Picturedisc Interview #2
Tekst pochodzi z
płyty zatytułowanej "The Frank Zappa Interview Picture
Disk". Wywiad został przeprowadzony po koncertach w Odeon
Hammersmith w Londynie (1984) i część rozmowy dotyczy
właśnie tych koncertów.
Wywiad ten został
opracowany przez Roberta Moore'a w piątek, 11 grudnia,
dokładnie tydzien po śmierci Franka Zappy.
The Bio says that you've got a book as well.. "Them or
Us" - I haven't seen it. Can you tell me something about it?
It's due off the press in 2 weeks in the United States, and it's
Three hundred and sixty-something pages and I'm publishing it
The first printing is 5000 copies.
Can you tell me something about... what is it about? I mean, you
cannot judge by the album obviously. The story has to be more...
cohesive if I may say.
The book is written... It's a book for people who hate to read,
and it's written in the style of a screenplay so that each
situation is described in terms of what a camera would see, what
the physical action is, what the people say and what they do. And
so it takes you very wuickly through some complicated situations
where, if you had written it as a normal book it would be..like
that [probably makes finger-width gesture].
And it's a fiction book and it's very funny.
Has it got anything to do with the album? I mean, can the album
be used as a soundtrack to it?
Well, the way it works is: the book... you know what the Unified
Field Theory is?
I'm afraid not.
Well... in physics they have this thing that they've been looking
for - it's the Unified Field Theory that explains the
interrelationship between how gravity works and atomic energy and
all this stuff - they're looking for one equation that explains
it all and makes it work because right now there's
contradictions. And.. let's just say that the book is like a
Unified Field Theory that will hold together "Billy The
Mountain", "Greggery Peccary", "Joe's
Garage" "Them Or Us", "Thing-Fish"....
all these different stories, it shows you how they work together
to make one long, really complicated story. And the "Them Or
Us" album is only one part of this major release that is
coming out this year.
are three other albums that are released at approximately the
same time. The Boulez album, the Francesco album, and the
"Thing-Fish" album - and the book relates... The Boulez
album is not related to it but all the rest of the stuff is
related. And so if you read the book and listen to those three,
plus knowing from the past "Joe's Garage", "Billy
The Mountain", "Greggery Peccary" then it would
make an awful lot of sense to you. But other than that it's very
hard to describe.
The way you describe it, it comes as a summation or culmination
of what you've been working for the past twenty years, let's say?
Well, no it doesn't really work like that. People, especially in
Europe, when they want to know more about what the lyrics mean,
if they can read English the book would help them.
And if they can't it'll.... confuse them very much.
Any possibility for the book being issued in this country?
Since I'm paying to have it printed myself, I'll have to just see
whether or not I can sell enough of them in the United States. I
haven't even spoken to any publishers in [unintelligible]. I took
it to publishers in the United States and they were afraid of it,
so I said "Forget it. I'll just print it myself" and
sell it mail-order.
But it's obvious that what's published nowadays.... that anything
serious... you know... doesn't really .... there's plenty of
dross being printed nowadays as far as I can gather.
When we talked to a US publisher, they were more concerned that
it LOOK like a book, and this doesn't look like a book - it looks
like a screenplay. And so they have taken a position that people
won't read it because it doesn't say, "The leaves fell off
the tree", and "It's five o'clock" and it's all in
paragraphs. I personally don't like to read, and I've said in
other interviews that, for me, reading is about as much fun as
standing in line at the passport window in the French airport.
[laughs] - That's very exciting.
Yeah. That exciting. So, it's designed basically for people who
would enjoy the albums rather than for a literary audience.
The book, which is in a book form obviously is written like a
screenplay, and the music that you've been making for the past
twenty years... you've obviously had a certain disregard for what
is considered a proper album, you know what I mean - one style,
each song nicely defined. I mean, let's take "Them Or
Us". It's, uh, there are different pieces which, by today's
industry standard, is very odd.
So. My question is: How have you managed to survive all these
years in such a bitchy industry?
