He's A Human Being. He Has Emotions, Just Like Us.

By Den Simms and Rob Samler

Society Pages (US), #7, September, 1991


The conclusion of the second SOCIETY PAGES interview with Frank Zappa, which took place in the basement listening room of his home in Los Angeles on January 12, 1991.

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Den Simms: Will we ever get to see some of the film that was made at the Roxy in '73?

Frank Zappa: Not unless I get to be very, very, very, very rich, and have an awful lot of spare time. All the film has been transferred to video, but none of the audio has been synchronized to it. Before you can edit it, it all has to be synchronized, and that's a pretty time consuming and expensive process. Video editing costs a lot of money, and I don't have any of that equipment here at the house, so I always have to rely on somebody else's studio, and it runs about six hundred to seven hundred dollars an hour.

Rob Samler: Besides being from the movie Spinal Tap, what does "smell the love" mean?

FZ: I think you'd have to ask them.

RS: But what does it mean to you? You've used it in a couple of songs ...

FZ: I would imagine it has something to do with a proctologist. (much laughter)

RS: During the '84 tour, you had the oven mitts, and smelling the glove ...

FZ: Well remember, there were so many entertainers who were wearing one glove in those days ...

RS: Especially Michael.

FZ: Yeah. We would show up for concerts, and there would be people out in the audience with one love on, y'know, like "Ooo! Look how cool I am, 'cause I can wear one glove, too." It was just another example of Americans wanting to be trend-followers. Now you see it, now you don't. So as long as they're wearing the glove, I suggest that they smell it. (laughter)

DS: All right. This has to do with "xenochrony," another subject which has run my telephone bill up with long distance [conversations]. I've speculated about this almost endlessly.

FZ: OK.

DS: Certainly, we understand that the main concept of xenochrony is that you take two ...

FZ: Or more.

DS: ... two or more musical entities that were constructed unrelated to each other, and then combine them for the finished result. If something is done, like let's say, a guitar solo, which is performed in a live concert, and then, that's going to be superimposed over a song, which is recorded track by track in the studio, if a person who is putting down some of the background tracks, let's say a bass player or a drummer, if he is putting those tracks down, and using that guitar solo as a reference, listening to it over the headphones as he's doing it, would that still constitute what you could call "xenochrony," since there is a reference ...

FZ: A link ...

DS: ... a link that's there?

FZ: Of course. In fact, I've made people double parts of those superimposed guitar things, just so that there is a link.

DS: I don't understand that in the way well, let me back up, and maybe say it this way ...

FZ: "Xenochrony." "Strange synchronization."

DS: Sure. '

FZ: OK. The basic synchronization that happens is the rhythm of the guitar solo, and maybe even the key of the guitar solo, as opposed to something else in another key, in another tempo, those things sandwiched on top of each other, it's creating a rhythmic dissonance, a rhythmic friction ...

DS: Right.

FZ: ... cause it's never gonna resolve exactly, even if the tempos are similar.

DS: Of course.

FZ: It's not gonna land exactly. It takes a certain amount of experimentation to get a musically pleasing result with that. It's not gonna work every time you try it.

DS: In the case of Rubber Shirt where you've got the bass ...

FZ: And the drums.

DS: And the drums, who never listened to each other at the time [of the performances], and then, without them being present, just with the tapes, you combined them together and got this thing called "xenochrony."

FZ: Um-hm.

DS: That's pretty simple, pretty easy to comprehend. But I wonder if it would still constitute what you would think of as being xenochrony if in the course of from what I understand, there was a fair amount of xenochrony that occurred on the THEM OR US album, with live solos that you had performed in concert superimposed on top of backing tracks and stuff that was done in the studio. Am I correct on that assumption?

FZ: More of it in JOE'S GARAGE.

DS: JOE'S GARAGE is the perfect example of it, where almost everything was done that way ...

FZ: The only guitar solo that was "played" in ]OE'S GARAGE was Watermelon In Easter Hay.

DS: Then at the time that the other backing tracks were being constructed, and it was all being put together, were those backing tracks in any way, during the portions in which they were backing the solo, listening to that solo as the were playing the tracks, or were they constructed separate?

F2: Uhh, I think in the case of JOE'S GARAGE, usually not.

DS: It would strike me as being something sort of like "semi-xenochrony" since you could say that there is a "link" there, or there is a "reference" that the person could be listening to with that solo, and using what he hears, in some way, to have an effect on what he is playing.

FZ: Well, lets suppose the drums are already laid down, and they're locked into one tempo ...

DS: They're locked in. Right.

FZ: ... and there's no reference there.

