Thinking back on it, if those tanks had broken, those gas masks wouldn't have saved us. Playboy: How close were the tanks? Frank Zappa: There were tanks of mustard gas next to the Army housing we lived in. We were right down the street from this shit. We had a rack in the hall, with Daddy's mask, Momma's mask and Frank's mask hanging on it.
I used to wear mine all the time. It was my space helmet. There was a can at the end of the hose that had the filtration unit in it, and I always wondered what was in it. I took a can opener and unscrewed it to find out how it worked. My father got very upset when I opened it up because I broke it and he would have to get me another one, which he never did. I was defenseless. Playboy: Were your parents religious, Frank Zappa: Pretty religious.
Playboy: Church and confession? Frank Zappa: Oh, yeah. They used to make me go. They tried to make me go to Catholic school, too. I lasted a very short time. When the penguin came after me with a ruler, I was out of there. Playboy: So you were headstrong. I still went to church regularly, though, until I was eighteen years old. Then suddenly, the light bulb went on over my head. All the mindless mobidity and discipline was pretty sick - bleeding this, painful that and no meat on Friday. What is this shit?
Playboy: Is the irreverence and outrageousness in your music a reaction to being a good Catholic boy? Frank Zappa: Well, I think it was possible to do what I've done only because I escaped the bondage of being a devout believer. To be a good member of the congregation, ultimately you have to stop thinking.
The essence of Christianity is told to us in the Garden of Eden story. The fruit that was forbidden was on the tree of knowledge. The subtext is, All the suffering you have is because you wanted to find out what was going on. You could still be in the Garden of Eden if you had just kept your fucking mouth shut and hadn't asked any questions. Playboy: Did the end of your refigiousness coincide with your step into rock and roll? Frank Zappa: It was right about the same time. I was pretty isolated.
There weren't any cultural opportunities in Lancaster. You couldn't just go to a concert. There was nothing. Playboy: Were you tempted by drugs? Frank Zappa: All you'd have to do was look at the people who used them and that was enough.
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People would do frightening things and think it was fantastic. Then they would discuss it endlessly with the next guy, who had taken the same drug. I tried marijuana and waited for something to happen. I got a sore throat and it made me sleepy. I'd look at them and go, "Why? I did inhale. I couldn't understand what the big attraction was.
I liked tobacco a lot better. Playboy: Were you involved in other aspects of the counterculture? Frank Zappa: In order to be a part of it, you had to buy into the whole drug package. You had to have been experienced, in the Jimi Hendrix sense of the word. And all the people I knew who had been experienced were on the cusp of being zombies. Playboy: Was it disconcerting that your audiences were high much of the time? Frank Zappa: The worst part of it for me was that I really didn't like the smell of marijuana. I had to go into a place that had the purple haze and work for a couple of hours in that.
They were entitled to do whatever they wanted, so long as they didn't drive into me under the influence of it. Playboy: But you told people drugs were stupid, before Nancy Reagan did. Frank Zappa: One of the reasons we weren't rabidly popular at that time was that I said what was on my mind about drugs. Playboy: Did you feel like an outsider? It's safe to say that every other major rock star in those days was Frank Zappa: Looped. It wasn't just the other musicians but the people in the band. The guys in the band who wished they could do drugs couldn't because it meant unemployment.
I was unpopular for it. As for the rock stars, if you've met them, you know that they generally have very little on their minds. I never had any great desire to hang out with them. Playboy: Did any of the big acts of the time interest you? How about Dylan, Hendrix, the Stones? Frank Zappa: Some of the really good things that Hendrix did was the earliest stuff, when he was just ripping and brutal. Manic Depression was my favorite Jimi Hendrix song.
The more experimental it got, the less interesting and the thinner it got. As for Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited was really good. Then we got Blonde on Blonde and it started to sound like cowboy music, and you know what I think of cowboy music. I liked the Rolling Stones. Playboy: Did Mick Jagger once pull a splinter out of your toe? He came by my house and I was hopping around because of this splinter, so he pulled it out.
Good story, huh? I did like his attitude and the Stones' attitude. Ultimately, though, the music was being done because it was product. It was pop music made because there was a record company waiting for records. Playboy: Is that why you founded Straight Records? Frank Zappa: I naively thought that if there was some venue for nonstandard material, the material would find a market.