It's not even a matter of surviving in it because I refuse to be
stopped. You know, just because somebody... There's a big
audience that wants albums that have all the same songs on 'em,
and there's a number of other artists who do that so they're
never going to run out of material - they'll always have what
they like, but the people who like what I do like variety. They
enjoy that experience of having the contrasts between a song in
one style with one kind of a sound followed by something
completely different. To them that's a refreshing experience.
the way I like to hear music, I like things next to each other
that at first seem incongrous, but then when you step back into
the whole thing you see it fits together properly.
So in this contest of the free discussion, what does a success
mean to you?
Success to me is if I have a musical or let's say any kind of an
artistic concept and I start out to execute it, if it is executed
to 100% of the specifications of what I imagined when the idea
first came up - that's success. That's the only thing that really
matters to me because if I don't enjoy listening to it myself
when it's all done, then why did I bother to do it? because there
are other things I can do to make more money than this. This is a
high overhead business. I happen to like what I'm doing so, to me
success is if you get close to 100%
Another thing the bio states is that your interest lies more
within the serious music.
No. Let me explain to you about serious music. What most people
regard as serious music is not really that serious at all. See,
there's been a lot of propaganda about classical music since it
was first invented. Let's examine the history of classical music
briefly, and then you'll see what I'm talking about.
music that people regard as great masterpieces today were written
for the amusement of kings, churches or dictators - that's who
was paying the rent. If the man who wrote the music happened to
be working in a style that was appealing to the person who was
paying for it at the time, he had a hit, he had a job, and he
stayed alive. If he didn't, he could lose his fingers, he could
lose his head, he could be exiled or he'd starve to death. There
was very little in between.
have to do is look at a book called "Groves Dictionary of
Music and Musicians" and you can see that throughout the
ages there have been guys who had hits and guys who didn't have
hits, and it's not necessarily connected to the quality of what
they wrote, it's connected to how well they pleased the patron
that was paying the freight - and it's the same thing today.
the norms, the acceptable norms of classical music, are really
the taste norms of the church, the king, or the dictator that has
been been paying for it down through the ages. It was not the
taste of the people. People never got to decide. So, when you say
I have more of an interest in serious music, I take my work
seriously but I perceive it as entertainment and it's
entertainment for those people who like that sort of
entertainment. I don't write for a king, I don't write for a
church, and I don't write for a government - I write for my
friends and that's the way the material should be perceived -
it's entertainment for them. Even if it's written for an
orchestra or it's written for a rock and roll band, it makes no
difference, it's the same people who would listen to the music. I
have several orchestral albums, okay? Those are not purchased by
people who go out and buy the Dvorak New World Symphony, they're
bought by rock and roll consumers. A special type of rock and
So in other words, the bio is wrong because whatever music you
make is serious in approach regardless to being regarded as rock
and roll or put in a shops rack - rock and roll and the other one
is serious music.
Hmm, I see. Well, um, future - you recently had two plays.
No, I've written them but they haven't been produced yet.
I see.....no, um, you see the bio is not right so.... (laughs)
That's the only thing I had to, uh...... Well, I see that you are
extending into all these areas. I mean, movies being an old love
of yours since you were 16 or something? Is there a way to stop
I don't understand the [unintelligible] of these because you
can't... It's hard to expand into movies because it costs so much
more money to make a movie than it does to make a record and I'm
But you were one of the first to have an independent label.
When did you realize that you can be self-employed in the
industry that does not, until that time did not allow
I realized it at the point where... that first independent label
deal was as a result of a lawsuit that was brought against MGM.
They were happy to give me an independent deal because we had
caught them doing something with the books that was not....
right. So they figured you know, this stuff will never sell,
he'll be out of business in 15 minutes - let him do it. But my
arrangement is unique, not only in the fact that I'm
self-employed, but that I own my all my masters. I own the rights
to everything that I do. Most people who make records do not. And
I fought for that and I think that it was worth fighting for.
