Zappa Vs. The Bleeding Gums

By Peter Lopilato

Primo Times, December 1977

"You don't know me very well," Frank Zappa – bearded, ponytailed, topless – gazed down at the crowd of 3,000 milling around in the Louisville Gardens [1] (I used the term "milling" quite literally – this was the most mobile concert I'd ever attended; in some respects, in fact, it was more like a convention, like those television broadcasts of the Democratic Convention – I'm still surprised that I wasn't propositioned by an FBI agent).

"And I don't know you very well," Zappa continued, pacing back and forth across the stage, sometimes smiling, sometimes scowling at the crowd. "We really haven't had time to get acquainted – I haven't been here in Louisville for two or three years and you've probably been very busy attending Kiss concerts and stuff like that.

"So what we're gonna do now is sing a song with real easy-to-understand lyrics, real stupid chords, and a real simple beat. That way we can reach you people."

After the show, in Frank Zappa's dressing room...

Primo: Your remarks about getting acquainted with the audience - to me they indicate a sort of sublimated contempt for you audience.

Zappa: If you think that, you have absolutely no understanding of my relationship with the audience.

Several hours later, back at my apartment...

I'm trying to figure out where I'd gone wrong. Here I'd had a chance to interview Frank Zappa, arguably the third most influential social commentator/philosopher of the post World War II generation (the other two being, of course, Marshall McLuhan and Gary Gilmore – not necessarily in that order). And I'd blown it. Well, maybe that's too strong, but Zappa and I definitely did not see eye-to-eye. I should have just agreed with everything he said. "Try and be agreeable for a change." – that's what my mother's always telling me.

I switch on the tape recording of the interview. Zappa's voice fills the room like that of the Wizard of Oz; "You don't know your a –"

I decide to watch TV instead. I turn on the set, Patty Duke is talking to John Boy Walton. What a pair.

Life's "New Youth" issue lays on the floor by the television )in my apartment, everything lays on the floor by the television). May as well check it out. Hmmm. Look at this. Right here on page 26. An IU student talking about the generation of the 70's:

"Compared to the 60's, we people don't talk much. Silence has been our deliberate choice, and I think you will find it reflected in the art that my generation will produce. It will be an emotional holding back of emotion. We will have 'out-Zenned' the 60's generation."

Silent art ... out-Zenning the 60's ... the emotional holding back of emotion. Sounds like something Zappa would say. Wait a minute. That's something Zappa did say, at least in effect.

The television picture flickers, I adjust the fine tuning. Now John Boy is attacking Patty Duke. This can't be the Waltons (maybe it's the Democratic Convention). I peruse the TV listing. It's a film called You'll Like My Mother.

So that was it, that's where I'd gone wrong. I should have read Life as soon as I bought it, but I read Rolling Stone instead. Failing to take Life seriously led to my downfall. There's a moral here somewhere (maybe it's on the floor by the television).

Editor's Note: As we go to press, scraggly-bearded, Intensive Care Artist fan Peter Lopilato is still looking for the moral on the floor by the television. In his methodical search, he has found the following morals: "Too many cooks spoil the broth," "Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive," "Absolute power corrupts absolutely," and "Never trust adults" [which is the moral of anything J.D. Salinger ever wrote]. None of these morals, however, have anything to do with Frank Zappa. Here is the interview:

Primo: Last Christmas I saw you perform in New York and you had signs on stage that said "Warner Brothers Sucks," and now I see you've got the same thing written on the blackboard [outside the dressing room]

Zappa: I'm consistent, aren't I?

Primo: This is true. I understand you're suing Warner Brothers over your new album. Would you like to talk about that?

Zappa: It's a breach of contract suit. Let's just leave it at that.

Primo: Before one of your songs tonight ["Bobby Brown Goes Down"] you addressed the audience and said, "I haven't been here in a Louisville in two or three years – I don't know why, but this is one of those cities I don't get to very often. So you people don't know me very well. And I don't know you very well. We really haven't had time to get acquainted – you've probably been very busy attending Kiss concerts and stuff like that. So what we're going to do now is sing a song with real easy-to-understand lyrics, real stupid chords, and a real simple beat. That way we can reach you people."

Your remarks about getting acquainted with the audience – to me they indicate a sort of sublimated contempt for your audience. Is that true?

Zappa: If you think that, you have absolutely no understanding of my relationship with the audience.

Primo: Well, what is the relationship between you and the audience?

Zappa: They're the only friends I've got.

Primo: Do you feel that at least some of the people in the audience don't fully appreciate what you are doing musically?

Zappa: Well, obviously you don't.

Primo: That may be. But do you feel that's true of a lot of other people?

Zappa: I don't think that's true of a lot. I think its probably true of a few, but for the most part the audiences love it.

Primo: The impression I got during the show tonight was that as long as you were in the forefront the audience was really into it. But whenever you moved back and took off on an instrumental solo, the audience seemed to be spacing out.

Zappa: Well, that's true the world over. There's no reason why I shouldn't play instrumentals. If the audience isn't exposed to it they'll never learn to like it.

Primo: Okay. But then is that one reason why your shows are a combination of instrumentals and songs with a lyrical emphasis?