But it failed because it was independent and had in dependent distribution. We lost our butt on that one. So the only way you can really do an independent label is to distribute through a major that has some clout to collect from the retailers. Frank Zappa: We have a very loyal fan base in several countries. Although the sales figures worldwide aren't anywhere near what the big rock stars would do if they released an album, the people who like what we do are very enthusiastic about it. That gives you a certain amount of leverage with record companies. You hook up with a major distributor but still control what you do.
Since I have a record company of my own that controls the masters, the amount I make per unit - as the record company as opposed to the artist - is substantially more. I can sell three units and stay in business. Playboy: What inspired you to form your first band, the Black-Outs? Frank Zappa: In Lancaster there wasn't any rock and roll, unless you listened to it on a record. There were a number of Mexicans and a lot of black kids, and they liked that kind of stuff. So I put together this racially mixed ensemble that liked to play that kind of music. We banged our heads against the wall just like every other garage band, trying to figure out how to play, it.
There's no guidebook. Playboy: Were you playing high school dances? Frank Zappa: No, they wouldn't let us. I had to mount my own events. One time we rented the Lancaster Women's Club to put on a dance. When the authorities heard that there was going to be this rock-and-roll dance in their little cowboy community, they arrested me at six that evening for vagrancy. I spent the night in jail.
But the dance went off anyway. Playboy: Did that group metamorphose into the Mothers of Invention? Frank Zappa: That was just a high school band. After I got out of high school and moved away, I played other kinds of gigs, like a short stint with Joe Perrino and the Mellotones. We are allowed to play one twist number per night. The rest was Happy Birthday, Anniversary Waltz and all the standards.
I wore a little tux and strummed chords, bored. I got sick of that and stuck my guitar in the case and put it behind the sofa and left it there for eight months. I got a job doing greeting card designs, and for fun I wrote chamber music. I ran into some people who knew a guy named Paul Buff who had a studio. I started doing some worker over there.
I met Ray Collins, who was working weekend gigs with the Soul Giants. He got into a fistfight with the guitar player. They needed a substitute guitar player in a hurry, so he called me. I got really involved and learned how hard it is to run a band, especially if you are trying to put together some nonstandard musical offering with no money. You try to convince a musician that it is a worth-while thing to do, when deep in his heart every rock musician thinks that he, too, should be the fourth member of Cream or the eighteenth Beatle.
That group of people became the Mothers, anyway. Playboy: So named because? Frank Zappa: I don't know. We chose the name on Mother's Day. Playboy: Do you look at those as the good old days? Frank Zappa: I look at those as the old days. But we did have fun. Playboy: What was the music scene like? Frank Zappa: Pretty bizarre.
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We opened for Lenny Bruce at the Fillmore West in I asked him to sign my draft card, but he said no. Playboy: Is that when you had your runnin with John Wayne? He came to one show very drunk. He saw me and picked me up and said, "I saw you in Egypt and you were great. Playboy: There were other characters - such as Cynthia Plaster-Caster. Tell us about her. They had all these statues of the dicks of people like Jimi Hendrix.
One of them mixed the plaster stuff to make a mold, and the other gave the guy a blow job. She took her mouth off the guy's dick, and then the other one slammed the mold onto it. We declined to be enshrined, so to speak. Playboy: During those years, the Mothers were famous for being a hardworking band. You were on the road all the time. Frank Zappa: We played everywhere. Like the time we spent in Montreal, when we played a club called the New Penelope and it was twenty degrees below zero.
We walked from our hotel to the club, and the snot had literally frozen in our noses by the time we got to work. The wind instruments got so cold that if you tried to play them, your lips and fingers would freeze to them. The instruments couldn't even be played until they were warmed up. It was pretty primitive. If we hadn't experienced that, we probably wouldn't have come up with some of the more deranged types of audience participation and audience punishment things that we were doing at the time. Playboy: Audience punishment things? Frank Zappa: The question became, How far would they go?
