The Holloway Files. Frank Zappa (1972)

Interview by Danny Holloway

L.A. Records, Fall 2015

Frank Zappa was a well-known musical satirist, but what happened to him at London's Rainbow theatre on December 10, 1971, was no joke. While playfully launching into a cover of the Beatles song ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand,’ an irate 24-year-old male fan rushed the stage and shoved Zappa into the orchestra pit. "The band all thought I was dead," Zappa said at the time. "My head was over my shoulder and my neck was bent like it was broken. I had a hole in the back of my head, a fractured leg and one arm was paralyzed. The album was made in the studio while I was in a wheelchair. I was writing music even when I was in the hospital." This interview was one of the first Zappa did after his recovery. Non-Angelenos may not fully appreciate what most locals know: Zappa is a giant in L.A. musical history for his genius, daring and inventiveness.

* * *

You're a songwriter and guitarist and an arranger. Is there any one of those particular things that you really feel fulfilled with?

No – what I do is when I get up in the morning, I feel that there is a certain amount of work that I have to do that day, and it's in one of five different fields. So if I get up that day and I've got to write lyrics, I go downstairs and I sit at the typewriter and when I get my work done at the typewriter, the next day, if I have to go back and write the music to those lyrics, I pick up a piece of paper with funny lines on it. And when I'm done with that, I'm glad I'm done with that. Same thing goes with all the other things – I take them as they come along.

That's very academic.

Well, that's honestly the way I feel about it.

Is it a forced effort? A preplanned thing that you have to push out of yourself?

No. I don't write lyrics unless I feel like I've got something to say. Or if I have a good idea for a song, then I'll go down and do that. It's just – there's a lot of different kinds of tools that you need to use for all the different jobs that you have to do. One day you're using a typewriter, the next day you' re writing by hand, the next day you're playing the guitar or waving the baton. But I enjoy doing all those things and I try to do them as good as I can. It's not forced – it's just something that I do.

I saw one of your live shows and you were trying to educate the audience to the music that you were doing –  the time signatures and that sort of thing. Are you still interested in educating people?

Only to the extent that I found out from past experience that most people don't want to know, so I don't want to waste their time. I'd be happy just to play and if they'd like to listen to it that's fine, and if they don't, there are plenty of other groups to listen to.

Are there any guitar players that have influenced you? Or any certain thing that you try to put across while playing guitar?

The things that I'm interested in mostly when I'm playing the guitar is the expansions of the possibilities of a small number of notes around a limited tonal center and the altering of the meaning of those notes by changing the rhythm that the notes are played in. It may sounds a little academic but that's what's happening.

Could you name some records that have influenced you?

So there's Arcana – a recording of an orchestral composition by Edgard Varèse, and it was recorded by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for RCA. And it's a very nice recording, a very clear recording by a good orchestra, a nice piece of music.

Are there more? Usually we have five or six different things.

I'd hate to single out five or six different things. As a matter of fact, that one album that I gave you would probably rank equally with ten or twelve other ones. And my identification with it is probably unfair to the other composers or orchestra to do it that way.

It was 67 or 68 when there were a lot of drugs being flashed around – you were condemning the whole thing. Do you still feel strongly about that?

I may still feel strongly about it but I don't like to talk about that because then the idea of just using drugs for recreation has become a firmly established social concept that I don't identify with myself because I don't find it to be socially productive. But I don't think it's in any less productive or any more destructive than getting out of your mind on alcohol.

Do you have any opinions about the upcoming presidential campaign?

I would say this: it's as predictable as all the rest of them. Because all it ever comes down to is money.

You've been credited with discovering Alice Cooper. What do you think of his career – the theatrics and the type of music he's doing now?

I haven't followed their career or their theatrics.

In the past you've had comedy in your music – are you going to keep that in the act?

I wasn't thinking of it as an act, but that might be a little more accurate because it's an electric symphony orchestra. Aside from the recognizable pieces of rock origins, there are two or thee of my symphonic type suites built in there that are of a humorous nature simply because of the subject manner that inspired them. But as for a bunch of people jumping around on stage or falling down and zany stuff – we' re not applying that to this music.

How happy were you with the film 200 Motels? I know it had reactions from most people that saw it.

In what regard? Happy with it –

Artistically. Did it transfer onto film what was in your head?

I would say that within the scope of the budget, I'd say I got 40 to 50% of what I wanted to get out of it. The rest you have to sort of kiss goodbye because there's no time and there's no money to do it perfect.

Will there ever be another movie?

Oh yeah. I'm working on one now. I'd rather not talk about the film. But we are working on one.

Do you have any comments about the Flo and Eddie split?

I would say that most of the press releases that they have put out have been involved with their own promo as a group have been quite unfair. I just want to say that most of their attitude comes down to an extreme interest in money.

What's your side of the story?

If I had some specific article or press release to respond to I could take it point by point and give an analysis of something, but ‘what's your side of the story’ – I'm not interested in playing that kind of thing.

Because they've more or less put down you and your form of leadership with that particular group.

Yeah, well – anything specific that they said? If you had something specific, I could comment. But the main thrust of all of that print material is geared towards exploiting them as new artists and it's partially due to the record company's interest in selling records, and apparently they believe that it's ethical to do this at my expense. Most of what they've said isn't ethical or particularly scrupulous or truthful. I'm extremely disappointed in that behavior. There was a time when I thought they were my friends.

Another edition of the same interview is "Fearless Frank tells what he'll lay on you at the Oval concert".