS: Yes. OK.

FRANK ZAPPA: But the other songs that Hunchentoot sings, like "The Hunchentootin' Blues", and, um, "Oh Me, Oh My, Lonely Spider Wanna Die", those have never been recorded.

DEN SIMMS: Alright. Here's a controversy you can settle. There are many people who think that you performed, in 1969, at a festival in Belgium called "Amougies" ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Yes.

DEN SIMMS: ... performed on stage with Pink Floyd. True or false?

FRANK ZAPPA: Not with Pink Floyd.

DEN SIMMS: That's what I thought. You introduced Beefheart to the audience ...

FRANK ZAPPA: Yes, and I introduced a lot of other acts, too. You see, that was a very weird thing. I was hired to be a master of ceremonies ...

DEN SIMMS: Gotcha.

front page of PD

front page of PD

FRANK ZAPPA: That was after the Mothers had broken up, and y'know, I had time on my hands. These people contacted me. They offered me ten thousand dollars to be an emcee at a festival, all expenses paid, and go over there, and, y'know, whatever I wanted to do, and I said "Fine." So, I get there, and they neglected to tell me that nobody spoke English. [laughter] I mean, most of the people there spoke French, and all I could do was point and wave [laughter], and furthermore, the festival was originally supposed to be in France. The French government stopped it, and so, at the last minute, it was moved across the border to Belgium, into the middle of a turnip patch, in the middle of nowhere, in a tent that was held up by steel girders. This tent held fifteen thousand people. Freezing cold, damp weather, constant fog, the most MISERABLE [laughter] circumstances you could find yourself in, and was a 24-hour-a-day festival, and the kids would come there, and they had their sleeping bags, and they were sleeping through ... they were just in this tent FREEZING, laying on the ground, sleeping, while music went on around the clock with all these groups ...

DEN SIMMS: How bizarre.

FRANK ZAPPA: ... and they were filming it.

DEN SIMMS: A true war story.

ROB SAMLER: So, did you perform with anyone?

DEN SIMMS: Yeah. To nail that down once and for all, you did not perform with Pink Floyd, right?

FRANK ZAPPA: No. I think I performed with Aynsley Dunbar, and then there was this jam session that had Archie Shepp, Philly Joe Jones, and some other jazz guys that played.

DEN SIMMS: OK.

Short Interruption 

[As the conversation resumes, Rob has just shown Frank an article from the English magazine Guitarist (which we reprinted on page 54 of our first issue of Society Pages).]

FRANK ZAPPA: I saw it.

ROB SAMLER: [the photo] looks kind of familiar. 

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah, that's great.

ROB SAMLER: I guess he [Scott] must've given them this picture that Eric took, and sent Scott, and they put it in here, but they didn't give Eric any photo credit. [u]

FRANK ZAPPA: Not a bad picture, Eric.

ROB SAMLER: Yeah. Scott caught in a pensive mood.

ERIC BUXTON: I caught him in a good mood.

FRANK ZAPPA: Uh-huh. Well, that was a rare occasion.

DEN SIMMS: Did you ever get a hold of a thing that I tried to get to you, I'll call it a study, that I did of the '88 tour, which I called Project Documentation? You never got a hold of that?

FRANK ZAPPA: Unh-unh.

DEN SIMMS: [to Rob] Do you have a copy of that?

ROB SAMLER: Here it is.

ERIC BUXTON: It's exhaustive.

DEN SIMMS: Anyway, please have that.

FRANK ZAPPA: [Frank takes a look] Jeezuss! [laughter]

ROB SAMLER: Here, you might as well keep it in this envelope.

FRANK ZAPPA: [Frank continues to examine the document] Thanks! Y'know, I'm really honored that you guys take the time, or that you have the interest to do this stuff.

ERIC BUXTON: We feel it's our duty.

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, y'know, I'm flattered and honored, and I mean that sincerely.

