It Just Might Be Frank

By Robert O'Brian

RockBill, November 1984

For those who know and for those who care, Zappa didn't score the guitar lead on "Transylvania Boogie", but, he claims, it can be done. He didn't authorize the release of "Sleep Dirt" simply because Warner Brothers didn't want to pay him for that stuff - and - when I asked him, "Is it true that the London Symphony Orchestra, admittedly, had never been confronted with this kind of music ("Sad Jane", "Pedro's Dowry", and "Mo 'n Herb's Vacation") before?", his response was direct. "Nobody's been confronted with this kind of music before," he said. For those who don't know and for those who don't care, Francis Vincent Zappa is not only one of the world's greatest living guitarists, he is also responsible for some of the world's most original music (whatever that means). His genius appears to be lost not only on a generation of MTV kidz, but on most of the prancing, narcissistic fops out there who call themselves musicians. No matter. Compositions like "Project X", "Little Umbrellas", "and "It Just Might Be A One Shot Deal", can't remain obscure forever. In fact, Zappa plans to re-release his earlier work just so that a nation of sweaty dancers and a balding music professor somewhere can ask: "Where has this guy been for the last twenty years?" After finishing this interview, run off and buy (if you can find them) "Hot Rats", "Uncle Meat", and "Waka / Jawaka", then tell me if I'm wrong.

Q: Do you score all of your music?

A: It's either written down on a piece of paper or I know what I'm doing before I start spending money in the studio. No jam session.

Q: Did you ever get to meet Igor Stravinsky?

A: No. I met his mailman, though. In Hollywood. As a matter of fact, his mailman used to be my high school English teacher. After he quit teachin' school, he found that he could make more money as a mailman and Stravinsky was on his route.

Q: I've heard that you have, an enormous collection of blues records. Do you think blues is dying?

A: Well, let's face it, not too many people like to listen to blues. But that doesn't mean the art form should die. Not too many people like to listen to Renaissance recorder music, either, but there's still people playing that. I think if more blues musicians had blue hair and clothes with diagonal zippers, the audience would probably pick up.

Q: What country are you best received in?

A: We have a large audience overseas, but I think that our best acceptance is still in the United States. "Bobby Brown" was the largest selling record in CBS's history in all of Scandinavia. It was a big hit. Germany, too. But those people don't hear the music the same way Americans do because they don't know what it means. They may respect it and they may like it - but they haven't the faintest idea what a hamburger is.

Q: Do People like Miles Davis know about you and your music?

A: Well, I met Miles Davis in 1962 in a jazz club in San Francisco called the Black Hawk. I really liked his music and I went up to him and introduced myself to him and he turned his back on me. And so I haven't had anything to do with him or his music since that time.

Q: In 1962, though, you hadn't recorded anything.

A: That's okay. He had his chance. I don't treat people that way.

Q: You're very misrepresented in the press. Not many people really know much about your music.

A: They don't wanna know about it. They can't know about it. Those people have big problems. Usually, the thing that puts most of them off is ... if I do a song and it's got lyrics about sex ... I believe that research would show that many of the sexual problems and misadaptations of human engineering spoken of in the songs are all visited upon the people who write these reviews. As soon they hear somebody mention it, they go "We gotta stamp this out, because it might spread." If somebody writes a song that says "Fuck me, suck me, baby," it's accepted as great American art. But you can't talk about people on either sides of the sexual fence doing strange things to each other or to, ah, dogs or whatever. I didn't make it up, this is all real shit. People do this stuff. Why not do a song about that? It's the real world just as much as "Fuck me, suck me, baby," so why pick on me?

Q: There seems to be an entire world between your music and your lyrics.

A: You mean really stupid words and a pretty melody?

Q: Well, I prefer your instrumental stuff.

A: Yeah, but you're odd. Most people in America can't stand instrumental music 'cuz there's no words. They're totally word oriented. Unfortunately, they want to hear words about boy-girl situations because that's what they've been brought up with. Well, I'll meet 'em half way. I'll do songs about boy-girl situations, but unusual boy-girl situations, so at least there is an alternative to so-called love songs which I think are really bad for your mental health.

Q: Do you think that the media and whatnot is as defined a conspiracy as is suggested by the Central Scrutinizer ("character" in Zappa's trilogy "Joe's Garage")?