Zappa: Absolutely.

Primo: But are you saying that if you did a two-hour concert of only instrumentals that people wouldn't enjoy it as much?

Zappa: I know they wouldn't. Neither would I. You think I don't enjoy jumpin' around out there?

Primo: How distanced are you from the subjects you sing about? Songs by other artists seem to be more emotional than yours.

Zappa: I can't help the way your tastes are oriented. I feel that people who sing songs dealing with the subject of love and stuff like that are writing songs for program directors. They're people who don't know shit. I think it's real offensive for people to publicize their innermost feelings. The Intensive Care Artists suck. And I think if the people who go around singing about love knew the first fuckin' thing about it, they'd keep their mouths shut. The only thing they're really singing about is money. Because the only thing that gets on the radio is love songs.

I can't help it if you're a fan of that kind of music. And if you think that's emotion – you know, just because somebody plays a high note don't mean its emotion. Its mechanical shit. You just happen to fall for it. Along with about 20 million other people.

Primo: Okay, But you don't have to sing about love to be emotional. And

Zappa: Wait a minute. Wait a minute! First of all, what you read as emotion is part of your conditioning. Its part of what people have told you emotion is supposed to look like, sound like, smell like, and act like. Would you recognize an emotion I had?

Primo: Of course not. because I don't know you well enough.

Zappa: Well, there you go. So what are you talkin' about? You're accusing me of being unemotional and saying that these other songs are emotional, and I'm accusing you of saying you don't know your ass.

Primo: I wasn't accusing you of being unemotional. I just said –

Zappa: No, no. Here's the question – as I recall it. You said, "To me, other peoples songs are more emotional."

Primo: Right.

Zappa: How do you know my songs aren't ten times more emotional than those other people's songs? I only way I would look like an emotional person to you is if I was out there singing "Baby, baby, baby" shit. Right?

Primo: Not necessarily. There are a lot of people who sing about other -

Zappa: Songs about "My good buddy died."

Primo: [pausing, carefully considering the question] Yeah, that might do it.

Zappa: What is emotion? First of all, it's a wank.

Primo: A wank??

Zappa: The Intensive Care Artists that get into that stuff are full of bullshit.

Primo: By Intensive Care Artists do you mean people like Jackson Browne?

Zappa: Yeah. People with bleeding gums.

Primo: And you don't sing those songs because of ethical considerations?

Zappa: That's right. And for aesthetic considerations as well. I don't think that it's aesthetic.

Primo: And is that because of the product – the record album – is being mass merchandised?

Zappa: No. I just don't think that is what music is for. I don't think music is for the use of politicians or psychologists or psychiatrists.

Primo: What is it for then?

Zappa: Music is for entertaining the Muse. A musician is in the employ of the Muse. Then there are those other people who do love songs. They're in the employ of the program directors and the radio stations that play gum-bleed.

Primo: But you realize that some of those people would say, "I write love songs because that's what I feel. I'm only writing music for myself and no one else."

Zappa: They have to say that because none of them could dare be honest with you about the reason why they write those fuckin' songs. The biggest problem a person has about writing boy-girl situation songs is that there's a narrow spectrum of acceptable boy-girl situation. Boy-meets-girl. Boy-hangs-out-with-girl. Boy-holds-hands-with-girl. The-leaves-fall-down. Whatever! You know, you've got a spectrum that wide [spreading his hands about six inches apart]. Its a horrible challenge for these deep, sensitive people to sit there and grind out song after song within that ridiculous little spectrum.

Primo: I disagree. It's not what is said, but rather the way it's said. The situation doesn't matter. Besides, the human mind can only conceive of a finite number of structures anyway. That's the true art forms as well. There are only a finite number of possible plots for a novel.

Zappa: You think that's true?

Primo: Yeah.

Zappa: I think you're wrong. I think everything is infinite.

Primo: Except love songs.

Zappa: Love songs, as understood by the American public at large. Or world-wide record consumers – who are definitely a stagnant breed.

Primo: Okay. What you've said about "the American public at large" contradicts what you said earlier about you're audience. Do you think the knowledge of the American public at large is –

Zappa: The product of program directors who program the stations that play the music.

Primo: So, I guess you're saying that its not all that it should be.

Zappa: I'm saying that there are other things to listen to. Most Americans will never hear it.

Primo: Do you view your music as that which the American public is exposed to or that which it is not exposed to?

Zappa: I don't see program directors jumping over themselves to play my records.

Primo: Are you making a conscious attempt, then, to reach a wider audience?

Zappa: Of course. [then, matter of factly] I think everything I do is fantastic.

Primo: I'm not sure I agree with that. I think some of your stuff is real good but -

Zappa: If you don't like my music, that ends the interview.

Primo: [surprised, maybe even devastated] Well ... I hope there are no hard feelings, I guess. [Sticking out his hand, feeling like it's the end of a tennis match.]

Zappa: [jumping over the net, gripping the extended hand] No hard feelings, no. I'm not emotional, remember?

1. Concert in Louisville Gardens, Louisville, Kentucky, November 10, 1977. Circulating concert tapes and setlist are not known.

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