DEN SIMMS: [!!!] Well, believe us that the feeling's mutual, 'cause, again, as I think I said before, that, y'know, there's lots of these other "stars" out there that don't think this way, as far ask ... y'know, you know what I'm sayin'.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah, well, they should do it the other way.

DEN SIMMS: I mean, I've really appreciated the fact that you will allow the hardcores that hang out at the backstage door to slip in and see how the rehearsals are working, and for me, somebody that has a little musical background, that is really something else, to see how these things get assembled, and how things come together.

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, I think people should know that it's not just fun time out there. There's actual work involved, and it takes some skill in order to do that. Y'know, sometimes it looks pretty easy on stage, flipping around all those funny rhythms, and everything like that, but in order to learn it, it ain't easy ...

DEN SIMMS: Yeah.

FRANK ZAPPA: ... and I'm glad ya took an interest in it.

DEN SIMMS: Well, we do have an impression that you do appreciate the hardcores. These are the people that are your bread and butter, y'know. We purchase the releases when they come out.

FRANK ZAPPA: OK, but I'm not looking at you guys like bread and butter. I really take this as a compliment, as a personal compliment, because let's face it, there aren't that many hardcores, and that's not very much butter, and it's certainly no bread. The number of hardcores that are out there is tiny, and that, to me, it's not, like, addressing my income stream. My income stream comes from other sources.

"When I walked into this room, the guy thought he had seen a ghost, 'cause he never expected to see me in Moscow, and he started crying. He had pictures of his house in Siberia, posters of me on the wall, and a complete record collection. In Siberia!"

DEN SIMMS: Right. There is this ... I call it a grapevine, and the people who ardently like your music know that they're unusual, on [terms of] the mainstream, and so they tend to seek each other out, and so, there has, over the years, developed this little grapevine, and swapping of cassette tapes and newspaper articles, and all that sort of thing, and it's easily the best hobby I've ever had. It's a lot of fun.

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, let me tell you something, that this grapevine that you were talking about exists behind the Iron Curtain, and has for years.

DEN SIMMS: Yeah? I've been wonderin' about that.

FRANK ZAPPA: There is something called the "Frank Zappa Society of Czechoslovakia" ...

DEN SIMMS: Wow!

FRANK ZAPPA: ... that sent me ... well, they delivered to me, this dossier. It's around here someplace. It's a thing like this ... it looks like it's out of a spy movie, y'know. It's tied with a string ... it's like, all the evidence is in here, one of those little things tied with a string, and I opened it up, and there are photographs of their meetings. There's a guy standing at a podium. They got pictures of me on the wall, and he's delivering an address to this assembly of people. They're listening to tapes very, y'know, seriously studying this stuff, and then, in it was this little proclamation that was signed by all these people in Prague, and all this, and ... there's a guy from Holland. Do you know Co de Kloet?

DEN SIMMS: Um-hm.

FRANK ZAPPA: OK. Co recently came back from Czechoslovakia, and he went to record stores there, and none of my albums have been officially released, but if you go in the back room, every album is available on tae. They're all bootleg taped, just hand-inscribed, and so, the music has been there for years. And when I went into Russia, I was introduced to a guy who works in the Ministry of Culture, a total member of the Communist Party, with the red card, and the whole thing, a young guy, about thirty years old, who said he was pleased to meet me, because he earned his way through school by importing my tapes from Yugoslavia, and selling them in Russia, and now he works in the Ministry of Culture, and he got through school bootleggin' my stuff. [laughter] Also, one of the people that I met in Moscow, on the first trip, was a guitar player from a Siberian rhythm & blues band.

DEN SIMMS: Boy, that's just a pretty bizarre concept in itself.

FRANK ZAPPA: Well, when you hear the rest, you won't believe it, because when I walked into this room, the guy thought he had seen a ghost, 'cause he never expected to see me in Moscow, and he started crying, and he opened his wallet. He had pictures of his house in Siberia, posters of me on the wall, and a complete record collection. In Siberia.

