Pop Chronicles interview

From Zappa Wiki Jawaka
Revision as of 09:54, 24 September 2019 by PopFanDoug (Talk | contribs)

Jump to: navigation, search

John Gilliland, for the Pop Chronicles, interviewed Frank Zappa on December 8, 1967 and March 5, 1969. For the first time, transcripts of part these interviews are published here at Zappa Wiki Jawaka, courtesy of the John Gilliland Collection at the University of North Texas. Parts of this interview were included in the Pop Chronicles documentary, but Zappa spoke freely so parts were not and could not be broadcast on the radio.


Partial Transcription

1969 interview


  1. Reading from Life magazine…his impressions of “Rock Around the Clock.”
  2. Reading bit on Elvis Presley (from initial but boogered interview.)
  3. Comparing late ‘60s music with pop music of the mid-fifties, reading from initial interview transcript.
  4. On Reuben and the Jets (sic) …and the “grand old ‘50s groups.”
  5. Differences between Reuben & Jets & current Mothers’ stuff (brief).
  6. Theory of modal chanting related to r&b music.

“Yeah, I think it has a lot to do with the sound that is known to the trades as parallel 5ths and modal, melodic movement and modal, harmonizations. It evokes a certain very underground response in people. Maybe even just a certain kind of people but the ones it affects, it really gets ‘em. And I think …

let's say your [sic] were an early Christian, you know, and nobody liked you. You weren't on the charts yet. And they're getting ready to feed you to an animal someplace. And the Romans, who are really rocking out and having a lot of fun...you know, at those parties where everybody takes their clothes off...they weren't going for you because they thought you were square and out of it. And all you had was your music...your mumbling down there in the catacombs, you know, under the city where you used to hide to get away from those guys. And you get down there and you sing your chants, you know. And there's a similarity between that and teen-age music that was happening the the fifties. Your parents didn't like you. They didn't understand you. They're actually afraid of you. They grew to hate you and wished that You'd never been born. Well, at least, they wished you would go out and get a job or something. Get rid of that greasy hair you had. Today it's get rid of that other kind of hair you have. People are very hair conscious, you know. I think that's an extension of Madison Avenue's, uh, anti-affluvia (sic) campaigns, you know. Don't stink. Uh, don't be the way you are. You gotta improve yourself..you know. Long hair poses some kind of smelly threat. But in the fifties, uh, the rock music had a lot of those good harmonic progressions that I thought were similar to what must have been going on down in those Christian dungeons in the olden days. Aw, I mny be wrong. What do I know.

JOHN: You said you tried to get some money on a grant to do that in college.

ZAPPA: "Yeah... I approached some people while I was attending Chafee (?) Jr. College in Ontario, California , about doing research into the relationship between parallel fifths and teen-age hysteria. And the guy said, "What, you out of your mind? You don't have a degree." And I said, "Look, I'm still young enough where I can talk to kids, you know, and I can find things out and it might mean something later on." "You crazy? What do you think this would cost?" And I said, "Oh it won't cost but about 700 dollars. Just enough for me to eat for a few months while I was, you know, doing the work. Get myself a tape recorder. Goin' out. Ask people a few questions." He said, "Look, why don't you go through school, get yourself a few degrees, and then maybe you can get a grant from a foundation and go out and find out about that stuff." And that's when I quit school.

JOHN: You said you had a harmony course, though. That's kind of interesting.

ZAPPA: "Yeah ... I had a harmony course. They showed you how to harmonize old time music, you know. They showed you all the ins and outs and whys and wherefores of how all those old guys used to harmonize their tunes. Most of which I could not identify with. It's very difficult for me to see how harmonizing a chorale would come in handy later on, in my teen-age career. I can still apply a little of that rudimentary nonsense that they show you in school but, whenever I do, you know, I always think that I'm getting my mind locked into a system that is outdated. You know. They teach you in harmony courses in school about voice leading...certain voices shouldn't move to position A or position B...because...(Clears throat) Pardon me, please, ladies and gentlemen. That you shouldn't have parallel 5ths or parallel octives (sic) ... or all this other stuff. But that's what sounds good to me. And most of what sounds good to you, teen America, on the radio... your favorite music... is just crawling with parallel octives, parallel 5ths...everything. Because it's the easiest way to harmonize something, you know. One of the things that was very strong about the Cream was their parallel thirds on some of the vocal overdubbing. And, you know, there's a lot of wrong stuff in there by harmony course standards. But that didn't keep you from liking it, did it?

  1. Impressions of Captain Beefheart.
  2. English response to American music.

"That's because on their radio stations and different places where music was brought to the public, they didn't have a ban against Negro artists...like radio in the United States did. You know, in the fifties, most AM stations would not play records by Negroes. You guys should be ashamed of yourselves. Pigs!

JOHN: You mentioned melodies. And I know a lot of people feel you're writing some of the best melodies in the country today.

ZAPPA: I hadn't noticed that. I think that the melodies are kind of nice but nobody ever like (sic) the melodies. Nobody ever came up to us and commented about our melodies. They always say, "You guys sure do some funny stuff," and they talk about the funny words. But nobody ever says anything about our melodies and chord changes.

JOHN: Well...why...?

ZAPPA: Why'd you say something about it? What's your trip, buddy?

JOHN: (Following group laughter) Well why do you got out of these beautiful melodies then instead of, say, developing them... and going into the funny stuff?

