The Frank Zappa Interview Picture Disk, pt.2
This is the second of 2 Frank Zappa interviews which were transcribed from a CD called "The Frank Zappa Interview Picture Disk". According to closest estimation based on the interview's context, it must have been conducted sometime in early to mid 1984.
The Bio says that you've got a book as well ... "Them Or Us" – I haven't seen it. Can you tell me something about it?
It's due off the press in 2 weeks in the United States, and it's Three hundred and sixty-something pages and I'm publishing it myself.
The first printing is 5000 copies.
Can you tell me something about ... what is it about? I mean, you cannot judge by the album obviously. The story has to be more ... cohesive if I may say.
The book is written ... It's a book for people who hate to read, and it's written in the style of a screenplay so that each situation is described in terms of what a camera would see, what the physical action is, what the people say and what they do. And so it takes you very quickly through some complicated situations where, if you had written it as a normal book it would be ... like that [probably makes finger-width gesture].
And it's a fiction book and it's very funny.
Has it got anything to do with the album? I mean, can the album be used as a soundtrack to it?
Well, the way it works is: the book ... you know what the Unified Field Theory is?
I'm afraid not.
Well ... in physics they have this thing that they've been looking for – it's the Unified Field Theory that explains the interrelationship between how gravity works and atomic energy and all this stuff – they're looking for one equation that explains it all and makes it work because right now there's contradictions. And ... let's just say that the book is like a Unified Field Theory that will hold together "Billy The Mountain", "Greggery Peccary", "Joe's Garage" "Them Or Us", "Thing-Fish" ... all these different stories, it shows you how they work together to make one long, really complicated story. And the "Them Or Us" album is only one part of this major release that is coming out this year.
There are three other albums that are released at approximately the same time. The Boulez album, the Francesco album, and the "Thing-Fish" album – and the book relates ... The Boulez album is not related to it but all the rest of the stuff is related. And so if you read the book and listen to those three, plus knowing from the past "Joe's Garage", "Billy The Mountain", "Greggery Peccary" then it would make an awful lot of sense to you. But other than that it's very hard to describe.
The way you describe it, it comes as a summation or culmination of what you've been working for the past twenty years, let's say?
Well, no it doesn't really work like that. People, especially in Europe, when they want to know more about what the lyrics mean, if they can read English the book would help them.
And if they can't it'll ... . confuse them very much.
Any possibility for the book being issued in this country?
Since I'm paying to have it printed myself, I'll have to just see whether or not I can sell enough of them in the United States. I haven't even spoken to any publishers in [unintelligible]. I took it to publishers in the United States and they were afraid of it, so I said "Forget it. I'll just print it myself" and sell it mail-order.
But it's obvious that what's published nowadays ... . that anything serious ... you know ... doesn't really ... . there's plenty of dross being printed nowadays as far as I can gather.
When we talked to a US publisher, they were more concerned that it LOOK like a book, and this doesn't look like a book – it looks like a screenplay. And so they have taken a position that people won't read it because it doesn't say, "The leaves fell off the tree", and "It's five o'clock" and it's all in paragraphs. I personally don't like to read, and I've said in other interviews that, for me, reading is about as much fun as standing in line at the passport window in the French airport.
[laughs] – That's very exciting.
Yeah. That exciting. So, it's designed basically for people who would enjoy the albums rather than for a literary audience.
The book, which is in a book form obviously is written like a screenplay, and the music that you've been making for the past twenty years ... you've obviously had a certain disregard for what is considered a proper album, you know what I mean – one style, each song nicely defined. I mean, let's take "Them Or Us". It's, uh, there are different pieces which, by today's industry standard, is very odd.
So. My question is: How have you managed to survive all these years in such a bitchy industry?
It's not even a matter of surviving in it because I refuse to be stopped. You know, just because somebody ... There's a big audience that wants albums that have all the same songs on 'em, and there's a number of other artists who do that so they're never going to run out of material – they'll always have what they like, but the people who like what I do like variety. They enjoy that experience of having the contrasts between a song in one style with one kind of a sound followed by something completely different. To them that's a refreshing experience.
