Zappa On Air
Nuggets, No. 7, April 1977
An exclusive transcript of an American radio programme in which Francis Vincent Zappa discourses about the CIA, youth, drugs and his idea of a woman...
Intro: And so we enter the unknown with Suzy Creamcheese. This is going to be a reckless hour with one of the fathers of American freak-rocker, make that one of the Mothers of freak-rock. Join me for an Innerview of one of the most creative mothers of rock n roll, Frank Zappa.
Jim Ladd: How many albums has Frank Zappa and/or any combination of the Mothers put out to date?
FZ: About 22.
JL: Is that right? Do you ever think you'll ever achieve commercial recognition?
FZ: No. I don't think that's necessarily a criterion by which to judge what I do. Unfortunately that's the American way because Americans always seem to judge how good a thing is by how many people have come in contact with it. Alright. So in order that an awful lot of people can come in contact with it, it has to be put on the media so that it goes out to a lot of people. You see, before a record is sold in large quantities it has to be heard in large quantities and I think that's absolutely excellent, but so what!
("Yellow Snow", 1'13")
... For every artist who makes music there's somebody out there who wants to hear that music, even if it's the artist's mother, father, sister or brother – there's an audience for all of it someplace. So everyone has a right to access to what they enjoy. The only thing I'm concerned about is that people are aware that there are alternatives to Captain & Tennile or the Allman Bros. There might be people out there who like what I do if they only knew what it is that I do. Like people have heard my name, and maybe seen a picture of me sitting on a toilet and they think that that's what I do. Well I do sit on the toilet – but so do you, but besides sitting on the toilet I also play guitar, I also write these funny songs that aren't funny sometimes, and write music for orchestra and do a bunch of other things.
FRANK ZAPPA has always had "a bunch of other things to do, ever since the first Mothers of Invention album in 1965. It was called Freak Out! and it was the first 2-disc concept album in the history of rock n roll. It became a cult classic and so did the Mothers – a shifting assortment of musicians and fellow travelers of the Zappa sound. Now, since that beginning Zappa has written and produced everything from jazz-rock to nonsense blues, from parody to ballet – his music has always had an almost visual quality, and so strong are his images that he's almost a cartoonist who draws with melody and lyrics. And it's no surprise that he's now gotten into TV. Well ... almost. We continue now with the story of his first TV special – that nobody wants.
FZ: It's a television show that was shot at KCET about 3 years ago and it's been shown on the air in France and Switzerland. It's never been broadcast in the U.S. and the only audiences that have seen it in the States have been at private showings or at a Frank Zappa Film Festival that was held in Ann Arbor, Michigan but other than that nobody in the States has seen it.
JL: What's the chances of getting this TV thing on in America? What problems have you run into?
FZ: Quite a few. Most of the people who have seen it have said "Boy that's really fantastic" and when the time has come to talk about putting it on the air the best I've had is "Well, we'll sort of do you a public service and we'll sort of put it on" but you know it cost $200,000 of my money and I would like to get that back so I can do another one.
JL: And you've approached the networks and like, subsidiary networks ...?
FZ: Yeah, yeah, I've been through all that crap.
JL: That's really sad.
FZ: Yeah, let's weep.
("I'm The Slime", 2' 23")
JL: How long before do you think before the media says "Enough of the game shows – let's get into something good"?
FZ: I don't think it'll happen in our lifetime. As long as they can make a buck from a show that cost $2 and gives unemployed Hollywood actors a chance to go on and do guessing routines, or gives housewives a chance to put on a costume and jump up and down next to the announcer with the Man Tan skin and pretend to be excited about a refrigerator – so long as they can do that, why should they do anything else?
JL: Have you seen "Saturday Night"?
FZ: Watched it last weekend.
JL: Whaddya think?
FZ: Some of the routines were fantastic. I thought one of the great things of television history was when Rita Coolidge was singing and they had a rhythm section with the guitar player Burned up. And the piano player was playing a solo. I watched him for about two minutes whapping away on the keys and there was zero coming out.
POLITICS AND TV. Both have come a long way since the early sixties. Or have they?
FZ: The best thing that the government has working for them is that the people that they are trying to control are willing to be controlled.
BUT WHAT about the changes in society? The fall-out from the explosion of the Summer of Love. Well, naturally, Frank Zappa isn't buying any of the popular notions of our generation. While many people speak nostalgically of the San Francisco experience of the late sixties as a time of peace, love and awakening in our generation, Frank Zappa doesn't agree. He was there then, and he looks back now with a different perspective.
FZ: First of all you have to realize that some aspects of the sixties are very easily forgotten. Now, people overlook some of the facts about the sixties.
JL: Some of the harder times.
FZ: No, I'm not talking about the harder times, but some of the underlying things that were really going on. For instance, LSD. Now let's face it LSD was manufactured by the CIA. We already know that; they were using it on people in the Army to test it and the connection that was dealing with people in San Francisco in those days was probably working for the Government and he was using the whole teenage population in order to test that drug.
JL: Is that what you believe?
FZ: Yeah, I believe that. I believe that part of that whole situation during the sixties was government manufactured. That stuff's been around for years – way before Haight-Ashbury. Haight-Ashbury was just the logical extension of their testing.