DS: Gotcha.

FZ: And then, the guitar solo is coming from tape, but then, you add the bass to it later, and the bass gets to split the difference between the two time domains.

DS: Gotcha.

FZ: What's wrong with that?

DS: Nothin' wrong with it. I guess it's just ... uh ... speculations on my part on whether something like that

FZ: Whether it's pure?

DS: That's right. Whether it's "real xenochrony" ...

FZ: (laughs)

DS: ... or "semi-xenochrony," or ...

FZ: Y'know, you guys are into that ...

DS: This is the kind of stuff that ...

FZ: You're into "smell the glove" land. (much laughter) I mean, basically, what you're looking for is a musical result that works, y'know, so ... there's nothin' "pure" about me, and the tools that I use. I mean, I'm the guy that stick's Louie Louie in every fifteen minutes, and gives you the "hippie noise" [1] whenever it's appropriate.

DS: Right. Well, the things you do provoke responses from us that range from these heavy duty "intellectual" discussions about what xenochrony is to "smell the glove." It runs the gamut.

FZ: Well, that's good, because there's a gamut in the music.

DS: Yeah. I noticed that there was a real similarity in the melody structure of Chana In De Bushwop and that old song Workin' On A Chain Gang. Is that coincidental, or purposeful?

FZ: I don't hear that.

DS: (singing) "Workin' on a chain gang, goin' down, down, down" ... "Chana in de bushwop, in de bushwop"

FZ: Oh, that's Workin' In A Coal Mine.

DS: Oh, what'd I say? "Chain gang"? Pardon me.

FZ: Coincidence.

DS: It's coincidental.

FZ: Yeah.

DS: OK. What was "Pipco"?

FZ: Pipco ... it baffled me for a long time. Turns out to be a little league shirt from Santa Barbara, a Santa Barbara pipe company, I believe.

DS: (laughs) So, maybe it was [pronounced] "Pipe-co."

FZ: Yeah.

DS: What can you tell us about the nearly uncontrolled laughter that permeates the beginning of Watermelon In Easter Hay? I believe it has something to do with the phrase "Who gives a fuck?," or something like that [2], and you're really crackin' up. What was happening during that session that was causing that.

FZ: I had just realized how true the statement was, and I amused the shit out of myself. (laughter)

DS: All right. Here's another one that might be sort of semi-related. Tell us about how A Little Green Rosetta came together. That's a pretty absurd piece.

FZ: A Little Green Rosetta was originally done as a demo at a session at Studio D at the Record Plant ... circa 1974 [3] ... about the time we were recording [The Adventures Of] Greggery Peccary ... '73 or '74, and it was just George Duke playing a tack piano and me singing on top of it. It was just a little stupid song. I always thought it was just a nice little stupid song. It was put into JOE'S GARAGE to function as a replica of a "cast party," like "OK! The show's over! Now everybody in the cast is gonna get together and sing a stupid song!" If it were being staged, that's what it would look like.

DS: That really sheds some light on what the meaning of that is!

FZ: Yeah.

DS: That makes it make a lot more sense.

RS: Well, speaking of that, what's the meaning of "Rang Tang Ding Dong, I am the Japanese Sandman"?

FZ; Oh, Rang Tang Ding Dong, I Am the Japanese Sandman is an actual rhythm and blues record that I owned when I was in high school. It was by a group called the Cel-ohs, I believe.

DS: Can't say I heard that one.

RS: I always wondered what that one meant.

FZ: Well, the way it went, they had this chant that went (Frank sings) "He goes Rang Tang Ding Dong ... humpty doo wah ..." something like that (laughter), and then it stops, and one guy in the group goes, "Hey! All you guys get to say the big stuff, and all I get to say is (Frank sings) He goes Rang Tang Ding Dong ..." (laughter)

DS: Oh, that sounds great! All right. I'll just read ya another one, here. In a 1984 interview with Charles Amirkhanian [4]", you mentioned having composed a "sampled piano concerto" on the Synclavier, which you sounded very enthused about. During our last interview, you mentioned that a piano version of Times Beach is included as part of PHASE 3. Is there a relation between them?

FZ: No.

DS: Do you remember the concerto that I mentioned? What can you tell us about that?

FZ: I never finished it.

DS: Think we'll ever get to hear it?

FZ: I don't know. If I ever finish it ...

DS: (laughs) In another Charles Amirkhanian interview [5], you mentioned that Sad Jane was originally written as a tune for one of your rock bands, who wasn't able to execute it sufficiently for stage.

FZ: Right. It was the '79 band.

DS: I'd really like to hear a rock version of that.

