Frank Zappa: "The Beat Goes On, But Backwards"

By Peter Cowan

Oakland Tribune, December 21, 1975

"You want to see one of my fan letters?" Frank Zappa said.

He reached into a brown leather attaché case, rumpled through some papers and produced an ordinary looking plain white envelope postmarked Cincinnati. Inside was a neatly folded, six-page, line-ruled letter, praising the rock song writer.

"Thanks to you and my mind, I now understand," it read.

Educating the public, radio stations and the press to his music is foremost on Frank Zappa's mind. There were people who did not understand what he was doing when he made "Freak Out," his first record, 11 years ago, and there are some who are still in the dark.

"The beat goes on, but it goes backwards." Zappa says.

"We've been beating people over the head for years to shut up and listen. Our audience still does not know what to expect, but they come ready to listen. They're already primed.

"Some won't get it. That's why there are others. God wants it that way."

Zappa and his ever-changing Mothers of Invention play the Paramount Theatre of the Arts Friday and Winterland Saturday with guest star Captain Beefheart. [1]

"What I do is wonderful. My music is an inspired work. It has integrity, craftsmanship and (funny voice) has intense artistic value." Zappa occasionally slips into his funny voice – a nasal, tongue-in-cheek tone, that denotes humor as well as sarcastic corn.

"Obviously. my audience knows something the others don't."

Zappa has little patience with most of the rock press who have taken him to task over the years, particularly one national publication based in San Francisco. [2]

"Their provincial attitude about the San Francisco scene, whatever that was, while they labeled Los Angeles musicians a bunch of punks, I always found (funny voice) particularly irritating.

"What usually gets reviewed is my imaginary personality – not the music or what I do best, my guitar playing. That invariably gets overlooked.

"Groups in San Francisco are worth whatever they are worth. Just because the CIA chose this area as a testing ground for the experimentation of LSD does not make them instantly wonderful.

"Rock critics just love to hear themselves write. You know, 'Last night I saw the future of rock and roll and it's name was...' They write with a capital W.

"Most of them write for publications that don't pay much, so I wouldn't call them dedicated, investigative journalists. And since the straight press is unqualified too, I've stopped reading. Ten years was enough. When you write as well as I do, who wants to read.

"I'm certainly in favor of criticism. I do it to myself much more lividly than anyone else. Every band has its ups and downs. There's no way you can bat a 100 per cent average. But all I get is personality-oriented pieces directed at me. Even the ones that are favorable are so far off.

"This generation is a victim of an educational system that tells children the bassoon in Tchaikovsky's 'Peter and the Wolf' is the grandfather. No wonder they're a bunch of morons.

"Laurel Canyon is where I live in Los Angeles, but I'm not part of that famous rock community. Those are the people who like to get stoned together and be in the laidback syndrome. The people who get paid to fall in love. I hang out with the guys in the band and a few scientist types.

"I amuse myself with my projects. If I'm not working on one, I get bored. I also get bored on holidays when it's hard to get people to work.

"It's hard for me to write. I do most of it when I'm on the road when it seems to come easier. Then, when I come off, I sit down in front of a typewriter and crank out a whole bunch of things. Usually, I crack up laughing and think, 'Wait until I show them this one.'

Zappa's absurdist material has always kept him at the forefront of rock's avant garde. Albums like "We're Only In It For The Money" and "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" defy categorization and clear cut analysis because conceptually, Zappa outdistanced his critics, taxing them to come to grips with his bonzo work.

Later at a local FM radio station, Zappa argued with a disc jockey about his airplay:

"I know, I get a lot of airplay from the guy with the real deep, mellow voice after 11 p.m. But why don't you put me on during the day, when people are alert and awake?"

The d.j. offered an excuse and the program director explained that some of Zappa's records had been labeled "censored" because they hadn't had time to screen them all for obscenities.

"Tell you what. You bring me all my albums and I'll make it easy for you. I'll tell you what cuts you can play and what ones you can't."

"How can you hate someone for not playing your records. I've only made 22 of them you know. What does it take to get played? This stuff is great and you should be playing it. It's still available and it's still changing people's lives."

1. Oakland, Paramount Theatre, December 26; San Francisco, Winterland, December 27 – Zappa Gig List: 1975

2. Rolling Stone.

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