DEN SIMMS: Wow!

FRANK ZAPPA: So, I listened to his band play, and talked with him, and I didn't have my business cards, but my lawyer was with me on this first trip, and he gave him his card. Two weeks ago, I received a letter from Siberia, from a friend of his. It was addressed to my lawyer. This guy had gone back to Siberia, and a friend of his, who's no longer a musician, wants to publish a book in the United States about Soviet rock musicians and their songs, not the official government ones, but all the underground Soviet rock musicians, and he's looking for a Western publisher. Here's this letter from Novosibirsk, with a phone number. I tried to call the guy in Siberia. I couldn't get through, but eventually, I'm going to get him on the phone. It wasn't the same guy. It was yet another guy in Siberia. Last week we got ... one letter from East Germany, one from a place in Russia, which is right across the Finnish border, called Vyborg ... this guy had really great English. He wants to be a Russian distributor for Barfko-Swill products ... a letter from Kiev, and another letter from some other place in the Soviet Union, and we've been getting, regularly, letters from Hungary, from Poland, from all over the place.

DEN SIMMS: Is this stuff just happening as the Iron Curtain is coming down?

FRANK ZAPPA: That's right.

ROB SAMLER: So is there any chance you can put us in touch with these fellows?

FRANK ZAPPA: Yes, there is. I can give you, maybe, copies of their letters.

DEN SIMMS: Yeah, if they're interested in talking to Western Zappa fanatics, who are not only willing, but eager, just from the curiosity, and the, y'know, hands-across-the-ocean aspects of this stuff, to communicate with these people ...

Michael Kocb

Michael Kocb

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah. I really have to find that thing from Czechoslovakia, because I couldn't believe it. The work that went into putting this thing together. And then recently, um ... well, let's see, it was about four or five months ago ... there's a composer from Czechoslovakia named [Michael] Kocb, who writes music for movies. He writes operas. He writes, y'know, all different kinds of stuff, plus, he has a rhythm & blues, well, a rock & roll band of some sort [v], and he was in town, and came over to visit. He speaks not very much English, but enough that we could talk, and he told me what was going on in Czechoslovakia. He was part of the student protest movement, one of the people who was speaking out against the government, and he invited me to Prague. [35] They wanted to play some of my music there, and all the rest of this stuff. So I met, gradually, some of the people from different countries, either over there, or they come to my house. Two months after that visit, Czechoslovakian television came here, and filmed an interview out in the front yard, with a camera that looked like it was right out of World War II. [laughter] You could hear the thing creaking. It was a sixteen-millimeter camera. [laughter]

DEN SIMMS: God, that's great.

FRANK ZAPPA: And, I've done interviews for Hungarian television twice. They usually come when we play in Vienna. They come across the border, and this is before the Iron Curtain came down, but they were still coming down there and talking to me. 

DEN SIMMS: So, you may have, perhaps, a whole new market, for what you do, opening up there in Eastern Europe.

FRANK ZAPPA: That's very true. We have two deal offers, right now, for distribution of records behind the Iron Curtain.

DEN SIMMS: That's great!

FRANK ZAPPA: Behind the non-existent Iron Curtain. One is for Czechoslovakia. The other is for Hungary.

DEN SIMMS: Somehow, I get struck by the impression, I don't know why, but perhaps those people on the other side of the Iron Curtain might be more respective to what might be thought of as some of the more arcane aspects of your music, that our type of living here in places like America and in Western Europe might have made people to bland to be able to deal with.

FRANK ZAPPA: Yeah.

DEN SIMMS: Maybe those people are so hungry, that they might be able to look at that in a different manner, and be able to appreciate it without all the other influences.

FRANK ZAPPA: They can't really appreciate it, because they don't really know what I'm talking about. You can't give 'em a song like "The Blue Light" and have 'em understand what "Winchell's Donuts" means.