That's the way I like to hear music, I like things next to each other that at first seem incongrous, but then when you step back into the whole thing you see it fits together properly.
So in this contest of the free discussion, what does a success mean to you?
Success to me is if I have a musical or let's say any kind of an artistic concept and I start out to execute it, if it is executed to 100% of the specifications of what I imagined when the idea first came up – that's success. That's the only thing that really matters to me because if I don't enjoy listening to it myself when it's all done, then why did I bother to do it? because there are other things I can do to make more money than this. This is a high overhead business. I happen to like what I'm doing so, to me success is if you get close to 100%
Another thing the bio states is that your interest lies more within the serious music.
No. Let me explain to you about serious music. What most people regard as serious music is not really that serious at all. See, there's been a lot of propaganda about classical music since it was first invented. Let's examine the history of classical music briefly, and then you'll see what I'm talking about.
All the music that people regard as great masterpieces today were written for the amusement of kings, churches or dictators – that's who was paying the rent. If the man who wrote the music happened to be working in a style that was appealing to the person who was paying for it at the time, he had a hit, he had a job, and he stayed alive. If he didn't, he could lose his fingers, he could lose his head, he could be exiled or he'd starve to death. There was very little in between.
All you have to do is look at a book called "Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians" and you can see that throughout the ages there have been guys who had hits and guys who didn't have hits, and it's not necessarily connected to the quality of what they wrote, it's connected to how well they pleased the patron that was paying the freight - and it's the same thing today.
So, all the norms, the acceptable norms of classical music, are really the taste norms of the church, the king, or the dictator that has been been paying for it down through the ages. It was not the taste of the people. People never got to decide. So, when you say I have more of an interest in serious music, I take my work seriously but I perceive it as entertainment and it's entertainment for those people who like that sort of entertainment. I don't write for a king, I don't write for a church, and I don't write for a government – I write for my friends and that's the way the material should be perceived – it's entertainment for them. Even if it's written for an orchestra or it's written for a rock and roll band, it makes no difference, it's the same people who would listen to the music. I have several orchestral albums, okay? Those are not purchased by people who go out and buy the Dvorak New World Symphony, they're bought by rock and roll consumers. A special type of rock and roll consumer.
So in other words, the bio is wrong because whatever music you make is serious in approach regardless to being regarded as rock and roll or put in a shops rack - rock and roll and the other one is serious music.
Hmm, I see. Well, um, future – you recently had two plays.
No, I've written them but they haven't been produced yet.
I see ... no, um, you see the bio is not right so ... (laughs)
That's the only thing I had to, uh ... Well, I see that you are extending into all these areas. I mean, movies being an old love of yours since you were 16 or something? Is there a way to stop you?
I don't understand the [unintelligible] of these because you can't ... It's hard to expand into movies because it costs so much more money to make a movie than it does to make a record and I'm self-financed.
But you were one of the first to have an independent label.
When did you realize that you can be self-employed in the industry that does not, until that time did not allow self-employment?
I realized it at the point where ... that first independent label deal was as a result of a lawsuit that was brought against MGM. They were happy to give me an independent deal because we had caught them doing something with the books that was not ... right. So they figured you know, this stuff will never sell, he'll be out of business in 15 minutes – let him do it. But my arrangement is unique, not only in the fact that I'm self-employed, but that I own my all my masters. I own the rights to everything that I do. Most people who make records do not. And I fought for that and I think that it was worth fighting for.
Can you remember what was the first, and when did you get your first guitar?
First guitar I played on was my father's guitar.
So what was actually the first guitar that you owned? Was it after that movie – "Run Home Slow"?
No, the first one that, well actually that I *owned*, yes, because prior to that time I rented the guitar. I rented a Telecaster from a music store in Ontario, California – but the first one I was able to buy was the one on "Run Home Slow". It was a PS5 Gibson SwitchMaster.
What is the one that you use now?
