Frank Zappa & Paul Eberle Rapping In Los Angeles '69

By Paul Eberle [1]

LA Star, #119, 1969
Los Angeles Free Press, August 8-14, 1969

ZAPPA: What do you want to talk about?

PAUL: I'd like to confine it strictly to music and just talk about that; I'm not particularly interested in your high school basketball coach and all that crap.

ZAPPA: Good.

PAUL: I just heard your new album, "Uncle Meat," and some of it sounds like some of the new Polish music, And some of it sounds like Zap Komix set to music.

ZAPPA: I can dig it.

PAUL: ...and in a lot of it there is obviously serious intent.

ZAPPA: It's ALL serious intent. I seriously intended to make that album sound exactly the way it sounds. And some people can't understand that you can seriously want to do something that's not serious.

PAUL: They think the two have to be done separately – like Spike Jones made some funny records, and others that were just chiffon music...

ZAPPA: What we do and have from the very beginning is concept art. You know? Like, the real artistic merit of what we do does not necessarily exist on the disc itself. It's like difference tones. I tried to explain this concept in a lecture I gave to a group of radio broadcasters. Do you know Pauline [Oliveros's] piece on the Argosy label...[2] She's made a piece of music on which the sounds are generated this way. Two sounds, one below the audible range of hearing and one above the audible range of hearing and from them are produced "difference tones."

PAUL: Are they audible?

ZAPPA: Yeah. They're quite audible. But they happen in between the two real things. So if you vary those two tones slightly, all this mass in between shifts. And so she's created a piece where the tones are varied slightly and the whole thing is fed into a system of tape plays, and so, when played back on top of one another, it makes a certain thickness, a bandwidth of non-existent madness...

And some of the things that we do function on a related principle. Some of the ideas are below the level of human consciousness, and some of them are above the level of human consciousness. And in the middle is this peculiar by-product, which is the manifestation of what those ideas are. Does that sound a little bit too abstruse for you?

PAUL: No! No. I was just laughing because I wondered how many of your listeners pick up on that.

ZAPPA: Well, none of them do. And this peculiar monstrosity has been manufactured and distributed by an industrial mechanism, which gives it this other weird dimension. You know? And some of the albums we've put out, the content of the album is completely irrelevant to the concept of the album. Do you follow me?

PAUL: Yes. Did the radio executives you lectured to understand that?

ZAPPA: About three out of one hundred.

PAUL: You get into hard rock a lot in "Uncle Meat" – I mean you satirize hard rock...

ZAPPA: Well that's concept art too...

PAUL: How do those lyrics go... "...going to El Monte to rent a  stadium..."?

ZAPPA: No...

"Going to El Monte
LEGION Stadium..."

"Pick up on my Weesa
She is so divine
Primer me carucha (car)
Chevy thirty-nine.
Pick up on my Lisa
She is so divine
Helps me stealing hubcaps
Wasting all the time.
Fuzzy dice and bongos in the back
My ship of love is ready to attack."

And then, the next time around, the words are all the same except for the words that precede carucha. Like, first time it's "...primer me carucha," and that's a logical concept, because a person primers his car. So we take advantage of the fact that people don't really hear what they hear. And the next time around, the words are, "Fry me a carucha," and then it's "Buy me a carucha," and then it's "Fly me a carucha..." It's always slightly varied so that whatever mistakes people are gonna make about what they hear, you increase the chances that they're going to misconstrue what the thing was.

PAUL: I know a guy here in L.A. who's a very fine trumpet player, and a very good guy, but he's been working with Les Brown, and the studio jobs all these years, and hanging out with that crowd, and so, of course, he's very straight. And he worked for you one night and he was really flabbergasted! You know. He was there right on time, five minutes early, with his trumpet out and ready to play, and he just wasn't prepared for that scene... He tells a very funny story about it.

