Zappa Returns From Yugoslavia

By Lanny Waggoner

Los Angeles Free Press, January 9-15, 1976

"They Were Real Nice"

When last sighted, Frank Zappa and his Mothers were leaving the City of Lost Angels for an extensive U.S. tour, including a jaunt to Yugoslavia for an unprecedented appearance there. Back in town, they recently held forth at a New Year's Eve Forum show. Now it's more rehearsals, then off to Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, Japan – and then Europe, including the land of Tito again.

It wasn't all bad. "We played before great audiences in Zagreb and Ljubljana," Zappa said at a recent practice session. They spoke good English and knew the old songs. The kids there are into all different kinds of music, and if those are the Communists of the future, we'll be in pretty good shape, because they were real nice.

"But the older generation there was real weird and hostile. It was hard to get something to eat in the hotels, and they had detectives checkin' the rooms for qirls. The detectives also followed [saxaphonist-vocalist] Napoleon Murphy Brock around the hotel. There were maybe two other black people in the hotel. When Norma Bell [now-departed band member] went into a public toilet, this woman freaked off and wanted to touch her hair because she'd never seen an Afro. It was total culture shock.

"The atmosphere in Yugoslavia was as tense as I'd figured, but I didn't realize there was so much latent 15th-century romanticism going on. Every 10 or 15 miles in the countryside, you would see an old woman wearing Boris Karloff shoes, an overcoat and a babushka, pulling a wagon with lumpy wheels laden with twigs."

Zappa found the standard of living to be fairly low. The middle class areas were unprepossessing, with some sections of the cities resembling run-down European versions of Philadelphia slums. And there were plenty of police officers to go around.

"We were guests of the Yugoslav government, and although government 'attention' was in evidence, it wasn't oppressive. But there are lots of places I'd rather be. I did tell them when we left that I wasn't coming back; but I guess I was wrong, because our upcoming European tour will start in Belgrade. I figure, what can it hurt for one day?"

Then a few days later, Zappa laughtingly added, "It looks like we won't be going back to Belgrade after all, due to time problems."