What could we get an audience to do? The answer seemed to be anything. We'd bring someone up and go, "Take your shoes and socks off, put your socks on your hands and lick them while we play. So long as the person telling them to do it was onstage, they would do it. The rest of the people in the audience were laughing at the person who was doing the most ridiculous things but saying at the same time, I could do that!
That could be me! We ran a wire from there to the opposite side of the stage. We had pulleys on it. Our drummer, Motorhead, was instructed to attach objects to the line at random times during the show and fly them down. When they would land onstage, whatever arrived, we would improvise on it. Once, he sent down a baby d4" a doggie-style position with its head removed. It flew over the audience, whizzing by like in apparition over their heads, and crashed into the post over us.
It was followed shortly by a three-foot-long Genoa salami that sodomized the doll. It seemed to me that there was no reason to waste this perfectly good salami, so I invited this lovely girl with very long hair, wearing a kind of Little Miss Muffet costume, to come up onstage and eat the whole salami. We played and she ate the salami. She started to cry because she couldn't finish it. I told her it was OK, that we would save it for her and she could come back and eat the rest of it.
She did. Playboy: Do you keep up with popular music now? Frank Zappa: What's to keep up with? Playboy: You had your own talk show on FNN for a short time. What started that brief career? Frank Zappa: I was invited to be a guest on Bob Berkowitz' show to talk about business opportunities in the Soviet Union, which I knew something about from my travels there. It was a fairly amusing half hour. After that, Bob asked me to guest-host his show while he was on vacation.
Playboy: You tried to book Czechoslovakia's president Vaclav Havel as a guest, right? Frank Zappa: I knew a guy who had been a rock-and-roll musician who, after the revolution, was a ranking member of the Czech parliament. I asked him whether or not he could arrange for me to meet Havel so that I could interview him about the country's economy for FNN. I met with Havel and found that the minute I started talking with him about economics, he turned me over to his advisors; he didn't know anything about it. We didn't do the interview, but it was great meeting with him.
Since he was kind of the focal point of the whole thing, I thought he'd be a nice guy to talk with. He was. In the middle of everything, he mentioned that Dan Quayle was coming to visit. I expressed my condolences. I told him I was sorry that he was going to be forced to have a conversation with anyone that stupid. It eventually must have gotten back to the U. Instead of sending Quayle, Jim Baker - who was on his way to Moscow - rerouted his trip and went to Prague.
Playboy: What do you think of the breakup of Czechoslovakia? Frank Zappa: It's a big mistake. The crash program for economic reform is part of what led to the breakup of the country. Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, who was the advocate of the fast economic reform a la Poland, is a person who is well respected by Western financial people because he talks their language. This has a tendency to assure potential Western backers, who are not comfortable with a guy who wants to go slowly.
But there. Now there is no intellectual core in charge of the revolution, and the country has divided up, which is a mistake. Smaller entities tend to be less efficient; every small country has to reinvent the wheel. They have to set up a new constitution, a legislature, currency. It's happening in every one of the small breakaway republics. It gives the people personal gratification as a nationality, but the price is chaos.
Playboy: But you're all for smaller governments and more local control, aren't you? Frank Zappa: No, because that means more governments. Playboy: But smaller governments might better reflect their constituents. Frank Zappa: That's a reasonable assumption, if it were all going to work fairly. But I think that behind each breakaway movement is a breakaway demagogue who will set up his breakaway demagogue government.
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In many breakaway countries the governments now say, on paper, that you are free to be an entrepreneur. Well, that's great if you have cash to invest. But who has the cash? The party bosses who were there before are the new entrepreneurs. Guys who got thrown out of office wound up buying restaurants, hotels or factories. The drones who were wandering around the streets are still wandering, even though they have the right to be entrepreneurs.
That's certainly true in Russia, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. I haven't been to Poland yet. Playboy: Was it surprising that you had fans behind the iron curtain? Frank Zappa: Yeah, and lots of people who didn't like me - like the secret police. Playboy: What did the secret police have against you? A student I met said that he was arrested by the secret police and beaten.
They said they were going to beat the Zappa music out of him. Playboy: How did Czechs know about your music? Frank Zappa: It had been slipping in there since or The first album that was really popular there was Absolutely Free, the one with Plastic People on it. In Moscow, I was in the Ministry of Culture and met a young guy with a big Communist pin on his chest who said that he had earned his way through school bootlegging my tapes in from Yugoslavia.
