Common Sense

By Mike Farrace

Freebird, May, 1980

Frank Zappa sat backstage in a small, empty dressing room, sitting with legs crossed at the knee. With his hair cut and a Winston hanging between his fingers, he looked like a teenaged Valentino.

But a teenager he's not. Frank Zappa's long career in the music business has been a full one, generally rich with controversy, filled with his commentary on whatever he feels like commenting on, and peppered with criticism of his former record label Warner/Reprise.

When Uncle Frank hit Sacramento recently, he was in full swing, in the chips financially and commercially. His last three records "Sheik Yerbouti" and 2 LPs worth of "Joe's Garage" are on Zappa Records now and sold by Phonogram Dist. When questioned on how his distribution deal with Phonogram of a couple of years ago differs from his arrangement with Warners, he almost laughs. "I end up making about eleven times the money," he said, "and about triple the budget to produce other bands." His royalties are about twice as much, and an agreement with CBS takes ample care of his international distribution. The final remains of Zappa's contractual obligations with Warners were those four quickie albums released rapid fire over the last year or so. "Sleep Dirt," "Studio Tan," "Orchestral Favorites," and "Live in New York" are the last tapes to which Warners owns the rights.

Plenty of Zappa fans were frustrated by Warner Brothers' failure to document the musicians on a majority of the four records. Who plays on them? "On which album?," Zappa said, "and on which cut on which album? There are probably 30 people on those records, with different combinations on any given track. The basic rhythm section for "Studio Tan," for example, is George Duke, Ruth Underwood, Chester Thompson, and Bird Leg Youman. You'd have to ask me specifically on the others."

At the Sacramento show, Zappa started off the evening with 18 brand new, unrecorded numbers, segueing from one to another. Zappa says the songs will be on an as yet untitled double set to be released in October. Another album Frank has alluded to recently, a mail-order record made to satisfy fans of his guitar playing will be out in the fall. The title is "Shut Up and Play Your Guitar," and that is evidently what he plans to do. He was hoping for an earlier release, but the July recording sessions for the double set and his European tour starting in mid-May made that impossible. Yet another album he talks about from time to time, the 10-record set of his material, will come out 'someday: "I think people can wait for a ten album set," he said, "don't you?"

The Sacramento concert was the fifth show on his continental tour. He thought the crowd was pretty tame, but said -everybody was nice. Sacramento followed two dates in Portland, where the crowds went crazy. "They love me there," he said.

And for the very first time, Zappa included a "Common Sense break during a rock concert," where, presumably because he was in state capitol Sacramento, he gave some examples of his common sense, like: "Tax the churches. They're making a fortune and not paying a cent." And although Zappa does not do any drugs himself, he says "Legalize all drugs and tax the piss out of them." Another huge drain on the economy, as well as a red carpet invitation for organized crime.

Another was a capricious "Legalize prostitution around areas of legislation." Probably so they can quit worrying about it and get down to some serious work. And finally, Zappa suggested that everyone treat their trade or occupation like it was a craft, and be proud of their work. He hinted during the interview that there continues to be a vicious circle of people trying to screw up the companies they work for, only to screw themselves and people like them up by buying each other's substandard products. "And when our stuffs no good, it encourages people to buy foreign goods. And that takes money out of the country."

Frank also wanted to make it clear that his new single, "I Don't Wanna Get Drafted," was not written out of a hate for the Armed Forces, but out of common sense. "I disagree with the draft because it makes people do something they don't want to do. The service should offer legitimate incentives, not just money. To pay, feed, house, clothe and train reluctant recruits is stupid." Legitimate incentives, according to Zappa, would include some decent housing arrangements and reliability of military benefits, many of which have been rescinded or have become non-existent after a recruit has put in his time. He feels the draft is simply political maneuvering in an election year to manipulate votes.

There is more than just a bit of the businessman in Frank Zappa. He greases the wheels of his music machinery quite well, which insures that it will continue to run, and therefore continue to be a medium for his rather well adjusted point of view.