Here, anybody want to do it with this giraffe?

By Aleks Danko, Ron Saunders & Pat Woolley

Digger, June 23, 1973

Interview:        Aleks Danko
                          Ron Saunders
                          Pat Woolley

Photographs:  Belinda McCarthy

Date:                 Monday 18th June 1973.
Time:                6.50 pm.

Location:         The press conference at New Rocks Push, Sydney, for Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.

Interview Outline:        

We had arrived with Sony half-inch video portapack equipment to do a videotape interview with Frank Zappa. We found that the most suitable lighting conditions were in the kitchen. Zappa said he'd do the interview in the kitchen. At 6.50 pm. Zappa came through the swinging kitchen door, the Grand Wazoo blasting through in the background; and politely told us that videotape or film was out of the question. Stills yes, but not movie film for private purposes. There was 'no way around it. Having had trouble with exploitation of his image on several occasions in the past, Zappa had made it quite clear to his manager that publicity of any sort related to media information had to be controlled, so that misrepresentation of his image wouldn't happen again.

We tried to explain that we weren't going to be using the information for commercial purposes and that the tapes would be filed within the film co-op as documented statements, not exploitation.

No. Zappa was very definite about his position. So we suggested that we'd put the lens cap on the camera and just record the sound. Sound-tape was ok, but no movie film.

*   *   *

A little later Zappa's tour manager gave us the same story about image control. He also made it quite clear that promotion time was valuable and he wanted Zappa's image covered by as much of the recognised Australian media as possible. No private film interviews, only public exposure ie. processed information.

*   *   *

Time:               6.57 pm.

              ... the Troubadour is still a lot of fun. The bar in the front ...

Is it still $2 to get in?

I never paid to get in, so I don't know. It's still a good place to go on Monday night, everybody hanging out waiting to get picked up and discovered and reamed. It's a watering hole. There's a new place opening up there, Elmer and Mario from the Whisky a Go Go are opening up a place called the Roxy. You know where the Largo burlesque .place used to be? That's going to be a cross between the Whisky and the Troubadour.

The old Largo was a dive.

It's the same the world over.

Even in Sydney there's one with a tahitian bar in the basement, and it looks like the worst ever American style bar.


Yeah. You know you can put your hand up and feel the dust.

Great! What do you expect out of a club anyway? Just a place to go. Someplace with something that'll get you out of it. A member of the opposite sex to play with.

Bar stools to rotate on?

Really. It's the rotation that gets it.

What do you feel about your relationship with Bizarre-Reprise and its artists – the whole business side setting it up and recording rather than just playing in a group. Is it an actual scheme of yours?

Scheme? Well, here's the way the record company came about. We were signed to MGM Verve, they cheated us out of our royalties, they didn't promote our albums and they just gave us a bad deal all the way around. They censored all the albums and I said there's gotta be a better way than this to put out records so we got away from the contract, made a deal with Warner Bros. wherein I would hand them a tape, they couldn't censor n, and we had our own company that was all to itself.

And Warners, their job was to make sure the records got into a store and that was it. That was our first contract with them, we recently negotiated a new contract. It's on the same basis but it gives us a little bit more freedom. They have a logo about that big on the record right now and it's just our label. And it's not called Bizarre anymore, it's called Discreet.

It's all quad. Discreet is the name of the quadrosonic process that's used, too. It's like all four channels separation on the disc.

As far as the business end of it, my interest in it is this: I want to make sure that I have the most creative freedom and if somebody else wanted to be on that label, that they would have similar benefits from the way our deal was set up with the distributing company.

What about the GTO's. Are they still recording?

No. One of the GTO's is dead, another one has a baby and living in Torrance, California, another one is married to John Cale, the other one is living with Shuggie Otis and is about to have a baby, and the other one is wandering around Hollywood trying to become a starlet. So they are scattered to the wind.

What about Captain Beefheart ...

He still tours in the United States.

Has he gotten to the point of being successful?

You have to ask him 'cause I don't know anything about their success.

Are you interested in the business angle as well?

To the point that, if you don't pay some attention to it, somebody'll do it wrong. And you'll be out. I hire people to do that for me, but I still have to watch what they do. It's like having to come in here and say whatever I said about the videotape. I hire somebody who's supposed to do that. They didn't take care of it so I had to. It's the same way with the record, company business.