FZ: Actually, maybe it was even before that. I might've even started working on that when Bozzio was in the band. Yeah. It could even go back to '76.

DS: Here's another reference to another old interview that I've heard. In '72, you did an interview with Martin Perlich, and you said that it was your premise that one could have harmony constructed out of rhythms.

FZ: Yeah.

DS: Can you elaborate on that?

FZ: Pitches vibrate on a certain frequency, OK? "A 440" vibrates 440 times a second.

DS: Cycles per second.

FZ: OK. What if they were beats, instead of cycles? So, you can harmonize 440 beats per second, which would be, like, if that was a wood block, played very fast. Like some kind of a roll. And you harmonize that with 120 beats a second on another percussion instrument, or whatever.

DS: And so, when you combined the two, you would have those places where they would strike at the same time ...

FZ: Yeah, but see, that's really not a good example, 'cause those rates are all so fast that you'd just be talking about rolls. But if you understand the concept ... we're talking about "periodicity."

DS: Sure.

FZ: You're harmonizing periodicities. So, in order to hear the type of harmony that I was referring to in that interview, they would have to be lengthier periodicities. Like, if you took the 440, the 120, 360, all these different numbers, and multiplied them out, so that there was more space in between the beats, then you would hear that kind of harmony. That's the kind of stuff I can do on the Synclavier.

DS: Yeah, I imagine the Synclavier would be perfect for mathematically working those things out.

FZ: Speaking of that, I got a phone call from Conlon Nancarrow recently. I finally got a chance to talk to him.

DS: What's he have to say?

FZ: He's ill, right now. He's getting over a stroke, but it was nice talking to him.

DS: Do you think you'll ever be able to expose him to the Synclavier.

FZ: Well, I know somebody else has.

DS: Oh, really?

FZ: Yeah, I heard a rumor that Henry Kaiser had given him a whiff of it.

DS: From the moment that I was aware of both of those two types of music, it seemed to me that his was the wooden version of that, the wood and metal strings version of that.

FZ: For those of you who are interested in his music, I was told that it's just been released on CD in a recorded version that is so accurate that it lets you hear the paper going through the player wheel.

DS: Wow! Would this be, like, his Studies For Player Piano? That stuff?

FZ: Um-hm.

DS: Pretty intense music. You have a very nice and neat term for changing a lyric to suit a specific case. You call that "lyric mutation," which just fits perfectly for what you do with that. You have this other little musical thing that you do, which is to lift motifs from various places, such as Louie, Louie, Carmen, Lohengrin, or My Sharona, and working them into things. Do you have any sort of a term for this, the way that you call the other thing "lyric mutation"? Do you have a term that you use for that?

FZ: I don't think so.

DS: Every time I talk to someone about that, or write something about that, I have to go into this lengthy thing about what it is that's happening, rather than just saying something cute ...

FZ: Just call it "audio junk sculpture." (laughter)

DS: I guess that one of the things that I had thought of was perhaps "motif transplant." That works fairly well, I suppose.

FZ: Sure. Since you're a writer, you can call it whatever you want. (laughter)

DS: I had just wondered whether or not you, in working mode, had a quick phrase for doing that.

FZ: When I'm putting the stuff together, I don't usually talk to the musicians in composer terms. I don't need to be talking to them, telling them mechanical terms of how and why things are done. I just cut right to the heart of it. "Right here, play My Sharona." You don't have to know why.

RS: What is it about that song? Is that a "smell the glove" kinda song?

FZ: It is a "smell the glove" kinda song! Also, while we were recording JOE'S GARAGE, they were upstairs in the little studio at Village [Recorders] recording My Sharona.

RS: (laughs) Oh, so that kind of has some historical significance to it.

FZ: Umm. That's just like when we were shooting 200 MOTELS, on the soundstage next to us, they were making Fiddler On The Roof. (laughter)

DS: So did that have any influence upon the making of 200 MOTELS, and if so, can you give us an example of it?

FZ: Yes. Theodore Bikel, who played Rance Muhammitz in 200 MOTELS, had played in on Broadway a number of times, and when he would come to work every day, it seemed that he wished that he was in the other soundstage instead of ours. (laughter)

DS: Speaking of 200 MOTELS, one of the parts of that movie that just really gets me off is this one sort of candid shot during one of the places where you're making the orchestra do some let's just call it "unconventional" stuff, and there's this one stodgy old bald-headed fiddle player who's just suffering interminably through this stuff

FZ: Yeah ...

DS: I was really taken with that particular part of the movie. What was that guy's ...

