The Incurable Frank Zappa

By Lon Goddard

Record Mirror, June 7, 1969

THE worst has happened – again. Mothers will be taking their kids off the streets, hippies will vacate Piccadilly Circus, orchestras will take lengthy coffee breaks, the great British yawn will hiccough . . . The Mothers of Invention are back in England.

Heading the popular team of stars, as usual, is the body beautiful, the loudest star of the silent screen, the incurable Frank Zappa. Reclining spaghetti-like in his tighter than a sausage jeans, Frank was having a glimpse at the British charts and I innocently inquired as to his opinion of Simon and Garfunkel, who are moving up the RM charts rapidly . . .

“Paul Simon? I’ll tell you something about Paul – I was in a record store buying some strings, when in walked Paul Simon with a glazed expression on his face. He came up to me and said, ‘I think I have to talk to you about something. Why don’t you come up to my place for dinner’. Later, I took one or two friends around to the address he had given me and there he was, sitting with his girl friend, listening to a Django Reinhardt album. We sat around and talked for a while and I found him to be one of the most unhappy people I’d ever met.

“You know why? He had to pay thousands in income tax last year because he’s so rich, he’s rich, but he’s not happy. He was very bored. I said, ‘why don’t you come on the road with our band?’ He thought this was a great idea and he pulled out this scrapbook of old pictures from the days when he and Garfunkel were billed as Tom and Jerry.

“Remember? They had a number one hit with a song called ‘Hey, Little School Girl’. I asked if he’d like to come up and do a concert in Buffalo (upstate New York) the next night. He was really hot on the idea and immediately phoned Art Garfunkel. He dug the idea too, so we decided it was on and I billed them as Tom and Jerry, putting them on first. Of course, when they appeared, everybody knew it was Simon and Garfunkel, but they went on to do only Everly Brothers numbers and ‘Hey Little School Girl’, etc.

“The public wanted them to play their hits. They wanted to hear ‘Sounds of Silence’. We went on and did our stuff and called them back for a combination finish and Simon said ‘we will now do the teenybop version of “Sounds of Silence”.’ He took an old rock melody and sung to it, repeating ‘Sounds of Silence, Sounds of Silence, Sounds of Silence’, over and over again for going on ten minutes. They loved it. All they wanted was the words. The public can be really fickle.”

Frank zapped it to us again when asked about the best group in Britain.

“The Stones are still the best sound in England. I’ve only just got hold of a copy of ‘Beggar’s Banquet’, but my favourite album is ‘Between The Buttons’. I thought it was superior to the Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’. Jagger has a mind that’s in the right place. Other stars ride around in their Rolls Royces, but you can picture Jagger sitting in one taking his shoes off or picking his nose and wiping it on the upholstery.

“I’ve had a lot of laughs from some of the things that go on in this business. Like the Maharishi – I got a lot of laughs out of that scene. Much amusement. I must admit, though, I was once duped by something too. The United States school system. I believed everything they said all my life until I get arrested for the first time. They got me for conspiracy to commit pornography back in ’64, by smuggling a plainclothesman disguised as a used car salesman into my small recording studio in that very small town. The town had about 7,500 people in it and they didn’t like my long hair, so they decided to get me.

“The attorney was 27 years old and he got me ten days in jail by using evidence obtained from the hidden microphone in his wristwatch which was hooked up to a tape somewhere. There were 45 men in the jail cell, the toilet and shower had never been cleaned, the temperature was 110 degrees so you couldn’t sleep by night or day, there were roaches in the oatmeal, sadistic guards, and everything that was nice.”

After that, I asked “Cool Hand Zappa” what he’d most like to do with the Mothers next . . .

“I’d like to film the history of the Mothers. It wouldn’t come out as a glorious achievement; not as if we rose above our environment and became wonderful rock and rollers. It’s more likely that the Mothers will fail completely. Everybody knows us, but the grim truth is, we’re not big any place. The next thing we will be doing will be a lot of concerts. I want to surprise people – not let them know what to expect at a Mothers concert. The thing is, they don’t want to be surprised – they want to hear the same things that are on the records.

“The largest percentage of our audience consists of boys: between the ages of 14 and 25 and the largest part of that is made up of the 14 to 17 bracket of boys who have an unhappy home life; who’s parents don’t understand them. They listen to the words and take them very seriously. Nobody listens to our music – this is the reason our last LP sold less than the others. It has only five vocal tracks on it and the rest was carefully composed music with full orchestration. There was nothing for those boys to hear. None of the words that parents couldn't give their kids. People don’t know how to listen to music yet.”

To get Frank straight, it was imperative that we find out about his revolutionary attitudes. Was he planning to go into politics? Did he support anarchistic youth’s blocking traffic?

“I talked to the people at the University of Southern California about this. I asked them exactly what they would do if they won the revolution today and everything was in their hands. Who would be their president? Who would handle the sewer systems? The whole thing is so badly set up, I wouldn’t vote tor them if I found them on the ballot. Things will change in time. People scoff at the rich – the millionaires.

“If you look at millionaires, you’ll find one thing they all have in common: they’re all ugly people. All of them were disliked and so they told the world where to go and swore they’d make it – and they did. I’m sure a little kindness in those spots would go a long way. When the big infiltration starts and the older parts of the establishment are dying off, let’s hope that the ones who replace them are straight enough.

As for me, I’m a composer, not a politician. I once sported the idea of going into politics, but the more people I met, the more it looked like I wasn’t cut out for the job. Right now, I would like to have a shave before I do this photo session. I don’t want to look like Richard Nixon.”