Concluding Frank Zappa on Death Rock Writers Money

Interview by Keith Altham

NME, February 12, 1972

Zappa is not renowned for his appreciation of rock writers and their work, and he makes his point quite forcibly on the subject.

 “Mr. X comes over to do an interview. He has not seen a show or listened to the records, but he went to a place that has a large bunch of clippings, and he gains his information from what other guys wrote and they didn’t know. And then he comes and does an interview with you, and it perpetuates itself. I know this is an important factor in the way any artiste who is doing interviews gets portrayed to the public.

“It’s difficult to get your point across 100 per cent, because it’s being translated, interpreted, modified, restructured, re-slanted, re-organised, regurgitated by somebody else who is going to do that to suit his own artistic and political ends, depending on who and what he is writing for.

“I would say this. The level of pop journalism in the UK seems to be superior to that of the US, although it may be an illusion. However, neither are good. There are, of course, exceptions to everything, and I’m sure sprinkled throughout the world there are a few good rock-and-roll writers and, to you brave few, I salute you. To the rest of you guys – I hope you earn a living!”

AAnd so, bearing that little lot in mind, here I bring to you a chunk of stimulating “verbatim" straight from the tape recorder on a few topics of mutual interest.

Is he bothered by the John Sebastian Syndrome?

“I would rather not discuss it. I find it very sickening, but there again, some people get off on it, so it should happen. Some people need wonderful people, even if they’re made out of cardboard!”

Does anything frighten him. Old age? Death?

“No, I haven’t explored the avenue of death yet, because I’m still alive. And the only way to really do that is to clap out.”

What would he say was the most painful experience he ever had mentally?

“The most painful experience I’ve had recently on a mental level was watching a US TV show on which we performed and the sound was completely fucked up. That troubled me quite a bit.”

Does he feel there is any age limit one could place on being a musician?

“No. I hope I will still be on stage playing the guitar when I am 50. I love to play the guitar. It’s one of the great physical sensations of all time.”

Do the deaths of people like Joplin Hendrix and Morrison concern him at all?

“I knew all those people, but I don’t think their deaths affected me. I can quite honestly say, that.

“I could make myself sound dramatic and loyal to the rock’n roll cause, but I won’t say that I was moved. I would just say that the one that I knew the best was Jimi Hendrix, and I was surprised. I don’t see why I should be moved by the death of someone else, mourning is not productive. Perhaps I’m inhuman!”

Did he think there any significance in the fact that those three people died closely together?

“Yes and no. There were similarities between the lifestyles of them. But they were all individuals. Also there were horrible differences between all three of them. Definitely three separate categories, each with his own peculiar little wheel gravitating round.”

Did he think we would be subjected to further losses among well known rock artistes?

“Yes! No, it does not sadden me. I don’t think it is anything to be sad about, because it’s irrelevant.”

How dangerous a medium does he consider TV?

“The evils done in the States over the last 20 years, in terms of modifying the public’s opinion, has given us a set of standards which are perhaps far out of line from the biological norm. All that damage has to be repaired by the medium that caused it, i.e. The Box.”

Zappa is certainly not obsessed by the idea of material wealth, but he is certainly too shrewd to minimise its importance. What he earns, he likes to ensure he gets.

HHe still takes risks, of course, in a bizarre, fashion. Like for example, the plan to release nine albums in March – three triple album sets of unreleased ‘Mothers’ material. They will retail at $7.98 in America for a set of three, which is extremely reasonable and only possible because Zappa is prepared to take a royalty cut. Even so he is not a poor man, and so.

“What sort of financial share do your musicians and your band have in their work?”

“They are paid on a regular salary basis, and it varies on a tour, depending on what the potential gross of the tour is. They don’t have a percentage interest. Their percentage is in the records, not on the tours. Before they go out on a tour they get a guaranteed figure of what they will earn by the end of it.”

Does he feel at all guilty about making a lot of money out of his music?

“I find nothing wrong in a person being able to support his daily activities for the purpose of earning a living from something he likes to do, and from something he might be able to contribute to other members of the society.

“For instance, if the guy is a composer in the States, you can’t earn a living out of it. If you want to have the privilege of writing a symphony, you’re going to work in a gas station during the day time so that you can eat while you do it.

“To me that’s bad because it minimises the proficiency of the composer, and the guy gets uptight because he has to spend the day doing something he does not like, and after he has written his symphony he can’t even get it played.

“That’s what I was faced with at the time when I was doing music. I wanted to write music. I had no way to get it played, I had no way to support myself, so I did one of the hardest things there is to do. I managed to earn a living from something I liked doing. I got my music performed. I haven’t always had it performed accurately and I haven’t always enjoyed listening to the performances of the things I have written. You just can’t achieve perfection in that regard.

“I think, if I may be allowed a smashing generalisation, everybody has the right to be comfortable on his own terms. If they sat down and thought about it, that’s really what they‘re after, unless the person is a born war-monger and likes to have strife and unrest all the time.

“An average sort of person, well, he just likes to be comfortable and happy.”

See also the first part of this interview: "Forget the leg a while. It’s ZAPPA on rock, porn and blues."