Where Is Frank Zappa? Part III

By ??

Discoscene, July, 1968

(previous - Part 2)

The long-awaited results of the Hit Parader Popularity Poll of 1968 have just been made available to the public.

As everyone expected, Frank Zappa won in a landslide for Best-dressed Rock Musician. (A consolation prize of two tickets to "Hair" was awarded Jimi Hendrix.) 'Head Mother Zappa again was far out front stealing the Best Mustache award and was presented with the Nostalgic Greaser plaque (American History category which covers vaseline hair tonic, belt buckle on hip, fourteen inch pegs, and harmonizing in the men's room). Possession of this award entitles Zappa to use the designation "Teenage Werewolf Most Likely to Succeed" on all his correspondence.

In taking 10 years to tabulate the two million six hundred seventy eight ballots the judges feel that there can be no question of accuracy or cause for cries of "unfair." "Phooey," "gloriosky" or even "Godfrey Daniel," for the past decade they have counted, recounted, checked and rechecked their figures. When they ran out of fingers and toes they resorted to the abacus and IBM machine. These, indeed, are men to be reckoned with.

This is the third in a series of articles dealing with Frank Zappa – head mother of the Mothers of Invention. The series, generally, win present some of Zappa, thoughts about various subjects, including kids, politics, music and today's society. In so doing, the reader may get some insight as to where Frank Zappa is at – if that is at all possible.

Sally Kempton, writing in The Village Voice, (Jan. 11, 1968), comments that "he has appeared on television speaking in well-rounded periods about music and society and The Scene, all the while emanating a kind of inspired freakishness. Zappa's is the sort of irony which arises from an immense self-consciousness, a distrust of one's own seriousness. It is the most modernist of defense mechanism, and Zappa is an almost prototypically modernist figure; there are moments when he seems to be living out a parody of the contemporary sensibility."

Us: In our last interview you said you felt "unpleasantly perceptive." What did you mean by that?

Frank: Well it's not always pleasant to be perceptive. A lot of people say: "Ah! Perception! Then you can look at things and see them as they really are." But, boy, that gets to be really depressing sometimes. Sometimes you've just got to sit there and keep your mouth shut because you can't do anything about it. It's a pain, sometimes, to know where people and things are really at. I think that if most of the people who claim they have increased their perception from the use of drugs really had, they'd be in such dire misery right now, that they couldn't stand it. They'd either be so miserable that they'd commit suicide, or they'd be out there doing something about their environment. That's why I tend to doubt the worth of people who say. "Yes. I know chemically where it's at." Because they don't. But it's nice to pretend, isn't it? I won't say it's really awful. I'll just say that drugs are equivalent to the alcoholic scene. I wish people would admit it. It's not that good, it's not that bad. But, it's not for me. I just don't want to have anything to do with it. This society is constructed in such a way that there is really a need for some sort of anesthesia. I would suggest that, if possible, drugs be invented that are even stronger. Really. If you want to waste your mind, really go out of your gourd. What you really need is something to cool you out and will allow you to continue your normal function in society. The main thing that annoys me about drug users is that the main thing they always talk about is the results of their chemical experimentation or how stoned they are. They'll either say, "Boy, I'm so wasted right now," or an equivalent. Or, they'll talk about the last time they were wasted, or how wasted they will be when they get a connection this weekend.

Us: Did you see the Strawberry Alarm Clock's movie, "Psych Out?"

Frank: No I don't go to the movies.

Us: We think Tim Leary did something for the movie.

Frank: Great, great. What a star!

Us: Do you dislike Leary?

Frank: I don't deny the man's right to speak. He should speak every place. But what I resent is the fact that the reasons why people will try to stop him from speaking tend to reinforce his cause. It's almost like a stamp of approval when the Establishment tries so hard to shut him out. The young people automatically, being non-Establishment oriented, will go along with what he says if somebody tries to shut him up.

Us: What kind of response was there when you appeared on the Alan Burke Show?

