Frank Zappa '88

By Dave Turner

Buzz, February, 1988

Frank Zappa's mailbox has no name or number on it, but, Jim Nagel, Frank's publicist, told us how to recognize it. We pressed the little button next to the intercom, and asked if we were in the right place ... We were. A woman came downstairs and introduced herself as Elizabeth, and led us into the studio to wait. Frank came down and led us to a dark den-living room sort of place with a piano, TV, and tons of license plates that people have sent Frank with "F ZAPPA", "ZAPPA", "HOT ZITS", or other cutenesses on them. This is where Frank watches the news ... lots of it ... and this is where we spoke to Frank.

Dave Turner: I had no idea that this whole house was like a studio.

Frank Zappa: Well, on the bottom part, we live upstairs.

DT: A bunch of these questions will be sort of ... well ... there won't be too much rhyme or order they'll just ...

FZ: That's fine, that's just like America ...

DT: Do you get tired of doing these interviews?

FZ: Oh, no ... I mean, some of them are stupid, but ... I did one a little bit earlier with Gannett Newspapers about the Larry Flint-Jerry Falwell supreme court case. Things like that can be amusing, but the ones that go, "What you eat for breakfast and that kinda stuff ...

DT: Well, there are a few of those in here.

FZ: Well, I answer them anyway, but if I hafta choose, I'd rather do that (the first variety) kind of interview.

DT: When you turn on your radio what kind of music do you listen to?

FZ: I don't have much recreational listening time, but if I'm in the car usually I don't even listen to the radio ... but what I've been doing recently is, since we have a couple of really good classical stations in Los Angeles, I'll turn them on and listen to classical music on the way to work.

DT: I suppose you don't listen to your own music in a recreational fashion …

FZ: No, because by the time I finished making the record, I never wanna hear it again because I've heard it too many times.

DT: Who's playing with you on this tour?

FZ: Chad Wackerman on drums, Scott Thunes on bass, Ike Willis on guitar and vocals, Bobby Martin on keyboard and vocals, Ed Mann on percussion, Mike Kenneally on 'stunt' guitar and keyboards, and the horn section is Albert Wing on tenor sax, Paul Carmen on alto and baritone, Kurt McGettrick on Baritone and bass and E flat contrabass clarinet, Bruce Fowler on trombone, Walt Fowler on Trumpet.

DT: "Stunt" guitar ... ?

FZ: Yeah, 'stunt' guitar that's kinda written out intricate parts, like orchestral parts.

DT: Will you be playing a lot or conducting more on this tour?

FZ: Oh, I do both, depends on the show, it's different show ever night, depends on which songs are in the show.

DT: So ... there aren't any rules like: this song I conduct, this song I play ... ?

FZ: Oh, there are rules, of course, mean ... y 'know ... why should I play guitar in a song that there's no guitar part in?

DT: You mentioned in an interview, about a year ago, that you weren't at that time playing guitar ...

FZ: I wasn't, I stopped playing after the concert in '84 and spent all my time working on the Synclavier .

DT: When did you start playing guitar again?

FZ: I started ... we've been in rehearsal for almost 4 months, so ...

DT: Is there any chance of you playing with Flo and Eddy again?

FZ: Well, they've considered the possibility of being guests on some of our dates, but we have no plans for, it (as of yet).

DT: This is something that has been bugging me for years ... What does 'Knirps for moisture' (from the song "Penguin in Bondage") mean?

FZ: Well, 'Knirps' the brand of a folding umbrella, and when I was in Australia ... y 'know walking by this store, and here's this little wizened umbrella sitting in the window with a sign next to it, proudly proclaiming that the name of it was 'Knirps', and I thought, "what if I was designing an advertising campaign for this umbrella and ... we didn't want it to be overstated, so it would say 'Knirps ... for moisture'".

DT: Is it German?

FZ: It is a German product ...

DT: I have noticed a 'sprinkling' of German in your music ...

FZ: Yeah ... it's a fascinating language.

DT: So, is it just a personal fascination with the language?

FZ: Well, I respect the German people, and I have respect for the German language. I think that it's an interesting language in the way that it's put together, and (pauses) most Americans, when they think of Germans, the first thing they think of is Hitler, and all that kind of shit. The history of the German people predates all that world war two bullshit, and there's actually a certain amount of anti-German sentiment which is kept alive in the United States by reruns of war movies, and as long as Americans are force fed stereotypes of all different ethnic groups, its very difficult to imagine this country taking it's place as a model citizen among other nations if their view of other nations is colored by Hollywood, or colored by the media, who use ethnic groups from all over the world in a stereotyped way . I mean, if you think of an Arab, you don't know what an Arab looks like unless he's got a bag over his head. Americans think all Arabs wear bags over their heads and carry machine guns, and it's stupid! Mexicans wear sombreros, lean against a cactus and go to sleep. Y'know what I mean? Italians sell bananas, turn a, crank, and a monkey dances in front ... or else they have polished nails and they have a, machine gun. There's more to life than that ... I thought that the German language was interesting partly because, to me, some of the words sound so hilarious, and the structure of the compound words makes it possible to make phonetic jokes, and build them into songs.