Can you remember what was the first, and when did you get your
First guitar I played on was my father's guitar.
So what was actually the first guitar that you owned? Was it
after that movie - "Run Home Slow"?
No, the first one that, well actually that I *owned*, yes,
because prior to that time I rented the guitar. I rented a
Telecaster from a music store in Ontario, California - but the
first one I was able to buy was the one on "Run Home
Slow". It was a PS5 Gibson SwitchMaster.
What is the one that you use now?
It's a customized Stratocaster. The only thing on this guitar
that is Fender is the body. Everything else on it is custom. It
has a custom neck, it has customized electronics, custom pickups,
Floyd Rose tremolo.
Do you use it in the studio as well as on the stage?
I just starting using this particualr guitar in July, and usually
when I go on tour I take a number of guitars and I change them
during the show. The ones I brought on the 82 tour I changed a
lot. On this tour I just play this one guitar.
And the other part of the same article is going to be your
thoughts on some of your contemporaries and your people, if you
don't mind. People like Chuck Berry?
Chuck Berry? Well, I used to like Chuck Berry when I was in High
School. Songs like "Havana Mill" and "Wee Wee
Hours" which were the flip sides of the hits that he had -
the more bluesy things. His main innovation besides that duck
walk choreography was the multiple string guitar solos - the
lines were harmonizing because he was playing on two strings at
once. There was another guitar player who used to do that named
Jimmy Nolan who I had a lot of respect for.
I don't like B.B. I saw him on television before I went on this
tour and he was still blue.
Oh yeah, I've seen him recently and I thought he was amazing.
I don't know anything about Keith Richard.
I knew Jimi and I think that the best thing you could say about
Jimi was: there was a person who shouldn't use drugs.
I met John. I think he's a great guitar player and I think that
he's probably done a lot to educate American audiences to some
aspects of Eastern music that they wouldn't have come into
contact with before. We did a tour with McLaughlin and old
Mahavishnu, we did 11 concerts with them.
There's another guy who shouldn't use drugs.
I know Eric, I haven't seen him in years and years. There's
another guy who shouldn't use drugs.
One of my favorite guitar players on the planet. From a melodic
standpoint and just in terms of the conception of what he plays,
he's fabulous. I like Jeff.
We worked 2 jobs with Rory Gallagher on this tour and,
uh,......[long pause]... he's still playing the blues.
I don't know anything about Jimmy Page.
I don't know him either.
We did one concert with Garcia on this tour but we were the
opening act and I didn't see any of his set.
I've met Pete but I don't know what I can say about his guitar
I've never heard of Robert Fripp.
I have met Ritchie too, and..... I'm not really familiar with the
work of these people because you have to understand I'm not a pop
consumer and I don't listen to a lot of these.
[What do you listen to?]
Well, what I do is I take cassettes with me on the road because
sometimes you're sitting in the hotel room and you just want to
listen to something, but what I take is not rock and roll. I like
Chopin, I have Purcell, I have Webern, I have Varese, I have
Bulgarian music. I don't listen to Rock and roll.
Yes, um, Carlos Santana?
We worked with Carlos Santana on Cologne in 1980 or 81 and it was
a similar situation. We did two shows at the sport palace in
Cologne. They opened the first show, we closed it. Then we opened
the second show and they closed it so I never heard him play.
As you said you don't listen to popular music so I don't expect
you know Eddie Van Halen.
I do know Eddie. He comes over to the house because he hangs out
with my son.
I see. But do you know him as a guitar player?
Oh yeah. He and my son play together and he's fabulous, but
there's another guy who shouldn't use drugs.
I presume you don't know The Edge - from U2?
[unintelligible] from Big Country?
What would be your thoughts on the original guitar playing of the
Mothers, i.e. yourself?
Well, there's one other guy whose work I know who should be
included in that list who I respect and that's Allan Holdsworth.
I was going to ask you who was your favorite guitar player.