JL: Are you telling me then that that whole incredible thing that went down in Haight and all that was, if nothing else, not a sporadic phenomenon that just happened.
FZ: I would say that it was as manufactured as a lot of the riots that were manufactured for television broadcast in order to support another party's political view.
JL: That's incredible. If there's anything that seems to have worked against the government that's it.
FZ: Bah, humbug! What about all those riots you saw on television only to find out a few years later that they were under the auspices of various government agencies that were working for Nixon or somebody, that were working to stage riots, to make things look a certain way, to have proper television coverage of that event and to have young people portrayed in a certain light so that the vast majority of the people in the United States who had voting power or who had something to do with the money transfer business would see things in a certain way.
Look, in the 1950's a teenager was an unwanted commodity. Nobody knew yet that that was the new big consumer market. They were just troublemakers, you know, so teenagers were just sort of swept under the rug. They were the wild teenage thrill seekers and juvenile delinquents, and nobody had any use for them until they found out that those little spare-time jobs that they were getting and the money they were getting for allowances when added up turned out to be billions of dollars a year for certain products. At the point that that was discovered one of the great truths of business lit up over the heads of all those people in the places where they work on those kind of things....
JL: We can farm this whole ...
FZ: That's right! Let's get their bucks, and that's all it was. We can't just get their bucks, we have to keep them under control because money means power. If these kids have money then they have power, and if they ever find out that they have power, then we're in trouble you know, they'll be uncooperative. So they have to be dealt with, and there are ways of dealing with them.
JL: The only thing I find hard to believe, and I'm willing to change my opinion, is that Leary, who spend all that time in jail on grounds that ...
FZ: Mm, look. How about some of the Watergate people who wound up spending time in jail, I mean that's one of the things that you do when you wind up working for the CIA or any of these government agencies. You might wind up in jail but that ain't tough on you. I mean, you go to jail, but you go to special jail, you go to comfy jail – you don't go lo Tank C ...
JL: Well, yeah, but there ain't no comfy jail in Orange County, Frank ...
FZ: You sure? What do I know?
JL: I'm only asking for your opinion.
FZ: That's my opinion. I don't believe any of them. I think that the government has acted despicably in the past, perpetrating this horrible hoax against the American teenage population. If you want my opinion that's it. I believe that the whole syndrome, especially San Francisco, was government manufactured.
JL: And you think it was pointless?
FZ: No, I think you can learn a lot from it if you look at it the right way. My idea of looking at it the right way is to see that it was directly connected with the government and to see how all-pervasive the government of the United States can be, in places where you wouldn't expect it to stick its head up. People are usually aware when the government's hand goes in their pocket; they're not usually aware when the government's hand reaches for other erogenous zones on their body, or covers their eyes up.
JL: How long do you say we have in this ... illusion of freedom then?
FZ: Ha. I would say the illusion will continue as long as it's profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move all the tables and chairs out of the way, and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theatre.
JL: Whatever happened to consciousness expansion?
FZ: Consciousness expansion is something you pay for at a certain seminar. If that's the vehicle, that's the vehicle – Catholicism or TM.
JL: Why does it work?
FZ: Well, as long as you pay, that's the bottom line. For every one of these things you're paying – nobody was ever a Catholic for free. Nobody ever went to TM for free. Fact of the matter is there is no hip world, there is no straight world, there's a world, you see, which has people in it who believe in a variety of different things. Everybody believes in something and everybody, by virtue of the fact that they believe in something uses that something to support their existence. Who is to decide that this guy over here is really right. Who decides that stuff?
SO IF FRANK ZAPPA'S mind expansion doesn't come from any of the schools of mystic enlightenment, what does it take for him? Possibly it's drugs?
FZ: Still haven't used any LSD. Still haven't used any drugs.
AND NOW THAT may come as a surprise to some people. When Freak Out! appeared in the SF heydays most of us assumed that he was part of the drug culture. So what's his answer?
FZ: Do it sexually, that's the only way you're going to set yourself free.
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FZ: You know the thing that amazes me is that the general consensus of opinion, which is probably brought about by the government, is that it's impossible to do anything creative unless you use chemicals. You see, most kids think that way, and I think that it's an erroneous assumption and as long as they're led to believe that there's going to be a market for these drugs, and the drugs are part of the way the government keeps everybody under control. Notice, conveniently, how certain drugs go on and off the charts.
JL: The drug charts!
FZ: That's right OK, you have to think of this as a merchandising plan.
JL: That's very funny.
FZ: It's not funny, it's true, it's the way it is. People who are in the business of selling drugs to people let a certain drug happen for a while so everybody says "Yeah that's really in", and you have acceptance in your peer group so long as you are expert in the use of a certain type of drug. The social niceties of how you're going to snort Brand X – if you know all the right hip little moves of how you're supposed to chop it up etc. In Hollywood I saw some guy express his ultimate coolness by dumping his cocaine on the corner of a Hammond organ and refusing to snort it except through a rolled-up $100 bill. That's how hip he was.
