'What is a groupie?' asked his Lordship…

By Mick Farren

New Musical Express, April 26, 1975

Mothers albums nestle amongst the legal papers. A stereo system has been set up in front of the judge. The scene is Law Court Seven. The topic: The Suppository Principle Of Culture. Adjacent matters of interest: dog continuity, The Groupie Papers, and the magnetic deviation of San Clemente.
Kids – be upstanding for Uncle Frank…

On monday April 14 at 10.30 in the morning Bizarre Productions began to sue the Royal Albert Hall in front of Mr. Justice Mocatta. This drama took place at the Number Seven Court of the Law Courts in the Strand.

The issue was the cancellation of The Mothers Of Invention/London Philharmonic presentation of “200 Motels” originally scheduled  for February 8th, 1971, at the Albert Hall.

For those of you who don't remember the exact details, perhaps this is the time to remind you. The Zappa concert was planned as a kind of gala two-pronged promotion, intended to boost both the movie of “200 Motels” and the Mothers' subsequent UK tour.
At the last minute, the Albert Hall cancelled Zappa's booking and refused to allow the concert to take place. The reason they gave was that they considered parts of the script to be obscene and objectionable.

On the night of the concert, the TV news showed apparently angry protests by fans outside the Albert Hall.
Zappa and his business manager Herb Cohen (the partnership that constitutes Bizarre Productions) decided to sue. They are currently claiming damages against the management of the Albert Hall for both the financial loss caused by the cancellation and the resulting loss of important publicity.

The case took four years to come to court.


Let's move on to the first Wednesday of the case.

Number Seven Court is a high-ceilinged room, all grey stone and aged panelling – that strange combination of Kafka and Camelot that appears to have been the Victorian ideal of justice.

Among the wigs, the thick leather-bound books and the faint air of dust in the light streaming through high-mullioned windows, Frank Zappa cuts a somewhat strange figure.

He has made some endeavours to meet the court halfway. He is wearing a conservative brown-check suit, a white shirt and what looks unnervingly like an old school tie.

The effect is hardly a total success. With his hair hanging loose, some way below his shoulders, he looks, if anything, a little reminiscent of Tiny Tim.

At the start of the afternoon session Zappa has already been on the witness stand all morning and for part of the previous day. Under examination he speaks very quietly and on a number of occasions the judge has requested that he speak up. It is obvious that this case is not going to be turned into any kind of theatrical spectacle.

Not that the proceedings are without a few surreal touches.

Mothers albums nestle among the imposing bundles of legal paper. A stereo system has been set up in front of the judge. The counsel for the defence has a large dictionary of American slang in front of him. It has a garish red, white and blue cover.

The judge has already listened to a good deal of the “200 Motels” album. He received most of it with his head sunk in his hands. He complained that he couldn't hear the words. He refused to have the track “Penis Dimension” played in court.

Mr. Justice Mocatta had already read the lyrics and he found them objectionable.


There have been other odd touches of the kind that always seems to occur when the world of rock-and-roll confronts the very different world of law.

The judge has had problems with the terminology of rock. The word “groupie” seemed to puzzle him.

“Is a groupie a girl who is a member of a group?”

Zappa shakes his head.

“No, she is a girl who likes members of a rock-and-roll band.”

The judge has encountered other troubles.

“When I started this case, I knew very little about pop and beat music. I knew it was to do with rhythm, banging, and an infectious atmosphere. I didn't know it was anything to do with sex or drugs.”

Zappa points out that the majority of pop music has some kind of sexual connotations.


One of the first highlights of Wednesday afternoon was when Zappa was shown one of the now-legendary posters of him sitting naked on the can. The counsel for the Albert Hall asked if the poster had been produced with his knowledge.

There was a short pause.

It hardly seemed possible that anyone could be photographed in the privacy of their own john without having knowledge of it. Zappa answered carefully. The poster had been published without his consent.

The subject was pursued no further.

One of the points of the Bizarre case is that if the Albert Hall management had objected to the lyrics, Zappa would have been both willing and able to adapt and change the words, had he been consulted. He alleged that he could have done it at very short notice.
In order to demonstrate this, Zappa's counsel handed him a script of “200 Motels” and asked him to “render the lyrics suitable for a socially-retarded audience”.

