Frank Zappa, Abbey Lincoln & Johnny Colon Speak Out

By Nancy Newhouse

Manhattan Arts, November, 1985

Parents, in trying to protect their offspring from whatever danger they imagined to be lurking within the secret compartments of this new musical vehicle, actually helped to shove them in front of it whereupon they were immediately run over” ... Frank Zappa wrote in the June ’68 issue of Life magazine. He told Manhattan Arts, “They changed the title. It was supposed to be What Ever Happened to Ruben & The Jets’.” Instead, Life pompously called it, “The Oracle Has It All Psyched Out.”

Well, here we go again. Zappa is still defending the music, I mean the words in the music. He came East “to do a debate at Harvard, got to a party in Philly and a debate at N.Y.U., on that censorship thing.” He was talking about the Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation hearing last month in D.C., in which Zappa testified. The PMRC (Parent’s Musical Resource Center) founded by the wives of elected officials and bureaucrats who have already pressured record companies into putting PG warning labels on albums deemed to have questionable lyrics and want to implement a coding system for violence, drugs & alcohol and the old standby-sex, were also there. They also want to have artist’s stage performances monitored (sound familiar Elvis?) to insure that the act is clean enough, when it comes recording contract negotiation time. (Read Rolling Stone, Nov. 7 ’85) Committee Chairman, Senator John Danforth (D-Missouri) is married to a PMRC member; another Committee member Senator Fritz Hollings (D-S.Carolina) is the husband to a PMRC member; “Tipper” Gore, co-founder of the PMRC is married to Senator Albert Gore (D-Tennessee) of the Committee and another PMRC co-founder Susan Baker is married to the Secretary of the Treasury James A. Baker. “But Frank,” I asked, “isn’t Reagan trying to get the Government off our backs?”

“Bullshit, and YOU can quote me on that. I wrote him a letter, which he has not responded to, I didn’t expect him to. I said, ‘... if you can’t take the Government off our backs at least take them out of our nostrils ...’”

Zappa cited the difference between pornography and profanity. “Pornography is a device used to excite someone with a sexual problem and designed ‘to get you hot.’ Profanity is language that’s offensive to anyone sensitive to that language used. It’s based on cultural norms ... There is no sound you can make with your mouth that will make you go to Hell or make you become asocial liability.” When asking him about his thoughts on artists who become involved in social causes like Nicaragua, Live Aid, etc., he got back to the censorship hearings. “There were very few there. I was really pleased to see John Denver and Dee Snider (Twisted Sister) whether I agreed with what they said. The fact is that those artists went to D.C. and took a stand.”

Stanley Gordikov, president of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America, a lobbying group) was careful to respond to the PMRC with 19 or 24 record companies offering to label albums with PG stickers. The RIAA’s attempt in Congress to collect royalties on blank tape and tape recorders in no way could be jeopardized. H.R.2911 was introduced to the House in June. A similar version of the bill should be voted on by the time you read this in the Senate. It must pass the full Judiciary Committee, chaired by Strom Thurmond (R-S.Carolina) whose wife had signed a PMRC letter to the RIAA.

“Look’s like a loaded deck, Frank,” I sighed. He responded, that rock writer “Dave Marsh called it a ‘Russian show trial’ not designed to legislate … Although he is very conservative, I liked what Senator Exon (D-Nebraska) said. Exon said, “This is the largest media event I’ve ever seen [35 video feeds and 50 photographers were present] ... If we’re not talking about federal regulation or legislation, Mr. Chairman, what’s the reason for this hearing?”

Zappa noted that J.C. Penny Stores and Sears refuse to rack L.P.s with any warning labels. There is always a possibility that some young ambitious DA. trying to further his career might close the store down putting it in the same category as an adult bookstore.” I asked him about his idea of putting the lyrics on the albums. It’s very complicated. It’s an un-do-able deed … This was a strong arm tactic. It’s saber rattling aimed at the entire industry ... 70% of records sold are sold to people over 20, so who are we protecting? If these women are so concerned about the words that their children hear then they should listen to classical or jazz, music with no words.”

About the recording industry he said, “The nature of this business has some unpleasant aspects to it; like most businesses. We should be more concerned with the morals of the business people and not question and legislate kids’ morals. Instead of stamping out the music, these guys can be stamped out next election time.”

Frank Zappa is also a symphonic composer who has “stopped writing symphonies for orchestras. I write them on my computer. It costs a lot of money to rehearse an orchestra. I tend to write difficult rhythms. It takes a long time to learn a piece. Then performed maybe only once. It takes more than one performance to get it right. An orchestra playing a piece correctly is one of the most beautiful sounds in the planet to a composer. Sometimes it takes months or years to write out a symphony. That’s probably the reason for minimalism, smaller ensembles with less difficult music that may be accessible to the audience and often the artists become co-composer in the performance. I don’t want that. Why shouldn’t I have an accurate rendition of my work? Composition is like Architecture. Who wants to live in a house built by a committee? On the computer I can get the sound of a full orchestra played and printed at any speed.”

We left it at that. Frank had to tape a cable T.V. music show the next day which he was co-hosting for the week. For the Halloween show he wanted to dress up as Tipper of the PMRC. Zappa was hoping someone could get him that little blue dress with the muffin sleeves.

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