Frankly Speaking

By George Tirebiter

Upbeat, December, 1980

Frank Zappa's general image is a problem that has plagued him for most of his career. To many people he's the guy sitting on the toilet in a poster. To others, he's the iconoclastic genius with thirty albums to his credit. To your parents and the FCC, he's the one who uses all that BAD LANGUAGE. To Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet Rodan, and Diva, he's Dad.

But Zappa has steadfastly refused to compromise his ideals in order to make everybody happy. From 1966's Freak Out! to last year's Sheik Yerbouti and Joe's Garage, his individualism and independence from what is the norm have allowed him to tackle many projects beyond the usual range of the rock artist.

One of those projects is movies. Zappa's latest movie is called Baby Snakes, "a movie about people who do stuff that is not normal." He refused to comment on the plot, but added that it received favorable response when shown at Cannes at the [Midem] Convention. However, since it is without a distribution arrangement, Snakes has been shelved at the moment – a situation Zappa is trying to change.

Also somewhat of a letdown was the relative failure of Frank's last single, "I Don't Wanna Get Drafted," to garner much success in America, despite Top Five status in Belgium and other parts of Europe. But "Bobby Brown" helps take off the edge. Hopelessly banned here because of it's lyrics, "Bobby" has been in the charts there for over a year and a half. Says Zappa, "It's the biggest selling single in CBS's history in Europe. It even outsold Abba."

On top of this, Frank is working out a deal with the Dutch government for a presentation of his orchestral music next summer. Originally Zappa had planned to work with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra for a television program, "and the Austrian television was supposed to put up $300,000. Then, at the last minute, they backed out. I said, 'You want me to put up $300,000 of my own money? Look, I already did the hard part, I wrote the stuff!" The deal was called off, but not before the Dutch heard about it.

"They sent me a list of things they wanted to perform. They wanted "Music for Low-Budget Orchestra," they wanted "Let Me Take You to the Beach," "Waka/ Jawaka," all the stuff from The Grand Wazoo, and I said, 'I'll fix you right up.' " And to sweeten things, "they may get a choir, and if they do we'll be able to do some of the things from 200 Motels."

What difference does Zappa make between writing for an orchestra and writing for a band?

"I approach it the same way. Some of the members of the band will play parts, and there are a couple of guitar solos which I'll do."

Currently on the last leg of his second U.S. tour this year, Zappa strictly auditioned all band members, had them learn over sixty songs, and then imposed a no-drug policy on them for the tour (he is well-known for his antidrug stance). He reasons, "when somebody buys a ticket to the show, they come to get entertained. And the way the music is arranged, everyone has to be on the ball. I mean, I go out there and I give it my all, even if I'm sick, and I expect you to do the same. And you can't if you're pathetically slobbering in a corner."

The vast repertoire that the band has to learn is done so Frank can change things around "right up before we go onstage." And some of the songs are so new the band is still learning them on the road. Some of the new titles are "Truck Driver Divorce," "The Dangerous Kitchen," "Tinsel Town Rebellion," "I Come From Nowhere," and "Willing Suspension of Disbelief." But there are also a lot more familiar songs on this tour.

Says Frank, "We just felt like we wanted to do some of the older things this time. The oldest song is "I Ain't Got No Heart," from Freak Out."

And some of the new songs are on the album Zappa was working on right up before the tour. It was originally titled Fred Zeppelin, "but then John Bonham died, and I thought it would be in bad taste." So it's been changed to Crush All Boxes. And it will be yet another new record label for Zappa. This one's called Barking Pumpkin Records. The pumpkin part of the name is Frank's longstanding nickname for his wife, Gail, but the barking ... ?

"Oh. She had a cough once."

In any case, it will be distributed independently, since Frank severed ties with Phonogram early this year after they refused to distribute the "Drafted" single. But there seems to be some confusion as to when it will be released.

But what about airplay for the new album? Does it have all those Anglo-Saxon euphemisms on it?

"No, it just happened to work out that way this time."

Censorship is a subject familiar to Zappa.

"I mean, freedom of speech is guaranteed to me in the Constitution. And until they change it, I have the right to say anything I want to. I pay those goddam taxes, so what am I getting for them? You're not getting clean streets, you're not getting clean water, you're not getting good government, so what do you do?"

And the government isn't the only target of Zappa's scorn. He sees America's kids as, "1) a nation of functional illiterates, 2) always wanting to be stupefied. Only in America do kids want to be perpetually wasted." This is the part where Zappa's cynicism becomes a peculiar sort of philosophy. He also fixes his focus on fashions and trends.

"No musical trend has survived that you can't dress up to. It's a process of natural selection. I don't think a girl with orange, spiked-up hair that thinks she's a punk is going to pooch a guy with his shirt tied at the waist and disco shoes."

This same 'natural selection' even comes in at the record-buying level.

"People buy records to reinforce their lifestyles. The guy puts the album on the coffee table so when the girl comes in she can tell what kind of a guy he is by the kind of records he buys, so maybe she'll plook him."

And even his own albums are subject to this process. But Zappa perseveres despite it all. And although he turns forty on December 21, he doesn't foresee himself as ever quitting.

"I do what I do, and there are some people who like what I do, and we've made some new friends along the way. I mean, I'm not very good at anything else.

May some things never change.

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at)