It's a matter of copyright law too. The first time I had troubles with my image getting used for purpose. I didn't want was the first time I went to England where the copyright laws are different. Here's what the problem is: the first time I went to England there was a picture taken of me sitting on a toilet. It was supposed to be used in a newspaper ad in the International Times. Well it turned into a poster because due to the laws there the photographer owns my image and can do whatever he wants with it, so he made a poster. I never posed for a poster – I posed for an ad for International Times. And so from that point that poster, was bootlegged and duplicated into millions of copies, from which I never saw one nickle.

Did you have trouble coming through customs?

Yeah, ah just the usual. They make you wait there and give you a special colored sticker which means they search you. Crap. And after about 14 hours or whatever it was, you just don't want to stand in line and have some guy say 'Vitamin C hum, are these good for you?'

Have you started making another film?

I've thought about it, haven't started on one. I want to do a science fiction movie. A musical science fiction movie.

Did you know that 200 Motels is banned here?

I heard. A guy that I was just talking with told me.

From this point of view the States seems like it's rapidly sliding down hill. What do you think about that? The dollar is falling, you can't get a job, morals ...

If you evaluate things in terms of dollars and cents, I would say the United States is in trouble.

The people I know in L.A. are just the same as they always were. They're crazy. You can talk to them about Watergate and they say 'What?'.

As far as morals go, I don't like to talk about morals.

You're writing all your material now and the group plays it?

Uh huh.

Is the music changing at all do you think?


In what direction?

All directions. I do all different kinds of stuff.

When you're performing on stage do you think in terms of a theatre performance as well as a music performance?

Uh huh.

Has it always been like that?

It's always been like that.

Are your concerts structured as a whole or only in certain areas?

Well, if you want to analyse a concert you have to analyse it in terms of the whole thing after it gets done.

We have several set pieces which form a skeletal structure of the concert. And each one of those pieces has a different mood to it and depending on where in the sequence of the concert we put those pieces, that will determine the emotional structure of the concert. So that varies from ' night to night. Then each one of the pieces has improvised sections for soloists, then there are places where there's just nothing determined and I just conduct and things happen.

With the guys you got now, how many of them are new?

There's only two of them that are actually new. That haven't been heard on any of the albums before.

How long have you been working with them?

Six or seven months.

When you're always meeting new people don't you get disjointed?

Well, what's wrong with that?

Nothing, but ...

All I can say is, I've lived with change for so long, it doesn't bother me, meeting new people all the time.

Even when I was a kid I travelled around a lot. If I had known some body for three years that's almost too long.

Do you remember Betsy Cawn?

Yeah, she used to work for the L.A. Free Press. She did something lewd with a giraffe on stage. She had on this real short little knit crochet skirt the day she got it on with the stuffed giraffe. It was quite something. The audience loved that.

There's a band out here called Sylvia and the Synthetics that does things like that – screwing with glass guns and that sort of shit. Something like the Cockettes.

Yeah, well the thing about groups that specialise in that sort of thing is their idea of making a success of their whatever it is they're doing. That's not what we were doing a long time ago. That was something that was allowed, you know. When we were working in New York anything was allowed on that stage, whatever it was, musical or otherwise and that was the main statement we had to make to the audience. The audience came in there with the idea 'Oh you can't do this and you can't do that' and goddammit, we did it right there. Just on the spur of the moment.

We didn't plan for two weeks and say 'When Betsy comes here she's going to do it with the giraffe' you know. We just said 'Here, anybody want to do it with this giraffe?' and she came on. And right in the middle ... playing ... sure it was an adjunct to the program.

Did you know she got kidnapped out of that?

I heard about it. That wasn't part of the show.

She settled down to a quiet life in Oakland.

One day she'll show up on stage again. I'll remember her just as she was with her legs up in the air like that and the little giraffe. We had a toy box there in the theatre, in fact two of them, about this big, full of puppets and dolls and noisemakers and stuff and whipped cream and old vegetables, and they were always kept off to the side behind the piano and we found rats in it one time. That was really low down.

*   *   *

Pause:             At this ' point a fellow from the film co-op came in and asked Frank if he'd like to see his movies sometime ... Frank said:

"It's just a matter of time, 'cause I've got interviews booked up pretty much through the time I'm here. If you'll give me your name address and phone number and I'll come over and see you, if I've got time to do it. It would be better for me to call you and tell you when I've got the time."

*   *   *

Record:            Don't you get bored giving interviews?

They don't get boring, they get offensive sometimes but they don't get boring. I'd rather do that than play checkers.

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