ZAPPA: Why not? I got a sense of humor. And I think that everybody should have a sense of humor. It doesn't have to be like mine. You can laugh at whatever you want but you gotta laugh at something. You can't take it all seriously. If you do, you'll believe in the government ... and all those other things that are, you know, that are really crazy. So we like to have a good time with our tunes. We'll take them apart for you. You know, like we'll play a little melody and . . . right before your very eyes and teen-age ears . . . we'll dismantle it for you and show you where we put the glue . . . show you where the screws and nails go . . . show you where the braces and the supports went to hold it out. You know, that little shiney part that we show to you in the front. And we show you all the gruesome stuff on the inside. It's like looking at the other side of the cave in a science fiction movie, you know, where the giant spider is. You know that cave is phoney. You know there's a bunch of boards on the other side . . . with a guy with a T-shirt on, leaning up against it, eating a sandwich. That's what we show you, you know. You gotta be ready to accept that. That's real. [...]

  1. More on Captain Beefheart.
  2. On changing the arrangements... & the Shirley Ann incident.
  3. (More on the Mothers' "freak-outs"

Then we turned around and played a boogie for about a half an hour... during which time the road manager from some other group, this really big Paul Bunyon-size guy in overalls, came out on stage... (next page)

[...p. 7] 12. On the evolution of an album, We're Only In It For The Money.

ZAPPA: You just keep working on it until it's done, you know. It's done when you run out of money.

JOHN: Well, did this begin with one song or with . . .

ZAPPA: It began with "Mom & Dad."

JOHN: With "Mom & Dad"?

ZAPPA: Uh-huh.

JOHN: Had you originally planned to put Lumpy Gravy . . . and the two of 'em in one jacket?

ZAPPA: I would've like to have done that but there were a lot of legal problems in doing that, because Lumpy Gravy was originally done for Capitol and it was still being contested at that time.

JOHN: Well, the reviews for the first one have been better than for Lumpy Gravy. How do you feel about those two albums?

ZAPPA: Well, I think that they should have been completely integrated. I would like to have intercut them, you know. Like, if I had my chance to do it all over again, I would probably put that out as a two-record set and have the material more interspersed with orchestral interludes between the songs on We're Only In It For The Money. But I just couldn't put it together that way. And it doesn't bother me if people don't like what we do. I just feel sorry for them that they're not havin' as much fun as they ought to.

JOHN: (A question about the apparent satire on other rock groups in the Zappa album.)

ZAPPA: Where? In "We're Only In It For The Money"?

JOHN: Yeah.


[p. 9] (After Spector's comment on the "awful-good" record) "Well all I can say is that his taste and mine run pretty close together. I can name a couple more. I like 'Ninety-Six Tears.' (Loud reaction from group) I mean I thought . . . listen! 'Ninety-Six Tears'! Wow! That's an art statement. And . . . in the past I had said a bunch of bad things about Tommy James and the Shondels, you know. But, when I heard 'Crimson And Clover,' I said, 'Well . . . they really got something going for 'em.' That really turned out to be a winner. And 'Wild Things' was so bad it was magnificent. That was a heavy item. We did a version of 'Ninety-Six Tears' in the Bronx, that we called 'Tiny Sick Tears.' We have it on tape. Might wheel a bit of it over to you. (Reaction and Zappa laughing). 'I'm gonna cry tiny sick tears.'"

(The 1969 interview did not scan well, so please see the scanned version, for the parts of this interview not yet included here. The original was written on a typewriter, so the links above are added.)

1967 interview

(The 1967 interview scanned better, and so the OCR text is included below. INT is the interviewer, John Gilliland. SUB is the subject, Frank Zappa. Beware of scanos that remain.)

