Frank Zappa – Right or Wrong?

A New Angle

By Colin Germano

Happening, March & April, 1983

Editor's Note: Although most magazines edit interviews be/ore they are published, we felt that Frank Zappa's thoughts should be reproduced in their entirety, because they give a lucid insight into his abnormal genius. Because of its intensity and length, we decided to run the interview in three parts.


Part One

HAPP: Well, I guess we'll start with the usual. Where'd you get your start and how old were you when you got into music?

ZAPPA: I started playing the drums when I was 12 and started writing music when I was 14. I changed to guitar when I was 18.

HAPP: What kind of education did you have?

ZAPPA: High school.

HAPP: Never went to college?

ZAPPA: Well, I went there for six months. I went there to get laid. So I met a girl and dropped out of school. Eventually married her, stayed married for five years, got divorced, was divorced for about a year and a half, got married again and have been married ever since.

HAPP: How did you break into the business?

ZAPPA: Accident.

HAPP: What happened?

ZAPPA: A guy from a record company thought we were a white blues group and signed us.

HAPP: Where were you playing?

ZAPPA: At the Whiskey-A-Go-Go.

HAPP: When was this?

ZAPPA: 1965.

HAPP: What label signed you?

ZAPPA: Verve. It was a subsidiary of MGM.

HAPP: How long did you stay on that label?

ZAPPA: Two years.

HAPP: Where'd you go then?

ZAPPA: I formed my own label called Bizarre, which was distributed through Warner Brothers for about eight years and we eventually sued them.

HAPP: Why did you sue them?

ZAPPA: Because they cheated me out of some money.

HAPP: Did you originally start out with commercial motives in terms of success in the business?

ZAPPA: No. That seemed like a stupid thing to do because that's what everyone else was doing. I figured there had to be somebody out there who just wanted some entertainment. We do entertainment for a special kind of consumer. There's plenty of other groups making normal stuff for normal consumers.

HAPP: The lyrical content of your music is probably the most radical that has ever been accepted and purchased nationally. Where are you coming from when you write stuff like, well, let's take "Dynamo Hum," for example, since that seems to be one of your concert favorites and it does get some airplay. Where do you come from when you write lyrics like that?

ZAPPA: Well, it seems like the normal thing to do. It's a true story.

HAPP: Do all your songs deal with true stories?

ZAPPA: No, not all of them, but a lot of them are based on things that people really did and things that people really said.

HAPP: Was "Dynamo Hum" a real true story in your life?

ZAPPA: Not until after the record came out

HAPP: You must be taken controversially among the critics and even the consumers themselves. Your lyrics reflect a lot of sex and grotesque, odd situations that are completely socially unacceptable.

ZAPPA: That's a rather stupid thing to say. First of all, it's not completely socially unacceptable. Second of all, it's not grotesque, it's just the facts. If you don't like the facts, that's tough tucks. Third of all, the deal with sex seems fairly normal since everybody's got something to do with sex and people who don't deal with sex are hypocrites. Either that or permanent residents of Orange County.

HAPP: In general, in the public or the society that's been established as the so-called correct society.

ZAPPA: There is no correct society.

HAPP: The "so called" correct society.

ZAPPA: Don't even call it that. There is no correct society. You act like there was such a thing as normalcy. Maybe there is in Orange County, but it's all make believe.

HAPP: Still, people have their guidelines that they go by, the set patterns of the society.

ZAPPA: The guidelines of Orange County are not the guidelines of the planet and that's the problem we're going to be dealing with here. What to you might seem normal and what to you might seem grotesque is totally out of faze with the reality of the rest of the world. One might well ask where you're coming from when you ask these questions because they're so preposterous.

HAPP: I'm speaking for the readership.

ZAPPA: I'm speaking to the readership if, in fact, you as a person express their values and motivations. I would just like to say at this point that what you've said to me so far is totally out of faze with reality. The world is made up of a lot of different facets and a lot of different things. Sameness is unenforceable. God never wanted people to be all the same and the so-called guidelines that you're talking about for correct behavior and correct society and normalcy and all the rest of that stuff changes very drastically. From city to city, town to town, block to block, and there is no one norm, and since there is no one norm, I am not to be perceived as outside of that norm or to be spoken to as if I was some sort of a weird thing that has to be rationalized to your readership.

