Uncle Meat

By Frank Zappa/Pete Drummond

Oz, July, 1969

To begin with could you tell us something about the film you’ve made?

We made a movie called ‘Uncle Meat’. It’s got a lot of pictures of the Mothers in it, it also has a very strange plot which will require some straight-life-type actors to execute and we need some more money to finish it.

Isn't the plot explained on the sleeve of the Uncle Meat LP?

The beginning and the end is in there – the middle isn’t.

Was the album written with the film in mind?

It’s quite possible to make a film to match music, so I made some music and I made up the story line around it.

Basically what sort of a film is it?

It’s a fantasy film with political and sociological overtones!

Sounds very deep. Is it?

Yeh, quite.

And we are all going to be able to see it?

We’ve got a couple of negotiations with people trying to raise the money to do it but it isn’t that easy – you can’t just come out and say ‘Fred, will you give me the money?’ He says ‘OK’ and then you go and make it. It’s really involved with a lot of paper work and bullshit.

Are you pleased with the way that the concerts have been going?

Yes, it’s been amazingly good considering the type of stuff we are playing which isn’t, you know, major minor chords with a steady beat which is what most pop music is made up of – a couple of suspensions here and there. We’ve some things that don’t operate in a key signature, and more things that use chords that don’t appear in your everyday harmony book, and some rhythms that are difficult to tap your foot to. So it puts it out of the ordinary frame of reference of the average teenage audience, if they ever came to see this kind of stuff. But strangely the kids here, even out in the provinces were very open to the music and listened to it. I don't know whether they understood it, but they liked it.

Did you put a lot of work into the music?

No, as a matter of fact I wrote most of it on the plane on the way over here, and I-er-usually just get some paper and start drawing dots on it, and wait for someone to play it so I know what it sounds like. That's the chamber music stiff. You know there's a difference between songs and compositions, songs are put together a different way, but these little bitty pieces that we are doing, they are based on another technique.

In the first concert you performed in this country why did you bring on members of a straight orchestra?

Well I like to play with straight musicians, you know, it gives us a little contrast material, and it also displays the fact that there are some members of the group who really are very skilled players and could exist just as easily in a symphony orchestra as on rock and roll stage; so we brought them out to er sort of bridge the gap between electric music and the other kind. Unfortunately there was one old fart in the string section that kept playing out of tune on purpose, trying to make the stuff sound ugly – so it turned into a carnival at the end. And it turned out that way because I wasn’t going to let this guy spoil the show, so we made some use of the fact that the music was turning out a little bit sour, and I thought I’d stretch it to its illogical conclusion, and we went up dancing around on stage with them and having them, you know, do various things that you wouldn’t expect a person in a tuxedo to do, like blowing farts through a microphone towards the audience, that’s one way you can save the show when you have an uncooperative violinist!

I was reading in one of the ‘pop‘ papers that you are now considered to be not a load of hairy freaks making rude noises, but talented musicians. Does it amaze you to read about yourselves in this way?

It’s sort of funny, you know, they never would have discovered that we were musicians if I didn’t do those interviews with those people and talking like hours on end trying to explain to them in detail what it is we are doing, because most people who write about music don't know what music is. They have certain tastes about the pop stuff that they listen to, and they don't have a broad based musical background that they could use as a criteria by which to judge a rock and roll song you know – like – does it make you tap your foot? Does it have the kind of words you want to hear? – in the boy/girl situation which is usually the plot basis of most of the lyrics, does it turn out all right in the end for you? You know, those are the things you look for when you are reviewing a song. But if we come along and we are playing some electric chamber music or if we are experimenting with electronic sounds where we are into percussion constructions, or we are into unaccompanied arias on stage which are spontaneous, or we are doing some sort of visual thing with a gas mask. You know, if you are a rock and roll critic in one of those pop papers what do you write about? What kind of musical background do you have to assess this, how much Stockhausen have you heard, how much er John Cage do you know about?

You have obviously listened to these serious musicians, but are they interested in what you‘re doing?

Of course not, because that’s one of the things that’s really sick about the so-called serious musicians’ world. It completely ignores rock music. You know, they think that ‘we have it all, we are the avant garde and we are the forefront of musical experimentation,’ say serious composers you know, and they’re foolish to think that way because we in the rock world have equipment at our disposal that they don’t even know about, that we use on the bandstand all the time, I am sure that a lot of the composers who are sweating now in their little isolated garrets don’t know about electric woodwind instruments or what you can do with them. Even the electric guitar hasn’t been touched by serious composers, and this whole thing has happened right under their noses. They ignore it. They think that electric music is something that you make with a synthesiser and amplified music is a completely different world. The composer has been writing for bassoons for a long time, but the way it sounds in our ensemble is completely different. It's executed the same way, the only thing we added was the electricity. The same with the flugel-horn, clarinet, flute and other things we use. The trouble with the serious music world is that they're too narrow minded. They should go to the rock concerts. That’s one of the reasons why their music is out of touch with the youth. And it shouldn’t be, because I think that they are doing important things artistically, but it’s very difficult to bring that to the attention of large numbers of people; and the largest single body of people are the teenies – and how we get our music across without lowering our standard is that we just play it in places where the serious composers never go. We go to the Fillmore, and we play in all those little psychedelic dungeons all over the United States. We play schools and we play hockey rinks and we play bowling alleys and we also happen to play concert halls when we come to Europe.

How much of your music is notated?

50 per cent of it. The other 50 per cent is improvised and it’s very carefully structured, and the live shows we do are all different, not just because of the improvisation but because of the way the building blocks of the show can be assembled.

Could you explain some of the lyrics on the album?

I am very interested in things which are absurd, and so the lyrics of that album are absurd, but some people think they are too sophisticated to appreciate an absurdity now and then.

Some people may think that there’s some deep sociological significance in the lyrics.

Well, as a matter of fact they do have sociological significance but it isn’t as literal as most of the intellectuals would like to make it. You know, it’s a pretty subtle thing. First of all it’s an art statement that we are working in this medium, and it’s also an art statement that the package looks like it does for that record. It’s an art statement that the words are what they are against the music being what it is. It’s all very carefully balanced out.

So the lyrics are used also for a pure ‘sound’ purpose?

Right. Rundy rundy rundy doody mop mop sounds very well in that context, it looks stupid on paper but that’s the thing with lyrics you know, lyrics on paper generally speaking don’t look well at all, like, why did any body bother to put them down on paper. In fact usually [I] cringe when I write ’em, but it’s a different thing when you realise it as a sound and especially depending on what register the voice is singing it in and all those other variables like the reference in the Uncle Meat variations to ‘fuzzy dice and bongos, fuzzy dice, I got ’em at the pep boys at the boys, brodie knobs and spinners, chromium plated’. OK now those words on paper don’t look like very much and if you say them they don’t sound like very much, but if you take ‘chromium plated’ and sing it on an operatic melisma like the soprano is doing in that thing it becomes something really absurd you know. What she’s singing there is a very difficult piece of music and she’s being forced to sing those words on it. Of course I don’t think you even know what brodie knobs are over here which makes it even less accessible.

What are they?

A brodie knob is a plastic knob which is screwed on to the steering wheel of a teenage automobile, generally it’s clear blue plastic – some old men have them too, and they have these little pictures you know that you turn one way then you turn the other way and the picture moves, and the picture is generally a nude girl, her hands behind her head, so that it looks like she bounces her tits up and down for you when you turn your wheel.

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