Penguins In Bondage. Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart

By Robot A. Hull

Creem, January 1976

Master Master
This is recorded thru uh flies ear
'n you have t' have uh flies eye t' see it
It's the thing that's gonna make Captain Beefheart
And his magic band fat
Frank it's the big hit
It's the blimp
It's the blimp Frank
It's the blimp

(from "The Blimp" by Don Van Vliet on Trout Mask Replica

* * *

The radio programmer has his nose pressed flat against the glass which separates his padded cell from our studio recording booth. Kids are wandering outside our room, waiting for the release of Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa so they can smother them with hostile affection (and receive the usual cold snub).

Lights dot the interviewing/production studio of this New England college radio station (one helluva tiny box). At this point, the conversation is mostly small talk about the technical aspects of getting this taping down pat. It isn't a live broadcast, insuring against the possibilities of malicious outbreaks (or more likely, monotonous tirades) from this weirdo tag team.

Besides, the interview is expected to fizzle. Just one quick glance at the stars of the scene, and you'd know what i mean. Zappa is laughing at the studio technicians' attempts to unravel some wires and untangle lots of electronic confusion. He leans back in his chair and at leisure tosses an insult at the technical havoc. Amidst the chaos, Captain Beefheart, looking like a Don Van Vliet sculpture of the Pillsbury Doughboy, is intensively discussing with me his notions about dance crazes (their symbolism, mythic connotations, and tribal function). Some soup stains are splashed all over his checkered shirt. Inebriated almost to the upchuck point, Beefheart represents the TOTAL SLOB. A bug crawls across the floor towards his BIG FOOT. As the disc jockey is smashing his face up against the glass partition, Beefheart, with the slow movements of a true clod, crushes the bug beneath his heavy boot. Zappa then makes it known that if the taping session doesn't begin soon he's gonna vamoose.

CLICK ... the tape recorder hums. Somebody signals to get ready. Captain Beefheart pays no attention. Gesturing in molasses as if his hands are lead, he continues to drawl on and on about tribal dancing. I wait patiently for him to shut up. Zappa shoots an arrow, motioning to speed up. The techies shrug. I catch the tape reel moving out of the corner of my eye. The recorder begins taping the scene right smack dab in the middle of nowhere:

Capt. Beefheart: Frug. That's freud-i-a-n. (Obviously, this is no way to start an interview. Where's the BANG? I mean, what can you say?)

Q: Freudian Frug?

Zappa: Boy, does this ever smell like a college radio station...

Beefheart (simultaneously): Didja ever see me twist?

He then plops his ass up and shuffles a few steps and falls back into his seat, with a snort.

Beefheart (panting feverishly): I can't do it. The room's too narrow.

Meanwhile, Zappa is smacking his lips, pretending his new touring buddy's burlesque has got him hot and itchy in his pants. The First Question of the interview must follow this insanity.

Q: Capt., are you writing a book? (blank stares from puffy eyes swimming in fatskin perspiration) I repeat: are you writing a book?

C.B.: Are you teasing me?

Q: Can't you hear?

C.B.: I'm drawing a book.

Beefheart glows in anticipation, awaiting some sort of compliments regarding his artwork which he flashes in my face.

Q: Is it gonna be published?

C.B.: Oh, yeah. Uh-huh. some of the stuff was on Spotlight Kid and Lick My Decals Off, Baby.

Q: You just about leave a trail of drawings on whatever surfaces you encounter, doncha?

C.B.: Sure, but I can't afford to anymore.

Zappa: Yeah, that accounts for the increase in the incidence of tattooed women on the eastern seaboard during this tour.

Q: Frank, you've sort of crawled out of your shell lately...

Zappa: A shell? what sort of shell did you have in mind?

C.B.: (hiccups)

Q: Lemme finish. Dick Cavett Show...

F.Z.: Dick Cavett Show, 1971.

Q: You go back farther than that.

F.Z.: Yeah, I can go back till, uh, 1940. December 21, 1940. That's how far back I go. That's my first show. That was it. Mercy Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.

Q: How was it?

F.Z.: I sounded like the Howling Wolf, only real short, I was on a bill with my mom and Doctor Queen.

Q: Okay, let's get to talking about the transformation of the original Mothers' concept as a total group entity into basically a vehicle for solo work, mostly jazz. Or, at least, spotlighting your own talents and breaking it up to the point where you actually had your own lighting person/unit doing a solo.

F.Z.: Does that seem abnormal to you?

Q: Nah, makes an interesting light show, but what does your band consist of right now? Where is it heading conceptually?