Frank Zappa: Yeah, and I was thrilled, even though I'm pretty disappointed by what's happened since then. See, in that part of the world, the average guy in the street is like the average guy in the street anyplace else. He has the same desires. He wants something to eat, a roof over his head. He doesn't want to freeze, he wants to get laid, he wants to have a long and happy life reasonably free of pain.
If he has a trade or a craft, he wants to be able to do his job. Unfortunately, these normal people are represented by bad people, just like here. But they want what we want. The average guy there is just like us, Joe Six-pack, except his beer tastes better. Playboy: How do you feel about America's reaction to the changes in the former Soviet Union?
Frank Zappa: It's underwhelming. I would call it reactionary. Playboy: What would you have the United States do? Frank Zappa: If you really believed that the major threat to the universe was communism, the minute you saw it crumbling, wouldn't you do everything you could to make sure it never came back?
To make sure that the people in that part of the world have a chance to participate in something better, so they aren't tempted to vote communism back in? That's a real danger in these countries. Now that they have free elections, so long as there is any remnant of a Communist Party, even if they call it something else, it could easily be voted back in because their economy is in such bad shape.
They don't need a tank or a gun to regain control, they just need a ballot box. Playboy: You planned to become involved in Russian businesses. What happened to the company you founded to do it? Frank Zappa: Since I got sick, nothing happened. The idea was that there are a lot of small-to medium-sized U.
A nation that plays chess that well, and where you can still get 15, people to show up to hear somebody read poetry, has something going for, it. There's a brain at work there. I suspect that because of their economic condition they've found was to use string, chewing gum, reprocessed turnips - whatever they use - to do things in a way that we haven't thought of.
Somebody needs to go snooping around to find out what's there and try to put those people together with American investors. It would help both countries. That's what I was going to do. It was a better solution than having the Russian scientists flock out of there to get jobs making weapons for the Arabs or the Indians. Playboy: Sometimes you sound like a political candidate. How serious was your plan to run for president? Frank Zappa: I wanted to do it. It's a bit hard to mount a campaign if you have cancer and don't feel well.
Playboy: If you hadn't been ill, would you have run? And it's a shame. We got calls and mail throughout the election. Squadrons of volunteers called. Playboy: If you had run and won, what would President Zappa have done? Frank Zappa: I would have started by dismantling the government. At least I would have presented the idea to the voters.
Playboy: Nothing too revolutionary? Frank Zappa: In the Beltway and places that have large federal payrolls, the idea wouldn't be too popular, but in other places people would think it's great. One strong selling point is that you could do away with federal income taxes, or at least reduce them to a point that people would have something left at the end of the week.
In the end, I think people, in their enlightened self-interest, would consider voting for that. Playboy: If you dismantled the government, you'd put yourself out of a job. Frank Zappa: No, because most reasonable people would agree that we need roads, for instance, and water you can drink and breathable air. Most people realize that there has to be some coordinated infrastructure and a national offense that is commensurate with whatever threat you feel from other countries. Playboy: National offense? Frank Zappa: I mean - well, what we have now is national offense. We should have national defense.
Playboy: You've said that you're not a peacenik. Frank Zappa: Human nature and human stupidity often breed violence. When violence escalates to an international confrontation, you should be able to protect yourself. On the other hand, to plan for it - like we did throughout the Cold War - based on badly handled intelligence estimates of the threat to our national security is just stupid. Most intelligence estimates indicated that the Soviet couldn't do shit to us, but they were ignored order to maintain the level of employment and financial activity in the defense industry.
Playboy: Do you think that our recent election was irrelevant? Frank Zappa: Yes, because America has to be completely restructured. We have to question every institution in terms of efficiency. I'm serious about abandoning the federal system. Playboy: Is there any way that it's likely to happen? Frank Zappa: Not this week, but I wish people would at least consider it. They think, There it is, we're stuck with it, it will go on forever. It doesn't have to.