It's a customized Stratocaster. The only thing on this guitar that is Fender is the body. Everything else on it is custom. It has a custom neck, it has customized electronics, custom pickups, Floyd Rose tremolo.
Do you use it in the studio as well as on the stage?
I just starting using this particular guitar in July, and usually when I go on tour I take a number of guitars and I change them during the show. The ones I brought on the 82 tour I changed a lot. On this tour I just play this one guitar.
And the other part of the same article is going to be your thoughts on some of your contemporaries and your people, if you don't mind. People like Chuck Berry?
Chuck Berry? Well, I used to like Chuck Berry when I was in High School. Songs like "Havana Mill" and "Wee Wee Hours" which were the flip sides of the hits that he had – the more bluesy things. His main innovation besides that duck walk choreography was the multiple string guitar solos – the lines were harmonizing because he was playing on two strings at once. There was another guitar player who used to do that named Jimmy Nolen who I had a lot of respect for.
I don't like B.B. I saw him on television before I went on this tour and he was still blue.
Oh yeah, I've seen him recently and I thought he was amazing. Keith Richards?
I don't know anything about Keith Richards.
I knew Jimi and I think that the best thing you could say about Jimi was: there was a person who shouldn't use drugs.
I met John. I think he's a great guitar player and I think that he's probably done a lot to educate American audiences to some aspects of Eastern music that they wouldn't have come into contact with before. We did a tour with McLaughlin and old Mahavishnu, we did 11 concerts with them.
There's another guy who shouldn't use drugs.
I know Eric, I haven't seen him in years and years. There's another guy who shouldn't use drugs.
One of my favorite guitar players on the planet. From a melodic standpoint and just in terms of the conception of what he plays, he's fabulous. I like Jeff.
We worked 2 jobs with Rory Gallagher on this tour and, uh, ... [long pause] ... he's still playing the blues.
I don't know anything about Jimmy Page.
I don't know him either.
We did one concert with Garcia on this tour but we were the opening act and I didn't see any of his set.
I've met Pete but I don't know what I can say about his guitar playing.
I've never heard of Robert Fripp.
I have met Ritchie too, and ... I'm not really familiar with the work of these people because you have to understand I'm not a pop consumer and I don't listen to a lot of these.
[What do you listen to?]
Well, what I do is I take cassettes with me on the road because sometimes you're sitting in the hotel room and you just want to listen to something, but what I take is not rock and roll. I like Chopin, I have Purcell, I have Webern, I have Varèse, I have Bulgarian music. I don't listen to Rock and roll.
Yes, um, Carlos Santana?
We worked with Carlos Santana on Cologne in 1980 or 81 and it was a similar situation. We did two shows at the sport palace in Cologne. They opened the first show, we closed it. Then we opened the second show and they closed it so I never heard him play.
As you said you don't listen to popular music so I don't expect you know Eddie Van Halen.
I do know Eddie. He comes over to the house because he hangs out with my son.
I see. But do you know him as a guitar player?
Oh yeah. He and my son play together and he's fabulous, but there's another guy who shouldn't use drugs.
I presume you don't know The Edge – from U2?
[unintelligible] from Big Country?
What would be your thoughts on the original guitar playing of the Mothers, i.e. yourself?
Well, there's one other guy whose work I know who should be included in that list who I respect and that's Allan Holdsworth.
I was going to ask you who was your favorite guitar player.
Well, my original favorite guitar player was Johnny "Guitar" Watson, not from a technical standpoint but from listening to what his notes meant in the context in which they were played; and also Guitar Slim who was the first guitar player that I ever heard that had distortion – even during the 50s. In a strange way I think I probably derive more of my style from his approach to the guitar from the solos that I heard then.
You still haven't told me your thoughts on yourself as a guitar player.
Well, I do something very different on the guitar. I don't so much play the guitar as make up stuff ... the notes that I play during the solo, I conceive it as a composition that's happening instantly at the time that it's ... You know, you have 2 minutes to fill up or you have 9 minutes to fill up or whatever it is – a piece of time which is anywhere from 2 to 9 minutes long and you're gonna decorate it with notes – you're gonna make a composition in there.