DEN SIMMS: Sure.

FRANK ZAPPA: Oh, one of the weirdest letters that I got, about a yard long, written on toilet paper [laughter], in tiny handwriting, with cartoons, from a sergeant in the Soviet Air Force, who was in Afghanistan, who was saying how much he liked the albums, and he used to listen to them when he was in Afghanistan, and he heard that I had come to Russia, and that he wanted to see me, but he missed me, and all this stuff, and just the idea that this guy was bombing in Afghanistan [laughs], and maybe, listening to [laughs] "The Grand Wazoo", or something [laughter], while he was doing it. So weird.

DEN SIMMS: Very peculiar.

FRANK ZAPPA: Very peculiar.

Part 3 of our interview with Frank will conclude in our next issue. Don'tcha miss it!

 

Footnotes

1. "Outrage at Valdez".

2. In May 1989, Eric and Rob had visited with Frank, and at that time, Frank had told them about a Russian woman's product for which he was trying to find a distributor in the United States. The product was a liquid "sealer", that when applied to stone, brick, concrete, etc. would provide a completely invisible protection against the elements.

3. Expanded Universe by Robert A Heinlein  – "Inside Intourist".

4. Intourist is the official Soviet tourism agency.

5. Earlier in the interview, Frank had spoken about his ability to separate propaganda from usable information when watching televised newscasts. (See issue 1, page 31, middle column.)

6. Le Mystére des Voix Bulgares, Volumes I & II.

7. Earlier during this interview, Eric had volunteered to decorate a bare Christmas tree which was sitting in a corner of the room. (See issue #1, page 17, right-hand column.)

8. "21 vamp" from "Marqueson's Chicken":

"21 vamp" from "Marqueson's Chicken"

9. 13 vamp from "Trouble Comin' Every Day":

13 vamp from "Trouble Comin' Every Day"

10. See issue #1, page 21.

11. See VIDEO FROM HELL

12. The Society Pages board of experts have re-examined "Fallin' in Love is a Stupid Habit" and have concluded that it is indeed Frank.

13. On October 12 1986, Frank took part in a public panel discussion on censorship and other related subjects at the At My Place restaurant in Santa Monica.

14. On May 20 1984, the Exploratorium in San Francisco presented "Speaking of Music with Frank Zappa" at the Palace of Fine Arts, hosted by Charles Amirkhanian, a program of digitally taped music, conversation, audience questions, and Francesco: the Almost Fictional Life of an Obscure Italian Composer, a play written by Frank and read by actor Calvin Ahlgren.

15. On November 5 1986, Student Productions and Campus Entertainment presented "Frank Zappa, Lecture / Electronic Music Performance" at California State University, Northridge.

16. On April 5 1984, Frank was invited to deliver the keynote address at a convention of the American Society of University Composers at the University of Ohio in Columbus. (See The Real Frank Zappa Book, pages 189-194.)

17. Earlier in the interview, Frank had spoken about the shooting of a documentary at his house that had occurred a short time before. (See issue #1, page 17, left-hand column.)

18. Both "Make a Sex Noise" and "Irish Eyes / Godfather" were performed on March 17 1988 at Broome County Arena, Binghampton, New York.

19. Both "Star Wars Won't Work" and "Stairway to Star Wars" were performed on May 24 1988 at Martin Schleyer-Halle, Stuttgart, West Germany.

20. The unreleased Mystery Disc CD is a combining of the two records of the same name that were included as part of the first two Old Masters boxed sets. [i]

21. Arthur Jarvinen and Lee Scott were also contributing transcribers in The Frank Zappa Guitar Book.

22. The editors know of three performances of "Canard du Jour": December 26 1975 at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California; December 27 1975 at Winterland in San Francisco; and January 23 1976 at Festival Hall in Melbourne, Australia. (Do not be confused with the title "Canard du Jour". It has no musical connection whatsoever with the duets with Jean-Luc Ponty of the same name that appear on Shut Up & Play Yer Guitar.)

