FZ – WLIR Interview, Ritz, November 17th, 1981

By Ben Manilla

Mother People, #5, February 1982

In an interview made by Ben Manilla of WLIR after the Ritz (New York) show of 11/17 [1](around the same time as the John Swenson Guitar World interview) FZ enlightened the listening audience to some of the evils of the radio/record industries, as well as views on obscenity, religion, touring, Al Di Meola and other subjects. The interview was broadcast sometime later. Upfront were some comments on the Ritz show and of Steve Vai, Zappa said, "He's probably the only guitar player I've met that likes what I do enough to incorporate it into his own work in an intelligent way."

About Al Di Meola he said that he had never heard him play before. "The only thing I heard was Warren Cuccurullo's imitation of the way he plays where he mutes all the notes and just goes whipping up and down the aeolian mode until your blue in the face." The song written that afternoon of the show, using the Al Di Meola Secret Chord Progression which is E major, F major, G major, F major, E major and variations thereof, inserted in the middle, and it came out good.

Of new material Z said that before going on this tour "we did a lot of material in the studio. I've probably got 5 sides of material already recorded and we've been recording everything on this tour with my brand new 24-track remote truck." After mention of the home studio, the remote studio, Barking Pumpkin records, Frank commented, "I have an album which is really brilliant which only 2 radio stations in the United States will play (WLIR & one in Hartford, Connecticut) – You Are What You Is is a total turkey and it's really a good record."

After asking why the Tinsel Town LP wasn't played in L.A.: "Let me tell you something about the business – maybe you know this already – I'll tell you guys about it. Payola is back! Just like 1950's. When you get the single with the hundred dollar bill stuffed in the sleeve – today it's worse. This is actual cash exchanged in order for people to play records on the radio. You give them money, you give them quantities of cocaine, and if you don't, you don't get your record played. And I'm not doin' it." "...but I'm not buyin' anybody any presents, I'm not sticking things up their nose and I'm not bending over. And if my career disappears, well tuff tuccas – but I don't like doing business that other way and I don't want to participate in it."

On obscenity: "You shouldn't use the word obscenity as applied to the stuff that I do because there is no obscene content. I use beautiful, efficient English language words that get the point across in a hurry. I talk about things that other people ignore and sometimes that scares people, but it's not dirty, nor is there such a thing as a dirty word. And I believe this and I stress this all the time. There is no word that you can say, nor is there any noise that will come out of your mouth that is so powerful that it is gonna send the listener to the Lake Of Fire as soon as they hear it. That kinda stuff is total baloney. And the myth of obscenity is a myth that is perpetuated in order to keep a censorship mechanism in place, because as long as there can be censorship for one thing or another, as long as they can convince somebody that you need to have a watchdog to keep the dirty words off the air, then some watchdog agency will be able to keep political ideas that are undesirable or any other kind of social ideas that are undesirable off the airwaves and that's the real basis for perpetuating myths of obscenity and all that kind of stuff and I try to attack it as often as I can."

About 'sticking it' to religion: "The biggest stumbling blocks that we face in the world today, and it has nothing to do with God, it has to do with the way that the religion industry is operated. It's designed to keep people submissive and stupid, and to take their money and to put that money into real estate. That's the religion business and that's what I hate."

Back to the music 'biz – how it was in the old days, and how it is now: "All decisions about who gets signed and what happens to the record are made by these drooling, little, mid-range accountants. And everything is based on the numbers game in there – and the tastes of the accountants is really what is ruling the mass media." "It's easier to look like a wise executive by saying no to something, even if it's just the most minutialy fringoid in terms of content. Everybody must sound like Pat Benatar, REO Speedwagon, Journey or Foreigner if it's going to be on the radio today. "And that's all they wanna sign – is things derived from these molds.

About CBS/Barking Pumpkin: "CBS as a record company didn't want to sign us directly as an artist because we weren't fashionable enough. We worked out a deal with them where I supply the music and all they do is press it and ship it. And it's a one album deal. I don't think they're going to be interested in anything else after the results of this thing."

The options; no great dilemma: The worst that can happen is that nobody in the United States will release my records and I'll still be selling records overseas and it will come in as an import." Whether this would be fair to the fans: "What can I say? I can't do anything more than that. If somebody doesn't provide me with the financing to make records, or the vehicle by which to ship them into a store, with some access to airtime so that people know that they exist, well what am I supposed to do? Go to everybody's house and whistle it in their ear?"

About the tour: Hartford, Montreal, New York & Chicago were cited as successful/responsive dates, with some others 'dedicated, small pockets of resistance', but don't sell as many tickets. The net income was in question and if there is not enough money in the bank to pay the expenses of a large scale tour, there will be none next year.

About radio: "I don't think that the people that consume music via radio are aware of what the problem in radio is today, when 150 of the stations that really matter are controlled TOTALLY by 5 companies who program them. And we've run into situations where, the best example was, Tucson, Arizona. I flew in from Las Vegas on my night off to go to a radio station to be a disc jockey, at their invitation, on the station that was co-sponsoring the concert. I got there, I asked them if they had my record, they said they did, it had just been sent in. I put it on – I was playing it, said hello I was a disc jockey – blah, blah, blah, the regular guy was sitting right there – soon as I played my record the phone rang from the program director – said 'don't let him play it!' and I said 'what is this? Your gonna have me on here and I can't play my own record?' I said 'forget it' and walked off. And this station was co-sponsoring the concert. They took the money from the promoter for the advertising time – wouldn't play the record because they were formatted by the Abrahms chain. This station used to have a record library of 2000 albums. As soon as they became a formatted station they threw away 1500 – and in that 1500 were all of my albums. And that's the way it is. A hundred and fifty stations that really matter, programmed by 5 companies that tell them precisely what to play and nobody plays anything other than that on the station – no matter what – that's called 'freeze dried radio'. Your looking at a situation where for the rest of your life your going to hear the same 10 songs over and over again until your blue in the face. And that's what happens. I'm not part of that ecological chain."

1. The full interview is: 1981-04 Frank Zappa by Ben Manilla.

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