FZ: What was his name? (laughs)

DS: No, not so much what was his name. (laughter) Certainly, I don t cane about that, but was he very representational of what that entire orchestra was doing? I can imagine that there must have been some of those people who were having to, y'know ... "What are we having to do this shit for!?"

FZ: Well ... most of 'em, actually.

DS: It seemed, on film, like some of 'em seemed to be enjoyin' it, and kind of crackin' up, and ...

FZ: Well, that kind of attitude is usually reserved for percussionists. They like any excuse to bang on something, 'cause usually during orchestral music, they're counting rests ...

DS: Um-hm.

FZ: ... and so, when they've got a lot to do, they're happy. I recently received a letter from a guy who's a music student in England, and his teacher is Elgar Howarth, the guy who conducted the [Royal Philharmonic] orchestra, and this guy had said that he was surprised that I had used [Howarth] for this job because he appeared to have absolutely no sense of humor. (laughter)

DS: OK. Speaking of other [conductors] and such, the 1970 concert that you did with the L.A. Philharmonic with Zubin Mehta [6], I've heard a cheezy little audience tape of that, and at some point, if memory serves me right, there was something that was said from the stage that pertained to the fact that another composer, if I understand this correctly, named Mel Powell, who was supposedly also in that same concert, had gotten pissed off about something, and had just left, an so, his music didn't get performed.

FZ: Yeah.

DS: What's the story behind that?

FZ: He had some electronic equipment that he was trying to hook up, but they had some technical problems with it. I think it was something for tape and orchestra, and he had some problems, and he just got pissed off and left.

DS: So that was that.

FZ: Yeah.

RS: We heard that Dweezil's goin' on tour.

FZ: Yeah. It's not booked. He's rehearsing now, and Ahmet's the lead vocalist in the band. The album cover's almost done.

RS: We heard that he's doin' some of your songs.

FZ: Not on the album, but on the tour.

RS: How do you feel about that?

FZ: Fine.

RS: Do you think it's a good idea?

FZ: Well ...

DS: You had seemingly been a little you had mentioned that you didn't think it was a good idea for him to use ... um ...

RS: My Guitar [Wants To Kill Your Mama].

FZ: I didn't think that was a good idea, but playing G Spot Tornado is. (laugh ter)

RS: Oh, is that what they're playin'?

DS: No shit!? Dweezil's playin' that?

FZ: Yep.

DS: I had spoken to Mike, and he's really pretty enthused, and ...

FZ: Yeah, it's a fabulous band, and it does all kinds of hard shit. Also, this lyric that I had written in Helsinki in '88 called Dragonmaster ...

RS&DS: Yeah!

FZ: They're doing that. I still haven't heard it. I still don't know what they've done with it.

DS: In '88, had you just written a lyric, or actually written some music to go along with it?

FZ: Oh, I concocted this stupid little thrash metal riff that we rehearsed when we got to the gig in Stockholm, but there's not even a rehearsal tape of it. So they just started from scratch with it.

DS: Yeah.

FZ: They also just did ...

DS: That's right. Mike had told me about that, too.

FZ: ... with Donny Osmond doin' the lead vocal.

DS: Donny Osmond!?

FZ: Um-hm.

DS: Oh, who was it that he had told me ... somebody else cut a lead vocal on that ...

FZ: Yeah, originally it was Ozzy Osbourne ...

DS: Ozzy!

FZ: ... and his record company refused to have it released, and that fucked up the release of Dweezil's album. It could have been out four months ago. He had a contract with another company, and when Ozzy's record company refused to allow his voice to be on that cut, the record company that was negotiating for Dweezil's album dropped it.

DS: That sort of sounds reminiscent of the L. Shankar/Van Morrison deal, doesn't it? [7]

FZ: Yeah, it does. But anyway, he got Donny to do it, and it sounds good. It's coming out on our label.

DS: He's not too bad a singer these days.

FZ: He's a good singer!

DS: Yeah.

FZ: And he's a nice guy. He's struggling so much with that Donny and Marie image ...

DS: That's right.

FZ: It's nasty.

DS: I saw him on the Larry King Show a couple of weeks ago, and surprisingly, I found myself goin', "This guy's all right!"

FZ: He's all right.

DS: Yeah. And certainly, I'm aware of his outspokenness about music censorship, and all that. He's on the side of the good guys! [8] I'm glad to see that.

FZ: Yeah.

DS: What can you tell us about the process of composing the soundtrack to OUTRAGE AT VALDEZ? Did you have video stuff that you were able to use as a reference for the composing of it?

