Frank Zappa's Got Brand New Shoes

By Deirdre Offen

Hustler, August, 1974

How do you relate to a guy who got his start writing the score to a movie in which a nymphomaniac gets laid by a hunchback?

What's your reaction to somebody who composes lyrics about a groupies who can't "come"?

Would you like to know more about a fellow who sings about zircon-encrusted tweezers and lonely dental floss tycoons?

If so, be prepared to become acquainted with Frank Zappa. Some call him a musician.

Others say he's just a very rich kook. At any rate, Uncle Frank has been grossing and freaking out his audience for nearly a decade. Lately, though, he hasn't been acting up on stage quite as much as before.

Instead of insane theatrics, he has been giving his audience jazz along with the gutter rock.

What's been happening? Has some great mellowing process begun? Has Zappa, in fact, grown tame? Tame enough to actually discuss himself and his music?

You may be in for a surprise ....

Hustler: Your "Overnight Sensation" album was a magnificent success financially. Is this the direction you're heading towards? Pleasing the people more?

Zappa: Well, it depends. Pleasing the people depends on whether or not you like what I'm doing. If you like what I'm doing, then you're pleased. If you don't, then you're not pleased. Obviously, millions of people were not pleased by my earlier albums because they didn't buy them. None of them are gold albums.

Hustler: Have you ever gotten a gold album?

Zappa: Never have.

Hustler: Downbeat magazine gave you an unfavorable critique on "Overnight Sensation." I was wondering whether you know of any antagonism between the jazz and the rock scene.

Zappa: Well, the thing about any criticism in Downbeat is you have to take it with a grain of salt because I don't have that much – what can I say? If you put out a record with words on it, then they say, "It can't be a jazz record. It's got rock n' roll lyrics. So we can't give it a good rating because it's not a jazz record." And that's about what happened with "Overnight Sensation." The other thing that happens is that every time I write lyrics that have specifically sexual references and when I start talking about sexual events, I don't talk about them the way other groups might. I don't beat around the bush. I say exactly what's going on. There are a lot of writers who are upset about the idea of sex. If they hear something on a record that refers to body functions or gratifications, they panic. They can't identify with it, so they have to say something unfavorable. And that's just too bad. I guess that's why they're writers – they're bent out of shape. They don't get enough pussy. They just sit there and work the typewriter ....

Hustler: : Don't you have some sort of music degree?

Zappa: I don't have any degrees at all. I'm fortunate to have a high school diploma. I tried hard enough to get out of going to high school, but they graduated me anyway. I had about 20 or 30 units less than you were supposed to have to graduate. They kept throwing me out, so I never made up the work. So they just decided to graduate me, rather than keep me there another year.

Hustler: Aren't you glad considering all the bullshit you have to go through in high school?

Zappa: Yeah. High school's a wonderful preparation for life in a factory. That's all it is. Either they prepare you to be a consumer, or to be somebody who puts front bumpers on Chevrolets.

Hustler: What about college?

Zappa: It's the same thing. The best thing about college is you can get laid. You can get laid in high school, too, these days – if you're lucky. But in high school, it is a bit tougher. The only thing that is really useful about college is that it's a good place for people to get together and go off and build their little lives together. Because if you didn't go to college, or some other place where there's a high concentration of like-minded people, you'd wind up spending all your time in bars.

Hustler: Considering all the apathy everywhere, do you think there will ever be a revolution in the United States?

Zappa: What kind of revolution? Do you mean people wandering into the streets with pitch forks and stuff, screaming? No. I do think that Richard Nixon's a criminal, though. He is not a crook. He is a criminal. If the apathy seems new to you, it's because you haven't been on the scene long enough.

Hustler: What do you think of Patricia Hearst?

Zappa: No comment.

Hustler: Will you ever write an autobiography?

Zappa: No, probably not. I already did.

Hustler: What was that?

Zappa: I'm still doing it. Believe it or not, those songs actually happened to me.

Hustler: How accurate was David Bowie's autobiography?

Zappa: It's not very accurate. In fact, it's a piece of shit.

Hustler: What kind of writers do you get into?

Zappa: I don't read very much. I don't like it. Most of the people who write have so many interior problems that it starts creeping through into the story they're writing.

Hustler: What were your impressions of the interview that you did on "Kennedy and Company"? It seemed like Kennedy was bringing out the commercial end of things, rather than talking about your music.

Zappa: Well, you know, he chose the questions that he thought would be interesting to the audience he felt he had. It was just a punky TV show.

Hustler: What about the interview done by Dick Cavett?

Zappa: It was pretty crummy, actually. He didn't have any good questions. He was afraid to talk to me. He was just nothing. Nothing! He didn't know anything. He had never heard me before. There was just nothing to talk about. That's the trouble with the talk shows you go on. Most of the hosts don't know anything about rock 'n roll. They have research departments and secretaries that go out and hand the host a sheet of paper that says he does this or that. But they still don't know anything. So it's never an in-depth interview.

Hustler: Could you even do an in-depth interview on TV, or does the medium itself present problems?

Zappa: I did one in Indianapolis, Indiana (which will probably be on educational TV) with a guy I've known for a few years. That's gonna be available pretty soon. One thing I'd like to point out is that very seldom do I say anything about "exclusive interviews." Anybody who wants to talk to me, I'll talk to him, as long as I'm not dead tired. It doesn't make any difference whether or not it's with a school newspaper. I'm not particular.

Hustler: Are you doing any sound tracks for movies?

Zappa: I did, a long time ago. I did two feature films, and the track for "Two Hundred Motels." One of the features that I scored I did when I was twenty years old. I was the youngest writer to do that kind of work. It was called "Run Home Slow." It was a Western. You can see it on television every once in a while. It's a piece of shit. It has some funny moments in it. In fact, one thing you should look for is a scene where a nymphomaniac is getting reamed by a hunchback next to the carcass of a dead donkey in a shed. But they probably cut that part out for TV.

Hustler: Could you explain this business of moving to "Montana" that you sing about in "Overnight Sensation"? Montana now seems to be an underground term for something. The strange thing is, I've heard references to it in the movie ''Slaughterhouse Five" and in Woody Allen's "Sleeper. "

Zappa: What, going to Montana? I've never seen "Sleeper" and I've never read "Slaughterhouse Five." I don't know why they'd want to move to Montana! 'Cause mine is different.

Hustler: Why do you want to move to Montana?

Zappa: Well, I don't want to move to Montana yet. They have some problems up there. It just seems a nice place to raise up some dental floss.

Hustler: Have you changed your image of yourself over the years?

Zappa: Sure! I've been doing this for ten years. I'm thirty-three years old. Actually, only in the last seven years have we been able to play at colleges. For about two to three years we were on a list of groups not to book for colleges. We have always presented some sort of visual elements and have some sort of public image maintained to give you the impression to the contrary.

Hustler: What made you grow the goatee and mustache that you've become so famous for?

Zappa: I had it for years, before I had the group. This thing grows down my chin every once in a while. I notice that it's getting away and I have to cut it back. I have to trim my mustache because if I don't, about every three or four days it grows into my mouth and I wind up eating my mustache along with my food.

Hustler: Where'd you get those shoes?

Zappa: These are regular shoes that were painted by a crazy person.

Hustler: Anybody we know about?

Zappa: Yes, Carl Franzoni. Do you remember Carl? Carl Franzoni, believe it or not, is now the commissioner of parks and recreation in a town in California.

Hustler: What do you think of drugs?

Zappa: I think they're OK for people who like them.

Hustler: And what have you got planned for the future? Anything big?

Zappa: I've always got something big planned.

Source: If you spot errors, let me know afka (at)