DT: Is everything in the Frank Zappa collection going to be released on disk?

FZ: Yeah, it's gonna take a while, there are a lot of albums.

DT: What are these albums such as "Tis the Season to be Jelly ", and "Trick or Treat" that I've heard referred to as 'authorized bootlegs'.

FZ: There are no authorized bootlegs. I have never authorized a bootleg, anything that say 'authorized bootleg' is still a bootleg, and is not authorized!

DT: I've heard all these stories about how you had to use some sort of computerized magic tricks to re-record the drum and bass tracks on some of the albums you had to remaster, in order to record them digitally ... what's the real story ?

FZ: That wasn't the way that it was done. We transferred the original master which, in the case of "We're Only in it for the Money " was eight tracks, and we transferred that to a 24 track digital machine leaving 16 empty tracks, so if we wanted to we could put 16 tracks of drums down ... What I did was, I turned off the original drum tracks, and had Chad Wackerman come in and play new drum tracks which were digitally recorded, and they sound much better than the original ones, and had Arthur Barrow replace the bass parts. That's only on "We're Only in it for the Money " and "Ruben and the Jets". All the rest of the albums that have been remastered are made from the original tapes. No magic tricks, I don't know where you got that ... I know someone did that to a Doors song ...

DT: Why did you have to re-record these tracks in the first place?

FZ: In the case of "We're Only in it for the Money" the 2 track master tape was stored so badly, the oxide had fallen off of it, and you could see thru the tape, so it wouldn't play. The only way to be able to release it is, I had to go back to the original material ... Do you know how many edits are in that album? Billions! ... and I had to reconstruct all those edits, so I figured, "Well, I like the material that's in there, I think they 're good songs, and since it was one of the first things that we did a digital 'tweeze' to, I said, 'Why not bring it into the twentieth century, get rid of the old mono drums that are on there and put on a new, better sounding drum part.' Some people will hate it, but most people will like it, so I did it. I did the same thing to "Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets", altho, I could have released the original 2 track music which was recorded on 12-track ... We used a prototype Skully 12 track recorder. There was 8 track, 12 track, 16, 24 ... (mumbles a few more numbers-we get the picture) ... anyway, after I did those 2 things (albums) I figured, "Well, that's enough, I'll just leave the rest of the stuff alone. The 2 track masters are salvageable, I'll just EQ them, and put them out." So we haven't "tweaked" up any more of them.

DT: Would you say that changing technology has actively changed the way hat you write?

FZ: Well if you have an inquisitive mind, and somebody shows you a new tool, and you're composer, the first thing you want to do is to figure out how you're going to use the tool in the context of what you write. So, here comes the Synclavier (sampling synthesizer), and it allows you to do some things that you couldn't do before. Yes, it certainly has changed the way write

DT: Are there any artists that you have never worked with, but would like to?

FZ: Not really, I'm not really a collaborating kind of a guy I have got enough problems of my own, rather than sharing the burden with another artist.

DT: What about the Jean Luc Ponty album?

FZ: Yeah, I produced an album for World Pacific Records called "King Kong". They hired me to produce the album, and had him play some of my tunes.

DT: Was that their doing?

FZ: I didn't know about it beforehand ...

DT: How do you choose the artwork for your album covers?

FZ: Oh, it depends on the project. Some albums need a cartoon, some need type, some need a photo ... just depends ... The other thing that bears on it is the time constraint. If you have to get it out in a hurry, you won't have an elaborate painting or cartoon or whatever, you wanna do

DT: There-are a series of 4 or 5 albums on Warner Brothers that had similar cartoon covers that you sort of squeezed out in a hurry…

FZ: I didn't do those, Warner did 'em. Those albums were tied up in a lawsuit, and, what they did was, they packaged them, and had nothing to do with those covers, and we got sued for them, and settled out of court.

DT: Have you ever thought of running for public office?

FZ: Yeah. I was contacted by the Libertarian Party. They came here, and they wanted me to run for president on their ticket. And, I said, "Well, show me what your platform is ... And if I like it, I'll consider it." This guy flew here from Norman, Oklahoma, and we had, like, a 5 hour meeting right here in this room. That was about 3 months ago, just before their convention. And, I went thru their platform, and I studied it, and I looked at it, and some of the stuff I liked, and some of it I didn't. And I said, "I can't really stand up and support your platform whole heartedly because some the stuff you have in here is either wrong or stupid. And, in order for me to be a candidate for your party, would they, in fact, nominate me if I couldn't be an ideologue and go the whole 9 yards." And, he said it was doubtful they would support you at the convention if you didn't just spew the whole thing. And I said; "Well, I'm not your bot. Thanks a lot. Goodbye.