HAPP: Let's just say, aside from what I believe and aside from what you believe, the direction of your music is ...

ZAPPA: Entertainment! The fact of variety is the norm. The fact that nothing is the same and never will be the same and will not conform to one standard, that is the fact. That's normal. No matter how much you might wish it would be otherwise, or I might wish it otherwise, people are different. They all have different desires and there are different kinds of things that entertain them. You might not like country and western music. I might think it's great. You might like jazz, and I might think it's disgusting. It just depends. One thing that amuses one person is not going to amuse somebody else. I think that everybody has the right to be entertained with the type of entertainment that appeals to them. What I do is provide a certain type of entertainment for the people who like that kind of stuff. And only for them. Not for people who like country and western.

HAPP: What do you think those people are looking for in you?

ZAPPA: They're looking for an alternative to the other types of entertainment that are being offered to them.

HAPP: The people who your music appeals to can perceive your lyrics in either a humorous way or an offensive way. Either way, they get off on it and it's entertaining to them. Where are you coming from?

ZAPPA: I'm providing the service of entertainment However you perceive it, if it entertains you, I've done my job.

HAPP: But, you personally, I mean, let's say no one was buying your records and you were sitting here in your studio making music.

ZAPPA: I'd do the same thing. Exactly the same thing.

HAPP: But, where are you coming from?

ZAPPA: What is this 'where are you coming from'? What is this jive talk? Specifically, what does 'where are you coming from' mean? What are you trying to ask me?

HAPP: Someone could write something and people could perceive it in different ways. When you write what you write, you have your own perception of what you're writing. Other people may grab it in different ways. Personally, I don't know what goes on in your mind, I don't know what you think.

ZAPPA: That's not relevant to the enjoyment of what I do. It's not necessary for a person to know what's going on inside my mind in order to enjoy what I do. I think it's absolutely desirable that they don't. My motivation in doing it is to provide entertainment for people who want that kind of entertainment. That's it. That's my motivation.

HAPP: What gave you the idea to put on the song "Valley Girl!"?

ZAPPA: It was something that needed to be said about those people.

HAPP: What do you feel about those people?

ZAPPA: Nothing. I just gave you the facts -- airheaded people -- people who enjoy being air-headed.

HAPP: Why did you bring your daughter Moon in?

ZAPPA: Because she could do an imitation of that kind of voice.

HAPP: Is she active in that society?

ZAPPA: Well, she goes to school down there so she knows a lot of those people.

HAPP: Aren't your other kids into music as well?

ZAPPA: My son Dweezil plays the guitar. He has a single called "My Mother is a Space Cadet."

HAPP: Is that a real life experience for him? As far as your wife ...

ZAPPA: ... being a space cadet? No, I think it's a general attitude that most kids have about their parents.

HAPP: Did you influence him in writing it?

ZAPPA: No, that's strictly his own production.

HAPP: Does he live here?

ZAPPA: Yeah.

HAPP: Does he produce here?

ZAPPA: It was recorded here, yeah.

HAPP: Have you recorded many albums here?

ZAPPA: Quite a few. The first one that was done here was "You Are What You Is" in '80 or '81. I've had this (recording studio in his home) for a couple of years.

HAPP: It's quite a set-up.

ZAPPA: Yeah, it works good.

HAPP: Have you ever had a break from music?

ZAPPA: What do you mean, 'a break'? You mean a vacation?

HAPP: No, a long break, like, did you ever step out for a year or two?

Continued next month in April

Part Two

Editor's Note: Although most magazines edit interviews before they are published, we felt that Frank Zappa's thoughts should be reproduced in their entirety, because they give a lucid insight into his abnormal genius. Because of its intensity and length, we decided to run the interview in three parts.

HAPP: Have you ever had a break from music?

ZAPPA: What do you mean, a break'? You mean a vacation?

HAPP: No, a long break, like, did you ever step out for a year or two?

ZAPPA: No, why bother? This is what I like to do.

HAPP: Is this what you wanted to be?

ZAPPA: Sure. It's the best of all possible worlds. I thought for a minute about being a cowboy but that never really worked out. Every little kid wants to be a cowboy or a fireman or something. After that, I wanted to be a chemist, but that didn't work out, so I became a musician instead.

HAPP: When you were in school, did you have any idea about what you were going to do or what you were going to be?