F.Z.: You want me to name the people that are in it?

Q: Sure, if you want to.

F.Z.: Why don't you just say so?

Zappa then produces to list the members of this band.

C.B. (humming): HMMMMMMMM...

Q: Frank, I understand you got a few albums in the can?

F.Z.: I've always got a few albums in the can. I'm not sure, though. Depends on how much of it turns out fab gear.

Q: Planning any more movies?

F.Z.: Yes.

Q: Could you give me any ideas as to what's in store?

F.Z.: Something.

Q: Well, what's in store in general, Frank?

F.Z.: Something else again.

Q: Don, you made the statement once that it was lonely out on the fringes of rock and roll creativity and that you were going to make a concerted effort to move more towards the center of commerciality...

C.B.: I don't think there is such a thing.

Q: To put out something that would sell, such as your last two Mercury albums.

C.B.: Such is the latest album.

Q: Are you still out in the fringes, or are you finding more room towards the center?

C.B.: Wonderful!

Q: You like it way out there?

C.B.: I don't think it's that lonely out there. I just got good pinking shears.

A long empty silence swallows the room. Despite his habit of mumbling, Captain Beefheart is verbally quite impressive. He has the power to seemingly stop the flow of time just by uttering some nonsensical statement. The silence lengthens. Compassionate, Beefheart does not want to blow the whole interview. He immediately perks up like a wild injun, blowing out his chest to its fullest proportion, and says dramatically in a booming voice: "How!"

Q: Huh?

C.B.: How!

Q: Ugh.

It's Frank's turn now to perform a joke. But he's such a drip that the most spontaneous thing he can do is to chat a few minutes about FCC regulations against obscenity (like, Fuck U, Frank!) and about how our fascist government tends to move in circles. Snores bounce off the insulated walls, and even Captain Beefheart begins to nod off, his head bobbing repeatedly in response to Zappa's monotonous sociological spiel. Zzzzzzzz is for Zappa.

C.B. (pulling words out of the blue to wake himself up): Trout mask replica!

Q: Wha?

F.Z. (still droning): ...that's why television was invented. It's the most fantastic game that was ever created. How many hours per day for women in different homes across the nation can you bring that much expensive programming that says absolutely nothing?

Q: It's an old familiar question, but unfortunately it's gotta be asked.

C.B. (his thoughts weaving in and out): Shadows, shadows everywhere...

Q: How come you don't go for dope or booze? (This question is quite apparently directed at Zappa because Beefheart by now is so loaded that he has his head tucked between his legs.) Is it some sort of sacrifice you gotta make for your artistry?

F.Z. (guffaws and then assorted deleted expletives; sneering): No, that's not true at all. I have smoked marijuana. Smoked marijuana ten times. Made me sleepy and gave me a sore throat. I can't understand why anybody would want to devote their life to a cause like dope. That's the most boring pastime I can think of. It ranks a close second to television.

Q: Do you get to relax much then? If you're not out rolling joints...

F.Z. (almost jumping out of his seat): What are you trying to tell me?

Q: Well...

F.Z.: That's what I say.

C.B. (completely pickled): Well...

F.Z.: He says it, too.

C.B. (in a frog voice): Welp...

Q: Sounds like David Bowie belching.

F.Z.: Yeah, but he says it another way on his records.

Q: Hey, Don, come on now. Do something. Don't you have a harmonica here you could play?

 F.Z.: Don't tell him.

C.B.: I won't.

Then Zappa picks up the artwork Beefheart brought with him and starts rubbing the paper on the recording microphone. The only effect is that lots of static pops are generated plus this extremely annoying crackling sound.

F.Z. (constantly rubbing the mike like he is jacking off): Microphone Friction. If this art has any redeeming social what shall I call it, you can rub it on the microphone and get away with it. However, this is only legal provided the microphone doesn't get stiff. But now, in the afternoon, when there might be children watching the microphone or pretending to watch the microphone, if you rub this stuff on the microphone and something quasi-erotic, but of a singularly electronic nature, happens as a result of the paper friction on the microphone, which might tend to arouse the child who was contemplating its existence, the paper coming into ultimate contact with the microphone, the government has ruled that it's the death penalty.

 C.B. (dulled but impressed): Far out.

This 'far out' floats around the silent room for endless seconds. The tape machine wobbles in the background. Even the air feels numb. a grin comes screaming across Beefheart's silly face. Zappa turns away from the microphone and bends towards his chubby companion.

F.Z.: Do you have a harmonica?... Don't tell him.

C.B.: I won't. 

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