FRANK ZAPPA (Mothers of Invention) - Hollywood - 12-8-67
INT : Well you know the thing that occurred to me when I
approached you out on the floor this afternoon but just as a
background piece b e fore some= some intelligent listening in
places was when should we start taking you seriously?
SUB : Oh any time you like.
INT : ~re there a - now - the re seem like a lot of very , very
funny things on there . A lot of excellent parodies but now -
and then the re are other things to me that hit me as very
real and frightening .
SUB: Well there is such a th! ng as an excellently frightening
INT: What nr e you really trying to do? Is that - is that an
unfair question?
SUB: No that is not unfair, it is a little corny because like
we are trying to make music and i f it comes out to be frightening
and it comes out t o be parody and it comes out however you
want t o perceive it, it is our music and that ' s what we do .
I NT : What about - how important is that aspect .
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 2
SUB : Shock - you find th~t shocking?
INT : No - but I was thinking again of that thing I read -
you know - where they said you were trying to get them out
of there _______ ? What else do you do with it?
SUB : Well it is very - if there is any shock element of
those records , i i: is very mild compared to what we do live
on stage. In our 5 month engagement in New York some of
the things we did on stage were physically shocking . You know
not just saying things that some people might say were taboo .
Some of the things that we did on stage really upset people ,
or made them cry. It disturbed them so that they were so
wasted when they left there that they didn ' t know what had
happened to them . Like the night that we had 3 full dressed
United States Marines on stage .
INT : What did they do?
SUB : Well they volunteered to sing and I said well if you
volunteer to sing you will also have to take part in the show.
When I give you the signal you lunge for the microphone and
start screaming kilJ kill. So t hey did - you know - and the
audience thought this is really weird . After it was a l l over
and they clapped I motioned to them to thank the audience . One
Marine walks to the microphone and says a - eat the apple -
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 3
fuck the core and the second Marine walks up and says - eat
the apple - fuck the core and the third one walks up and says
eat the apple - fuck the core - some of us love our mothers more .
And nobody knew what to do. These guys were i n full dress
blues. They just burned the flag on our stage . So the second
half of thf~ show we got this giant baby doll . We didn ' t show
it to them. They were up there bopping around and hoving
merry fun . They were a little drunk - you know - and doing
the normal Marine Corp . fun time routine . I stopped the
music and said ah - we are going to have a little basic
training . Boys and girls this is a gook baby and the Marines
are going to kill it for you . Here , and I threw it to them ,
Kill this baby and they ripped the piss out of it , stomped i t ,
wasted the head - you know - just completely ruined it. We
made crashing , smashing , noises o n t he instruments - you know -
~nd. t he audience was get.ti ng nauseous. We quieted the music
down and made it real sad and I held the doll up by the hair
and showed the injured parts of the doll to the audience for
ten minutes . Then we stopped and that was the end of the show .
And there was this guy i n the front row that had just come
back from Viet Nam that was beggin us to stop all the way
through the whole thing . That is an atrocity and you can't
record it - you know - because it doesn ' t come off on record .
Live in person it is a very effective a - means of making
people chink a little bit about things that they tend to
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 4
INT : Think it changes anything?
SUB: Everything changes , with or without that sort of stuff .
~ut you know some - some of the ways in which things are changed
can be steered. People , although they resist change , are actually
geared for change , especially in the United States.
INT : That ' s an interesting point .
SUB : Like people don ' t like to be changed , but t hey do change .
So you have to find very subtle ways of making them change their
opinions. And they are - each and everyone of us in the United
States today or in the world , b u t especially in the United
States because there is this gigantic - uh - advertising - uh -
research - uh - thing. Now t hey got ways to make you change
your mind that you haven ' t even imagined yet, and they use them on you ,
t oo. You' re completely vulnerable - there ' s no way . It ' s
conunercial nerve gas.
INT: Why won ' t radio stations play this stuff on the air, aside
from a few lyrics that they might not be able to?
SUB: Uh - I don ' t think there ' s even anything in the lyrics
that they couldn ' t go on the air. Most people tend to dismiss
us as being less appealing than Herman and the Hermits . And I
seem to think that - uh - we don ' t - uh - try and sound funky -
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 5
bluesy and we don ' t have that good rock and teen beat all the
time , because some of the metrical structure of the music goes
a little bit beyond four beats to t he bar. But , I think a
lot of what we have to say is valid and interesting . A lot
of what American radio has to say is not valid and interesting,
There is no room for us within the programming that they have
designed. Formula radio is a very rigid stereotype thing . You
have a certain amount of records you can play for the disc
jockey and that is it . They don ' t include us . But they are
more than happy to make references to our music .
INT : I see.
SUB: Sort of comparisons . I remember I did a show in a Boston
with this guy that was really a Nazi of the first magnitude
and he brought me on there with two of the kids from the
Jefferson Airplane. He was going to play us off against each
other , he thought. He comes on there, and I didn't k now what
was going on . He starts hitting on me your music is ugly ,
everything you do is ugly - ugly and it really in that tone of
voice - you know. Grace and Spence from the Airplane are sitting
there and going what is this? We like his music , it is
wonderful. This guy is saying no it ' s ugly listen to this ,
and he had this cartridge all ready - you know - and he puts
on No Heart which is one of the songs from the album that has
a big orchestra on it, and when this big orchestra comes on it's
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 6
not ugly it ' s nice and it sounds like a composer named Block
that many people might not be familiar with - you know . It
comes on and it is banging and smashing away and he said oops
he had made a mistake and played the wrong one . It was just a
comedy o! errors - you know. A lot of people are out to prove
that what we do is ugly and hateful. Eric Bur don (? ) thinks
are music is evil .
INT : What would you suggest that I pick out to play as
representative of your group on the show? I don't intend to
