Testimony of Frank Zappa during Sentate
Hearings on the PMRC
Senator Hawkins. Thank you.
The Chairman. Thank you very much for being here. I know that for all of
you it was not the most pleasant of
experiences to read some of the lyrics in public. But it was very helpful
and we appreciate your attendance.
John Denver is on the witness list. He has had to leave the hearing room
for another engagement. He plans to be back. So the next witness will be
Mr. Frank Zappa.
Mr. Zappa, thank you very much for being with us. Please proceed.
STATEMENT OF FRANK ZAPPA. ACCOMPANIED BY LARRY
Mr. Zappa. My name is Frank Zappa. This is my attorney
Larry Stein from Los Angeles. Can you hear me?
The Chairman. If you could speak very directly and clearly into the microphone,
I would appreciate it.
Mr. Zappa. My name is Frank Zappa. This is my attorney
Larry Stein. The statement that I prepared, that I sent you 100 copies
of, is five pages long, so I have shortened it down and am going to read
a condensed version of it. Certain things have happened. I have been
listening to the event in the other room and have heard conflicting
reports as to whether or not people in this committee
want legislation. I under- stand that Mr. Hollings does from his comments.
Is that correct?
The CHAIRMAN. I think you had better concentrate on your testimony, rather
than asking questions.
Mr. ZAPPA. The reason I need to ask it, because I
have to change something in my testimony if there is not a
clearcut version of whether or not legislation is
what is being discussed here.
The Chairman. Do the best you can, because I do not think anybody here
can characterize Senator Hollings'
Mr. ZAPPA. I will carry on with the issue, then.
Senator Exon. Mr. Chairman, I might help him out just a little bit. I might
make a statement. This is one Senator
that might be interested in legislation and/or regulation to some extent,
recognizing the problems with the right
of free expression.
I have previously expressed views that I do not believe I should be telling
other people what they have to listen
to. I really believe that the suggestion made by the original panel was
some kind of an arrangement for
voluntarily policing this in the music industry as the correct way to go.
If it will help you out in your testimony, I might join Senator Hollings
or others in some kind of legislation
and/or regulation, unless the free enterprise system, both the producers
and you as the performers, see fit to
clean up your act.
Mr. ZAPPA. OK, thank you.
The First thing I would like to do, because I know
there is some foreign press involved here and they might not
understand what the issue is about, one of the things
the issue is about is the First Amendment to the
Constitution, and it is short and I would like to
read it so they will understand. It says:
Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise
thereof, or abridging the
freedom of speech or of the press or the right of the people peaceably
assemble and to petition
the government for a redress of grievances.
That is for reference.
These are my personal observations and opinions.
I speak on behalf of no group or professional organization.
The PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense
which fails to deliver any real benefits to children,
infringes the civil liberties of people who are not
children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years
dealing with the interpretational and enforcemental
problems inherent in the proposal's design.
It is my understanding that in law First Amendment
issues are decided with a preference for the least
restrictive alternative. In this context, the PMRC
demands are the equivalent of treating dandruff by
No one has forced Mrs. Baker or Mrs. Gore to bring
Prince or Sheena Easton into their homes. Thanks to the
Constitution, they are free to buy other forms of
music for their children. Apparently, they insist on purchasing
the works of contemporary recording artists in order
to support a personal illusion of aerobic sophistication.
Ladies, please be advised: The $8.98 purchase price
does not entitle you to a kiss on the foot from the composer or
performer in exchange for a spin on the family Victrola.
Taken as a whole, the complete list of PMRC demands
reads like an instruction manual for some sinister kind of toilet
training program to house-break all composers and performers because of
the lyrics of a few. Ladies, how dare you?
The ladies' shame must be shared by the bosses at
the major labels who, through the RIAA, chose to bargain
away the rights of composers, performers, and retailers
in order to pass H.R. 2911, The Blank Tape Tax, a
private tax levied by an industry on consumers for
the benefit of a select group within that industry.
Is this a consumer issue? You 'bet it is. The major
record labels need to have H.R. 2911 whiz through a few
committees before anybody smells a rat. One of them
is chaired by Senator Thurmond. Is it a coincidence that
Mrs. Thurmond is affiliated with the PMRC?