A: Absolutely. Totally. Totally a conspiracy. Totally defined. There are only three things that make the world go 'round. Profits, real estate and manpower leading back to profits. Communism is the greatest way to control the labor force, you know. Promise an ignorant guy a piece of bread and a cup of milk to vote a certain way in an underdeveloped country and he becomes a Communist. Meanwhile, the United States sends missionaries down there. "Here's some rice. Here's some bread. Say 'Jesus is wonderful' and you can eat." We have our way of dominating the labor force and controlling real estate because once the missionaries go into those countries, what do they do? They build the church. And the church is nothing more, nothing less than a place from which funds are collected from the poorest, most miserable people all over the planet. I mean the Catholic Church has been doing it for billions of centuries and now the video guys, the evangelist guys, figured their way to do it and it's a racket. Labor force. Real estate. Money.

Q: What about the average guy who can't rise above that level of understanding?

A: He's a victim of it. And most of what is handed out as entertainment is designed to reinforce the control that those people have on the real estate, on the labor force, and on the money. It pays to make the U.S. school system a crock of shit because the dumber the people are that come out, the easier it is to draft them, make them into docile consumers, or, you know, mongo employees. There are plenty of yuppies out there with absolutely nothing upstairs. Graduate airheads with Ph.Ds and everything but they don't know anything. And what do they listen to? Certainly not my records.

Q: Do you consider your music a discipline ... without which you might he one of those docile consumers?

A: Oh no. I think if I weren't in music, I would probably be in science. That's how I started off - in Chemistry, when I was six. I always liked that, but I think that music is probably less harmful. I just do music and video and film. These are all very disciplined, slow-moving, methodical pursuits.

Q: Is it possible to say where you get your musical influences from?

A: Sometimes you get it from chicken. Sometimes from coffee. Sometimes from an ashtray and sometimes from a napkin. They're everywhere. Or you hear somebody say something and it's just perfect. It becomes the whole song. Like "Pick Me, I'm Clean". Somebody really said that. Seriously. She was a girl in France.

Q: Can you bring music with you wherever you go? So that you always have a home?

A: (Pointing to the side of his head). It's in there. Generally, I don't listen to anything. I'd rather play it. I can hear music all the time. I can hear stuff that people can't play.

Q: You haven't toured with a brass section in a while.

A: A long time. No matter how good the horn players are, they still have to sit there and be quiet while guitar solo is going. On a long tour, the guys get bored. I hate to inflict that on them.

Q: In "Harry, You're a Beast" (from "We're Only In It For The Money" - 1967) you lampoon what you call "American Womanhood." Would you be that blunt today?

A: Oh, easily. I would change some of the lyrics, but there's no reason why I wouldn't comment on American Womanhood. In fact, I'll make a comment for ya right now. The female of the species is divided into three sections. Girls, ladies, and women. A girl waits around for a boy to kiss her on the lips. A lady expects every guy to kiss her ass. And a woman likes to have a man kiss her pussy. And that's how you can tell them apart.

Q: And American Manhood?

A: Well (deliberately in his hoy-hoy-hoy voice), the male of the species is divided into three sections. There are boys, guys, and men. A boy has the option of staying a boy all his life, growing up to be one of the guys, or he can grow up to be a man, okay? A guy wants to be with other guys because they do guy things and a man doesn't give a shit. And so, you can see that the girls pair off with the boys, the ladies pair off with the guys, and the women pair off with the men - if they can find each other. Some people think that I'm just down on women. I am not. I'm down on anybody who wants to waste my time, whether they're a man, woman, dog, frog, vegetable, mineral, gas or liquid. I think that the only thing you're not gonna get back is time. If somebody's wasting your time, you gotta be a generous son-of-a-bitch to let 'em do it.

Q: Are you afraid of death?

A: No.

Q: Why do you think most people are?

A: Because they expect more out of life than is actually there. They've been brought up to expect it because of songs that people write, stories people tell and shows they see on TV and movies. All unattainable goals. Unreasonable expectations. You go through your life thinking that the world owes you something and it doesn't.

Q: These forces that are conspiring to get you -

A: Not just me.

Q: Right. These forces ... how does one keep from becoming consumed by anger?

A: Well, there's no percentage in being so angry about it that you become either self-destructive or you become a menace to society in terms of hurting other people. I have no desire to flip out one day and suddenly walk into McDonald's and blow people up. That poor guy had actually tried to get help from the mental public services in San Diego and they had him on a waiting list. On hold. I mean, I've been on hold for a long time and probably a lot of the people who listen to the records have been on hold and they're getting pissed off about it, too. There's no percentage in going out and hurting other people. That's why God gave you a sense of humor.


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