This is the transcription of a recorded interview with Frank Zappa
   conducted sometime in 1972 (probably late 1972) by Martin Perlich This
   interview was sent to me on tape by my Deutsche Friend, Georg Deppe
   (whom I humbly thank for the pleasure thereof, and look forward to
   further correspondence).
   Martin Perlich:
   I know from your various raps in the past and from reading about you
   that you have a great deal of interest in classical music.
   Frank Zappa:
   Yeah, I do. It's what I listen to mostly, I don't listen to too much
   rock and roll.
   Martin Perlich:
   How come?
   Frank Zappa:
   I don't think that it gets me off as good as some contemporary
   classical pieces.
   Martin Perlich:
   Like what?
   Frank Zappa:
   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
   Martin Perlich:
   Do you think that there's a possible audience for let's say.... Webern
   or Penderecki?
   Frank Zappa:
   Of course there is.
   Martin Perlich:
   Where is it?
   Frank Zappa:
   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.
   Martin Perlich:
   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.
   Frank Zappa:
   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.
   Martin Perlich:
   Do you think it's easy for people to listen to?
   Frank Zappa:
   It depends on the person who's listening to it and what he expects to
   get out of it, y'know.
   Martin Perlich:
   What do people come to music for, do you think?
   Frank Zappa:
   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.
   Martin Perlich:
   Is the music of the MOI influenced by your interest in classical
   Frank Zappa:
   Yeah, I would say so.
   Martin Perlich:
   How? Rhythmically? Harmonically?
   Frank Zappa:
   Martin Perlich:
   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?
   Frank Zappa:
   Yes, there is a link. It's rhythmic and it's harmonic.
   Martin Perlich:
   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 written
   Frank Zappa:
   I don't know whether I could agree with that a hundred percent.
   Martin Perlich:
   Do you think that you play harmony, or rhythm, or a combination of the
   Frank Zappa:
   I think that you're getting into some deep stuff right there unless
   you want to get into a big philosophical discussion...
   Martin Perlich:
   (interrupts) I do.
   Frank Zappa:
   For a teen-age radio station, you kidding me?
   Martin Perlich:
   I'll kid ya.
   Frank Zappa:
   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
   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.
   Martin Perlich:
   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?
   Frank Zappa:
   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.
   Martin Perlich:
   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.
   Frank Zappa:
   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.
   Martin Perlich:
   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?
   Frank Zappa:
   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.
   Martin Perlich:
   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.
   Frank Zappa:
   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.
   Martin Perlich:
   Send a postcard at the very least.
   Frank Zappa:
   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 out there.
   Martin Perlich:
   Where are you going, Frank?
   Frank Zappa:
   I'm going wherever I can, y'know.
   Martin Perlich:
   Going out into jazz and into Webern and all those places?
   Frank Zappa:
   I started off in Webern. I'm trying to get back. (laughs)
   Martin Perlich:
   Working your way home?
   Frank Zappa:
   Yeah, working my way back from Vienna.
   Martin Perlich:
   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?
   Frank Zappa:
   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 time ago.
   Martin Perlich:
   So now you're wreaking your vengeance, eh?
   Frank Zappa:
   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 like 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.
   Martin Perlich:
   How would you describe that road? Other than that you like the road.
   Frank Zappa:
   It's winding.
   Martin Perlich:
   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?
   Frank Zappa:
   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.
   Martin Perlich:
   Do you think they would?
   Frank Zappa:
   Sure. They'd be...
   Martin Perlich:
   (interrupts) You couldn't dance to it.
   Frank Zappa:
   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 in MONO.
   Martin Perlich:
   On Columbia.
   Frank Zappa:
   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,
   Martin Perlich:
   (interrupts) Quartetto di Italiano.
   Frank Zappa:
   Is that it?
   Martin Perlich:
   That's it.
   Frank Zappa:
   The one with the black turtlenecks on the front.
   Martin Perlich:
   That's that.
   Frank Zappa:
   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.
   Martin Perlich:
   Give it an 83.
   Frank Zappa:
   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.
   Martin Perlich:
   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?
   Frank Zappa:
   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
   Martin Perlich:
   Do you think that you'll come back to that kind of satirical content
   in your music after you've taken this road?
   Frank Zappa:
   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 girls.
   Martin Perlich:
   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.
   Frank Zappa:
   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."
   Another Free Gift from (sometimes known as The
   Central Scrutinizer)
   Back to Interviews Index