I cannot say she is a member, because the PMRC has
no members. Their secretary told me on the phone last
Friday that the PMRC has no members, only founders.
I asked how many other District of Columbia wives are
nonmembers of an organization that raises money by
mail, has a tax-exempt status, and seems intent on running
the Constitution of the United States through the
family paper-shredder. I asked her if it was a cult. Finally, she
said she could not give me an answer and that she
had to call their lawyer.
While the wife of the Secretary of the Treasury recites
"Gonna drive my love inside you" and Senator Gore's
wife talks about "bondage" and "oral
sex at gunpoint" on the CBS Evening News, people in high places work
on a tax bill that is so ridiculous, the only
way to sneak it through is to keep the public's mind on something else:
Is the basic issue morality? Is it mental health?
Is it an issue at all? The PMRC has created a lot of confusion
with improper comparisons between song lyrics, videos,
record packaging, radio broadcasting, and live performances.
These are all different mediums and the people who work in them have the
right to conduct their business without trade-restraining legislation,
whipped up like an instant pudding by "The wives of Big Brother."
Is it proper that the husband of a PMRC nonmember/founder/
person sits on any committee considering business pertaining
to the blank tape tax or his wife's lobbying organization? Can any committee
thus constituted find facts in a fair and
unbiased manner? This committee has three that we know about: Senator Danforth,
Senator Packwood, and Senator Gore. For some
reason, they seem to feel there is no conflict of interest involved.
Children in the vulnerable age bracket have a natural
love for music. If as a parent you believe they should be
exposed to something more uplifting than "Sugar
Walls," support music appreciation programs in schools. Why
have you not considered your child's need for consumer
information? Music appreciation costs very little
compared to sports expenditures. Your children have
a right to know that something besides pop music exists.
lt is unfortunate that the PMRC would rather dispense
governmentally sanitized heavy metal music than something more
uplifting. Is this an indication of PMRC's personal taste or just another
manifestation of the low priority this administration
has placed on education for the arts in America?
The answer. of course, is neither. You cannot distract
people from thinking about an unfair tax by talking about music
appreciation. For that you need sex, and lots of it.
The establishment of a rating system, voluntary or
otherwise, opens the door to an endless parade of moral
quality control programs based on things certain
Christians do not like. What if the next bunch of Washington
wives demands a large yellow "J" on all
material written or performed by Jews, in order to save helpless
children from exposure to concealed Zionist doctrine?
Record ratings are frequently compared to film ratings.
Apart from the quantitative difference, there is another that
is more important: People who act in films are hired to pretend. No matter
how the film is rated, it will not
hurt them personally.
Since many musicians write and perform their own
material and stand by it as their art, whether you like it or
not, an imposed rating will stigmatize them as individuals.
How long before composers and performers are told to wear
a festive little PMRC arm band with their scarlet letter on it?
Bad facts make bad law, and people who write bad
laws are in my opinion more dangerous than songwriters who celebrate
sexuality. Freedom of speech, freedom of religious thought, and the right
to due process for
composers, performers and retailers are imperiled
if the PMRC and the major labels consummate this nasty
Are we expected to give up article 1 so the big guys
can collect an extra dollar on every blank tape and 10 to 25 percent
on tape recorders? What is going on here? Do we get to vote on this tax?
I think that this whole matter
has gotten completely blown out of proportion, and
I agree with Senator Exon that there is a very dubious
reason for having this event. I also agree with Senator
Exon that you should not be wasting time on stuff like
this, because from the beginning I have sensed that
it is somebody's hobby project.
Now, I have done a number of interviews on television.
People keep saying, can you not take a few steps in their direction,
can vou not sympathize, can you not empathize? I do more than that at this
point. I have got an idea
for a way to stop all this stuff and a way to give
parents what they really want, which is information, accurate
information as to what is inside the album, without
providing a stigma for the musicians who have played on the
album or the people who sing it or the people who
wrote it. And I think that if you 'listen carefully to this idea
that it might just get by all of the constitutional
problems and everything else.