interview anybody that I don't play .
SUB : Well let ' s see I would prefer that you would play stuff
from the 3rd album and from Lumpy Gravy but if you have to use
any cuts from there I like Hungry Freaks Daddy (?) and It Can ' t
Happen Here ________ (?)
INT: It Can ' t Happen Here just scared the pea out of me .
SUB: You should have seen what it did to the engineers the
day we recorded it. They couldn ' t believe that somebody was
saying that stuff in their studio. (laugh) It was really good .
INT: Here - another thing that I really liked off the album
was your - the one you dedicated to Elvis Presley, the four
part vocal harmony is just - some time harmony is really
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 7
incredible . What is a ll that - what are-------?
SUB: _______ ? It is a technique developed by Arnold
Sherinburg (?} but rea l ly not developed by Arnold Sherinburg (?)
and maybe developed by John Lee Hooker, because there is very
little difference between the technique of Pi rou Linere (?)
and the technique of I'm A Crawlin King Snake ( ? ) or I 'm Mad
With You.
INT: What do you do on these pieces like Wowy Zowy (?) Do you
plan in advance a certain kind of music you like to stick to?
SUB : Sure - that was geared for Herman and the Hermits.
INT : Oh really?
SUB: Yeah = at the time it was made. Do you remember that a
lot of the songs of Freak Out are very old. They were old
before we recorded the record and the album itself is better
than a year old. A year in Pop music is like a century. Things
INT : Yeah - well they have had so many - they sounded a little
like , at least that particular song (interference) 1958
(interference) for some reason. Is it because Herman and the
Hermits were singing in their own way in 1958?
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 8
SUB: It is more the lyrics and the punyness of the song that
was being parodyed. It is the idea why should anybody write
a song as lame as that . It was like an exercise for me . I
wanted to see how corny can you get .
INT : It was ------- ? Rock that was - all of the vocal
things that I was really interested in.
SUB: The reason it was dedicated to Elvis Presley is because
See It Hurts (?) I am thinking that he had been in to see us
but at the time we were playing at the trip, messages had been
conveyed to him about some weird dupe t hat was working down
there playing a song called Help I ' m a Rock (? ) and at that
time the g uy covered with the dimple, Elliott, was an extra
in an Elvis Presley movie . When Elvis found out that he was
in t he group he came up and was rapping to him about our
operation , so we dedicated it t o him. Through t he grapevine
we tried to get a message to Elvis Pr es l ey to ask whether or
not he would be interested in taking a job with us as a road
manager . (laugh) I thought it would be the ultimate weirdness
to go out on stage in the mid-west someplace and have some guy
unannounced who sort of looks like Elvis Presley setting up
your amplifier for you . I would just have him do one t our just
for fun because he must be bored beyond belief up there in his
pad , what an awful life.
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 9
INT : Yeah and he really isn ' t utilizing all that talent he has
either .
SUB : In the middle of the show he could sort of just walk on
and sing Hound Dog and then disappear .
INT: Did he do anything that you really +iked?
SUB : Let ' s Play House .
INT : Let ' s Play House? How did you like One Night?
SUB : I didn 't like it because I heard the original by Smiley
INT: Do you think it would have been good i f you hadn ' t heard
the original?
SUB : No - no - because i n a way he is - he was doing then a
lot of the things t hat I disapprove of that are being done by
White Soul groups . I think it ~s a little bit stupid .
INT : Like what specifically.
SUB : Oh well you know I don ' t like to talk about other groups,
name name s like the whole branch of Pop music today is devoted
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 10
to Blues being performed by young white boys who are try ing to
sound like
bother .
-----------? like Muddy Waters and just why
INT : You don ' t know of any , in your opinion any Rock group
that has been ab l e to get close to it? Lou Rawls named a couple
that he - I asked him i f he thought t h e r e was such a thing
as good white soul and he said like yeah man and the first
narne he mentioned was the Righteous Brothers who I have never
been particularly turned on to.
SUB : Well that is because t hey a r e merchandized as blue-eyed
soul and if it appeals to Lou Rawls I am s ure he is entitled
to dance to anything he wants to . I like what Eric Cl apton (?)
is dojng because a lot of things that he i s per forming live on
stage , begins with blues and manages t o transcend it completely
by the time he is don e . He is such a good p layer. Their whole
group concept , they are so intense when they play .
un- not
INT : I/fortunately have/seen them in person and that I am sorry
SUB : Yeah - they r eally get into i t .
INT: Would you like to see more p eopl e with a sense of humor
and a sense of satyre and heresy in this - i n this kind of - or
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Inve ntion) - Page 11
anywhere on the t r act?
SUB : Sure I like to see people wit h a sense of humor anyp lace .
I_ ~ d like to see it mostly in the government. ~ the Police
INT: Well now we have had very few groups in this vain at all .
I can ' t - I don' t want to compar e you with you I am just t r y ing
to think------
SUB : Sp ike Jones
I NT : Wel l I think of the Thugs (? ) for some r eason , not
necessarily musically but just the public r eaction to them
I think i f nothing e lse .
SUB: Yes and no - we k now the Thugs pretty well , they a r e
good friends of ours and we get compared to t hem a l l the time.
It stems mostly from Robert Shu l t ons (?) initial a writing
somepl ace about - you know - the compar ison between us and the
Thugs . Last ye ar he apol ogized all over t he p l ace for doing
it . There is no re a l relationship between t he approach we take ,
what we do , t here is j ust no comparison .
INT : I s all your stuff head - head arrangement?
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 12
SUB: No - a lot of it is written down . In fac t most of it
is written down in advance but 1ike things that are written
down are the poles that hold the tent up . They are structural
landmarks so that people can a - it helps them to organize in
their own mind the type of improvisation that we do , because
when we improv i se, it happens as a group. People will - like
everybody at one point or another during our live performance
gets a chance to improvise his end of the song.
INT : Kind of a great old tradition.
SUB: Well yes - it is like a cross between Lukas Poss (?) and
Dixieland. (laugh)
INT: I don ' t know the first one.
SUB: Lukas Foss (?) does the chamber improvisation ensemble
and experimented with UCLA several years ago with which I think
was a very successful experiment but - you know - the idea was
valid and we have carried that to great extremes at first .