FZ: Well, that was, in it's own way, a little disaster, because they came to me at the last minute, and they hadn't really completed putting the show together, so I started working on some of the music without having any pictorial material. I knew kind of what the scenes were gonna be, so I started sketching the stuff out before I even got the videotape. So then they gave me the videotape, and I finished the cues off, and timed them exactly to the picture, to the code that was on the videotape. But it wasn't the final edited version of the show. I mean, very seldom does a composer get to do work to the final, final, final thing, 'cause they're always fuckin' with the films up until the last minute. Unfortunately, the tape that they gave me to write the music to, the one that wasn't the final, was done with "non-drop code." Do you know what that means?

DS: No.

FZ: OK. Well, somebody out there will know this. And then, when they gave me the final videotape, it had "drop frame code." These two codes are different. That meant that every one of the cues that I had written for this whole show had to be changed in order to fit the picture. I had to change all the cues and mix it all in two days, because I was gettin' on a plane for Russia, and they had to give the thing to Turner [9] in a hurry. That was two of the worst days of my life. It was so fuckin' painful that at the end of it I was so exhausted that I couldn't take the flight. I just crashed for a day, and then got on the plane for Russia. So I missed one day's worth of appointments over there, but there was 'nothing that could I be done. It was just an emergency job.

DS: One o' those things.

FZ: Yeah. That's why I don't like doin' those kinds of things. I don't like to treat my body that way.

DS: How satisfied were you with the ultimate result?

FZ: Well, I know it coulda been better. I don't like to have to do anything under duress.

DS: Sure.

FZ: I'm sure it coulda been a hundred times better.

DS: Well, your fans loved it.

FZ: Yeah? Good. They shoulda heard it the way it was supposed to have been. (laughter)

RS: We just heard some of it on Co's special [10], just the music for it, and it was nice to hear it without all the narration, more or less what it should sound like. Given what you just said, it's too bad you did not have more time.

FZ: It's still nowhere near what it shoulda been.

RS: Right.

DS: In '83, I saw the concert in San Francisco in which you conducted the music of Edgar Varèse [11] ...

FZ: Um-hm.

DS: I was familiar with those compositions. I had listened to them many times, and, if memory serves me right, even attempted, perhaps futilely, to read a score along with some of that stuff.

FZ: Um-hm.

DS: But when I saw that performance, it gave me a completely new outlook on that music, simply because was able to see how the syncopations were working within that ...

FZ: In the beat.

DS: ... within that beat that you were swingin' with the baton. It completely changed my whole perspective on that.

FZ: I happen to think I did a fabulous job conducting those pieces! I have a cassette of it, and from a rhythmic standpoint, I think I'm getting real close to what's on the paper on both of those pieces. There were a couple of things that I didn't like about it, but I thought I did a good job on 'em.

DS: How did you feel the ensemble did?

FZ: Pretty good. I had one rehearsal ... so ...

DS: That's kinda jumpin' in the deep end, huh?

FZ: Yeah, well, I rehearsed the score at home, just beating thin air, and I knew what the pieces were supposed to sound like, 'cause I'd been listening to 'em for years, so that part wasn't so hard, but I only had about three hours with these guys the day of the show.

DS: Sounded great to the audience.

FZ: Yeah?

DS: Certainly, though I'm familiar with those pieces, I haven't had the hours of exposure that you had. I certainly didn't have my old record with the chalk marks on it to play for my friends [12], but yeah, I and, I'm sure, the rest of the audience, was rather pleased with that concert. Also, the Webern stuff, which ... you didn't conduct any of the Webern stuff, didja?

FZ: No.

DS: I, myself, hadn't been exposed to that much of his music, and it was nice to have a new door opened for me.

FZ: Have you since heard any other Webern pieces?

DS: No, I don't have the access to the music library at the school I used to go to, and since I can't just walk into Tower Records and go buyin' this CD and that CD, 'cause my personal budget won't allow it, it's really slowed down my exposure to new stuff like that. But I know that you have highly recommended ...

FZ: The Boulez recording. There's a four CD set, THE COMPLETE WORKS OF ANTON WEBERN.

DS: That I've been lookin' for, but haven't been able to find it.

FZ: It's Japanese release. It was released by Japanese CBS. I guess they figured in the U.S., nobody would buy it.

DS: Yeah. I keep waiting for Harry Partch and more Varèse. I've gotten a little bit of Varèse on CD, but I keep waiting for that stuff.

FZ: Boulez has a Varèse CD.

DS: Yeah? With what pieces on it?

FZ: Equatorial ... Arcana ... Ionizations ... Density 21.5 ... I think it's got everything except Nocturnal.

DS: Is it good?

