Groupies Ripped My Tweed

By Shelley Benoit

Circular, April 28, 1975

Brown Suits Do Make It.

Well, dear reader, I wish you could have been there to see Frank Zappa take the stand at the High Court and field questions about his case. Remember last week I told you he was in London because Bizarre Productions is claiming against the corporation that runs the Albert Hall. In February 1971, the latter canceled the former's pre-sold-out performance of 200 Motels, which was to include the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, despite Bizarre's willingness to alter anything in the program to suit the Albert Hall.

Not only do the wheels of justice grind slowly, they make some absurd squeaks. Students of Circular's You and Your Vocabulary could have helped the other day when court definitions were sought for "freakout," "underground" and "groupie." (The honorable bewigged ones believed the latter to be a female member of a group.)

The first day Frank went to make himself available to speak, he was denied because he was not wearing a suit. (Although dress rules do not affect visitors who are free to come and go from the spartan wooden pews up behind the court proper.)

Frank went right out and bought a classic English brown tweed suit, and while in a spending mood, expressed a desire to have a justice's wig made for himself. He was obviously delighted when shown into the narrow Dickensian room where old ladies sit all day fixing the firm grey curls in place. They tried to dissuade Frank by telling him wigs cost 66 pounds (about 165 dollars), but he remained keen.

Meanwhile, back at Greek Street the press office hurled itself into an "immortal verse" hunt to provide evidence that Frank's lyrics were no more offensive than those of his contemporaries. Visitors to the court stifled laughter when counsel assiduously pronounced "penis dimension" and when Bizarre's Herb Cohen stated that one of the words that so agitated the Albert Hall people was "brassiere." The notion of this being an obscenity was funny enough, but the episode was given added piquance by a subtle pronunciation war: the English "brossy-air" vs. the Yankee "br-zeer."

Frank's moment of glory came when a skeptical examiner tried to trick him into showing that he, Frank, wasn't capable of changing lyrics almost instantly. Frank was handed a bit of material and told he could have three to five minutes to alter it. Naturally, he produced a thoroughly irresistible rewrite, to the great delectation of court visitors and his own team.

The case is a complex one and its outcome will certainly have lasting implications for the performance of live material here. I asked Frank if this was strictly a duel of honor on his part, or if he was in it for the money. "Both," came the instant reply. From my observation (I attended only one afternoon of what looks like a two-week hearing) the crux of the matter is whether or not the court believes Bizarre's contention that they could and would have deleted any questionable words-would even put the show on with just Frank and the RPO, with no lyrics whatever. That is really more pertinent to Bizarre's claim for damages than any decision as to whether Frank's lyrics are seeds of corruption. For further develop­ments, watch this space again.

Fuss Budget.

No one, not one, emerged unscathed from the latest national budget described on the front page of the Times as "fierce." Drink shot up, with spirits an extra $1.60 and wine an extra 60 cents a bottle. Furthermore, the dreaded Value Added Tax, which was first 10 per cent, next dropping to eight per cent, has now shot up to 25 per cent on certain so-called luxury items. These include radios and hi-fi equipment. There seems to be some confusion as to what will happen to record prices. Some companies are carrying out plans they already had in the works to raise theirs, but I understand that Warners are attempting to hold the line.