Some of our improvisations are pol y-tone - multi-tone (?) and
just very strange things. We do electronic music live on
INT : I thought you were doing quite a lot of e l ectronic music.
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 13
SUB : Yeah - we do - we have a - the amount of equipment that
we take with us and set up is pretty frightening .
INT: Can you do all these thi ngs now - could you reproduce
the Freak Out album on stage or would you be in the same
situation the Beatles are when they say we can ' t-------
SUB: Well one of the reasons we couldn ' t reproduce some of
the things from Freak Out is like for instance it can ' t happen
now it is all my voice .
INT: All your voice?
SUB: Yes - except for a few mumbling in the background all
the predominant parts are my voice .
INT: I didn ' t know that .
SUB: So it is rough to sing 4 part harmony with yourself. Any
time you haJe go t voice doubling or things like that you can't
do them on stage a nd make them convincing. Any of the other
effects , including the orchestration , on the big things, we
have played live on stage.
I NT: Was that vocal quartet thing we talked about - ----- --
was that actually scored down on paper or was that-------?
FRANK Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 14
SUB: It is available on paper now. It was taken down by
dictation off the record by improvised in the studio . I did
one tract at a time and as I heard the tract coming back I
would make instantaneous decisions whether to harmonize with
it, sing unison with it or negate i t - you know - so that we
could have the s tructure coming along, the words were all
INT : (interference) You have really kept up with a lot of
this music for a pretty good time , an exceptional knowledge of
it. How would you a - how do you compare what is happening
now for instance and what was happening when this - when the
Rhythm and Blues first made that break through, in 1953 or
SUB : Wel l I think what is happening now i s more musical but
less soulful. I think the people that go around today - I
think it is bad. I think music is suppose to be an expression
of emotions a nd i f - if the music today i s to be considered
a - a - an accurate expression of the emotional climate of
the e nvironment which produced it, it is a pretty sad connotary
on the environment because a lot of it is very competent
musically but sterile . A lot of g r oups say I h a ve so much
soul I don 't even belie v e it and they are really out there
being soulful, they are ful l of shit. What can you say , it ' s
a ride. I wouldn ' t want to name any names but I know of one
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Inve ntion) - Page 15
prominent white b lues artist that spent more time in Chicago ' s
sou t h side learning to speak like a Negro than learning to
play . Then when he learned how to play , he learned how to play
every note upon the particular r ecords of the artist that he
was going to imitate. This is a n i ce way to earn a living. I
would rather see him doing that t han be a p lumber.
I NT : We l l then a - this right thing - this peri od in which
so many people talking about as the golde n peri od a nd the
c l assic period it isn ' t necessarily bett er than (interfere nce) .
SUB : I think tha t a l ot of things that were happening in
1955 were cosmic and - you know - what they meant in t erms of
musi cal history. The problem is that most people who review
music don ' t have the chops to r e alize, and they are so narrow
minded. They l isten to a song l ike - well Edna (?) by t he
Medallions on t he Du-tone (?) label if t hey can d i g it up . The
---------? is a crippled g uy who used to work in a
car wash with the drummer from our band . He had a number of
brothers , a nd they got together and formed t his group called
t he Medallions , and they also recorded under a cou ple o f other
ass umed names. He was singing about his girlfriend Edna , and
he r eall y loved Edna - you know - and Edna left him and t hat' s
the way it was, and that is real. What have you got that
compares to that today?
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 16
INT : What about a Day and a Life? That doesn ' t-----------
SUB: I don ' t think it comes that close. I know it is touching,
if you go for that sort of being touched, but it is a lot
different than listening to some guy who has really got it bad
for Edna and I don ' t think t he Beatles got it bad for a Day
and a Life .
INT : I can - I can think of things that have moved me a little
more i ntensi vely than (interference) I think maybe it isn't a
love by the Beatles or a number of things from the rubber
sell-out (?) before they got a l ittle too self-conscious about
SUB : Well perhaps
INT: There is some Ray Charles a Fool for You maybe or Drown
in My Own Te ars.
SUB : Drown In My Own Tears , that is from that same era .
INT : Yeah - bu t it is not the same kind of song at all .
SUB : Well it's not t he same - it's not a song about your
girlfriend and you are weeping your heart out abou t your girlfriend
but it ' s j ust about the same.
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 17
I NT : Well but it ' s - it' s like a blowing your guts out. It
has so much more intensity it seems to me .
SUB : Well it is a harder type song since you - your medium is
your message - okay. Now if you have a chord progression that
is 1 - 6 - 4 - 5 whi ch is your stock rule for progression
(sings progression) that is a slop progression. You have got
a 1 - 4 - 5 progression 12 part blues with a lot of dissident
notes in it. It gives it a different type of setting, a
different emotional impact. The more - the more of those blue
notes that you include into your musical background the more
harmonic tension it creates , which give it the harder sound.
All r ight - now we have a guy like - and those who will do our
records they would not only sing the things but they would
start talking a lot of them. Now in Edna when the g uy says
Edna (talking whisper)my darling , I want you, I need you , really
I do . In some ways he has got this dazz ling coming out of
his mouth - you know - and he is really selling it to you . If
Ray Charles in those days was screaming and you know wailing
and playing the piano and doing that, I find them j ust about
equal in intensity . Taking into consideration the type of
harmonic background that support each idea.
INT: That is interesting----------. I am not sure I agree
but let me think about it.
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Inve ntion) - Page 18
SUB : I could show you a few a acoustical e xperi ments on the
matter that would t e nd to support my t een-age t h eory . I had
a theory in college , I tried to get a grant when I was going
t o junior college to do research on the effect of paralle l
':t hc.d
fifths on the teen-age mind . Th~t a theory tha t paralle l fifths
are forb i dden in harmony books as being unpleasant and s ounding
bad but when you listen to the things that are accepted in
h armony books they are so emasculated - you know - the r e are
no balls to Mozart , I don ' t think . There are no parallel
fifths in it - you got down at the bottom t he guts type appeal.