DT: What do you do outside of music and politics.

FZ: Well, I watch the news. I probably watch 5 times the amount of news that the average person my age watches. First of all, L.A. has a lot of channels, so I can just wiz thru the news, and try to read between the lines.

DT: Sounds like you're busy enough ... Is there anything you feel you want to say at this point we've missed?

FZ: Yeah! The most important thing! Why doesn't Mario get off his ass and run?! I mean, that's the most important thing right now. I mean, here's a guy who, I feel is letting the country down if he doesn't run. I don't care what is lurking in his background. I don't care what's in his fucking closet. I don't care who his friends are. This is a who can win! He's smart. He's tough. He's gotta get his ass out of that fucking ... state house, and into the White house ... and you can tell him I said so. I'll be saying the same thing on stage in Albany.

DT: What do you think about Gary Hart?

FZ: Look, he is an empty, plastic, yuppie from Colorado, who should stay in Colorado! Get out there! Go eat the fucking groat cakes! Go to a barbecue with John Denver, but stay out of the fucking White house! I mean, 'Where's, the Beef is really the question. I can't see that man ruling anything with an iron fist. A weasel, doesn't have an iron fist. That is not leadership qualifications. Would you follow him somewhere? If Gary Hart was in the White house, and said, "Okay, we're going to Nicaragua!", what are you going to do? Would you believe it? Would you do-anything that man said? He's got no credibility! The only reason that guy scores high on the polls is 'because people have heard his name on television. They don 't quite remember what it's connected to, but it's a famous name. That's the sad thing about American politics. Candidates are sold just like products. You don't really know what's in there. The camera doesn't lie too much. You look at Gary Hart, and look at the rest of 'em ... I mean, nobody's home.

DT: Well, he looks nice ...

FZ: Well, I don't even know if he looks so nice ... maybe if your name is Donna Rice ... (laughter) Well, when I saw Mario give that speech at the democratic convention after the one when Jesse Jackson made his big speech ... Jackson was nothing, Cuomo made sense, he had balls, he made sense, he was delivering the goods, I thought, "Why, in the fuck, isn't this guy running?" And, gradually, people said, "Yeah ... well ... maybe you ought to ... " Who knows what pressures are on, keeping him from doing it

DT: Who do you like in the race ... ?

FZ: Well, I actually think that Pete Dupont is not bad. I don't really have that in depth knowledge about his background, but he seems to be a reasonable kind of a guy, not too right wing. Bob Dole has leadership qualities, but he's directly tied to the Reagan administration, and he's a close, personal friend of Jesse Helms. That turned me off to him. Al Haig knows quite a bit about military industrial complexes, if you want an iron fisted cretin in there, but I don't trust him any further than I can throw him. George Bush is a weasel, no question. Pat Robertson is a fucking menace, and Kemp should have stayed in sports ... So, what do you got, on the Democratic side? Gephardt is uh ... his idea for fixing the trade imbalance is a formula for disaster. Albert Gore is not a stupid man. I kind of like Al. He's got some strengths, but his biggest liability is that weasel in the blue dress. Now, Simon ... If you really want a rerun of Harry Truman, he ain't the guy to pull it off. I liked Harry Truman. I'm old enough to remember Harry Truman. He was cool. Simon wants to be a cross between Harry Truman and Roosevelt, and it ain't gonna happen. He just doesn't have the stature. Dukakis did great in fixing his state up, but that is not a man who's going to sit across the table from Gorbachev, no fucking way! He's too short.

And, Jesse Jackson is a demagogue, who's interested in only one thing, Jesse Jackson. Robert Tennyson ... is a megalomaniac, and he's also a minister. I don't want any hint of religion of any description infecting the laws of this country. You get a state of religion, and there is going to be big problems. Government is a business. It is not the way Robertson or Jackson try to describe it like the opportunity to wage some moral campaign to suddenly fix everybody up. What they 're talking about is one specific brand of morals that I don't ascribe to, and they 're not happy with the idea that that particular set of rules will be turned into a law, and then enforced with a gun, later.

You get a law, then a policeman has to enforce it. Can you imagine a guy putting a gun to your head, "Okay, go to church now. We're fixing your morals."? So who else do ya got? Babbitt! I ... dunno ... (this is about a 20 second utterance for emphasis) ... he's just ... I can't see him across the table from Gorbachev. I can see him saying, "Come to Arizona. We'll sit in the sun and talk about it." Nope, Mario's the guy.

DAVE TURNER continues his interview with FRANK ZAPPA in ISSUE 28 of BUZZ MAGAZINE. FRANK discusses DRUGS, THE PMRC, JELLO and HIS KIDS next time. Don't miss it.

This interview is based on the interview published in Mother People as "A Pre-Tour Interview With FZ At His House – January 12th, 1988".

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