The Mothers Are Dead, But Zappa's Still Very Much Alive
By Richard Williams
Melody Maker, October 25, 1969
The Mothers are dead. Killed by a public apathy towards a style of music which the rest of the world will catch up with maybe around 1975.
After Frank Zappa had announced that he and his loveable bunch of freaks were no longer together, the MM rang him at his Los Angeles home to ask about the reasons for the break-up.
" I don't like to say that we're breaking up – we're just not performing any more," he replied enigmatically.
"We're not getting across, and if we'd continued to progress at the rate we've been doing for the last year and a half, we wouldn't have any audience left at all.
"We were heading towards concert music – electronic chamber music. We performed it several times in America and had horrible reviews and an unpleasant audience response.
"The reviews we got were so simplistic, and I don't want to go on having to put up with all that bullshit.
"We played my bassoon concerto at the Fillmore East, and one critic described it as an 'oboe concerto.' He also said that he'd paid his money to hear rock and roll and he didn't see why he should put up with all that classical garbage.
"People have a great need to put music into little boxes, and they've never been able to do that with us.
"Am I discouraged? Sure I'm discouraged.
"But I don't want to make it sound as if we quit just because we got a bad press. If we'd done that, we'd only have lasted six months.
" It looked as though we weren't going to be able to achieve the goals we'd set for the group. There was too much resistance from all quarters, so we decided to cool it.
"Maybe in two or three years people will be able to look back and assess what the Mothers accomplished; maybe they'll be able to catch up with the music.
"And who knows, it's possible that sometime in the future we may even put the band back together again."
Meanwhile, Frank has a typically unlikely plan to put out the 12 unissued Mothers albums he has ready for release.
" I'm negotiating with Playboy magazine to start a Mothers' Record Club. Members will be able to receive the albums either one a month for a year, or all at once.
"Why Playboy? It's got a large circulation. I couldn't do it through an underground paper, because they don't reach enough people. And it's going to cost a fortune just to press and put covers on these albums.
"I'm also doing a pilot TV show this week, and if it works out then I'll have my own weekly TV series. It will be syndicated, which means that stations will be either show it or not show it – they can't cut or censor it.
"They are building a set in the studio exactly like my basement room, only slightly larger, and in this fraudulent replica of my basement there will be amplifiers and musical instruments so that I can throw people into the corner and tell them to play.
"For the first show I'm trying to get, as guests, Hubert Humphrey, Captain Kangaroo – who's a kind of folk hero in the States, he has his own kids' TV show – Mick Jagger, Captain Beefheart, and Lightnin' Slim.
"It will last one hour. The people will all talk together, and we'll see what kind of madness we can get into."
Frank's record label, Straight, also has its next batch of four albums coming out shortly.
"The GTOs' album is finally coming out, and there'll be new ones from Tim Buckley and a group called Pin Rod." Frank will be bringing Beefheart over to Europe for the BYG pop and jazz festival this weekend, and says that he hopes to bring the Captain and his Magic Band to Britain for a press reception.
"Beefheart's operating at a disadvantage at the moment," he said. "One of the lead guitarists hit the bass player in the mouth and broke his dentures.
"So the other lead guitarist smashed Jeff's ribs and put him in hospital. Then the whole group got together, got Jeff out of hospital, bought him some clothes, and sent him back to the desert.
"Now one guitarist – Zoot Horn Rollo – is playing both guitar parts, which are very intricate. I don't know how he does it."
I expressed a sincere hope that the end of the Mothers would not mean the end of Frank's compositions, and he replied: "Well I've booked the Albert Hall for a concert on April 25 next year. It'll be an orchestra playing my compositions, which will be the first time this has happened."
No more cruising past the hamburger stands, digging the music of Ruben and the Jets, but ... the Mothers are dead: long live Frank Zappa!