Frank Zappa's Dream: A Rock Group Of 80 Or More Musicians

By Mary Campbell

Indiana Evening Gazette, Indiana, PA, December 14, 1974 [1]

Weird was always the word for Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. In 1966, when the group's first album, "Freak Out," came out, writers found it "pure trash" and the group outrageously offensive.

These days, Alice Cooper gets more publicity for outrageousness. Seen on a day when he's recovering from flu, Zappa isn't being outrageous at all. His goal, he says, was to put out records that made money, because the reward for doing that is being allowed to put out more records and he likes to make records. Beyond that, his goal was quality music.

Big sheets of music composition paper are on Zappa's desk as we walk into the room; he is working on music for two albums he'll begin recording in December. One piece, in several sections, will tell the story of "a pig who invents something that makes life miserable for everybody. He invents the calendar. This makes it possible for people to collect rent and everybody to find out how old they are. At first it's okay; they can have birthday parties at the office. But kids don't like it when they find out how old they're getting. Gregory is chased into the woods by psychedelic buses and daisy-covered cars driven by aging hippies. He has a narrow escape with the youth of America and in the end is driven to consult a philosopher who charges him a lot of money for very little information."

This recording, Zappa says, is going to use "an orchestra, recorded in the rock 'n' roll way. Every note that's in the score will be there." Zappa says there probably never has been a perfect symphony recording – one instrument covered the sound of another more than the composer intended or something else went wrong.

The rhythm section will be recorded – electric bassist, drummer, two percussionists, keyboard player with four instruments. "Then the guitars will go on. All instrumental parts that might be hard to get perfectly will be done on a synthesizer. You can slow the tape down and get rhythmic and pitch accuracy."

Then at the end of 21 days for that, he'll get a copyist to make parts from the rest of the score. "Then we'll put the string section on two tracks one day, the next day the brass on two tracks, then the woodwinds on two tracks, then the narration and vocals, then mix it. I expect it to have combinations and tone qualities that haven't been heard ever before."

Right now, the Mothers of Invention is six persons. But, if money was no object, Zappa says it'd be 100 or maybe 80.

An East Coast tour played 31 shows from Oct. 28 to Dec. 1. September was spent in Europe. A southern U.S. tour will come in February and after that a trip to Germany to work with a symphony orchestra, then a tour of Japan. Zappa performs about seven months a year.

At 15 he had two records he adored by the modem classical composer Edgard Varèse. "One was 'Ionisation,' 13 performers playing 32 percussion instruments, including two sirens and a lion's roar. My mother insisted I do not play that record in the living room when she was ironing.

"I didn't have much money so I used to have a few records and listen to them over and over. I had a 'Rite of Spring' by Stravinsky and music for two pianos and percussion by Bartok. My tastes were different from everybody I was hanging around with."

But Zappa kept listening to what he liked and soon started writing what he liked. He still buys records of new classical music but doesn't like most of it, especially finding the German composers "suffering from severe terminal doom."

He started performing in Pomona, Calif., in places that played "The Anniversary Waltz" with one twist number per evening. Then the go-go bar was invented and he started playing all twist numbers. He joined Ray Collins, Roy Estrada, Jimmy Carl Black and Davey Coronado in Pomona when their guitar player quit. He suggested they play his original material. Coronado said if they did that, they'd be fired. They were. Coronado left them and the other four went on for about a year, working a place about four nights until the owner found out they weren't playing hit songs. "I used to find and sell empty pop bottles to buy baloney and gasoline."

They played at a party in Hollywood that was being filmed for the movie "Mondo Hollywood" and got hired at the Action, one of the four rock 'n' roll clubs in Hollywood at that time. The owner liked the fact that if an audience got obnoxious, Zappa got obnoxious back, generating some publicity.

"I still treat an audience the way they treat me. If they're nice, I'm not there to make their life miserable. But I've kept to not taking junk from the audience.

"You know, our audiences have changed vastly. Our initial appeal was to middle-class white boys, mostly Jewish, around 17. Ninety per cent of our mail came from that category. In the last year we have picked up masses of teen-age girls. Why? Who knows?"

Zappa's "200 Motels" was played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1968 and then became a movie with a $679,000 budget which paid for itself, unusual for a first-time film maker.

On a 1971 promotional tour to Europe, the group's equipment was destroyed in a fire in Montreux, Switzerland. They got more equipment and went to London, where a man rushed on stage at the end of the set and Zappa, who never saw him, woke up 15 feet down, in a concrete orchestra pit, with a broken leg and rib, holes in his chin and head and a twisted neck. The leg wouldn't heal properly; Zappa spent nearly a year in a big cast, in a wheelchair. He still limps, which he says has become fashionable. "I refused to do interviews; I didn't see anybody. I was wrecked."

DiscReet Records, which Zappa owns, releases Mothers of Invention records. On Nov. 16 "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" was No. 62 on the best-selling singles chart and being played on AM radio, very unusual for the Mothers of Invention. The LP "Roxy and Elsewhere" was No. 32. The group got its name when MGM, first label to sign it, refused to put out a record by the Mothers and suggested Mothers Auxiliary. Zappa compromised with Mothers of Invention. His favorite of some 20 albums is "Lumpy Gravy."

Zappa, now 33, lives in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, with his wife and children, Moon Unit, Dweezil and Ahmet.

He wonders, as he tours around, why no hall has been built for the presenting of rock music. Rock concerts are usually in sports stadiums or halls built for symphonies. "The object there is to provide resonance for an orchestra, with reflective surfaces to increase the bass response. That's exactly wrong for rock 'n' roll. What we need is an acoustically flat room seating about 10,000 – minimize the reverberant and keep the frequency response as flat as possible. There are halls that would go bankrupt if they didn't have rock 'n' roll shows. I don't know why they don't give consideration to those customers." Sounds sensible.

1. This article by Mary Campbell, AP Newsfeatures Writer, was published in many local newspapers in December 1974 and January 1975 under different titles.

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