Court in the act

By Allan Jones

Melody Maker, April 26, 1975

"I WANNAN ice cream."

Estelle, so they tell me, looks like Angie Dickinson. She’s a classy enough broad, sure enough, but she’s got the intellectual capacity of a throttled mongoose and all the class of a derelict hooker. I slap a heavy stare on her, my eyes threatening all kinds of danger.

She don’t take too much notice, the infuriating bitch. She stretches a line strand of gum from her mouth. " Which one’s Zappa?" she asks.

We’ve been here close on an hour and she’s bored. So the Law Courts aren’t the most entertaining hot spots this side of the casbah. But hell, Estelle, this is different. I run through the details of the caper one more time, so’s she can get them into her dumb platinum head.

That’s FZ I say, pointing to the guy with the gypsy hairdo, hook nose and the sneer of a mouth fringed by the drooping black moustache. Because Zappa’s in court – right now they’ve got him as far as the witness box – Estelle is convinced he’s up on some charge. "Is he gonna get the chair?"

It’s like this, I begin again. FZ is here of his own accord. In 1971, Frank Zappa and Herb Cohen, his manager and partner in Bizarre Productions Inc, of California, decided to stage a concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall to promote a movie Zappa was making with English director Tony Palmer.

The movie was 200 Motels, ostensibly a film about the experiences of a rock and roll band on the road.

"Touring can make you crazy, ladies and gentlemen, that is precisely what 200 Motels is all about," a narrator informs the audience during the early stages of the movie.

Being an FZ vehicle, however, the scenario develops through a series of surrealistic encounters between the protagonists in the shape of The Mothers and the inhabitants (Groupies, hard-hats et al) of Centreville – "a real nice place to bring your kids up" – where the action takes place.

It was "the action" and the lyric content of FZ’s compositions for the movie, some of which were likely to be chosen for the RAP performance, which led the organisation which runs the Albert Hall, the Corporation Of the Hall Of Arts And Sciences, to cancel the concert two days before it was due to have been staged.

Even the presence of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, who appear in the movie, couldn’t convince the corporation that the performance would not be offensive, obscene or in poor taste.

Mr Zappa was not pleased. Neither was Mr Cohen. They alleged that the cancellation was "financially disastrous," and the movie lost an important promotional boost. They decided to file a civil suit against the management of the hall and are claiming breach of contract damages from the corporation.

That’s the story so far, and that’s why we are sitting in Court Seven in The High Court of Justice, the Strand, on day three of the legal proceedings.

The judge presiding over the court is 67-year-old Mr Justice Mocatta. The Hon Sir Alan Abraham Mocatta, who was knighted in 1961 and received the OBE in 1944. He’s been a Judge Of The High Court of Justice, (Queens Bench Division) since 1961 and was educated at Clifton College and New College, Oxford. Who’s Who details a distinguished War Service Record as follows: "2nd Lieut 12 LAA Regt RA, TA, 1939; Bde Major, 56 AA Bde, 1940-41; GSO (2) AA HQ BTNI, 1941-42; Lt Col GS, Army Council Secretariat War Office, 1942-45."

Whether you can translate Who’s Who’s peculiar shorthand or not, it sounds pretty impressive.

The day before we got to court Mr Justice Mocatta, who has to decide whether the AH Management were justified in their decision to cancel the concert on the grounds that Zappa’s material was "in poor taste" or in any way offensive or obscene, was treated to an illustration of Zappa’s music.

Mr Alan Campbell, representing the Zappa/Cohen Bizarre Productions Inc, played the judge two songs from the soundtrack album of 200 Motels. Mr Justice Mocatta listened, head in hands, to "She Painted Up Her Face," after which he commented: "A certain amount of the speech I could not hear." He then lent an ear to "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy." His response to the latter was: "I could not hear the beginning or the end."

Mr Campbell, QC, suggested that the judge might like the volume of the stereo player increased to which Mr Mocatta replied: "It’s quite loud enough."

Mr Justice Mocatta refused to listen to a third song which Mr Campbell QC had intended to play. It was called "Penis Dimension."

"You need not listen to that particular song," said Mr Campbell (who was educated at the Ecole Des Sciences Politiques, Paris, and Trinity Hall, Cambridge and whose clubs are listed in Who’s Who as the Carlton and Pratt’s).

"In fact," he continued, "we draw attention to it and it is open to reasonable objection on the ground of good taste. We have made it plain from the start we were prepared to substitute with other songs."

This, I pointed out to Estelle, was a point which would be taken up by Mr Michael Ogden, QC, who was representing the Albert Hall management. But before we move on to that matter, we’ll just take in a brief exchange between FZ and Mr Justice Mocatta. The latter was a little confused by a reference to a "groupie."

"Is a groupie a girl who is a member of the group?" he asked.

"No," replied Zappa. "She is a girl who likes members of a rock and roll band."