As far as I am concerned, I have no objection to
having all of the lyrics placed on the album routinely, all the
time. But there is a little problem. Record companies
do not own the right automatically to take these lyrics,
because they are owned by a publishing company.
So, just as all the rest of the PMRC proposals would
cost money, this would cost money too, because the record
companies would need--they should not be forced to
bear the cost, the extra expenditure to the publisher, to
print those lyrics.
If you consider that the public needs to be warned
about the contents of the records, what better way than to
let them see exactly what the songs say? That way
you do not have to put any kind of subjective rating on the
record. You do not have to call it R, X, D/ A, anything.
You can read it for yourself.
But in order for it to work properly, the lyrics
should be on a uniform kind of a sheet. Maybe even the
Government could print those sheets. Maybe it should
even be paid for by the Government, if the Government is
interested in making sure that people have consumer
information in this regard.
And you also have to realize that if a person buys
the record and takes it out of the store, once it is out of the
store you can't return it if you read the lyrics
at home and decide that little Johnny is not supposed to have it.
I think that that should at least be considered,
and the idea of imposing these ratings on live concerts, on the
albums, asking record companies to reevaluate or
drop or violate contracts that they already have with artists
should be thrown out.
That is all I have to say.
The Chairman. Thank you very much, Mr. Zappa. You understand that the previous
witnesses were not asking
for legislation. And I do not know, I cannot speak for Senator Hollings,
but I think the prevailing view here is
that nobody is asking for legislation.
The question is just focusing on what a lot of people perceive to be a
problem, and you have indicated that you
at least understand that there is another point of view. But there are
people that think that parents should have
some knowledge of what goes into their home.
Mr. ZAPPA. All along my objection has been with the
tactics used by these people in order to achieve the goal.
I just think the tactics have been really bad, and
the whole premise of their proposal- they were badly advised
in terms of record business law, they were badly
advised in terms of practicality. or they would have known that certain
things do not work mechanically with what they suggest.
The CHAIRMAN. Senator Gore.
Senator GORE. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I found your statement very interesting and, although I disagree with some
of the statements that you make and
have made on other occasions, I have been a fan of your music, believe
it or not. I respect you as a true original and a tremendously talented
Your suggestion of printing the lyrics on the album is a very interesting
one. The PMRC at one point said they
would propose either a rating or warning, or printing all the lyrics on
the album. The record companies came
back and said they did not want to do that.
I think a lot of people agree with your suggestion that one easy way to
solve this problem for parents would be
to put the actual words there, so that parents could see them. In fact,
the National Association of Broadcasters made exactly the same request
of the record companies.
I think your suggestion is an intriguing one and might really be a solution
for the problem.
Mr. ZAPPA. You have to understand that it does cost
money, because you cannot expect publishers to
automatically give up that right, which is a right
for them. Somebody is going to have to reimburse the publishers, the record
Without trying to mess up the album jacket art, it
should be a sheet of paper that is slipped inside the
shrink-wrap, so that when you take it out you can
still have a complete album package. So there is going to be
some extra cost for printing it.
But as long as people realize that for this kind
of consumer safety you are going to spend some money and as
long as you can find a way to pay for it, I think
that would be the best way to let people know.
Senator GORE. I do not disagree with that at all. And the separate sheet
would also solve the problem with
cassettes as well, because you do not have the space for words on the cassette
Mr. ZAPPA. There would have to be a little accordion-fold.
Senator GORE. I have listened to you a number of times on this issue, and
I guess the statement that I want to
get from you is whether or not you feel this concern is legitimate.
You feel very strongly about your position, and I understand that. You
are very articulate and forceful. But occasionally you give the impression
that you think parents are just silly to be concerned at all.
Mr. ZAPPA. No; that is not an accurate impression.
Senator GORE. Well, please clarify it, then.
Mr. ZAPPA. First of all, I think it is the parents'
concern; it is not the Government's concern.
Senator GORE. The PMRC agrees with you on that.