Frank: Well, on the show I talked to Alan Burke for a few minutes. I'd never seen his program before I went on. He asked me if I knew anything about his show, and I said no. Then he said, "Did anybody ever tell you anything about my show?" I said "Not much." He said, "Come on, now. Honestly, what did they say?" I said, "Well, you're rude and you persecute your guests." And he said, “Well, that's not exactly true." Then there was a little bit more chit chat, and then he said he'd see me upstairs and we'd do the show. I didn't know what to think of the guy. So we went up. They had a little audience warm-up, had a couple of people up there babbling about whatever they babble on that show. It's all stupidity. It's a bunch of people who like to be put down. There were masochistic tendencies reeking all over the place. They stand up at this little podium and they speak their piece. I'm sure they know deep down in their hearts that each one is just really an idiot, and they expect that this guy with a beard is going to tell them to flake off. He's very forceful and they all go "OH!! He made me shut up! Wonderful! That hasn't happened to me in a long time!" They eat it up on that level.

Us: Like Groucho Marx?

Frank: No, it's not like that. Groucho is a little bit more humorous. Burke is pretty perceptive, considering the type of show he runs. Anyhow, they did a few of those. One guy was talking about America as a nation of racists, and this other guy got up and talked about smut available to young people in department stores, and the Kama Sutra is even being sold at Macy's. He was outraged. Dumbness! Finely I got up there and sat down in the chair. Before the cameras were turned on I said: "Boy, I don't even believe how hard it must be for you to understand what these people are saying, let alone answer them back intelligently." He started laughing. I knew he had some kind of a Service record, and I said "Boy, the only way you could possibly be able to decipher what they're saying is you must have been in the Signal Corps." He laughed, and about two minutes later we started the show. He was very nice to me. Then this girl from New Jersey came up and started attacking me and the music and everything on sort of a superficial level. She was just one of these unfortunate people who just didn't know any better, but she was up there to show off. You know. Like: "I'm on television, and I'm a young person speaking my mind. Maybe my father belongs to the John Birch Society, and I'll impress him, and status of the masses. Therefore, I will talk." So she was wailing away, and the most amazing thing happened. He started defending me against her. It must have gone on about ten minutes. He was really ranking this chick. I just let it go.

Us: Who was she?

Frank: Just a girl. They probably brought her down, though. The Burke Show, the way it operates, aside from what you see on television, they have these people. A woman and couple of men that are prodding the audience in the background. "Are you going to let him say that? Get up and say some thing!" They're throwing these people up there; they're inciting them to do all sorts of things. Really trying to get them ticked off. It's a whole rabble rousing scene they've got going on behind the cameras. And also, I found out that there was this guy who represented the American Symphony Orchestra, and some kids from a group called The Elephant's Memory, who were brought down there by the show to add color and all. It looked like a very phony put-up job, so I just sat there and watched it all happen. Then after that blew over, they showed a piece of this film we're making, and played "What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body" (from the album, "We're Only in It for the Money". Ed.). We had a little chit chat about politics, and that was it.

Us: Do you like country music at all?

Frank: I like bluegrass and Appalachian modal music. Just as underground might be, could be, (if you stretched your imagination) the voice of American youth, country music, seems to me, to be the voice of the right wing; frighteningly mentally unhealthy America. People who are living a hard life, like "Boy, I've got it rough," groove with country music because those songs talk about their hard lives, and they can identify with that music. They don't want to hear about love. They want to hear about "my life as a victim of fate." And that's what that music appeals to.

Us: We spoke to Mike Bloomfield, lead guitarist for the Electric Flag, and he said country music reflected the real, hard core America.

Frank: If you'd like to think of America in that way, as unchanging or unchangeable, then country music is the voice of that sort of America. Maybe it's necessary that those people be serviced with that sort of music to give them enough stamina to withstand being a truck driver. Unless you really love driving a truck, it would get to be pretty rotten, I imagine. If you have some music to help cheer you up while you're driving that truck, the job is more tolerable. I like bluegrass because of the technical proficiency it takes to play it.

We attended a recording scene in Nashville, and Buck Owens, wow, that guy. He and his friends. They get drunk and drive 200 mph down the street: "Can you hit that mail box?" "Sure I can hit that mail box." Wrap the car around it in the middle of winter, and have to walk 60 miles to the next town. They're just insane. Like there was one of those country stars who died in a plane crash. This one guy had his own private plane, and he was flying over the home of one of his friends. "Oh. I'm going to give that sucker a start!" He wanted to buzz the guy's house, and he crashed his plane. Then they all follow in their daddy's footsteps.

(next - Part 4)

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