ZAPPA: There have been two or three occasions here in L.A. when we have augmented the Mothers with horns in order to do, like, a big spectacular. One was at the Guambo, and the other was at the Freak-Out at the Shrine Auditorium. We had ten kettle drums, two French horns, three trumpets, and I forgot how many trombones, and a tuba... and we had this whole big brass section plus two percussionists, with five kettle drums, on either side of the stage, and drums and all this other stuff, and then our electric band in the middle. Five or six pieces at that time. I forget. And it was really quite a spectacular thing, And I also remember the Los Angeles Times sent down a reviewer to check it out. We were like third or fourth on that night. And the guy came in and saw – I guess it was his first rock and roll reviewing job – he came in and saw the first act that went on – that happened to be using our drums. It said "The Mothers..." on the drums, and they were doing "A Hard Day's Night," and stuff like that.

And so he heard that, and left, and went back, and thought it was The Mothers, and wrote this huge review about how horrible we were, and how we did the world's worst version of "A Hard Day's Night," and all this other stuff, and he never even stayed to see us... Like didn't he even have any curiosity what we were doing with all those kettle drums and things up there? So we went down to the L.A. Times and complained, and so the next time, they sent another reviewer, and he came and saw the first band on, and then left, and then he wrote another horrible review that indicated that obviously he hadn't even seen what we were doing.

So, finally we were so mad about the L.A. Times reviewing our work that the last straw was when we were playing at the Whiskey A Go-Go, and they sent down the head of the department, who came down, and we played a really horrible show this time, and the guy gave us a great review!

PAUL: Do you have any other albums that haven't been released yet?

ZAPPA: Well. I'll tell you, one of the things that's pissing me off right now: I put together a five-record set, "The Mothers, Live." And nobody believes that we can sell it. Nobody wants to put it out.

PAUL: Five discs?

ZAPPA: Yes, ten sides, recorded live over a period of about two years. Some of the weirdest things we've ever done on stage. Not just songs, but, like, raps with the audience, and weird things like that. Most of it's stereo and pretty good quality recording, even though it wasn't done eight-track in a studio, you can really hear what's there. But I've got letters from Warner Bros, that say, "Yeah, you go ahead and do it, but we just don't think we can sell it, and we just want to go on record now..."

I got a very nice letter from Mel Austin [Mo Ostin] [3] saying that he would in no way ever consider interfering with what I want to do artistically, but he says there's zero chance that we're going to be able to sell this, and I wanted to price the LP, so that it's maybe a couple of dollars more than "Uncle Meat." So he still says, I don't think you'll be able to sell it – which gives us a big problem about representing what The Mothers do. Because we do so many different kinds of things. And I hate to go on and just do three minutes of this and three minutes of that... split them up by bands... on an album, and say, well, here's the next Mothers record. Because we're into a whole bunch of different things, and all simultaneously. And the only way you can really hear what we do is by judging – you know – like, a twenty-minute section. Like, if we can go and sit and improvise a complex piece of music – I don't mean just solos, but, like, time changes, chord changes, and all kinds of different variations, on a theme that didn't exist in the first place, how are you going to express that in three minutes on a record? You should play a twenty-minute section at a time that happened on a stage.

And if you're going to let people know that this is not just a lucky thing that happens once every eight months, you should be able to compare that twenty-minute section to another twenty-minute section that you did the following week. You know? So right now I've got to figure some way of putting out a Mothers' Album that will really show what we're into this year. Because "Uncle Meat" is already more than a year old. It was recorded simultaneously with "Ruben and The Jets," between October and February, 1967 and '68.

So we have a problem of letting whatever audience we have know what we're into this week. Like, now we're doing things that aren't even the same as what's on those live tapes. We're into electric chamber music. We have some very carefully scored stuff for flugel horn, electric bassoon and electric clarinet, with percussion and things like that. Like, woodwind chamber music with rock and roll time behind it, in a sort of a stretched-out diatonic language. And we've been playing it on the last tour. (Pause) Then, there was the review of the show we did at the Fillmore last week, by this guy in Cashbox.