ZAPPA: I knew I was going to go into music. By the time I was 18 I was pretty sure of that.

HAPP: It's hard to believe you picked up the guitar at 18.


HAPP: Because you play quite well.

ZAPPA: Well, shit, I'm 42 years old. I've had a lot of practice playing the guitar.

HAPP: Most people who play guitar as well as you do have been playing for quite some time. They usually grew up with it.

ZAPPA: No, I changed over late. I'm glad I started with the drums.

HAPP: Do you ever play the drums now?

ZAPPA: Very seldom.

HAPP: You've got a lot of really good hidden melodies in your guitar licks. They're so fast and lengthy. Didn't you once put out a classical album?

ZAPPA: Yeah.

HAPP: I've never heard it. It would be really something to hear you playing classical music.

ZAPPA: On the classical album I'm not playing. It's just an orchestra playing my music.

HAPP: Do you consider yourself a serious vocalist?

ZAPPA: Nah! I just do it 'cause it's easier for me to do it than to hire somebody to do it. I've tried hiring dynamic lead vocalists over and over again, but usually they either have trouble singing the words because they don't believe in 'em or they have trouble getting the point across in the lyrics. The thing that I do best is I can at least get the point across

HAPP: When I saw the concert portion of your movie tonight, I noticed a lot of audience participation. Is that common for one of your performances?

ZAPPA: In New York it is.

HAPP: You like New York?

ZAPPA: Yeah.

HAPP: Done a lot of concerts there?

ZAPPA: Yeah. We've played there probably more than any place else in the world. 

HAPP: That's your favorite place?


HAPP: You ever live there?


HAPP: How long?

ZAPPA: Year and a half.

HAPP: What part?

ZAPPA: In the West Village.

HAPP: How come you didn't stay?

ZAPPA: Got to be a little bit complicated because Moon was born and that's really not a good place to raise kids, I don't think. So I moved back to California.

HAPP: Are all your kids from your current wife?


HAPP: Did you have any kids from your first wife?

ZAPPA: Nope.

HAPP: What about drugs? Have they ever entered your life?

ZAPPA: Nope. I don't use drugs and never did. Didn't see any reason to. What's so great about using drugs? Look at the people who use 'em. They're fuckin' vegetables.

HAPP: Did you look down on people who were using drugs?

ZAPPA: It was very easy to look down on them. Most of them at that time in the '60s were on the ground. We worked with the Grateful Dead in San Francisco. They were the opening act and the audience was laying on the floor, I mean, there was so much marijuana smoke it looked like a swamp scene with a fuckin' purple haze up to your knees. It was so dense that in order to get out of the place you had to be careful where you walked 'cause you could hardly see the faces through the haze. But that was an exaggerated situation, to see a whole room full of people on the floor like that. But generally speaking, most of the people who use drugs just turn into vegetables. They never had anything interesting to say and when they weren't doing their little trip, whatever it was that they were on, they were spending the rest of their waking hours trying to figure out how they were gonna get some more drugs. That just seems like a stupid life.

HAPP: What do you think about the commercial success of "Valley Girl"?

ZAPPA: It's ridiculous.

HAPP: You mean the way they ate it up?

ZAPPA: Yeah, it's ridiculous. It's nothin' to do with the song. It's ridiculous. It has more to do with people's desire to get into some kind of a trend and consume some sort of stupidity than it does with the song.

HAPP: With the approach you have and playing the music you do, I would imagine that you didn't achieve financial security for quite a while. How long did it take?

ZAPPA: Fifteen years. We didn't really start selling large quantities of records for about 15 years after the time we released the first one.

HAPP: How were you living?

ZAPPA: Just average.

HAPP: You must have put a lot of money in this new movie (Baby Snakes). I would imagine at least $250,000. Did you have any investors for that?

ZAPPA: Nope.

HAPP: You used all your own capitol?


HAPP: Did you look for an investor?

ZAPPA: At one time, yeah, but it took too long so I just figured I'd do it myself.

HAPP: Did that bind you financially?

ZAPPA: Such matters are not of a musical consideration.

HAPP: Is Zappa your real name?


HAPP: What did your parents think about what you do?

ZAPPA: My father's dead and my mother thinks it's OK.

HAPP: When did your father die?

ZAPPA: '73, '74, something like that.

HAPP: What did he think of it?

ZAPPA: I don't think that he liked it too much.