23. On April 1 1980 at Bekeley Community Theatre in Berkeley, California, Frank introduced "Young and Mond" as a world premier.

24. The drummer in that band was David Logeman, whose tenure with Frank lasted from February to August of 1980. Vinnie was with Frank from August 1978 until December 1980 except for the tour that David Logeman participated in. 

25. The rehearsal of "Frogs with Dirty Little Lips" that Den witnessed was on December 10 1981, at Bekeley Community Theatre. Its only performance was the next night at the Santa Monica Civic Center.

26. The "Landini" cadence (hook) from "Frogs with Dirty Little Lips":

The "Landini" cadence (hook) from "Frogs with Dirty Little Lips"

27. Flo & Eddie conducted a telephone interview with Frank on November 16 1989 on WXRK, New York City.

28. Frank conducted several Edgard Varèse compositions at a concert commemorating the one-hundredth birtdays of Varèse and Anton Webern on February 9 1983 at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.

29. The performance, on April 17 1981, was entitled "A Tribute to Edgard Varèse".

30. Duke Ellington is the composer of "Satin Doll".

31. The Berkeley Symphony presented "A Zappa Affair" at Zellerbach Auditorium in Berkeley, California on June 16 1984.

32. International Creative Management.

33. DADDY'S DYIN' ... WHO'S GOT THE WILL?

34. The Hot Rats ensemble played on February 8 1970 at the San Diego Sports Arena and March 7 1970 at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles.

35. Michael Kocb has since become an elected member of Czechoslovakian parliament. 

 

Extra Notes to the HTML Version

a. "over"?

b. You can read more about Rondo Hatton at Rondo "The Creeper" Hatton.

c. In 1991, You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore Volume 4 was released, featuring a version of "The Man from Utopia" where Zappa mentions this Sanavio character.

d. "Lost in a Whirlpool" was released on The Lost Episodes in 1996.

e. In the Lost Episodes booklet, the date for "Lost in a Whirlpool" is given as 1958 or '59.

f. We have made some very minor corrections to the lyrics that appeared in the original article, on the justification that the recording available on The Lost Episodes is clearer than the bootleg versions that have circulated, so that it's easier to make out the words. The last lines, though, are debatable: the original article had "tug those strings" and "in a noose" where we have "plunk those stringers" and "in the noose" – and while it may be a toss-up between "tug" and plunk", "stringers" and "the noose" are clear enough, "in the noose" rendered particularly hilarious by Vliet's pronunciation, hinting at a /nju:z/ glide ("in the news").

g. Released in 1994 as Civilization Phaze III.

h. "Make a Sex Noise" was released in 1992 on You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore Volume 6. "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and the GODFATHER theme were ended up on The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life after all, when it was released in 1991. "Stairway to Star Wars" has not been released, but "Star Wars Won't Work" was released on Make a Jazz Noise Here, also in 1991.

i. Mystery Disc was eventually released on CD in 1998.

j. The Lost Episodes wasn't released until 1996.

k. A "reference" book put out in Germany by Norbert "Nobbi" Obermanns, originally in January 1981.

l. The Frank Zappa Guitar Book, Munchkin Music, Los Angeles, 1982, distributed by Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation, Milwaukee. ISBN 0-7935-2434-2.

m. Spelling uncertain: "mond" or "monde". The original article spelled "mond", but was based on audio tapes only.

n. To be precise, in Tarzan lore, "kreeg-ah bundolo" is supposed to be ape language for "Danger! Kill!" (according to the current level of research in the internet Zappa community). (There is, however, also a rumour that Tarzan used the words "kreegah bondola" in an old comic strip, "to call the elephants".) Spelling variants include "Kreega", "Creega", "Kreegah", "Bondolo" and "Bondola" – the original article spelled "Creega Bondolo", but was based on audio tapes only.