Mr. ZAPPA. Well. that does not come across in the
way they have been speaking. The whole drift that I have
gotten, based upon the media blitz that has attended
the PMRC and its rise to infamy, is that they have a special
plan, and it has smelled like legislation up until
There are too many things that look like hidden agendas
involved with this. And I am a parent. I have got four
children. Two of them are here. I want them to grow
up in a country where they can think what they want to
think, be what they want to be, and not what somebody's
wife or somebody in Government makes them be.
I do not want to have that and I do not think you
Senator GORE. OK. But now you are back on the issue of Government involvement.
Let me say briefly on this
point that the PMRC says repeatedly no legislation, no regulation, no Governnient
action. It certainly sounded
clear to me.
And as far as a hidden agenda, I do not see one, hear one, or know of one.
Mr. ZAPPA OK, let me tell you why I have drawn these
conclusions. First of all, they may say, we are not
interested in legislation. But there are others who
are, and because of their project bad things have happened in this
country in the industry.
I believe there is actually some liability. Look
at this. You have a situation where, even if you go for the lyric
printed thing in the record, because of the tendency
among Americans to be copycats- one guy commits a murder, you
get a copycat murder-now you've got copycat censors.
You get a very bad situation in San Antonio, TX,
right now where they are trying to pass PMRC-type individual
ratings and attach them to live concerts, with the
mayor down there trying to make a national reputation by
putting San Antonio on the map as the first city
in the United States to have these regulations, against the
suggestion of the city attorney, who says, I do not
think this is constitutional.
But you know, there is this fervor to get in and
do even more and even more.
And the other thing, the PMRC starts off talking
about lyrics, but when they take it over into other realms they
start talking about the videos. In fact, you misspoke
yourself at the beginning in your introduction when you
were talking about the music does this, the music
does that. There is a distinct difference between those notes
and chords and the baseline [sic - error in Congressional
report] and the rhythm that support the words and the
I do not know whether you really are talking about
controlling the type of music.
The CHAIRMAN. The lyrics.
Mr. ZAPPA So specifically we are talking about lyrics.
It began with lyrics. But even loo@ng at the PMRC
fundraising letter, in the last paragraph at the
bottom of the page it starts looking like it is branching into other
areas, when it says: "We realize that this material
has pervaded other aspects of society." And it is like what,
you are going to fix it all for me?
Senator GORE. No. I think the PMRC's acknowledging some of the statements
by some of their critics who say:
Well, why single out the music industry. Do I understand that you
do believe that there is a legitimate concern here?
Mr. ZAPPA But the legitimate concern is a matter
of taste for the individual parent and how much sexual
information that parent wants to give their child,
at what age, at what time, in what quantity, OK. And I think
that, because there is a tendency in the United States
to hide sex, which I think is an unhealthy thing to do. and many
parents do not give their children good sexual education, in spite of the
fact that little books for kids are
available, and other parents demand that sexual education
be taken out of school, it makes the child vulnerable, because
if you do not have something rational to compare it to when you see or
hear about something that is
aberrated you do not perceive it as an aberration.
Senator GORE. OK, I have run out of time. Thank vou, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Senator Rockefeller.
Senator ROCKEFELLER. No questions, Mr. Chairnan.
The CHAIRMAN. Senator Gorton.
Senator GORTON. Mr. Zappa, I am astounded at the courtesy and soft-voiced
nature of the comments of my
friend, the Senator from Tennessee. I can only say that I found your statement
to be boorish, incredibly and
insensitively insulting to the people that were here previously; that you
could manage to give the first amendment of the Constitution of the United
States a bad name, if I felt that you had the slightest understanding of
which I do not.
You do not have the slightest understanding of the difference between Government
action and private action,
and you have certainly destroyed any case you might otherwise have had
with this Senator.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. ZAPPA. Is this private action?
The CHAIRMAN. Senator Exon. Senator EXON. Mr. Chairman, thank you very
much. Mr. Zappa, let me say that I was surprised
that Senator Gore knew and liked your music. I must confess that I have
never heard any of your music, to my knowledge.
Mr. ZAPPA I would be more than happy to recite my
lyrics to you.
Senator EXON. Can we forgo that?