The Soviet Union didn't go on forever. If you want reform, the people who've been doing a bad job have to get fired. They have to go back to the used-car lot from where they came. Playboy: Yet you've always pushed people to vote. Why bother? Frank Zappa: Even if you don't like the candidates, there are issues that affect your life.
Bond issues affect your pocketbook. That's the only real reason for voting. As far as the rest of government is concerned, forget it. The amount of overstaffing, overlapping, wasted energy and pompous pseudograndeur is science fiction. All of it is supported by this universe of political talk shows. CNN is one of the worst offenders on the planet.
It maintains the fiction of the theoretical value of the thoughts and words of these inferior human specimens who manage to become Beltway insiders. Playboy: Do you want to name names?
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Frank Zappa: Do we need to see John Sununu as a talk-show guy? Let's face it: Some of these people are criminals. Why do we need to be presented with them as voices of authority whose opinions are something we should even waste our time with? Playboy: What do you think is behind it? Frank Zappa: It's a whole program designed to modify behavior and modify thinking on a national level.
They're happy to take the slings and arrows of the outraged minority in order to keep these voices of stupidity in your face all the time. It's all propaganda. Playboy: How planned is it? Frank Zappa: Completely. It is the residue of the domestic-diplomacy department that Reagan established during the Irancontra days. The idea was to control the news.
From that office, a guy would make phone calls and certain journalists would get fired and news stories would get changed. Then it was the obvious control of the media we saw during the Gulf war. Playboy: So you maintain that the media are no more than pawns? Frank Zappa: The media are part of the package. You think really liberal people own those outlets? I don't. Even if they were Democrats, it wouldn't mean anything, because who can tell the difference between those two criminal classes? Playboy: it sounds as if you are as cynical as ever. Frank Zappa: It's hard not to be. Playboy: Yet you feel it's worthwhile to raise some hell?
Frank Zappa: Pessimism and the natural instinct to raise hell are not mutually exclusive. Raising hell comes naturally to me. Still, I am not optimistic about what will happen to this country unless some radical change is made. It's going to take more than just firing a few bad guys. Playboy: You were involved in politics firsthand when you tried to stop record companies from being forced to label records, much like movies are rated. Your opponents got their way.
Has it had any impact? Frank Zappa: A chilling impact. Don't you think that the warning stickers help sales? Kids want stuff with bad words. Frank Zappa: But groups that are getting signed to recording contracts are being told what they can and cannot sing. Playboy: That doesn't ring true, It seems that there is less censorship than ever. Frank Zappa: If it's some guy selling thirty million records, the record company isn't going in with scissors.
But the new bands just signing up have no leverage. They do what they are told. Playboy: Many of the rap artists aren't selling millions. Frank Zappa: But they're on shaky ground. It's all hanging on a cliff, ready to go over. More frightening is the Child Protection Act. It holds people responsible if they in any way influence someone to commit a crime. The record companies are worried. Playboy: You obviously don't believe songs can make people kill or rape or commit suicide. Frank Zappa: There are more love songs than anything else.
If songs could make you do something, we'd all love one another. Violence in songs functions the same way violence in movies does. In Lethal Weapon, people get blown up, mashed and mutilated. The people in the audience would never do anything like that. Playboy: Have you been censored? I do what I want to do, though there are certain socially retarded areas where my records are not to be seen.
That's one of the reasons we have a mail-order business. There's this ludicrous fear of the power of music manifesting itself in the corruption of the youth of America. It's idiotic. But censorship, in effect, is turning the United States into a police state, as far as ideas go. It's not about children learning dirty words.
It's about putting a lid on ideas. Whatever they don't want to confront, whether it's about sex or racism or anything else, is what they want to censor. One way to shut off the avenues of dissent is to put a lid on rock and roll. Then come books and everything else. But censorship is communism. Why are we buying into communist suppression at a time when everybody else in the world has realized that it doesn't work?
The people who want to censor do not care about saving your children. They care about one thing - getting reelected. Let's face it, folks: Politicians in the United States are the scum of the earth. We have to go after them individually because they're varmints. The legislation they are passing, piece by piece, converts America into a police state. The mentality that has existed since Reagan and Bush is that the population of the United States has to be subjugated by law.
Playboy: Did the record industry fight the labeling hard enough?
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