Zappa: "there are all different kinds of crazy"

By ?

The Great Speckled Bird, March 25, 1974

Confusion: Zappa is coming to town and we're trying to set up an interview. On Wednesday the word is he’s going to hold some sort of press conference before the concert Friday night, so I’m expecting to get in maybe 3 or 4 questions. Friday afternoon at 2:45 we find out we’re to meet Zappa at the Regency in 15 minutes for a private interview. I run out of gas on Ponce de Leon. We arrive at the Regency an hour late for the interview. I start by explaining why we’re so nervous. Zappa is patient if not sympathetic.

BIRD: (Referring to 200 Motels): If touring can make you crazy, why are you on the road again?

ZAPPA: Well, there are all different kinds of crazy. This tour’s okay. We’ve got enough time between each show so we can get plenty of rest, and all the people in the group have a good sense of humor, so ...

BIRD: They don’t mind if you spy on them and steal their material? (Referring to a scene from 200 Motels.)

ZAPPA: Just remember one thing when you use words like “spy” and “steal”, I wrote that and I made them say that. In fact, I made you ask that question.

BIRD: True. You’re also making me sweat and I wish you would cut it out. Have you read the biography that was written about you (No Commercial Potential)? Is it accurate?

ZAPPA: Some of it is accurate. Some was transcribed from tapes, but the biggest part of it is, shall we say, the author’s personal jive.

BIRD: The part of your disapproval of drugs is true, though?

ZAPPA: Right. Don’t use drugs, don’t like for others to use drugs. But in your case I’ll make an exception because you’re sweating.

(At this point coffee was served, and Zappa started talking about his lawsuit against MGM records.)

ZAPPA: They claim that none of our records for the past five or six years exist. They’ve mysteriously disappeared, like a certain 18 minute stretch of taped conversation. If all goes well, though, we should be able to get the master tapes back. That’s what we’ve been asking for from the first. I got an award in Holland one time. You know what a Prix de Disc is? Well, it’s like a Grammy. We got a Prix de Disc for We're Only In It For The Money. It was like the top album in Europe at the time. So we went there on tour and there was a press conference and this guy comes up and hands me this little statue. Well, as he was giving me this they were playing the album in the background and I noticed it was censored. It was one of the um ... MGM put out two versions of it.

BIRD: Yeah, I got one of the censored ones.

ZAPPA: Yeah, well, we caught them doing that, and they said we’ve already printed 40 thousand copies and I said you’re going to have to destroy them because my deal with you says you can’t cut my tape. They said Okay, we’ll destroy them, they’re in the warehouse now, we’ll destroy them and they’ll never get out. Well, they got out, and in fact they sent the censored version to Europe where it was processed there and all the copies over there were censored. So I told the guy I would refuse to accept the award for the, uh, because somebody had improved upon my work with a razor blade back at the head office in New York.

BIRD: You handle all your business affairs yourself?

ZAPPA: No, I have an accountant who does all that for me, but there are certain practical matters I have to take care of. I have never filled out an income tax form myself and I wouldn’t know how to do it.

BIRD: Are you planning to donate your papers to the government and take a tax deduction?

ZAPPA: Well I'll tell you, if I donated my papers to the government they’d be worth a hell of a lot more than what Richard Nixon donated, because at least I’ve got some funny papers. I mean, who wants a memo of Richard Nixon"? You know, “I went to South America and they spit on my car. Well, better luck next time.” Or, no, he probably wrote at the bottom, “I’ll get those guys.”

BIRD: (Referring to the “Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue” on the Weasels Ripped My Flesh album): I'd like to hear what you think of Eric Dolphy.

ZAPPA: I think he’s fantastic. You know how he died? Eric Dolphy killed himself by eating too many candy bars. He was diabetic. He was in Germany and they found him with candy wrappers strewn all around him. He just candied out one night.

BIRD: Is the story on Uncle Meat of how you met Ian Underwood true? He just came down to the studio and whipped it out?

ZAPPA: Yeah, well he was waiting at the studio one day. I never had seen him before, but he just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I mean, I’m willing to listen to anyone who wants to try out for the group. One night in Chicago a guy came up and wanted to audition. I told him we didn’t need anyone right then, but he plugged in his guitar and we jammed a while. I didn’t think he was good enough for the group, but I’m always willing to listen. Usually the people who audition have an evaluation of their musical ability that’s far in excess of where it’s really at. And most of them just don’t realize how hard it is to play what we’re playing, just no concept of it at all.

BIRD: Has anything changed since you said “most of these kids wouldn’t know good music if it came up and bit them on the ass?”

ZAPPA: Well, I’d amend that to say that, uh, some of these kids would know good music if it came up and bit them on the ass.

BIRD: How do you keep your personality from fragmenting with all the changes involved in your music?

ZAPPA: Because I’m not pretending to be anything that I'm not. When I go out on stage what I do is not, uh ... I don’t change into a werewolf or anything to get another personality when I go on stage. So I don’t have to split myself up. I don’t put on any eye make-up or splash glitter on my chest. I just go out and play my music.


 * * * * * * * *

We had been talking for about an hour, so, after coaxing him out onto the balcony for a couple of pictures, we left him to get ready for the midnight show.

Just when you think you’ve got Zappa defined as one sort of musician, he changes. The concert started off very much like a jazz concert; the song lyrics were sung (almost gotten out of the way) early, and then the melody was worked out through long solos by each performer. But right away came a more traditionally rock number, though it too was distinguished by displays of virtuosity from each musician. The music was overpowering not through volume but through quality. After the first number someone yelled, “Turn up the volume.” To which Zappa replied, “We don’t want to injure anyone. You’ll find we’re a little bit different than ‘Chicago’. ”

After intermission they came back with a long number which started with a humorous monologue on drugs. “The first time you took LSD, ”Zappa said in his inimitably faceteous tone; “you were curious, you wanted to see colors. But the real reason was, you wanted to see God. Right boys and girls? That’s what Time magazine said. Well, why not move on to something stronger like, say, Drano. Sure it might cause some harm, you might die. But what’s a little pain and death as long as you commune, even if only for a few seconds, with God, right?”


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