Senator GORE. You have probably never heard of the Mothers of Invention.
Senator EXON. I have heard of Glen Miller and Mitch Miller. Did you ever
perform with them?
Mr. ZAPPA As a matter of fact, I took music lessons
in grade school from Mitch Miller's brother.
Senator EXON. That is the first sign of hope we have had in this hearing.
Let us try and get down to a fundamental question here that I would like
to ask you, Mr. Zappa. Do you believe that parents have the right
and the obligation to mold the psychological development of their children?
Mr. ZAPPA Yes, I think they have that right, and
I also think they have that obligation.
Senator EXON. Do you see any extreme difficulty in carrying out those obligations
for a parent by material
falling into the hands of their children over which thely have little or
Mr. ZAPPA Well, one of the things that has been brought
up before is talking about very young children getting
access to the material that they have been showing
here today. And what I have said to that in the past is a
teenager may go into a record store unescorted with
$8.98 in his pocket, but very young children do not.
If they go into a record store, the $8.98 is in mom
or dad's pocKet, and they can always say, Johnny, buy a
book. They can say, Johnny, buy instrumental music;
there is some nice classical music for you here; why do you not
listen to that.
The parent can ask or guide the child in another
direction, away from Sheena Easton, Prince, or whoever else
you have been complaining about. There is always
Senator EXON. As I understand it from your testimony--and once again, I
want to emphasize that I see
nothing wrong whatsoever; in fact, I salute the ladies for bringing this
to the attention of the public as best they see fit. I think you could
tell from my testimony that I tend to agree with them.
I want to be very careful that we do not overstep our bounds and try and--and
I emphasize once again--tell
somebody else what they should see. I am primarily worried about children.
It seems to me from your statement that you have no obligation--or no objection
whatsoever to printing lyrics, if that would be legally possible, or from
a standpoint of having the room to do that, on records or tapes. Is that
not what you said?
Mr. ZAPPA I think it would be advisable for two reasons.
One, it gives people one of the things that they have
been asking for. It gives them that type of consumer
protection because, if you can read the English language
and you can see the lyrics on the back, you have
no excuse for complaning if you take the record out of the
And also, I think that the record industry has been
damaged and it has been given a very bad rap by this whole
situation because it has been indicated, or people
have attempted to indicate, that there is so much of this kind
of material that people object to in the industry,
that that is what the industry is.
It is not bad at all. Some of the albums that have
been selected for abuse here are obscure. Some of them are
already several years old. And I think that a lot
of deep digging was done in order to come up with the song
about anal vapors or whatever it was that they were
talking about before.
Senator EXON. If I understand you, you would be in support of printing
the lyrics, but you are adamantly
opposed to any kind of a rating system?
Mr. ZAPPA I am opposed to the rating system because,
as I said, if you put a rating on the record it goes
directly to the character of the person who made
the record, whereas if you rate a film, a guy who is in the film
has been hired as an actor. He is pretending. You
rate the film, whatever it is, it does not hurt him. But
whether you like what is on the record or not, the guy who made it, that
is his art and to stigmatize him is
Senator EXON. Well, likewise, if you are primarily concerned about the
artists, is it not true that for many
many years, we have had ratings of movies with indications as to the sexual
content of movies and that has been, as near as I can tell, a voluntary
action on the part of the actors in the movies and the producers of the
and the distributors?
That seems to have worked reasonably well. What is wrong with that?
Mr. ZAPPA Well, first of all, it replaced something
that was far more restrictive, which was the Hayes Office.
And as far as that being voluntary, there are people
who wish they did not have to rate their films. They still
object to rating their films, but the reason the
ratings go on is because if they are not rated they will not get
distributed or shown in theaters. So there is a little
bit of pressure involved, but still there is no stigma.
Senator EXON. The Government does not require that. The point I am trying
to make is--and while I think
these hearings should not have been held if we are not considering legislation
or regulations at this time, I
emphasized earlier that they might follow.
I simply want to say to you that I suspect that, unless the industry "cleans
up their act"--and I use that in quotes again--there is likely to
be legislation. And it seems to me that it would not be too far removed
from reality or too offensive to anyone if you could follow the general
guidelines, right, wrong, or indifferent, that are now in place with regard
to the movie industry.