I was thinking of the chanting that was done in the Catacombs
the sort of mottle c hanting that tended t o keep minority groups
together unde r pressure. You think about that for a minute .
You've got all these Christians and they are struggling down
the Catacombs and it is really the shits, the l i ons are goi ng
to eat them - you know - but they had the i r music , they had
t heir soul and it was full of that kind of sound. At the time
I was l iste ning to Rhythm and Blues - you know - my h i gh school
peri od tha t music was f ull of parallel f i fths and it had a
lot of that same type of ~ ':' !'.::!' eL - ,.. - like a Blues scale it
is a type of mode and it had that same appeal. I felt tha t
people that were really digging Rhythm and Blues then were a
PI u - , .., h,.c ~..-1 B-:,,. ..:.~(·
minority group" same ~as the early Christians . ~In those days
you coul dn ' t get a car from your folks anytime you wanted it
and if you h ad wanted to stay out pas t 1 2 o ' clock you might
have had t o beat your father up t o do it. Now that ' s t he way
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 19
it was . You didn ' t have all this - you know. The generation
that I came from was the pioneering generation that helped
it bust it right open for the kids that a - you know you say
to your father now , let me have the car for the evening and he
says which one - you know. It is not the same. Well anyway
all I wanted was 700 lousy dollars to live on while I was doing
my research and they said well first you have to get a degree
in sociology and I said well fuck this , so I dropped out of
INT : How much - did you have any musical training?
SUB : Mostly the library and listening to records. I had a
harmony course tha t I was taking for credit in - see when I
was in High School they kept throwing me out . I was an
incorrigible problem units and/I thought well maybe it is just
that he wants to a - maybe he doesn ' t want to go into life
as a - in agriculture because I was going to this Farm and
Country school and maybe he wants to - maybe h e just wants to
get into music. So they had this j unior college nearby and
they would send me up there a couple days a week to take a
course of music in the junior college while I was still in
high school . I t was so stupid you know. They would show you
well here is your exercise for the day, write this choral and
it ' s got to sound just like Bach - big deal. So you are
writing a hymn tune - who is that fel low? - It doesn ' t even
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Inve ntion) - Page 20
make you feel l ike you are l earning music. So I garbaged my
way through that for awhile and I didn ' t retain very much of
it . I got out of High School and drifted around fo r a little
while. Then I decided well I 'm not getting any pussy because
everybody I knew went back t o college so I went to college and
it was ridiculous , I went back to the same harmony course and
I had an ext e nsion of the same bull-shit that I had before and
I quit school and I started wri ti ng , a nd just kept on going .
INT : Well you have - you ' ve got to have a remarkable ear -
I mean - you have really got to have something up the r e - some
fantastic device man - it's j ust right.
SUB : I don ' t know whethe r it i s righ t but it works fo r me .
A l o t of peopl e don ' t like it. Eric Burn (?) doesn ' t like
it much. He thinks it is evil . (la ugh) You little devil.
INT: Listen when I came in and you were doing the o t her t ape ,
you did that beautif u l thing talking about the record, the
satire on everybody that has ever been interviewed by your
old frien d ly disc jocky. Do you do things like that often?
Do people a l ways know that you are doing that.
SUB: Sure I do . They would never know as a mat t e r of fact
because a lot of the satir e that I indulge in i s so arcan e , so
abstruse and bizarr e that they just can 't dig what l eve l it ' s on
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 21
because in satirizing something else , many of the best levels
of it go completely un-noticed for instance the most obvious
example of it is a tune America Drinks And Goes Horne on the
Absolutely Free album. Many people have not come to realize
that the chord progression itself for t hat song is one of your
all time satires on chord progressions - on chord progressions -
on chord progressions , that have been used until they are
coming out your ass hole, in those old Pop tunes. The melody
itself is constructed to fall against that chord progression
in such a way that creates a - apparently the bitter-sweet
nostalgia of that era , coupled with the lyrics which are a
parody on not just the lyrics of that era but the attitudes of
the people who might have raised their children talking about
the good old days. In other words they have got their kids
in college now with the class ring and all that shit. I put
as much secret stuff into the music as I can so that it becomes
interesting for me when I go to listen to it myself later .
You work on an album and you hear that s tuff over a nd over
again for a month or two months and I really get to hate it
so that when I finish an album I can 't even stand to listen to
it for awhile after it is done . Then when I do , there had
better be something there that I can fool around with to keep
INT: The subtlety in the (interference) and the satire in
the put on ' s struck me so much so that I am sitting here and
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Inventi on) - Page 22
wondering , is he putting me on with that , man . Do you ever
get that type of reaction from the people , about taking you
SUB : No I don 't think (interference) a nybody ever takes me
seriously because you have to remember it is human nature
that would keep you from taking somebody seriously if you
thought for a minute that person dreaded (?) you with something
that you didn ' t know . If a person doesn't know , automatically -
if you look at that coke bottle and you say, I know that ' s a
coke bottle , that coke bottle is not put ting me on , that is
a coke bottle , it says so on there, and I see what it is and
I dig it and therefore I know that I am okay in my environment.
The minute you come up with something that maybe it is not
what you think it is that - that sort of challenges you in
your relationship wi th your environment . If you can ' t stand
up to that challenge then you have probl ems . You go home and
feel bad about it. The only real answer is to block it all
and say well what ' s that, I don ' t need that shit. I've got
my coke bottle . (laugh)
INT : I am sorry I didn ' t have more time to really get
acquainted with what you have done but I did listen and I have
tried to be as h onest as I could and put all my prejudices
aside and listen with an ear. And I enjoyed -------
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 23
SUB : It is not always e asy to do .
INT : No - it is a hard thing.
SUB : But I listened to the Freak out a l bum a coup l e weeks
ago a nd I hated it.
I NT : Really?
SUB: Yeah - it sounded -----------
INT : Anything specific?
