ART IN AMERICA
                                       
   
   
   Option Magazine In the past you have said that "art is dying in this
   country." What do you mean by this?
   
   Frank Zappa Much of the creative work I find interesting and amusing
   has no basis in economic reality. Most decisions relevant to
   expenditures for what gets produced and distributed are made strictly
   on a bottom line basis. Nobody makes a move without talking to their
   accountant first. There will always be people who will take a chance,
   but their numbers are dwindling. Those who are crazy enough to take
   the chance on spending money to make some unusual object or event take
   place are an endangered species. The spirit of adventurousness at any
   level of American society has been pretty much legislatured away. In
   the eighties, with a repressive Republican, yuppie-oriented
   administration installed and ready to perpetuate itself with Supreme
   Court appointments that will keep us in trouble for the next half
   century, the prognosis is not good for things which differ from the
   viewpoint of the conservative right.
   
   Option Magazine Do you think anything can be done to reverse the
   trend?
   
   Frank Zappa Perhaps. I tend to view the whole thing as a conspiracy.
   It is no accident that the public schools in the United States are
   pure shit. It is no accident that masses of drugs are available and
   openly used at all levels of society. In a way, the real business of
   government is the business of controlling the labor force.
   
   Social pressure is placed on people to become a certain type of
   individual, and then rewards are heaped on people who conform to that
   stereotype. Take the pop music business, for example. Look at the
   stereotypes held up by the media as great accomplishment. You see guys
   who are making millions of dollars and selling millions of units. And
   because they are making and selling millions they are stamped with the
   seal of approval, and it is the millions which make their work
   quality. Yet anyone can look at what is being done and say, "Jesus, I
   can do that!" You celebrate mediocrity, you get mediocrity. People who
   could have achieved more won't, because they know that all they have
   to do is be "that" and they too can sell millions and make millions
   and have people love them because they're merely mediocre. And that is
   reinforced over and over and over.
   
   Few people who do anything excellent are ever heard of. You know why?
   Because excellence, pure excellence, terrifies the fuck out of
   Americans because they have been bred to appreciate the success of the
   mediocre. People don't like to be reminded that lurking somewhere
   there are people who can do some shit that you can't do. They can
   think a way you can't think, they can dance a way you can't dance.
   They are excellent. You aren't excellent. Most Americans aren't
   excellent, they're only OK. And so to keep them happy as a labor
   force, you say, "OK, let's take this mediocre chump," and we say, "He
   is terrific!" All the other mediocre chumps say, "Yeah, that's right
   and that gives me hope, because one day as mediocre and chumpish as I
   am I can..." It's smart labor relations. An MBA decision. That is the
   orientation of most entertainment, politics, and religion. So
   considering how firmly entrenched all that is right now, you think
   it's going to turn around? Not without a genetic mutation it's not!
   
   Option Magazine If you would focus on the message of pop music for a
   moment, what do you see as the issues of the 1980's that music can
   address today?
   
   Frank Zappa It can address anything it wants to, but it will only
   address those topics that will sell. Musicians will not address topics
   that are controversial if they want to have a hit. So music will
   continue to address those things that really matter to people who buy
   records: boy-girl relationships, boy-boy relationships, boy-car
   relationships, girl-car relationships, boy-girl-food relationships,
   perhaps. But safe. Every once in a while somebody will say "War is
   Hell" or "Save the Whales" or something bland. But if you talk about
   pop music as a medium for expressing social attitudes, the medium
   expresses the social attitude perfectly by avoiding contact with
   things that are really there. That is the telling point about the
   society that is consuming the product. If society wanted to hear
   information of a specific nature in songs, about controversial topics,
   they would buy them. But they don't. You are talking about a record-
   buying audience which is interested in their personal health and
   well-being, their ability to earn a living, their ability to stay
   young at all costs forever, and not much else.
   
   Option Magazine How about the role of music in society outside the pop
   music industry? For example, Kent Nagano (conductor of the Berkeley
   symphony) said in a recent interview that "a composer has a job to do
   within a culture. Which is not to say a composer should write what the
   public already wants to hear, but rather that the public is employing
   the composer to lead them, to show them a direction." What do you
   think of that?
   
   Frank Zappa I don't think a composer has any function in society at
   all, especially in an industrial society, unless it is writing music
   scores, advertising jingles, or stuff that is consumed by industry. I
   respect Kent, however I think he takes a very optimistic and naive
   attitude toward what it takes to be a composer. If you walk down the
   street and ask anybody if a composer is of any use to society, what
   kind of answer do you think you would get? I mean, nobody gives a
   shit. If you decide to become a composer, you seriously run the risk
   of becoming less than a human being. Who the fuck needs you?
   
   A songwriter is different. [in a facetious sing-song voice] You write
   a nice song, then you're important. Because with a song, now we have a
   car, now we have love, now we have a this ... but a composer? What the
   fuck do they do? All the good music's already been written by people
   with wigs and stuff on.
   
   Option Magazine So the public doesn't need composers. What about
   composers? Do they need a public? For example [electronic music
   composer] Milton Babbit, in an essay titled "Who cares if you listen?"
   has advocated the virtual exclusion of the general public from modern
   music concerts. What is your opinion on that ?
   
   Frank Zappa That's unnecessary, they're already excluded; they don't
   go! Have you been to a modern music concert? Plenty of room, isn't
   there? Come on Milton, give yourself a break. I hope you're not going
   to spend money trying to exclude these people. What are you going to
   do, have it legislated in Congress, like those assholes who wanted to
   make it a law that you couldn't put anything backwards on a phonograph
   record?
   
   Option Magazine So, given all this, what do you think art will be like
   20 years from now?
   
   Frank Zappa Since I'm not in that business, it's hard for me to really
   care. [Author's note: Zappa does not think that his work is perceived
   as art.] I can lament its passing. I don't think anything that a
   reasonable person would describe as art will be around. Not here. I'm
   talking about art in terms of valued, beautiful stuff that is done not
   because of your ego but just because it is beautiful, just because it
   is the right thing to do. We will be told what is good and it will be
   mediocre. There's always a possibility that an anomaly will appear -
   some weird little twisted thing will happen and there will be somebody
   who's doing it. But who's going to know? In the dark ages there was
   art, but who knew?
   
   
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