We played the Fillmore, and I previewed one of the movements of this new bassoon concerto I've been working on, which is scored for that combination. And there were some kids from out in the sticks who would rather hear "Louie-Louie," and they were screaming and trying to interfere with the music while we were doing it. So this guy from Cashbox, sort of, like, said, he didn't want to be uplifted either, that he would rather hear "Louie-Louie" along with those kids out in the audience and before you play for any audience you should warn them in advance that you're not going to play rock and roll. And not only that! In describing the piece, he referred to the bassoon as an oboe! Which is the kind of mistake they make on little newspapers in the Midwest.

PAUL: Unfortunately, the whole music business is controlled by people who know nothing about music.

ZAPPA: Well, I'm hoping that's going to change. The average age of the people who are producing records is getting younger. It's not just the same old guys doing the same old things they were doing ten years ago.

PAUL: Are they hipper than their fathers?

ZAPPA: I think the trend is in that direction, but it's not going to be solved until they're controlling all aspects of the music industry. Even that won't be a final solution because just because you're young does not mean you're in tune with the esthetic aims of... Like, there, are a lot of young kids in the record business who are interested only in making hits and not in furthering the cause of music. It's irrelevant with them. Actually, what they want to do is show their parents up. "My dad was running this company and he did 'X' and I'm a young guy and I'll show him; I'll make more money than he did, by using the same tactics... I may have a mod haircut but I'm still only in it for the money." There are still a few of those around.

PAUL: I've heard that you are going to do a series of lectures at colleges.

ZAPPA: I've already done it.

PAUL: Do you like doing that?

ZAPPA: Well, not really. It's frustrating.

PAUL: Why?

ZAPPA: I hate to talk, for one thing. I did three lectures at USC, and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and the London School of Economics... and some other schools. And if you want to tell them anything about music, there's never any music students there. Nobody ever asks me anything about music.

PAUL: What do they ask you about?

ZAPPA: Well, it works like this: I get up there and I would really like to talk about music and I'd like to talk about technical things about music. Because I've really got nobody to discuss that with – except a couple of guys in the band. But I get out there and after they ask me the usual stupid questions, like somebody from Seventeen Magazine would ask, like what do I eat for breakfast... No! I'm serious! They really do, half to be cute and half to be serious, then they ask me about the Plaster Casters and the GTO's and all that... Then, they ask something about the Mothers... they want to find out what's our next album going to be like... Then, after they get through with the trivial shit, they want to talk about The Revolution. Then, during that section of the conversation they wait for me to give them some sign to go plunging out into the street, and terrorize everybody. You know? It's like, the flower power kids of a couple of years ago got smashed on by the cops, and turned into today's radical revolutionaries now. It's this week's fad. And it's pathetic too. So what I normally wind up doing is saying, "Suppose you guys had your revolution and YOU WON. Like there was a referee there and he said, 'Okay, this side gets it,' And NOW what are you gonna do? What are you gonna do that'll make this country better than it was before? I don't think you've got any leaders that are capable of putting forth programs that would improve the lot of all the people in the United States. You really don't care. What you're advocating, in most instances, is a negative example of what your parents did. You know? 'I hate everybody over thirty and they're all creeps.' What are you gonna do? Kill your mother and father if you win the revolution? You know?

They don't have the answers. And what's more, if they were given control of the country, how are they going to take care of the business of the country? That's the really dismal job – politics! You sit around, and you talk. With a bunch of old farts, all day long, about stuff that really doesn't interest you. That's a dismal job. Who wants that? The kids aren't prepared to do that shit.

PAUL: Many of them would become very bureaucratic and very Fascist. They would say, "Well, we have a big organization now, and we're now going to have to have two classes of people, those who give orders and those who obey them." Many if not most of them would get into that while wearing long hair and beards and beads.

ZAPPA: I think so. I don't think that the hippy community or the new youth or whatever you want to call it that's supposedly the forerunner of this revolution today... they're not as much "into it" as they think they are. I think that government, or social order has to work for everybody who's alive, You've got to make it comfortable for... and provide some sort of reasonable existence for everybody. The way the solutions to the problems have to be achieved... you can't just say we're gonna take a bunch of money from here and throw it over there. It's not gonna work. They don't know about economics... They're sort of universally agreed about how bad capitalism is, and they don't even understand capitalism. Fuck, I don't!

