Interviews FRANK ZAPPA
6 listopada 1986
Zappa speaks out on CDs,
the PMRC, his son Dweezil and other modern topics by David Fricke
Frank Zappa has been
unusually ubiquitous of late. The controversial singer, guitarist
and composer hasn't toured in two years, and his last hit was
1982's "Valley Girl," his "gag me with a
spoon" duet with teenage daughter Moon Unit. But his acid
wit and familiar Dutch Masters goatee and mustache have been much
in evidence over the past year and a half - on radio and
television, in print and, most dramatically, in federal and state
congressional hearings, where he has pressed his
counter-offensive against the PMRC drive for pop-music
censorship. Somehow, Zappa, who's forty-five, has also found time
to oversee the burgeoning careers of his offspring (the latest to
acheive success is his son Dweezil, who has a part-time job as a
VJ on MTV and has just released his first LP). And he's continued
to write and record new music at an astonishingly prolific rate.
Night School, his upcoming album, was performed entirely on a
Synclavier computer synthesizer. Three albums of his classical
pieces are also in the works, along with a fourth alvum, London
Symphony Orchestra Volume II, which will consist of previously
unreleased material from the recording sessions for his 1983
collection of original compositions performed by the LSO. For
many Zappa fans, however, the big news is the recent release of
ten titles from the Zappa catalog, including vintage Mothers of
Invention albums, on eight compact discs. The albums range from
the 1967 classics We're Only In It For The Money and Lumpy Gravy
to such recordings as the 1972 big-band record The Grand Wazoo,
Zappa's 1984 Off-Off-Off-Broadway-style opera, Thing-Fish, and
the 1986 Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention. The CDs
were issued by Rykodisc, a Massachusetts-based firm whose
agreement with Zappa calls for the release on CD of two dozen
Zappa albums over the next three years. Prerelease response to
the first set of Zappa CDs has been extraordinary; according to
Rykodisc, initial orders quadrupled in two months. "I always
believed there was truly a market for this material," Zappa
says bluntly. "I think sales figures will bear that
Q: Your album catalog
totals over fifty titles. How did you and Rykodisc decide which
LPs to reissue on CD?
Z: There was actually
quite a bit of arguing about what this initial release would
consist of, because Don [Don Rose, president of Rykodisc] was
adamant about certain albums being a part of it, like The Grand
Wazoo. He wanted something from each of the eras, kind of a
retrospective exhibition. What
I pitched him on was releasing material that was digital in
origin or archival stuff that had never been released. The
problem with CDs now, as I see it, is that people on the
manufacturing end don't want to take a chance on brand-new
digital product. Most CDs are repackages of old stuff. I'm happy
that those old albums are available in digitized form for those
people who want to hear them minus the scratches. But it's
difficult to get interest in digital projects that start from
scratch. And until you have things that are digital all the way
through, the true possibilities of sound on CD won't come out.
Most of the people who have CDs now are listening to analog
material that has been digitized. The interesting part about this
Rykodisc package is that there are a few selections in there that
are completely digital, right from the original recordings. That
includes London Symphony Orchestra, Them Or Us and Thing-Fish.
Q: What kind of digital
repair did you do to master tapes of the older records? We're
Only In It For The Money, for example, has new digital bass and
Z: The original two-track
masters - they're almost twenty years old now - didn't survive
the storage at MGM. They were stored so badly that the oxide had
flaked off the tape. You couldn't listen to it anymore. So the
thing had to be remixed. I had to go back and find all the
original elements. You listen to We're Only In It For The Money
and go, "My God, there's a million edits in this
thing." And they all had to be redone.
Q: The London Symphony
Orchestra CD includes a previously unreleased twenty-five-minute
composition called "Bogus Pomp." Is it from the
Z: Yeah. "Bogus
Pomp" is like a symphonic suite of themes from 200 Motels.
It's also a parody. There's a whole story that goes along with
it. I should have stuck it in the liner notes, but I was too lazy
to type it up.
Q: Do you have other
unreleased material you plan to issue on CD?
Z: What's coming out in
the next release is a double CD called You Can't Do That On Stage
Anymore that takes live performances going back as far as 1968.
The basic idea of that album is that today in live performance
there are very few bands that are actually playing anything. They
go onstage with a freeze-dried show, and in many cases at least
fifty percent of the show is coming out of a sequencer or is
lip-synced. Audiences have missed out on the golden age, when
people went onstage and took a chance, which was probably the
main forte of the bands that I had. One of the great recordings
on that CD is from London in 1978. We were playing a matinee,
doing "St. Alphonzo's Pancake Breakfast" and
"Don't Eat The Yellow Snow," and there was this guy in
the audience, completely out of his mind, who wanted to recite
poetry. He came up to the stage and kept interrupting the songs.
So we worked him into the set, and the result is very strange -
mass-audience poetry reading.
Q: You've been very active
counterattacking the rock-censorship drive over the past year and
a half. Are you still sending out packages of information and
press clippings from your Barking Pumpkin Records office?
Z: I've spent up to
$70,000 of my own money that I've put into a combination of my
travel, preinting costs and phone bills just to keep pressure on
the other side. I've done maybe 300 talk shows and interviews.
And those Z-pacs are still going out the door. I will continue to
do it as long as people call up. [Call 818-PUM-PKIN for
information on how to get one.]
Q: How do you feel about
your son Dweezil's success as an MTV VJ?
Z: If his fan mail is any
indication, they got the right guy for the job. The thing that's
cool about Dweezil is he's just turned seventeen. He IS a kid.
He's not a guy pretending to be a kid. He's the age of the
audience, and he's a genuine music fan. He knows something about
the groups he's putting on. And he also knows them as
individuals. The little stories he tells don't come off like
showbiz stories. I'd like to see him do some specials. Actually,
Ahmet [Zappa's youngest son] auditioned for a television series
yesterday, to play a character named Stinky in a Showtime sitcom.
He's twelve years old, and he's not afraid to say anything to
anybody. He was reading in this room for the producers, and there
were these howls of laughter. Ahmet came out, and my wife asked
what happened. "well," he said, "they liked me.
They said they were going to bring me back to read again. I told
them, 'I hope to God it's not written by the guy who wrote this