Ya Muddah!

By Jef Jaisun

Berkeley Barb, November 22, 1968

The world's most popular mother came to town Wednesday in the person of Frank Zappa, leader/conductor of the Mothers of Invention.

Zappa stumbled off a forty minute late commuter flight and quietly shuffled into the back room of Des Alpes on Broadway, smack into the laps of some twenty tongue-in-cheek pen-in-hand media freaks. Including BARB.

Just recently returned from a tour of Europe and several appearances in New York, Zappa had the following to allow.

"New York is a very strange scene. The audiences are just like the city. The people are desperate to be entertained. They want to forget what's going on outside.

"If you do anything to remind them of that outside, and we do, the reaction is negative. They respond to fantasy."

Europe, however, impressed him quite differently. "In Europe we could do anything and they loved it. Like we played for an hour and fifteen minutes on a Bremen tv station, and the guy went out and got us food to squash, smoke bombs to ignite, anything we wanted."

With a mischievous gleam in his third eye, the master mania catalyst described the group's antics in a London BBC studio. "We told the guy we wanted a bed.

"A bed? he says. I said, yeah. We're gonna do something that's never been done before on British television.

"See, we got a couple of real freaks in the band who every once in a while want to demonstrate some of the things they learned in Germany. Like Bunky Gardner, our saxophonist, has this thing he calls the "Buster Crabbe Hold," To demonstrate he needs a victim, a bed, and a headboard for leverage.

"Well, in the middle of one number, Bunky grabs Don Preston by the throat and drags him over to the bed. Now Bunky didn't know it, but earlier in the day Don had been in to a magic store and bought these foaming blood capsules, one of which he now squashed between his teeth.

"Pretty soon a couple of the other guys got into the act, Jimmy Carl Black got his leg tied with a belt, and they were all on the bed humping and slugging each other in the crotch.

"All this time the music was still going on."

In contrast to European television, his US debut was not quite as fortunate. They were almost canned from a segment of the Joey Bishop Show, with guest host Shelley Winters protesting that if no Mothers, no Winters.

"We finally got to do four minutes," Zappa cooed. "They thought we were wonderful – very psychedelic."

Grant Gibbs, Zappa's right hand man in his new company, Bizarre Productions, passed around promo kits and copies of the Mothers new lp, "Cruising with Ruben and the Jets".

As he handed me a copy of step-by-step instructions on how to do the bop, he advised, "Better not follow these. The intensity of the mothers music will make you break your leg on this turn right here."

"Yeah," Zappa chimed in. "Ruben and the Jets is an ingenious experiment in rock and roll. It's our protest demonstration.

"We wanted to see how many people would just shit on us and walk away. This should purge them out."

The new album, which is entirely intelligible 1955-ish R&B, is billed as the Mother's "last ditch attempt to get their cruddy music on the radio."

"Yeah, it's like a bunch of guys sitting around thinking of the largest possible practical joke to play on the world. Only instead of talking about it, you go out and do it. We're so off the wall, we did it."

Grant added," I was talking to a couple places long distance today and they said there was good chance of it getting chart action, because it's listenable."

Cut to Zappa. "I'm always amazed at how stupid people are."

Like an experience the group had in Germany at the Essen Music Festival, when some of the local youth tried to break up the proceedings.

'They think it's a political act. Here's all these protest singers on stage, and the kids come crashing through throwing things, screaming that the time is past for singing and now it's time for action.

"Most of them have no conception of what's really going on. They're destroying one of their few rally points."

Zappa cited an incident when the mayor of Essen fronted more than ten thousand dollars to fly the group over, and as his honor made his way through the crowd to greet the group, he was attacked by the same people who conned him for the bread.

"These are the flower power kids," he quipped. "They're desperate for something they can get involved in, but they are morons when it comes to thinking things out for themselves.

"I saw at least thirty disguised as Che Guevara, walking around shouting HO HO HO CHI MINH!! They don't even know what it means."

One universal problem that the Mothers have discovered is that of getting more than just the music across. "Unfortunately," sighed Frank, "most people interpret music on a verbal level. Most people are not really competent enough to talk about music.

"For us, it's not particularly the sound of what we do that's of paramount importance. It's the interaction of us and the audience. We don't play one song then another song. It's all one thing.

"Unfortunately, most audiences don't recognize this. They say 'Play this song, play that song.' So sometimes we play three or four songs simultaneously."

Zappa's current projects include the production of several newly signed groups for Bizarre, the completion of a movie ("It's all filmed; we just need $300,000 to put it together,"), and the scoring of a piano concerto for Mother Ian Underwood.

"We also have tapes of Lenny Bruce's last two concerts, which we'll probably release in February,"

Zappa departed with a hype for himself. "Hey, if anybody knows where I can get a new Pipco t-shirt, please write me."

The address is Suite 1713, 5455 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90036. Quackquack!

Jef Jaisun (April 6, 2013):

Wow. This is the first time I've read the article since we published it nearly 45 years ago. However, the photos taken of Zappa that day are most definitely still in my archives. Along with several boxes of unscanned Berkeley Barbs from the Sixties and Seventies.

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