(“A socially-retarded audience” is the term used by the Bizarre side for the kind of crowd who would find the Mothers' lyrics objectionable).

Zappa started to render. The results were startling. Lines came out like: “The places she goes/Are filled with guys from Pudsey/Waiting for a chance/To buy her Sudsy.”

This was the moment, reading in a slow deadpan voice, when Zappa the witness came closest to Zappa the performer. The judge, however, seemed confused.


Zappa's counsel attempted to help.

“Pudsey, Yorkshire, m'lud.”

“It's produced some fine cricketers, I believe.”


Soon after that, Zappa completed his testimony and left the stand. He walked straight out of the court. It seemed to be a signal for most of the spectators to rush out for a smoke.

Zappa sat on a bench in the corridor. He looked tired.

“You realise I can't say anything about the case.”

Inside, Herb Cohen is running the fiscal and logistic facts about the deal on the Albert Hall.

The long-haired legal clerks who seem to have taken time off to watch Zappa decide to go back to work. One of them expresses a very positive desire that Zappa will win.


At just after six the same evening, Joe Stevens and I walk through the gilded portals of The Dorchester in Park Lane. We have come to talk to Frank Zappa.

Up in room 640, Frank is already talking to a rival journalist. The journalist is a fairly nondescript, average rock writer.
He has a lady with him. She possesses the most amazing nipples.

As far as it is possible to judge through the knitted silk sweater, they are roughly half the gross mass of her breasts. Perhaps it's an illusion, or maybe even a device from Frederick's of Hollywood.

Zappa has changed out of his court clothes into pink jeans, a tan sweater, orange socks and brown slip-ons – not Gucci, however. No little chains across the tongue. (How'm I doing, Lisa?)

He looks even more tired than he did in court and sits almost motionless in a Dorchester brocade armchair. He's obviously unhappy at the fact that the next afternoon he has to fly back to New York, and go almost directly from plane to stage to play a concert with the Mothers.

Joe and I are offered coffee.

Frank does it in a way that makes it very clear that requests for large bourbons or tequila sunrises will not be entertained. We settle for coffee, and wait politely while the rival journalist notes down Frank Zappa's top twenty in rather slow longhand.
There is a long discussion that centres around the enema scene in Paderewski's opera “The Devils of Loudon”. This is a prime item in Zappa's top twenty.

Another item listed is anything by Richard Berry. It appears that Richard Berry, the man who actually wrote “Louie Louie” and recorded it as Richard Berry And The Pharaohs, sold the entire rights to the song for $5,000.

Zappa considers Berry one of the most important figures in the West Coast rhythm-and-blues scene of the Fifties. He even goes into detail:

“He heard a band playing a Latin instrumental called 'Cha Cha Loco'. It had the same basic ba-ba dum, dum-dum riff. Berry scribbled some words down on a brown paper bag. That's how 'Louie Louie' was written.

“The Kingsmen later mutilated it.”

All fascinating stuff. Hardly to the point, however.

The rival journalist has finally finished and it's time to get down.


What about the trial, Frank?

“I can't talk about the trial.”
After having spent nine days at the Old Bailey a couple of years ago, defending myself on a criminal obscenity rap, I still have a morbid interest in the legal process, particularly where it encompasses censorship.

I ask Frank if he'd be willing to talk, off the record, about the general background of the case.


Why? (Politely).

Zappa is very matter-of-fact.

“I don't trust anybody.”

Just then the phone rings. Frank has a five minute conversation with his lawyer. He hangs up, and looks around the room.
“I will have to ask you all to forget anything you might have overheard.”

The turnround is fortuitous. Fate (or the GPO) forces the Twentieth Century Zen master into a position of human. We smile, and the conversation is duly forgotten.

It's kind of hard to hold a conversation when the central topic of interest is verboten. The only answer is to take care of business and let the pearls drop where they may. I cop out and go for an awful stock opener.

Do you have any plans to play the UK?

(At least I didn't get the answer “Play them at what?”)

“We have no plans for England at all. It is a simple matter of being unable to find suitable venues.”

It's obvious you like to play in Britain. You sell records here, and generally make money when you tour.