Mr. ZAPPA Well, I would object to that. I think first
of all, I believe it was you who asked the question of Mrs.
Gore whether there was any other indication on the
album as to the contents. And I would say that a buzzsaw
blade between a guy's legs on the album cover is
a good indication that it is not for little Johnny.
Senator EXON. I do not believe I asked her that question, but the point
you made is a good one, because if
that should not go to little minds I think there should be at least some
minimal activity or attempt on the part of
the producers and distributors, and indeed possibly the performers, to
see that that does not get to that little
Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.
The CHAIRMAN. Senator Hollings.
Senator HOLLINGS. Mr. Zappa, I apologize for coming back in late, but I
am just hearing the latter part of
it. I hear that you say that perhaps we could print the words, and I think
that is a good suggestion, but it is
unfair to have albums rated. Now, it is not considered unfair in
the movie industry, and I want you to elaborate. I do not want to belabor
you, but why is it unfair? I mean, it is accurate, is it not?
Mr. ZAPPA Well, I do not know whether it is accurate,
because sometimes they have trouble deciding how a
film gets to be an X or an R or whatever. And you
have two problems. One is the quantity of material, 325 films
per year versus 25,000 4-minute songs per year, OK.
You also have a problem that an album is a compilation
of different types of cuts. If one song on the album is
sexually explicit and all tfie rest of it sounds
like Pat Boone, what do you get on the album? How are you going
to rate it?
There are little technical difficulties here, and
and you have the problem of having somebody in the position of
deciding what's good, what's bad, what's talking
about the devil, what is too violent, and the rest of that stuff.
But the point I made before is that when you rate
the album you are rating the individual, because he takes
personal responsibility for the music; and in the
movies, the actors who are performing in the movie, it does not
Senator HOLLINGS. Well, very good. I think the actual printing of the content
itself is perhaps even better
than the rating. Let everyone else decide.
Mr. ZAPPA I think you should leave it up to the parents,
because not all parents want to keep their children
Senator HOLLINGS. Well, you and I would differ on what is ignorance and
education, I can see that. But if
it was there, they could see what they were buying and I think that is
a step in the right direction.
As Senator Exon has pointed out, the primary movers in this particular
regard are not looking for legislation or
regulations, which is our function. To be perfectly candid with you, I
would look for regulations or some kind of legislation, if it could be
constitutionally accomplished, unless of course we have these initiatives
I think your suggestion is a good one. If you print those words, that would
go a long way toward satisfying
Mr. ZAPPA All we have to do is find out how it is
going to be paid for.
Senator HOLLINGS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Senator Hawkins.
Senator HAWKINS. Mr. Zappa, you suy you have four children?
Mr. ZAPPA Yes, four children.
Senator HAWKINS. Have you ever purchased toys for those children?
Mr. ZAPPA No; my wife does.
Senator HAWKINS. Well, I might tell you that if you were to go in a toy
store--which is very educational for
fathers, by the way; it is not a maternal responsibility to buy toys for
children--that you may look on the box and the box says, this is suitable
for 5 to 7 years of age, or 8 to 15, or 15 and above, to give you some
guidance for a toy for a child.
Do you object to that?
Mr. ZAPPA In a way I do, because that means that
somebody in an office someplace is making a decision about
how smart my child is.
Senator HAWKINS. I would be interested to see what toys your kids ever
Mr. ZAPPA Why would you be interested?
Senator HAWKINS. Just as a point of interest.
Mr. ZAPPA Well, come on over to the house. I will
show them to you.
Senator HAWKINS. I might do that.
Do you make a profit from sales of rock records?
Mr. ZAPPA. Yes.
Senator HAWKINS. So you do make a profit from the sales of rock records?
Mr. ZAPPA Yes.
Senator HAWKINS. Thank you. I think that statement tells the story to this
committee. Thank you.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Zappa, thank you very much for your testimony.
Mr. ZAPPA Thank you.
Frank Zappa's Statement
to the U.S. Senate