PAUL: Unfortunately, there are only a few people in the "New Left" who are really into it – who see that capitalism tends to bring out the worst in people and stifle the best; who really, honestly want a more creative life – but unfortunately most of the people who are into Socialism have some of the worst motives themselves – the hatred of the gifted man, the hatred of the man who's really getting it together and doing something creative – the little man's hatred of the uncommon man, and the desire to pull him down, mess him up, destroy him.

ZAPPA: Reminds me of something I heard last week – a really great speech by Whitney Young of the Urban League. I thought it was one of the greatest things I ever heard in my life. He was really laying it on the radio broadcasters, talking about what he calls the "affluent peasants" of the United States who have achieved a certain amount of middle class economic status, have a couple of cars, and a color television set, and along with this superficial wealth that they've acquired, they didn't have a cultural background to appreciate any of the better things that you could have, if you suddenly had some money in your pocket. And they're desperately afraid that they're going to lose what they do have. And so, the radio stations know that there's a lot of these people in the United States, and instead of trying to upgrade these people and SHOW them some of the finer things of life, and turn them on to something better, they pander to their lowest taste, and reduce everything to the lowest common denominator – this is true of television too. And as a consequence, they make it very difficult for any dreamers in the United States to survive, or any creative people.

PAUL: They're smothered by an avalanche of mediocrity and the general attitude is a fear and hatred of anything that is intelligent and creative, Not only the broadcast media, but what about the schools, who turn out an army of illiterates each June?

ZAPPA: The schools turn out these peasants. A diploma is a piece of paper that says you are dumb enough to work for one of these companies. And the reason you can't get a job without a high school diploma is because they think that if you escaped from school that means you might not be dumb enough to accept all the company bullshit they're gonna dump on you. They want you to run a machine for X number of hours every day without worrying about what it is you're making. You know? You might be working on some terrible, monstrous weapon. "Don' t think about it. Just run the machine."

PAUL: Yeah, and the school textbooks are DESIGNED to keep you ignorant, keep you from getting any insight into how the society you live in really works. But what about the violence on the media, and the affluent American peasant's maniacal craving for violence? You see them in the Valley, or any suburb, glued to the TV set... you see them on the freeway, their faces contorted and bulging with hate and violence.

ZAPPA: Yeah, As a replacement for sex. "If we can't fuck, we'll kill."

PAUL: The All-American Pushy Charlie, who looks like he wants to crush the steering wheel in his hands...

ZAPPA: Pushy Charlie... that's good!

PAUL: And his old lady is over competitive Kathy, who sits next to him, with the plastic hair-do, and the foam rubber tits. Right?

ZAPPA: It's true that blondes have more fun.

PAUL: Do they really?

ZAPPA: Especially if they're blond, blue-eyed and crew cut and work for the police department.

PAUL: ...and have a big baton. That reminds me of something interesting that was in the papers today. A group of young people who got tired of that kind of thing, are taking over a small town somewhere in California. The population is only about 500 anyway, and the kids, or hippies, or whatever they are, are recalling the mayor and the city council, and putting in their own government. Think of the possibilities of that! If you could take over a small community, get rid of the barbaric police force, get rid of the purple-faced municipal judge, get rid of the old bulldyke school principal, and the school board!

ZAPPA: That's the real, important story. Forget about this and write that story!

1. Paul Eberle was a writer for the LA Free Press. Later he and his wife Shirley published several pornography publications, including LA Star. (Paul and Shirley Eberle).
This interview was published 1969 in Los Angeles Free Press and in LA Star. We are not sure which one was first.

2. Charles Ulrich: Her website is Pauline Oliveros. And the piece is probably I Of IV – which was released on the Odyssey (not Argosy) label in 1967. There's a review.

3. Mo Ostin was a general manager of Reprise Records. (Bizarre Deal Brings Mothers To Reprise). He later became president of Warner Brothers Records (and took his wife to Pamplona).

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