Frank Zappa - 1972
Q: I know from your various raps in the past
and from reading about you that you have a great deal of interest in classical
Z: Yeah, I do. It's what I listen to mostly, I don't listen to too
much rock and roll.
Q: How come?
Z: I don't think that it gets me off as good as some contemporary
Q: Like what?
Z: My favorite composers to listen to are: Stravinsky, Webern, Varese,
and Penderecki. I think I find more things of interest for my ear in those
composers than I do in any number of pop groups that you could name.
Q: Do you think that there's a possible audience
for let's say.... Webern or Penderecki?
Z: Of course there is.
Q: Where is it?
Z: Well, that's beside the point. The audience exists - it's perhaps
not as large as the audience for Grand Funk Railroad but it's there nonetheless
and is in need of servicing. There are some people who might be interested
in hearing that music who have never heard it before and who might just
like to go out and see what it does to their mind to get a little bit of
it on 'em.
Q: In the past, political types have talked
of the music of Webern, the, uh Post-Webern really.... Penderecki and his
friends as being elitist music - music that is difficult for masses of
people to listen to.
Z: Then I would assume from that line of reasoning that the ideal
music of all time must be that of the crudest form of rock and roll. I
don't think that that's elitist music by any stretch of the imagination.
Q: Do you think it's easy for people to listen
Z: It depends on the person who's listening to it and what he expects
to get out of it, y'know.
Q: What do people come to music for, do you
Z: Well, in America, mostly for entertainment. I doubt that they're
going to derive as much entertainment value out of watching, say, a Webern
string quartet performed as, say, some rock and roll band who has a guitar
player who eats his guitar onstage. That would probably be more entertaining
for them, but I don't think that's down to what the music is really about.
Q: Is the music of the MOI influenced by your
interest in classical music?
Z: Yeah, I would say so.
Q: How? Rhythmically? Harmonically?
Q: Other than taking other people's work and
using it for theme and variations as you do in the Invocation and Ritual
Dance and various other places in your work, do you think that there is
a link between what we call the classical world and your music?
Z: Yes, there is a link. It's rhythmic and it's harmonic.
Q: Pierre Boulez says of Stravinsky that Stravinsky
was the first person, specifically in the Rite Of Spring, to write rhythm
that most of Western music until that time, starting with Palestrina had
Z: I don't know whether I could agree with that a hundred percent.
Q: Do you think that you play harmony, or
rhythm, or a combination of the two?
Z: I think that you're getting into some deep stuff right there
unless you want to get into a big philosophical discussion...
Q: (interrupts) I do.
Z: For a teen-age radio station, you kidding me?
Q: I'll kid ya.
Z: Okay. Well my premise is that you can have harmony constructed
out of rhythms. That's the way I look at it and without getting into a
series of charts, graphs, diagrams and explaining technically how all that's
done, that's one of the things that my listening to forms of music other
than rock and roll has brought to the performance of The Mothers. I would
probably tend to agree with Lukas Foss's evaluation of The Rite Of Spring
although it's one of my favorite pieces, he feels that it's sort of like
Bigger and Better Rimsky-Korsakov. In a way it is. It's more than that,
but I think that the L'Histoire Du Soldat has probably got a lot more going
for it in terms of real innovation and its rhythmic vitality; interesting
sonorities that just didn't exist in chamber music prior to that time.
Q: You said you sorta wanted to put off a
philosophical discussion, it's clear, however, that you're into what music
does and how audiences address music; you're quite obviously unhappy that
the lowest common denominator seems so often to rise to the top - at least
at the economic pile in American music; you seem to think that Grand Funk
Railroad is something less than ideal. What is ideal? What is the music
experience about and what kinds of things do you bring to it? What do you
expect your audience to do?
Z: Well, first of all I do not wish to state that Grand Funk Railroad
is less than ideal. Grand Funk Railroad IS ideal for people who like that
kind of music and I don't want you to misconstrue what I say. I happen
to be interested in performing a type of music that perhaps is not as interesting
to as large a number of people as the number of people that get off on
that other kind of music, y'know. But I'm not interested in that other
kind of music so I'm not bothered with it.
Q: I sat in an audience once and something
didn't work; one of the amplifiers of the last of The Mothers bands, and
people wanted you to play and were applauding and you came forward and
lectured them on how they wouldn't know the difference anyhow but it made
some difference to you. It's not done often in pop music.
Z: It should be done more often in pop music. It should be done
in classical music too because if it's not done the audience is going to
continue to come to a performance saying "Merely entertain me. Just go
up there and you be a juke box only we can see you moving around." Unless
you do something to alter that image it'll just stay the same forever.