o. This was eventually released, as a bonus track on the Läther CD in September 1996, as "Revenge of the Knick-Knack People".

p. Frank Zappa: Them Or Us [the book], Barfko-Swill, Los Angeles, 1984 (no ISBN).

q. QUEEN OF BLOOD – a Filmgroup/AIP production, 1966, directed by Curtis Harrington (with the slogan "HIDEOUS BEYOND BELIEF with an INHUMAN CRAVING"). The Zappa bootleg Beyond the Fringe of Audience Participation, record three in the Mystery Box, contains a song called "Space Boy", which the liner notes describe as "the rarest track in this entire box. It was recorded for the Curtis Harrington film QUEEN OF BLOOD. Words, music and vocals by Florence Marley. Orchestration and additional instruments by FZ. Sound effects by Ackerman & Cole."

r. There was no "Times Beach" on the eventual 1994 Civilization Phaze III release, but the Ensemble Modern played parts of it ("Times Beach II" and "Times Beach III"), which were released on the Yellow Shark CD in 1993, along with "None of the Above" and a string-quintet revision of one of the "None of the Above" movements, called "III Revised".

s. Capitol Records may have released this early version of Lumpy Gravy, on 8-track tape only – it's supposed to be the world's rarest Zappa item (even if it was released, do any copies still exist?), and to contain, of course, only orchestral music.

t. Technically, the apostrophe is used to denote that something has been omitted: for example in "can't", the O of the word "not" has been omitted; in "goin'", it is the final G. Matters of ownership is only one instance where the apostrophe will come into play: "ladies' room", for example, is about ownership, and has an apostrophe (basically because earlier in the history of the English language, something else was used to denote ownership, which has since come to be omitted, and the apostrophe has stayed). (In this HTML version, the apostrophe looks the same as the inch sign and the single quotation mark)

u. Here is the picture:

v. On June 24 1991, Zappa played with Kocáb's band Pražský Vběr in Prague. The recording, "Improvizace v A dur s Frankem Zappou", was released on Pražský Vběr's 1992 album Adieu CA (AP 0001-2311).

 

References (Also Added to HTML Version)

  • Heinlein, Robert A: Expanded Universe, Ace Books, February 1981 (ISBN 0686598229)
  • Zappa, Frank: Them Or Us [the book], Barfko-Swill, Los Angeles, 1984 (no ISBN)
  • Zappa, Frank, with Peter Occhiogrosso: The Real Frank Zappa Book, Picador Pan Books, London, 1990 (ISBN 0-330-31625-7)
  • The Frank Zappa Guitar Book, Munchkin Music, Los Angeles, 1982, distributed by Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation, Milwaukee ( ISBN 0-7935-2434-2)
  • Mystére des Voix Bulgares, Le: Le Mystére des Voix Bulgares, Volumes I & II, Elektra/Nonesuch 79165 & 79201, October 30 1987 & November 14 1988, respectively
  • Pražský Výběr: Adieu CA (AP 0001-2311, Czech Republic 1992)
  • DADDY'S DYIN' ... WHO'S GOT THE WILL? -  an artist Circle Entertainment & Propaganda Films production, 1990, directed by Jack Fisk.
  • QUEEN OF BLOOD – a Filmgroup/AIP production, 1966, directed by Curtis Harrington (with the slogan "HIDEOUS BEYOND BELIEF with an INHUMAN CRAVING")
  • VIDEO FROM HELL, Honker Home Video/MPI #MP 4001, 1987

This page here is prepared by Dave Wilcher. Thank you, Dave! I (Avo Raup) corrected only some typos, links and added following footnotes:

a1. Stass = Stas Namin. Famous Russian musician, impresario and photographer (www.stasnamin.ru). He's Stas Namin Centre (SNC) issued in '80s some Frank Zappa vinyl albums. As example I have The Man From Utopia from SNC.

a2. Dwell page.

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net