SUB : Well I j ust didn' t like the way it sounded and I am
beginning to like Absolutely Free a little bit mor e . The r e
are still some things t hat are monuments in the Freak Out
a lbum . I think that It Can ' t Happen Her e no mat t er whether
you perceive it as scarry or political satire or whatever it
is, it is a piece of music t hat really makes it and it is
just to bad that it had to b e inc luded i n a anthology of other
parodies and - you know - It' s too bad that it i s in that
INT: You know - you you you could be - you know - you could
cut your hair off a nd be a John Phillips and make a l ot of
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 24
SUB : But I don ' t want to be a John Phillips , and I certainly
don ' t want to cut my hair off .
INT: (laugh) What about the 3rd point?
SUB: Well as far as making a lot of money goes, i £ I am
supposed to , I will . But I know that I am not supposed to cut
my hair off, though.
INT: You were quoted in that article about saying - there was
a funny line about a - the ends of the hair , the longer it
SUB : Oh brain ends
INT : Yeah - brain ends - right
SUB : Sure - It is true.
INT : Cou l d you tell me t hat for the benefit of listening
which I hadn ' t heard about?
SUB : It is my own secret teen-age theory that the l o nger your
hair is the better off you are, i f you really like to be sensitive
to your environment because I have experienced a certain
increase in the amount of empathy that I can feel fo r my
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 25
environment and for different things tha t wouldn ' t matter to
most peopl e , that has taken place s ince I g r ew my hair and I
think it is brain ends. I t is connect ed to your head , it is
little wires coming out of your head - you know - like little
antenna or something
I NT : Well we mos t all know tha t pubic hai r hair increases our----
SUB : Sure - unless you r eall y go for those bald ones . (laugh)
Wh i ch has no connection with the organ of the same name . (laugh)
Sure t~rehas got to be a r eason why the r e is h air on y our
crotch. I t ' s not for crabs to l ive in, a l o t of t h em , alth ough
it is n i ce to take care of your animal friends .
INT: You know what I want to do , I - obviously can ' t play all
this on the radio but I want-----
SUB : Of course not. (lau gh)
I NT : I would l ike t o submit this whole thi ng though in the
book wh en I put the inte rview in but the only things i s - ------
SUB : Well the only problem is when y ou see this stuff on paper
unless i t is wri tten phonetically it l ooks so bad. I hate tape
recorder interviews when they a.re transcribed exact ly from t he
tape . When I see them on paper I say oh , did I say tha t. And
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 26
if I was just reading it off , and you know how you imagine in
your mind the voice of the words, you can 't imagine how the
person is really saying it . Not e nough people really know how
I talk and it would come out as a bunch of shit.
INT: We can a l ways get that Gillette paper and b leep it. (laugh)
SUB: That ' s my life - bleep it off.
INT: That ' s really a shame. I wish you know - I don ' t see
any reason why they don 't just play that interview right on the
SUB: I want to tell you something. They do in New York .
INT: Oh do they?
SUB : Riverside Radio is a church sponsored radio station and
it is AM. and they played it - one interview that a I said fuck
i n it or something , and they l eft it in . They played it
twice . Once at 7 o ' clock in the evening with the fuck taken out
and at 11 o ' clock with the thing left in . Not l ovely lines
INT : We would be immediately ________ ? , you know we have
no license , you know with the station that is operating
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 27
independently because our license was suspended . They monitor
us day and night . Big brother has a machine in the room and
records everything that is down there on record you know.
SUB : How did you loose your license?
INT: l think it was a paola type situation, now wait a minute.
Somebody cheated so~ewhere. I think they had one of these
Treasure contes ts and somebody got injured by name or something.
They were going to close down the station but our manager is
a pretty wiggy guy he said well let ' s set up a corporation
instead of putting all of these people out of b usiness and make
it a non-profit organization and give the money to educational
television ( i nterference) stay on the air with the corporation
and do just l ike we have always done. So we are that horrible
Rock and Roll man. It is financing al l of that culture that
they are watching on Channel 28 ,
SUB : Well I imagine all that culture that they are watching
on channel 28 has got to be pretty rank .
INT: Some of it is .
SUB : Educational television has got to go a l ong way before
i t is really educational . It can't be just merely
and be entertained on an educati onal station .
----- - ?
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 28
INT : Let me ask you something , do you a - t his may b e out of
line I don' t know . Do you r esent somebody like me who is really
sincerely has an interest in the music, coming and asking you
a lot of q uesti ons?
SUB: No - I welcome it because the only - seeing as how it
never g e t s played on the radio , this is the only contact I have
with the mas s public .
INT : Well now you are going to get played on thi s s h o,v .
SUB : Yeah, we l l t here is one incident but you know one program
on one station , one city and one --· - - ------
INT: How can anybody talk to you a nd n o t - and not a llow your
art to get out t h e re , whether you are writing a book or whethe r
you are painting a p i cture . How c an t hey get on a program on
television and talk abou t the a r t i s t without showing his pi c t ure?
SUB : Well it is a little rough to do but they do i t. I have
done a million interviews.
INT: That 's ambiguous isn ' t it? Comp l ete l y ambi guous .
SUB : It ' s bull-shit.
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 29
INT : Yeah - it doesn ' t have any sense whatsoever. If I had
Ernest Hemmingway on for instance and I talked to the cat and
nobody out there ever read his books. So what there are a lot
of guys running around with beards that you would l ike to go
shoot in the Congo .
SUB: Well the thing is, if it weren ' t for these odd ball people,
like yourself , taking an interest in music and wanting to talk
about it, whether they p layed it or not , a lot of peopl e wouldn ' t
even know that we were a live .
INT : Well yeah that ' s true.
SUB: That ' s why we are placing more emphasis on instrumental
music. I felt at the time of the big BMI thing in the big band
era , when it switched from instrumental to vocal music , that
was an unfortunate turning point in musical history in the
United States .
INT: Why?
SUB: Because it puts instrumental music in sort of a second
rate place . I don't think there are that many singers in the
business that are really into anything , and there are a lot of
players that are. The players wind up as accompanists for people