FZ: Yeah. The last few cuts are DDD, and done with the Ensemble Intercontemporain. The other cuts are earlier recordings.

DS: OK. Let's see ... we've all heard about the famous calamities, in Montreux, the Rainbow Theatre, and all that. I've always been struck by the stuff that you can see in BABY SNAKES, with people coming onstage, and with Dance Contest on TINSELTOWN REBELLION, where you've got this guy named Butch, who seems like he's just barely under control, and I've always wondered whether or not the risk of bringing people onstage to do those things has ever led to any calamities. Have you ever had any problems from doing that?

FZ: Not from that, 'cause usually I'll only do it in a place where I think it can be controlled, like at the Palladium, and besides my personal bodyguard, there are always two or three of the Palladium bodyguards standing by, so I felt fairly safe, and I don't think that the people in the audience want to hurt me. Maybe one or two ...

DS: I guess I'm not so much thinkin', like, people getting hurt, or buildings burnin' down, or any really heavy duty stuff like that. I guess the sense that I get, like say, from BABY SNAKES and from Dance Contest is stuff almost out of control.

FZ: It is almost out of control, because nobody knows what's gonna happen.

DS: Exactly.

FZ: I'm makin' it up as I go along, (laughter) so I think that the people from the audience who come up there, they want that. I don't think that they wanna come onstage and know that I've planned something for them, 'cause then they would feel like a victim. If they come up there, and I'll just cook something up on the spot, I'm gonna invent it based on what I think they can handle, and if I guess wrong, then it's my fault. Usually, I think I guess pretty well.

DS: In a way, I think it's some of the best stuff that you do, because it's ... it's ...

FZ: Well, it's not music, but it is entertaining. It's ...

FZ&DS: It's entertainment!

DS: It's art. No doubt about that.

FZ: It's performance art! It's early performance art, that's for sure.

DS: But the thing that I like about it is the recklessness, and the fact that ...

FZ: (laughs) People go along with it!

DS: Yeah. And you just don't know what in the fuck is gonna happen! And I like that. It's ... it's dangerous.

FZ: Yeah.

DS: And I think it's a wonderful ...

FZ: "Do not try this at home!"

DS: (laughs) All right. Do you have any memories of the '75 concert in Yugoslavia I'm not even gonna attempt to pronounce the name of the city ...

FZ: Ljubljana?

DS: Yes.

FZ: Yeah. Prior to the concert, as we got to the hall, two things were happening. One, in the adjoining room, there was a ping-pong championship between a team from Taiwan, I believe it was, and the Yugoslavians. We wanted to do a soundcheck, an we were told by these uniformed officers that we couldn't make any noise because it would disturb the ping-pong game (laughter). It was in an ice skating rink. Our side of the hall was covered with ice, and the ping-pong guys were next door in a place that wasn't. Some kids had gotten there early, and I guess one of 'em was drunk. He had passed out on the ice, and his face was frozen to the ice, (laughter) and one of these soldiers with a big red star on his hat just came along and kicked him. He got up and ripped a little skin off his face.

DS: How peculiar.

FZ: Zagreb was completely different. Zagreb was an interesting concert because even though we had some of these old burly communist types standing right in front of the stage ... they were like bodyguards, looking at the audience, and we were above them, performing ... when we were playing songs like The Illinois Enema Bandit these guys were turning around and laughing, and the audience seemed to understand all the words to all the songs in Zagreb. The English comprehension seemed to be better in Zagreb than it had been in France, Germany, or any of the other countries we played in on that tour. But when we got to Ljubljana, that was a whole other story, 'cause the English comprehension was way, way down. It was a much more difficult concert to put on.

DS: How did you guys wind up being able to go to Yugoslavia at that time?

FZ: We were invited in by the Yugoslav Tourist Board. It was an officially sanctioned visit. And at that time, it's my understanding that Yugoslavia was the most liberal of all of the East Bloc countries. I think that was probably very true. Marshall Tito was still alive at that time, and it was a little bit more suav-ay there than it was in the other countries, which were very, very bleak at that time. But lemme tell ya, if Yugoslavia was the most liberal of the "workers paradises" of that era, the other places must have been pure hell. They wouldn't let us take photographs of anything. They sent a man who look like Khrushchev into our room at the hotel to check to see whether we had any girls. Every night he'd search the room. We were traveling on a bus, and once we left Zagreb and started driving toward Ljubljana, as soon as we crossed the city line, it was like going back two or three hundred years in history. The countryside was so primitive, and on the way, we passed this husband and wife team. They were working in the field, a big, fat woman wearing black ... everything's black ... and she was the "donkey." She was pulling a cart with big wooden wheels filled with twigs, (laughter) an walking behind her was a husband with a switch ...