“London is very important. If a person plays in England it contributes to the over-all European promotion. The media are in London. You get written about in London, and it gets translated for other European countries.”

I ask him if he has ever explored the possibilities of Alexandra Palace. I'm very fond of Alexandra Palace with its pillars and fountains.

“I understand it's impossible to get a sound there.”

The Grateful Dead managed it with their monster sound system.

The Zappa deadpan comes down.

“I only deal with mortal equipment.”


The conversation moves on.

The next subject is Captain Beefheart. Zappa seems pleased that this has come up.

“I can officially tell you that Don is a member of The Mothers Of Invention. He is part of our current US tour.”

Zappa consistently refers to Beefheart as Don Vliet. They've been friends since their teens, cruising for burgers together and singing along with the radio. It makes a touching picture.

“Don will be singing, playing harmonica, dancing and having a good time for the first time in his life.

“He had a very harrowing experience with the last band and his management. They made a fool of him. He called me up and asked for help.

“I told him that the Mothers were holding auditions on Tuesday and Thursday, and that he should come along. He flunked the first one, but the second was okay.”

All this after he's been badmouthing you for the past three years or so?

“There really has never been any animosity on my part. He asked for help. Any idea of a feud between us is quite pointless.”
Frank becomes more animated as he starts to elaborate. It seems as though he has a real affection for Beefheart.

“The way he relates to language is unique, the way in which he brings my text to life. Of course he has problems. His memory causes him trouble. He won't be separated from his sheets of paper that have his words written on. He clings to them for dear life.

“He also has a literacy problem. He can hardly read. He also has trouble staying on a beat. Captain Beefheart has no natural rhythm.

“He does have this thing inside him. It's dynamic and he wants to express it. In a voice like Howlin' Wolf.”

The conversation veers from Beefheart and moves on to Howlin' Wolf. It's a strange experience to see Frank Zappa actually talking in a tone that comes close to awe.

“The Howlin' Wolf could really get across.”

The Wolf talk goes on. Wolf anecdotes come too fast to record. Zappa also relates his persona as a Wolf fan to Beefheart and his new slide-guitar player. Beefheart's harmonicas seem to play an essential part in the new Mothers repertoire.

The rival journalist asks if Frank is moving towards a blues thing. Frank smiles and nods. You get the feeling that it could be like no blues ever seen on the planet.


We move from Wolf and Beefheart to the general area of people like them – individuals with a unique talent, but one that can't be pigeonholed by the entertainment industry.

“In society today those people get the worst deal. Society retards the individual. An example is Bob Dylan. When he came out with 'Like A Rolling Stone' the industry reacted by creating 'The Eve Of Destruction'.

“You could say that I hire the handicapped.”

Zappa goes on to define.

“I admire anyone who makes a positive statement, even if it's moronic, I can admire the positively moronic, anyone who sits down and says this is my statement, stick it up your ass.”

I venture a Zen pupil joke.

“The suppository principle of culture?”

I get the deadpan. “That's the kind of thing they talk about in court.”

Then, later, Zappa used the phrase himself a couple of times.

I venture an awkward question. How does Frank relate the early Zappa – the abrasive social commentator – to the present-day, very individualistic musician?

What happened to the political songs, Frank?

Zappa dismisses the whole thing very quickly. Not quickly enough to betray embarrassment, just sufficiently fast to indicate that it's not very interesting.

He sees his songs as timeless. He's written “Brown Shoes Don't Make It”. He's written “Trouble Coming Every Day”. They are still appropriate. He doesn't need to write them again.

If you have a band with Mark and Howard in it, you find yourself documenting the trivia that form society.

“People in fifty years' time should have documentation of monsters like Cal Worthington.”

Cal Worthington is a singing cowboy used-car dealer who has immensely long TV commercials during L.A.'s late, late show.
So the groupies and the stars on Hollywood Boulevard say John Provost and Leo G. Carroll are as important as Richard Nixon?

“In a way. I have written a song about Nixon.”

Son of Orange County?

“No, another one. It's called 'Dicky's Such An Ass-hole' or 'San Clemente Magnetic Deviation'.

Magnetic deviation?

“Aviation pilots stay away from the San Clemente area. There is a deviation from the earth's normal magnetic field around San Clemente island. That's not actually where Nixon lives, but it's very close.”