People will just go down there and expect musicians to be robots spewing
off some kind of little noise that they can identify with, and I don't
think that's what music's all about.
Q: What then is it all about? Are you interested
in writing for some small segment of the population or are you interested
in raising the standard of the audience listening habits?
Z: I'm not interested in doing either of the above. What I'm interested
in doing is writing music that I want to hear, okay? And if there happen
to be some people who have similar taste to me, then they would like to
listen to that too. However the music is made available to anybody who
wants to hear it; the concerts are open to the public; the records are
on sale to anybody who wants to buy 'em; the radio stations are free to
pick and choose what they want to play; it's sort of a low-pressure operation.
Q: But for those of us who have known Frank
Zappa only through his records and The Mothers records, particularly over
the years and have come to love you and know you through that music, when
they find that you're going on into areas which they maybe aren't prepared
to go in, they are a little disappointed and they say "Why?" and that's
the only question that I'm prepared to ask.
Z: Well, the question I'm prepared to ask is "Why should somebody
be disappointed?" What's disappointing about having somebody do some exploring
for you? If I'm going into an area that you're not interested in going
into, fine - you stay home. I'll tell you what happened when I get back.
Q: Send a postcard at the very least.
Z: Sure. I'll do you a public service. I'll find out what's out
there. The only problem is, if you don't go there with me you're gonna
have to take my word for it when I give you my report. That's not too smart.
You should at least come along for the ride and find out what's happening
Q: Where are you going, Frank?
Z: I'm going wherever I can, y'know.
Q: Going out into jazz and into Webern and
all those places?
Z: I started off in Webern. I'm trying to get back. (laughs)
Q: Working your way home?
Z: Yeah, working my way back from Vienna.
Q: Are you really interested in that kind
of music and atonal serial music - do you compose in tone rows and things
like that or is it more American than that?
Z: No. I started off composing serial music. I was writing serial
music when I was 18 and I never had a chance to get any of it performed
because I was living in a little town where there weren't too many musicians
around who could read or play well enough to count the rhythm and read
all the elaborate dynamic markings that are usually connected with serial
music. You know, you serialize your dynamics as well as your pitches. You
can also serialize your rhythm. So I was doing that kind of stuff a long
Q: So now you're wreaking your vengeance,
Z: No. What happened was, I finally did get a chance to hear some
of the serial material performed and, maybe it was the performance that
I finally got of it, or maybe it was just that I decided to do something
else but I stopped writing serial music. I was writing all kinds of positive
and negative canons and weird inverted this and retrograde that and getting
as spaced-out mathematically as I could and I was going "Wait a minute
(laughs), who cares about that stuff?" I had always liked rhythm and blues
so here I was stuck between the slide rule and the gut bucket somewhere
and I decided that I would opt for a third road someplace in between.
Q: How would you describe that road? Other
than that you like the road.
Z: It's winding.
Q: And do you think that people are going
to.. I hate to put this question to you in terms of audience, but that's
through records and through radio stations and through Hollywood Bowl concerts
- that's where it is. Do you think that audiences are going to ultimately
come to it even if they don't come to it, say the first or second time?
Z: Well, let's suppose I do it and they don't come to it. But let's
suppose somebody that they like better does it because they heard us do
it, and they do it - they'll go to it. If Grand Funk Railroad started playing
serial music, they'd love it.
Q: Do you think they would?
Z: Sure. They'd be...
Q: (interrupts) You couldn't dance to it.
Z: How do you know? All you got to do is keep a strong backbeat
to it, it doesn't make too much difference what the pitches are. As a matter
of fact, you start defining terms like serial or atonal and things like
that, well - feedback is atonal and Jimi Hendrix used to do that up the
ass, so what's the difference? He had the right showmanship to present
with that and going into a serial framework might be just another logical
extension. I wouldn't say that any audience in the Youth Segment is ready
to bid heavily in the serial market right now because they're too much
oriented to laying back and grooving behind some musical experience but,
eventually they may want to explore that because it just gives you a different
feeling. If you've listened to very much of Webern's music and listen to
it in the spirit with which it was constructed, it'll take you somplace
quite far away. What I would like to say is this: The discussion of Webern
in this conversation is almost blasphemous and I would like to suggest
that if anybody's got an opportunity that they would go out and actually
listen to Webern so that they know what this discussion is about. First
of all, for those of you who don't know - his name is spelled: W-E-B-E-R-N.
His first name is Anton, and he's dead, you understand? Go to a record
store and ask for, let's see, there's one album called "The Collected Works
of Anton Webern" and it's conducted by Robert Kraft - that's available
Q: On Columbia.
Z: Yes, and there are also some other ones that aren't too shabby
that are available on some European labels. Phillips has one of an Italian
string quartet that's playing some of his string quartet pieces. That's
very good - I can't remember what the name of the quartet is, but....