DS: How medieval!

FZ: It was truly medieval! I couldn't believe it!

DS: Jeezsh! Did those concerts take place at the time when you were touring in Europe, or ...

FZ: I think that was a "stand alone" event.

DS: A special thing where you guys just flew over there and played ...

FZ: Yeah. There was a journalist who traveled with us. A woman from some magazine I can't remember who covered it.

DS: Maybe you can help me to pin that down datewise. Do you remember: if that would have been during that late '75 period?

FZ: Probably, because Norma Bell was in the band. [13]

DS: All right, then. That should help pin things down, datewise, a bit.

RS: Do you think you'll ever release anything with Norma Bell, or what was her name?

FZ: Well, I've got plenty of tapes with her on them, but in those plays, all of our road recordings ...

 DS: Bianca.

FZ: Bianca Odin? I don't have too many recordings with Bianca, but the band that Norma was in, we had just started recording our live shows on a Nagra, so we have these two-track tapes that were just made with a stereo microphone hanging in the light truss, picking up the whole ambient sound, and the sound s really not that good.

RS: Do you pretty much have the whole STAGE series one at this point?

FZ: Pretty close.

RS: Is that one of the next releases too?

FZ: Oh, yeah. Volume 4 is set to come out. It's the one that's got Why Doesn't Somebody Get Him A Pepsi?.

DS: What was the basis for the title to that? As far as I could tell, in the versions that I've heard, I wasn't able to hear that anywhere in the lyrics. It's The Torture Never Stops, right?

FZ: All right. Here's the story of Why Doesn't Somebody Get Him A Pepsi?. When I used to go over to [Don] Vliet's house, when he was in high school, the only thing you would ever hear him say was, (Frank imitates Don) "Sue! Get me a Pepsi!" He was always yelling at his mother to get him a Pepsi, (laughter) and sometimes the Pepsi wouldn't arrive, so it was like "Please! Somebody get him a Pepsi!" (laughter)

RS: You told that story in your book.

DS: That one slipped by me. There's a number of phrases which you have jokingly, or perhaps otherwise, used at various times, and that have cropped up in your music, and I wonder if there's any particular significance to these. We'll start with "Good God! Feet on fire! Ain't it funky, now!?"

FZ: (laughs) Uhh, well, haven't you ever heard that kinda stuff on James Brown records?

DS: Sure.

FZ: OK. Well, don't you think it's absolutely absurd if any white person says it? (laughter)

DS: Yes, it is. (laughs) All right. "I wanna hear Caravan with a drum solo."

FZ: One of the earliest gigs that we played as the Mothers of Invention, with that very first band that recorded FREAK OUT!, was in a bar in El Monte, and this drunken dipshit in the audience, that's all he wanted to hear. The song Caravan with a drum solo.

DS: He's perhaps the predecessor to the guy in Finland ...

 FZ: (imitating the guy from Finland) "Whipping Post!" (laughter)

DS: (laughs) OK. How 'bout "One more time for the world."

FZ: Oh, where in the fuck did that come from? That was somethin' that Bozzio used to say when he was doing Tryin' To Grow A Chin.

DS: I think this was circa 1980 or so. There were two tours in 1980. In the second tour, there was "No problem," which was said over and over and over again.

FZ: In Germany, there's an expression: "keine probleme." "No problems." And usually (laughs), when they get to the point where they're telling you there's no problems, there certainly are problems.

DS: Yeah. I've efierienced the same thing in Latin America. "No hay problema." All right. And then, "Is this trip really necessary?"

FZ: That is something that they used to have on posters during World War II, when they were rationing ...

DS: Oh, sure.

FZ: ... encouraging people to save tires and gasoline ...

DS: Right. And certainly used in the context in which you have it on the record cover graphics for Ancient Armaments, it takes on a whole new meaning.

FZ: Yeah.

RS: How 'bout "Why don't you sharpen it, then?"

FZ: We used to have a carpenter that worked around here. He talked to himself. He would argue with himself, (laughter) and you'd see him out in the yard, and he'd be sayin' things like, "Where's that screwdriver? Screwdriver don't work. Why don't you sharpen it, then?" (laughter) And he also used to hit his thumb every once in a while, and scream, "Mother Mary 'n Jozuf!" (laughter)

DS: Ahhh, so that's the origin of that one. (laughs) That's great! We definitely got more success with these questions than what expected. I sort of thought that a lot of these things would just be nothin' in particular, but yeah, these all have some significance.