who merely sing . The things that they sing are very unfortunate
Frank Zappa (Mothe rs of Invention) - Page 30
written by people who merel y wri te songs , who a r e not composers.
INT: Well that is ki nd of how I f eel about some of the current
groups . I d i g what they are doing ins t r ume nta lly , like Love?
for instance , but I can ' t groove wi. th t he cat all the time f or
singing the vocal . Yo u mentio ned you liked him .
SUB : Well the thing I like about Arthur Lee ( ? ) I must say that
I like the first album better tha n the second , is that wh ereever
he is he is too much of it. It i s so g r oss that I r eally
like it.
I NT : He sound t o me like a colored cat trying to sing l ike a
white cat singing l ike a col ored cat.
SUB : I think he sounds like an i n j ured seal. (laugh) Don ' t
you t hink that Arthur Wade sounds like an injured seal?
INT : What ab out the lead singer on the Dough Bridge now (? )
SUB : I don't know whether I - ---------
INT: Again I l i ke the instrume ntal the r e.
SUB: I don ' t know wheth e r I like his voca l s t yling . I think
one of the things that I like is the way he beh aves on s t age .
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 31
It is so bizarre and artificial that - I accept that as
--------? And I have heard instrumental things that I
real ly like . I like their first album better than their second
album . I thought there was a reduction of q uality except for
that one thing that they used the electronic sound effects on
in the second album, where h e recites some --------? a
go go .
I NT : Good - who else do you like in the con temporary type ,
I don ' t care where they are?
and his
SUB : Captain Beefhear t /(? ) Magic Band. Have you heard t hem
INT: Yeah , I have heard them but not heard them if you know
what I mean .
SUB: You listen to them I am telling you. That i s the onl y
group in the United States then: is doing things in the same
general aestheric area that we are doing . A l ot of peopl e
listen to Captain Beefheart (?) and think it is a blues band
with the guy and the f unny voice. I grew up with those guys ,
and I taught a lot of them how to play.
INT: Does it take closer listening?
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 32
SUB: It does , and you have to realize that there is a lot
behind his songs. In songs like Drop Out Boogy and Grown So
Ugly and things like that. They are really groovy songs , I
really like them. You may not like them but of course you may
not like our music either so go fuck yourself. (laugh) But
I t hink they are an excellent group and I would like them to
really make it. When I got their album I just rolled all over
the f loor , I really liked it,
I NT : Have they got one album only?
SUB : I think they just have one which is called Safe As Milk.
You see I happen to know a lot about the a - well the guy
Vleet , Don Van Vleet (?) , as he calls himself these days. He
is one of your more neurotic and entertaining high school
companions and a lot of the incidences that produced the songs
that he is singing now, are so amazing and funny in school. I
am sure he may have even forgotten what it was that made him
write a song like Grown So Ugly {?) I will demonstrate. Grown
So Ug l y r ecord i s a song about a g uy that returns to his girlfriend
and she doesn 't recognize him . He is saying that he has
grown so ugly that he doesn ' t even know himself. Well Don
Vleet is a narcissist and his mother sold Avon Products door
to door . The whole house was full of them. He is one of my
best friends but you have to be realistic about this stuff so
anytime there was a new cosmetic in the house he would splash
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 33
it on some part of his body . He would just see what it would
smell like , or see what it would d o . So he took some Avon
after-shave lotion and dumped it on his hair one day and it
started falling out and then his face broke out in a giant rash
and it looked l i ke alligator s kin , he was a llergic to the
stu ff . Everything in the h ouse was Avon . He was breaking out
in scales and scabs. He was a j unior in high school see , so
he got so bad a nd he lost so much status and he could get no
action whatsoever on t h e pussy circuit at school that he left
Lancaster and moved to Eas t L . A. to live with his mothers
relatives and s t ayed there for 2 months. So h e comes back and
his face i s okay but he has got this stuff on his neck, this
ras h . For years we could always r emember Don Vl eet with his
head up like this going (making funny sound) Maybe that is why
I d i g his s tuff so much, because I know what he is tal k ing
about .
SUB : That ' s beautiful. Hey listen if you don ' t - if you
decide that the music s tuff is ever out I would love to see
you do monologues.
I NT : Talking about - wel l you know radio s t a tions and t he
way they treat our music , when we were in Boston , several weeks
ago , i n a place, the worst fuckin p lace we ever worked , no
maybe not the worst but p r ett y damn close to i t . It is called
Psychedelic Supermarket (?) It was what you call an unfinished
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 34
club , with a very mediocre to say the best, PA system. We
were forced to work there , so we did . A block and a half away
is the Boston University Radio station with a disc jocky named
Uncle T , r unning his show from midnight to 3 in the morning .
He said come on down you guys and take over my show. So the
firs t night we went down there and we talked and horsed around .
We talked about trivial stuff relating to our group . Second
night we went down there and I did this giant teen throb
admiration for Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band (?) , made
him play the records and I analized every one of the bands
on the thing. Simultaneously they were playing the tape from
the night before when we were on the show. Simultaneously
playing a bunch of others things that had been recorded along
with stories from the olden days about - like this guy that is
in the group now , his name is Alec Stclair, he is in the
Captain Beefheart group. His real name is Butch Snoffer (?).
He was the only tee nage Nazi I e ver ran into. He is German and
(loud shout) - I hate Jews . A really weird guy and we were
telling what these guys used to do in high school. It went on
to very old stories about what the guys in our group used to
do before they were in the Mothers. We got into weird things
like a an incident where a this guy - you know the guy that
was in here earlier this afternoon when we were here. He was
in Lake Tahoe with us a friend of his and a - this other guy
got stabbed 5 times in the chest with a knife and the police
report said that he fell on the knife - you know - weird things
Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) - Page 35
like that . But still it is not what you could call a radio
station that a plugs the records or does anything to really
enhance your status as American musicians. They put us on
their damn local color. All the bulk of their programming still
consists of the more acceptable San Francisco underground
INT: We are running out here.