The quality of that composition is determined by what you're physically capable of playing at that time, what the rhythm section will allow you to play and whether or not the keyboard player who's supplying the harmonic climate is going to mess up what you're playing by sticking in his favorite Jazz Chord right there. These are all the dangers a person faces when improvising a guitar solo.
There are some guitar players who will practise their guitar solos and they will always be perfect and they will be the same every night – I don't do that. When it's time to play, I don't know what I'm going to play until I start doing it; and then an idea will pop up and I'll just develop it in the same way I'd develop an idea on a piece paper except that I don't have to wait to hear it – I get to hear it as it's coming out.
And the last question on this section is: What would be the future of guitar – or rather, how do you see the future of guitar in the increasingly synth and keyboard orientation to music?
There will always be a market for people who want to hear guitars squealing and oinking and bending and twanging and making sounds like guitars are supposed to make. There is a market of people who are interested in fashion and they will begin hating all those other old guitar sounds in favor of guitar sounds which are not like guitar sounds but are played in guitar position but sound like synthesizers – there's a market for that, there are people who want to hear it – but I don't think that will be the ultimate future of the guitar.
I would like to ask you 2 questions: one is ... on "Some Time In New York City", the John Lennon and Yoko Ono?
What about it?
What was it? How did it come about and all that?
The day before the show, a journalist in New York City woke me up – knocked on the door and is standing there with a tape recorder and goes: "Frank, I'd like to introduce you to John Lennon," you know, waiting for me to gasp and fall on the floor and I said "Well, ok. Come on in." And we sat around and talked, and I think the first thing he said to me was "You're not as ugly as I thought you would be." So anyway, I thought he had a pretty good sense of humor so I invited him to come down and jam with us at the Fillmore East.
We had already booked in a recording truck because we were making the "Live at the Fillmore" album at the time. After they had sat in with us, an arrangement was made that we would both have access to the tapes. He wanted to release it with his mix and I had the right to release it with my mix – so that's how that one section came about.
The bad part is, there's a song that I wrote called "King Kong" which we played that night, and I don't know whether it was Yoko's idea or John's idea but they changed the name of the song to "Jam Rag", gave themselves writing and publishing credit on it, stuck it on an album and never paid me. It was obviously not a jam session song – its got a melody, its got a bass line, it's obviously an organized song – little bit disappointing. I've never released my version of the mixes of that night.
Do you ever intend to?
One day yeah – but it would be drastically different because there were things that were edited out of their version and certain words that were being sung that were removed because of the editorial slant that they wanted to apply to the material and I have a slightly different viewpoint on it.
And the last question is: You've been promising a 10-volume set of The Soots.
Never of The Soots, no. The Soots don't have 10 volumes worth of material but what will come out is, now that I own all the masters for my stuff – the first box that has the first seven ... all the early Mothers stuff plus the Mystery Disc which has some Soots material on it. That is now ready for release in the United States. The 10-record set that you referred to was live recordings of the early Mothers Of Invention. I can release that but I'm not going to until after I've re-released the whole catalog of the basic albums that I just got back from this lawsuit and that's coming out. Seven records per year with one box about every five years.
I'd like to listen to them. Thank you very much.
As with the first transcription, the Interviewer is not credited on the disc and so he remains anonymous. Due to the context and the accent of the interviewer, that this was possibly conducted somewhere in Germany. While in the first interview it was obvious that the interviewer was a fan, in this one it seems equally clear that this interviewer knows very little of Frank and his work. He keeps referring to an incorrect bio for information on asking some of his questions.
This Interview was fairly hard to transcribe in places because of the poor quality of the original recording. I have tried to present it as accurately as possible.
The CD that this material comes from contains positively NO copyright information of any sort. This text was transcribed by Robert Moore on Saturday, Dec.11 at 1:40 AM EDT – a mere week since FZ died at the much-too-early age of 52.