Q: (interrupts) Quartetto di Italiano.
Z: Is that it?
Q: That's it.
Z: The one with the black turtlenecks on the front.
Q: That's that.
Z: Yeah. But go down and listen to some of this music and see whether
or not it's too abstract for your mind. I don't think it will be, I think
that if you get over the initial shock of hearing how much space there
is between the notes, and hearing that the dynamics are not extremely loud
and hearing that the texture of the music is something completely different
than what you're normally accustomed to, I think that if you listen to
it with a little sensitivity and appreciation it might even get you off.
It doesn't have much of a beat but it is alright.
Q: Give it an 83.
Z: I'd give it a hundred and sixty five. I would say that if there
was anybody who has ever written music and been involved in the composing
business that got close to writing some saintly stuff - it was Anton Webern
because he - you talk about a purist, you got it.
Q: The Mothers early music, which was largely
a product of your head, had one great enemy: the American high school.
Other than that, you have not really attacked some of the things that became
fashionable in the late 60s and early 70s to attack. Do you have a political
stance that you like to talk about?
Z: No, I don't have a political stance that I like to talk about
because I don't wish to unduly influence anybody else's political stance.
As far as attacking things, the early music of the MOI was not so much
attacking as making some rather accurate comments about situations that
existed, and it wasn't a question of picking some trendy thing to attack
and then ATTACK IT, so that everybody who also agreed that that thing that
you were talking about was crap could go "Yeah, they're right on" or something.
The things that I talked about in those songs were things that meant something
to me. And when it became fashionable for other groups to make socio-political
commentary in their material, and when I saw the results of the work that
they had done in that vein, and I saw how superficial it was, and I saw
that it was turning into a trend, and I also saw that the audience that
was buying records listened to that stuff and said "Yeah, that's really
great.", I said "I don't need to tell them anything anymore, they don't
need to hear that from me, they got all these other groups that are going:
'Kick out the Jams', etc. etc.", y'know and everybody's going "Yeah, that's
Heavy". So, I have some musical interests that I'd like to take care of.
Q: Do you think that you'll come back to that
kind of satirical content in your music after you've taken this road?
Z: Well, I think that satirical content in music does not necessarily
have to lean on the verbal aspect. There are plenty of satirical things
that you can do with a mere note or a mere inflection and never say a word
and it's unfortunate that the audience that thought that the satirical
aspect as described above had vanished from the MOI music was insensitive
to those other aspects which remained in the music. In other words, they
were so verbally oriented that by the time we had progressed into other
forms of commentary, they didn't go along. You missed that road, boys and
Q: Getting away from talking about the high
school and talking about society and getting into that whole trip that
lasted, I don't know how long, a couple of years I guess, in which you
were traveling and were on the road and did incredibly long musical and
verbal riffs about being drunk, horny and on the road. And that was one
of the things especially in the movie that a lot of people found that you
had done that trip and why were you doing it again.
Z: Well, that's not exactly accurate. First of all, it did not last
2 years and second of all, the content of the music that the Mothers play
is not 100% the result of me making people do things. The reason we're
performing that is because it was a true story, it actually happened to
Howard Kaylan. It was just a process of commemorating a piece of folklore
that was peculiar to the group and there was no reason why that shouldn't
be saved and I think that other groups who ignore the folklore that happens
to the members within the group are missing a good shot for preserving
a little history. Because I also take the position that contemporary history
is going to be retained on records more accurately than it is going to
be within history books. Judging from the quality of the rock and roll
writers that are appearing in rock and roll publications I would say they're
not doing quite as good as the people who are actually making the records.
So therefore, in a hundred years if people want to find out what was going
on during this period of time they'd be better off listening to the source
rather than to read the thing in print. Therefore, if we are involved in
things that occur on the road with groupies and assorted weird events of
a sexual nature, it's better that we tell about it ourselves in a musical
format and do it with the people that it occurred to than have somebody
else say "And then in 1971 one time when they were out on the road at the
Mudshark hotel....". You know, it's better to do it that way. Unfortunately,
some people have a peculiar attitude towards things of a glandular nature
connected with things of a musical nature and they say "Well, music is
so high - it's HERE, and glands are WAY DOWN THERE, and we can't really
get 'em together." And then they're hypocritical because then they turn
around and a group that comes in and doesn't sing overtly about those things
but couches their language a little bit and then does it with a little
choreography, they think that's great and that's real rock and roll and
I maintain there's no difference. We were just honest enough to go out
there and say "This is THIS, that's THAT, and here you are and respond
to it.", and the response to it was "Why, I'm hip, but of course I am offended."