("Pygmy Twylyte", 1'34")
All this stuff not only gives you a physical sensation, it gives you a social sensation; it gives you the impression that you have social worth in a certain circle of friends, because you have all the mannerisms of a certain lifestyle and because that is different from certain other lifestyles you must therefore be better. It just tends to reinforce feelings of self-worth in instances of people who might not have too much self-worth and need some.
So if you can't get it from religion, and you can't get it from television, or from your Mom and Dad you're going to get it from the guy down the street who's going to provide it to you for a price, and everybody's charging you for this. If it's not the guy who's selling you dope, it's the guy who's going to give you a word that'll set you free, or it's some other schmuck who's going to tell you to roll around the floor and that's going lo set you free, and everybody wants to get set free onetime.
OK, well you want to get set free onetime, all you have to do is get your pants off, admit that you have your pants off, find somebody of the opposite sex, or, if you wanna be a little bit weird, you can do something else, but do it sexually, that's the only way you're going to set yourself free.
JL: That's your vehicle then – or your drug.
FZ: Well, I think that it's not a drug, it's closer to the way things are really constructed. But to me that's much more logical because it's like a built-in appliance
JL: It's a tool ...
FZ: It's a tool, so to speak. You're already given that method for amusement. You know, it's not just for making babies, it's definitely the finest form of amusement.
("Dirty Love", 2'34")
Since the United States was founded by people who didn't know about that kind of amusement or didn't like to talk about it too much, you those Puritans, anyone who goes around wearing black with big buckles all over their clothes has got to be nuts. You know, the thing is, you should get used to thinking about these things in natural terms, think about them as they really are, and next time somebody announces that there's a smut clean-up in your town then you know right away that it's a gimmick; it's got nothing to do with sex being dirty, it's nut like that at all, that's the most blatant example of governmental mind control at its simplest home-town level.
("Dirty Love", 56")
YOU KNOW women figure in a lot of Zappa tunes, and in the way he sets himself free, Well, Frank Zappa has his own ideas on how to set a woman free ...
JL: Have you ever met a woman who was impressed by your mind, or was it always da da goo goo back to the chorus again?
FZ: Oh, I certainly know a few smart girls. I actually know a few smart women. They are extremely rare, smart women, because the women themselves are rare – there's plenty of girls and ladies out there as you all know.
Just remember that a girl as a person has a choice of becoming a woman or a lady, and a lady is a thing that needs to be liberated, not a woman. Now, to liberate a lady, first thing you do is take her white gloves off ...
JL: And from there?
FZ: You improvise.
("Motherly Love", 1' 54")
JL: Let's say that you met this incredibly beautiful young fox who was a lady from Iowa – white gloves, tight skirt, real hose (no panty hose) spiked shoes, garters and the works ...
FZ: Strong Baptist background ...
JL: Hey! How would you go about liberating this young thing into being the total person God meant her to be?
FZ: Well, first of all I wouldn't bother because if she's that well packaged she definitely into it and it's none of my business. I don't think it's my business to go around inflicting my lifestyle on other people.
("Dinah-Moe Humm", 2'22")
JL: You seem to be surviving, you look healthy, you don't seem to be a casualty.
FZ: I can still tie my own shoelaces – I'm wearing loafers today.
JL: God that's right, and they're BROWN.
FZ: No, they're orange.
("Brown Shoes Don't Make It", 1'54")
JL: What's the title of the new album?
FZ: Zoot Allures.
JL: "Zoot Allures"? What's that mean? Is there some story behind the title?
JL: Are you going to tell it to us?
JL: Give me a break here. Give me some words on the new material.
FZ: Well, it used to be a double album, but I cut it down to a single album. Line-up on the album is, Side One – "Black Napkins" which was recorded live in Osaka and then it goes into a song called "The Torture Never Stops".
JL: Which is about what?
FZ: Er, it's about torture not stopping.
("The Torture Never Stops", 45")
And after that there's "Disco Boy". That song came about because we were in Denmark and we went to a place there called the The Disc Club, and it was really poot. It was so make-believe sophisticated that it was embarrassing. The place was decorated like a playboy-type living room would sorta be like – lowboy chairs and snackettes on the table, and everybody drinks and dances to these robot beat records, which I happen to like you know. I'm very fond of monotony, I think it's an integral part of contemporary civilization and once you adapt to it you're better in phase with reality.
JL: Is this a blatant commercial sell-out on your part Frank?
FZ: No, I think that it's probably one of the funnier commentaries on the disco syndrome.
("Disco Boy", 2'22")
A MAN AND HIS MUSIC. Few people have ever attempted to cover the territory that Frank Zappa fearlessly and honestly explores. His musical cartoons spare nobody, and in the final analysis he teaches us a very valuable lesson – to laugh at ourselves. I want to thank this very special musician composer and cartoonist – Frank Zappa.
JL: Well Frank, I want to thank you again now. This has been a very good one. Is there anything that you want to get off your chest?
FZ: Besides the microphone.
JL: That we didn't get on to today.
FZ: No, no, we completely covered everything. May the good Lord bless and keep you until we meet again.
(Credits: Written by George Wilson. Produced by Bill Levy. Engineered by the golden blade of Lee 'Doc' Hanson.)