FZ: Most of the things do.

DS: Yeah.

FZ: They might be obscure, but they came from someplace.

DS: Well, that's the kind of thing that in a lot of cases, something that gets said, and we recognize that it might have some significance, some arcane kind of significance that we might not know about, or it might just be some little dipshit thing that was thrown in there, and it's always kind of mysterious when you try to separate which ones have meaning and which ones don't.

RS: My sister-in-law wanted me to ask you kind of a spiritual question

DS: Metaphysical.

RS: Yeah. What do you think happens to us when we die?

FZ: Dust.

RS: That's pretty much what I think. We become worm food.

FZ: Yeah, unless, of course, you're cremated ... BUT ... I will say, and this doesn't put you in the realm of metaphysics, that something animates you while you are alive. There's an electrochemical process that animates this bag of shit that everybody has to drag around, OK? So, it is not impossible that at the point where the electro-chemical process that's motivating the bag of shit ceases to be strong enough to make the bag of shit move around, that energy may be exchanged, and may dissipate and have an existence of it's own without the bag of shit. I wouldn't want to extrapolate that into the world of ghosts and goblins ...

RS: Right. I mean, it s hard to say, since ...

FZ: Well, I believe that those energies and processes exist. I just don't think that they've been adequately described or adequately named yet, because people are too willing to make it all into something that supports a religious theory of one flavor or another. If you start defining these things in nuts-and-bolts scientific terms, people reject it because it's not fun, y'know. It takes some of the romance out of being dead ...

RS: (laughs) Right.

FZ: ... because of people's desires to have eternal life and to extend their influence from beyond the grave ... all that Houdini type stuff ... but basically, I think when you're dead you're dead. It comes with the territory.

ALL: (laughter)


1. See issue 6, pages 34-35.

2. At the beginning of Watermelon In Easter Hay, Frank, as The Central Scrutinizer, says, "Joe has just worked himself into an imaginary frenzy during the fade-out of his imaginary song. He begins to feel depressed, now. He knows the end is near. He has realized, at last, that imaginary guitar notes and imaginary vocals exist only in the imagination of the imaginer. And ultimately, who gives a fuck, anyway?"

3. This original version of A Little Green Rosetta appeared as a track on the aborted LÄTHER album.

4. This reference actually took place on February 10, 1986 at the studios of KPFA in Berkeley, California when Frank was there to help with KPFA's subscribers drive.

5. This interview occurred on radio KPFA, Berkeley on May 2. 1983.

6. The Mothers joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta, for a May 15, 1970 concert at Pauley Pavilion at the University of California, Los Angeles, a program that was part of the orchestra's Contempo '70 series. The concert comprised standard Mother's repertoire and orchestral music, and combined rock band and orchestra. Many of the pieces performed were prototype compositions that later formed the basis for 200 MOTELS.

7. In 1979, Frank arranged to have Van Morrison sing the lead vocal on Dead Girls Of London, a Zappa composition that was a track on TOUCH ME THERE, an album that he was produced for violinist L. Shankar (Zappa Records SRZ-1-1602). During a September 6, 1979 appearance on radio WPIX, New York City, Frank explained: 'Warner Brothers Records made such a big deal about the fact that Van ... they said that Van had a contract with them, they claimed that there was no way that they were ever going to let Van be on Shankars album, and so, I finally wound up singing the vocal. Me and Ike." The September, 1990 issue of International CD Exchange contained information that the Van Morrison version will probably be released sometime in the future (perhaps as a track on THE LOST EPISODES).

8. Donny Osmond testified against the PMRC during the Senate hearings in 1985, and spoke out against the idea of record rating in other forums as well, including a September 13, 1985 ABC Nightlife program.

9. Along with CNN, media mogul Ted Turner is the owner of WTBS, Atlanta (the "Super Station"), which contracted the Cousteau Society for the making of OUTRAGE AT VALDEZ.

10. On December 21, 1990, Co de Kloet presented Supplement, a four hour radio special commemorating Frank's fiftieth birthday, on Netherlands radio.

11. On February 9, 1983, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players presented Varèse And Webern: One Hundredth Anniversary Celebration at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.

12. Excerpt from Frank's liner notes for the reissue of THE COMPLETE WORKS OF EDGAR VARÈSE, VOLUME 1 (EMS 401): "I had heard someplace that in radio stations the guys would make chalk marks on records so they could find an exact spot, so I did the same thing to EMS 401 ... marked all the hot items so my friends wouldn't get bored in the quiet spots.

13. According to Michael Brenna's the concerts took place in December of 1975.

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