There's speculation in room 640 about alien invaders sitting on San Clemente island plotting the whole dirty business.

When Grand Funk tell you aerosols are going to destroy the atmosphere you're frankly not impressed. When Zappa starts on the earth's magnetic field, you tend to give it a little more credibility.


We make a jump to his more recent work.

It turns out that he spent the period off the road after his Rainbow accident working on his singing. He confesses that he never had much confidence in himself as “the dynamic lead singer in a rock-and-roll band”.

A lot of this experimentation took the form of fitting words to guitar licks.

So 'Penguin In Bondage' is simply a set of words fitted around a riff?

Zappa pauses to light a Winston.

“'Penguin In Bondage' is a true story.”

Everything stops dead.

Would you like to relate it?

“It's far too personal.”

The conversation goes round and round. More journalists come in. Soon everyone is vamping on each other's action. It tends to be confusing.

Frank seems delighted. A session of “Whatever happened to” seems a painless way to ace out the competition.

What happened to Larry (Wild Man) Fischer?

“Larry Fischer is still on Sunset Strip. He still sells original songs for a dime, and my address and phone number for fifty cents. He carries his album under his arm. He wants to make another one. It ought to be called 'The Cheek of Wild Man Fischer'.”

The twelve-album set that constitutes a history of The Mothers in unreleased material?

Zappa looks a little sad.

“This is a very difficult and expensive project. We currently have someone canvassing retailers. If we can get orders for five thousand, the company will release it, but it's very difficult.”

The Groupie Papers?

Zappa looks enthusiastic. The Groupie Papers seem close to his heart.

“My secretary Pauline was transcribing them, but that stopped. Noel Redding also asked for his diaries back. Cynthia Plastercaster still lives about a hundred miles from Chicago. She's still keeping diaries. Miss Pamela has a straight acting job. She plays the ingenue in a soap opera called 'As The World Turns'. Miss Sparky, another of the G.T.O.s. wants to do a parody of the show called 'As the Turd Whirls'.”

Frank warms to his subject.

“They really would make a fantastic book. There are Cynthia's diaries. Pamela's diaries and Noel Redding's diaries. They start out by not knowing each other, and slowly they converge. At first they talk about each other, then they meet.

“It's a dramatic, factual insight into the Sixties and rock hysteria.

“The main problem with putting the book into logical form is how you arrange the separate continuities.

“You have Noel. He joins Hendrix and keeps a diary, all in code, of how many girls he had and what they did. Then you have Pamela who records, at nine, how she cried when Caryl Chessman, the red light bandit, was executed and Cynthia, whose father attacked her because she had unnaturally big tits for her age.

“There's a sequence when Pamela falls in love with Cynthia. The problem is that Cynthia isn't the least bisexual. Pamela hocks her record-player and, without any real idea of what it's like, goes to Chicago in the middle of winter, to get into Cynthia's pants.

“There's a very sad Polaroid picture of them both sitting up in bed after it has all been a terrible failure.

“Cynthia's diaries are quite incredible. She makes strange clinical notes about who she balled, and if she casted them. There's even notes on how she goes about locating rock stars. They would be great for Sherlock Holmes.

“Her diaries are scientific and detached, even down to the formula of her different casting materials.

“She also draws cartoons – strange and well-executed. They're rather like Little Orphan Annie, except she's chasing down-who's an example?…say Paul Revere and the Raiders.

“It would make one hell of a movie.”


After that it seemed as though it was time to leave.

Journalists just kept coming. How could we top the true story of the Groupie Papers? Then, as Joe and I were making our farewells, it happened.

Frank Zappa introduced us to The Dog Continuity.

“It's not actually so much of a Dog Continuity as a Poodle Continuity. It recurs on each record. It's an abstract concept, much in the way that Rembrandt added brown to all his colours. That's the level.

“On the next album it will be conceptually reduced to the word arf.”

With that, we left.

It wasn't quite the end, though. We caught up with Frank at Dingwall's.

He sat calmly enjoying himself, comparing it to the late Max's Kansas City, eating one of those Dingwall's hamburgers that for some inexplicable reason come encased in Greek bread, praising Jackie Lynton's Grande, and telling one of the waitresses that she “had a fine walk”.

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