HAPP: Did you get along with him?

ZAPPA: (pauses)... It was OK.

HAPP: When did you move away from home?

ZAPPA: When I was about 20, 21, something like that.

HAPP: Where were you raised?

ZAPPA: At that time we were living out in Cucamonga, Ontario... that area.

HAPP: Is that where you grew up?

ZAPPA: No, I lived all over the place. I lived in San Diego, Monterey, Baltimore, Florida...

HAPP: Would this bother you if I lit it up? It's a clove.

ZAPPA: Oh, one of those things? Well, I'll tell you what, why don't you wait until after you leave 'cause I don't like the way those things smell. If you wanna take a break and go out there and smoke...

HAPP: No, that's OK. It's no big deal. Can I bum one of yours?

ZAPPA: Yeah.

HAPP: Does your wife live here?


HAPP: Do you spend a lot of time with her?

ZAPPA: When I'm not here (in the studio). She's upstairs, I'm downstairs. We got four kids. She keeps pretty busy.

HAPP: How old are your kids?

ZAPPA: 15, down to 3.

HAPP: You gonna have any more?

ZAPPA: No, four's enough.

HAPP: Most people would think someone as successful in the music industry as you would lead a completely different lifestyle.

ZAPPA: Well, people's imaginations do tend to run amuck.

HAPP: A couple of months ago I thought – ya know, "Frank Zappa," if there was some way we could get in touch with him it would be a great story. I thought of an angle and thought "Frank Zappa... is he right or wrong? "

ZAPPA: (Laughs)

HAPP: I know what you're thinking and, before I go on, know that I'm not speaking personally. I'm reporting. People form opinions.

ZAPPA: How do they form these opinions? Based on what kind of information? The answer is: based on the information that is applied by people, like, who put it in print. If you put that kind of crap in print, how are people going to form their opinions? They form the opinions based on crap. So if you write crap, that's what people's opinions are based on. That's part of the same problem that keeps Americans uneducated because what you do in your publication is what other people do in their publications, and they shine it on by saying, "Well, I'm not speaking personally," and they have the ultimate gall to presume that they understand the minds of the reader or the people who are picking the thing up. In doing so, they treat those readers as if they were fucking mental Pygmies or something when, in fact, they themselves are the mental Pygmies for treating the public in that way and giving them crap. So "Frank Zappa, is he right or wrong," don't give me this shit. I've heard all that shit for years. And it's not you personally talking. Maybe it's just the editorial point of view of your magazine. I don't need that kind of stuff. That's ridiculous. You call that an angle? 

HAPP: You have an angle. Your angle is providing for that specific group of people who wanna hear what you provide.

ZAPPA: That's an angle?

HAPP: Sure, it is. Don't you think so?

ZAPPA: That's not an angle. An angle is "Frank Zappa Right or Wrong." That's an angle in the corniest sense of the word. What I do is not an angle. What I do is a profession.

HAPP: You appeal to a certain group of people, right?

ZAPPA: Yeah. Do you have any idea what that group of people is? No. If you had to draw a picture of one, could you? No! Because they don't look the same and they don't act the same and they're not all the same age and they're not all the same income bracket, and they're not all the same social background.

HAPP: They all have something in common.

ZAPPA: Yeah, they got one thing in common they don't want normal entertainment. They want something else. That's the only thing they have in common.

HAPP: Do you blame people for being normal?

ZAPPA: ... I can see what leads to it, yeah. I'm not too enthused about the motives that drive people to seek normalcy 'cause nobody is born normal in that sense of the word. Nobody is born the same as 200 million other people so that they can proudly proclaim that they fit in. You're not born that way. You're born as a different organism. You're totally separate and apart from everybody else. And if you choose to conform and you choose to belong, then OK, go ahead and do it, but the motivations that are behind those choices are the things that cause the problems because the sacrifices people make in terms of their own personalities, in order to appear normal when they really aren't, are bad things and bad things happen because of that.

HAPP: What do you think the motivations are?

ZAPPA: The simplest form of a motivation is: people will pretend to act normal so that they can have friends. Now, the friends that they gain by acting that way are not really worth it because they're acting that way, too. That means the whole relationship of those friendships is based on something artificial. It's like people who go around saying, "Have a nice day," when they don 't mean it at all, ya know?

Conclusion Next Month In May

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