Well, my original favorite guitar player was Johnny
"Guitar" Watson, not from a technical standpoint but
from listening to what his notes meant in the context in which
they were played; and also Guitar Slim who was the first guitar
player that I ever heard that had distortion - even during the
50s. In a strange way I think I probably derive more of my style
from his approach to the guitar from the solos that I heard then.
You still haven't told me your thoughts on yourself as a guitar
Well, I do something very different on the guitar. I don't so
much play the guitar as make up stuff... the notes that I play
during the solo, I conceive it as a composition that's happening
instantly at the time that it's... You know, you have 2 minutes
to fill up or you have 9 minutes to fill up or whatever it is - a
piece of time which is anywhere from 2 to 9 minutes long and
you're gonna decorate it with notes - you're gonna make a
composition in there.
quality of that composition is determined by what you're
physically capable of playing at that time, what the rhythm
section will allow you to play and whether or not the keyboard
player who's supplying the harmonic climate is going to mess up
what you're playing by sticking in his favorite Jazz Chord right
there. These are all the dangers a person faces when improvising
a guitar solo.
are some guitar players who will practise their guitar solos and
they will always be perfect and they will be the same every night
- I don't do that. When it's time to play, I don't know what I'm
going to play until I start doing it; and then an idea will pop
up and I'll just develop it in the same way I'd develop an idea
on a piece paper except that I don't have to wait to hear it - I
get to hear it as it's coming out.
And the last question on this section is: What would be the
future of guitar - or rather, how do you see the future of guitar
in the increasingly synth and keyboard orientation to music?
There will always be a market for people who want to hear guitars
squealing and oinking and bending and twanging and making sounds
like guitars are supposed to make. There is a market of people
who are interested in fashion and they will begin hating all
those other old guitar sounds in favor of guitar sounds which are
not like guitar sounds but are played in guitar position but
sound like synthesizers - there's a market for that, there are
people who want to hear it - but I don't think that will be the
ultimate future of the guitar.
I would like to ask you 2 questions: one is... on "Sometime
In New York City", the John Lennon and Yoko Ono?
What about it?
What was it? How did it come about and all that?
The day before the show, a journalist in New York City woke me up
- knocked on the door and is standing there with a tape recorder
and goes: "Frank, I'd like to introduce you to John
Lennon," you know, waiting for me to gasp and fall on the
floor and I said "Well, ok. Come on in." And we sat
around and talked, and I think the first thing he said to me was
"You're not as ugly as I thought you would be." So
anyway, I thought he had a pretty good sense of humor so I
invited him to come down and jam with us at the Fillmore East.
already booked in a recording truck because we were making the
"Live at the Fillmore" album at the time. After they
had sat in with us, an arrangement was made that we would both
have access to the tapes. He wanted to release it with his mix
and I had the right to release it with my mix - so that's how
that one section came about.
part is, there's a song that I wrote called "King Kong"
which we played that night, and I don't know whether it was
Yoko's idea or John's idea but they changed the name of the song
to "Jam Rag", gave themselves writing and publishing
credit on it, stuck it on an album and never paid me. It was
obviously not a jam session song - its got a melody, its got a
bass line, it's obviously an organized song - little bit
disappointing. I've never released my version of the mixes of
Do you ever intend to?
One day yeah - but it would be drastically different because
there were things that were edited out of their version and
certain words that were being sung that were removed because of
the editorial slant that they wanted to apply to the material and
I have a slightly different viewpoint on it.
And the last question is: You've been promising a 10-volume set
of The Soots.
Never of The Soots, no. The Soots don't have 10 volumes worth of
material but what will come out is, now that I own all the
masters for my stuff - the first box that has the first seven...
all the early Mothers stuff plus the Mystery Disc which has some
Soots material on it. That is now ready for release in the United
States. The 10-record set that you referred to was live
recordings of the early Mothers Of Invention. I can release that
but I'm not going to until after I've re-released the whole
catalog of the basic albums that I just got back from this
lawsuit and that's coming out. Seven records per year with one
box about every five years.
I'd like to listen to them. Thank you very much.