Zappa: Answering To His Own Image

By Melissa Merson

Argus, November, 1975

“If you’re going to come in here and ask me those kinds of questions, you can just get your ass out of here.” That’s Frank Zappa.

“Hey, listen,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with journalists for ten years. I don’t need to get my name in print.”

Zappa wasn’t wearing his python boots when I asked him if his music was real or of the Sears Roebuck variety. They were saddle shoes.

The man generates presence. Total ego, never self-effacing. Zappa talked while engaging in a staring contest of which he was very much aware.

“I don’t intimidate my audience,” he said. “Who would want to make a living intimidating audiences?”

“Those stories were written by reporters I punched out.”

Zappa rules.

His theory of eclecticism is all encompassing. It runs the gamut from musical composition to idle chatter. Everybody answers to Zappa and Zappa answers to his own image.

“Any chord, any key is OK. Any chord is matching.” He explained a philosophy of music that is without limitation. Nothing is wrong. Zappa has a theory that light consists of frequencies of sound inaudible to the human ear. The light show is as intricate, as “eclectic,” as his music.

Intermingling sounds and light; Zappa’s lights prepped us for a Halloween show. An orange pumpkin was set on a speaker. A centerfold-posed skeleton was hung from the lights. She wore make-up and red tennis sneakers.

Zappa hears a sound, a song in his head, and his eclecticism is a supreme perfectionistic struggle to reproduce that sound. His music changes, keys, cadence; it changes; every few minutes, sometimes every few seconds.

“I may be one of the few people left in America that still believes in the Constitution,” Zappa said, digressing.

“Isn’t that why people came over to this country in the first place?, for freedom of expression?,” he asked, rhetorically.

His philosophy is that during the 50’s and 60’s, parents consciously attempted to suppress rock music because they were aware of the sexual overtones. Young people struggled to express their sexuality at recreation center dances where the chaperones wielded 7-inch rulers to make sure everyone kept proper distance from his partner.

“It’s part of the mass neurosis that this country is,” Zappa said.

“Yes. I think parents were aware of the sexual overtones. They were afraid of anything that suggested destruction or fucking.” Zappa said alot of what is wrong with society today is directly attributable to the fact that the people who make the laws are sexually malajusted.

“Otherwise, they wouldn’t go into politics in the first place,” he said, adding that if I didn’t know what sexual maladjustment consisted of I should see a shrink.

Zappa loves his groupies. At one point, he reached a plateau where it was difficult to feel close to people, an alienated, assexual feeling. However, he doesn’t think that the groupie-star relationship reenforces that alienation. “I have a few friends,” he said, “who I feel close to.” If the underaged little beauties hanging outside the door were any indicator, maybe Zappa is the one who needs the psychiatrist.

He doesn’t forsee any new trends in rock music. “There’ll be 20 new rock bands introduced in the next year,” he predicted. “And 20 new easy-listening groups, 20 new groups trying to pick up where the Beatles left off and 56 new three-piece combos recapturing the British sound. There’ll be 14 new Bruce Springsteens.”

“Record companies will promote anything that they think they can sell,” Zappa said.

“I think Bruce Springsteen is the hype of the century.” The image: young tough guy and middle aged tough guy, (Springsteen and Zappa), the former in black leather and the latter in a black muscle shirt, both brandishing guitars like bayonets. Two East coast hardcores.

When asked if he was from Baltimore, Zappa replied, “Isn’t everyone.” The man lives in the world inside his head.

The stage personality is an extension of the loner lurking in the shadows of what Zappa considers a depraved world. His lyrics alone are a testimony to all that is psychotic and twisted in the human personality. “Imaginary Diseases,” “Dirty Love,” and “The Illinois Enema Bandit” are oldies but goodies to the crazy man in everyman. Theatrical dramatization is intrinsic to Zappa’s act, and if necessity is the mother of invention, then the Mothers are needy.

Napoleon exhibited a tremendous talent for changing his clothes and was even more proficient behind his horn and the microphone. Perhaps Zappa selected Napoleon for the hand because his voice is a deeper echo of his own. Or maybe Napoleon cultivated his vocals that way intentionally.

Whatever, watching this big, beautiful, talented Black man eat out a Raggedy Ann doll was somewhere short of funny.

This isn’t to say that the Mothers of Invention have no class. College Park was treated to a first in the talents of Norma Bell, of Mahavishnu origin, who knows her horn.

Bell commanded her sax with finesse. She was damn good with a clarinet too. In her first full performance with the Mothers, Bell had her clarinet screeching like a taxi cab on wet night city streets.

Zappa said he’d first seen Bell when the Mothers met Mahavishnu in Waterbury, Connecticut. “A friend recommended her and I flew her in from Detroit. Essentially, she’s auditioning for the band.”

Zappa considered the band moderately well rehearsed. He said that they’d been playing together for the four weeks they’ve been on tour. “We practiced together for about a week before that,” he added.

The tour is scheduled until December 10, including approximately 40 performances.

All in all, the Mothers of Invention have got their act down slicker than Brylcream. A little dab’ll do ya’ if you don’t push it. Zappa’s songs are polished shinier than the apples of Manhattan Transfer. The difference is that when you bite into Zappa, you don’t have all that wax to spit out.

Zappa used to be the kind of guy one would expect to we paling around with the likes of Dave Piel and the Lower East Side, of “Have a Marijuana” fame. It’s doubtful Zappa knows any hungry freaks these days, although this doesn’t say that the man isn’t from hunger.

Musically, Zappa satisfies the sick streak in all of us in a moderate unpretentious manner.

I’d prefer not to have to think of him as a worn out electronic music machine trying to keep his fingers in the pot.

But I can’t.

Note. This article is about Zappa show in University of Maryland, College Park, MD, in November 2, 1975. It was one of the first shows with Norma Bell as a band member. (See FZShows.)