As Estelle remarked, "Frank’s got a way with euphemisms."

On Wednesday the court is already in session at 10 am. Zappa is answering questions directed at him by Mr Ogden. Mr Ogden has been a Barrister-At-Law since 1968, and was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge. He served as a captain in the RAC (Royal Glos Hussars and l6th/5th Lancers) l944–l947.

As the legal representative of the corporation which controls the Albert Hall, Mr Ogden has to establish, using as references the lyrics to the soundtrack of 200 Motels and the movie script, that the performance of all or parts of Zappa’s material would’ve been (here we go again) offensive etc.

As we pick up the story Mr Ogden is questioning the validity of Zappa’s claim that the concert need not have been cancelled. If, Zappa argued, the AH authorities had specified which particular songs they considered offensive he could have amended the lyrics to ensure they were "socially acceptable."

Mr Ogden remains somewhat sceptical about Zappa’s ability to rewrite, at such a crucial point, an entre body of lyrics.

The amended version could even have been prepared by someone other than Zappa, he pressed.

"Would it speed things up if I agreed with you?" retorts Zappa, with sardonic nonchalance.

"And what if someone types it wrong?" he adds.

Mr Ogden then diverts our attention to the actual contents of Zappa’s compositions in an attempt to reveal the true nature of his lyrical flights of fantasy. He makes a reference to one song, and questions the significance of the words "dumping excreta."

Excreta, says Frank is a euphemism for the word which actually appears in the script.

This, he continues, "is a short word which represents the concept" of excreta. In rock and roll parlance, it refers to "the material" musicians carry around with them and is used in their profession.

Estelle is at this point developing some personal phantasy about the proceedings. On the casting couch of her subconscious she’s preparing the movie of this court-room drama.

She’s obviously casting two movies here: the Anglo version would feature Alec Guinness as The Judge, John Gielgud the QC representing the AH, David Niven for Bizarre and John Mills as FZ. Basil Dearden would be director to give the movie class and elegance.

The American version would have to include a Spencer Tracy/Frederic March Inherit The Wind confrontation, with George C. Scott as one of the attorneys and Walter Brennan doing his Judge Roy Bean number as the presiding magistrate. Whoever got the Zappa role would have to learn how to juggle ball bearings...

She snaps back to reality as Mr Ogden draws our attention to another FZ song, "Lonesome Cowboy Burt." The role of Burt in the movie was played by Jimmy Carl Black, the well-known redskin cowboy. This lyric, asserts Mr Ogden, clearly indicates the desire of Cowboy Burt to have sexual intercourse with a waitress.

Mr Ogden draws particular attention to a stanza which ends with the line "and you can sit on my face." This, he concludes, is surely a reference to the girl sitting on Cowboy Burt’s face.

"Not necessarily," answers Zap. "It could mean a piggyback ride in an unusual position." That, says Mr Justice Mocatta must be "Very unpleasant."

"He’s an unusual character," comments Zappa. Both Mr Ogden and the judge press for a further explanation of Frank’s song. The song, explains Zappa, is an attempt to draw a portrait of a character called Lonesome Cowboy Burt, and, to create an authentic impression of the character and his lifestyle, he’s portrayed Burt in his "normal speaking style," being obnoxious in a bar. The exchange between Burt and the waitress is based on an actual incident he witnessed.

Mr Ogden presses on with his examination of the lines he’s quoted. He considers the lines to have a "cruder" meaning than the description supplied. Doesn’t it actually refer, he wonders, "to the naked buttocks of the girl coming into contact with the man’s face."

Zappa smiles. The line in question, he says, was "written on the wall of a toilet where people like Cowboy Burt would go..."

He runs his fingers through his hair and looks suitably pleased with himself. He’s looking unusually smart today. Subdued checked suit and conservative tie, careful to appear as unprovocative as possible. But sharp-tongued enough.

The next song which Mr Ogden inspects is "Would You Go All The Way." "Going All The Way" he says, "that’s another reference to sexual intercourse?"

 "It’s an archaic expression," replies Zappa. It was "used in the 1950s to express sexual intercourse." In fact, it transpires that it’s a song about US soldiers and is only incidentally about sex.

Mr Ogden again quotes from the lyrics. The section singled out this time describes a guy out on a date with his chick. His hand is on her shoulder, her arm, her elbow ... Suddenly, her brassiere has VANISHED. This, according to Mr Ogden’s interpretation, suggests that the male has his hand on the female’s breast! Was this not the case, and if not, what happened to the brassiere?

"The brassiere has disappeared mysteriously in the dark of the theatre," offers Zappa.

"What is this monster," asks Mr Ogden, referring to a subsequent line which, rather ambiguously, describes the sudden emergence of a "monster." The couple are watching a movie, says Zappa, and .......

(continued on page 71, which is missing)

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