Bob Marshall: In the Sixties, you know that you could use the media and inspire people, or have them do it, but the odds were against it. I see that you're saying now in the Eighties, "Look, the people who don't have your interests in mind have done what I urged many years ago". And you replay that by saying, "Get out and vote." That's the first level. How could you begin to implement what you see as intelligent people into influential positions?
Frank Zappa: I wouldn't. I think that if a person is truly intelligent, then they're going to find their own way, and they don't need me to tell them what to do.
Bob Marshall: Then why do you make such statements? Just to remind people?
Frank Zappa: I hope that there are some people, who are just teetering on the brink of being consciously intelligent, who will opt for it, rather than opt for the quaalude life. If you've got the chemical machinery in your body, which is a functioning brain, and you have free will, then you can choose to be stupid or you can choose to be smart. I say choose to be smart. It ain't as bad as you think. The problem is most people choose to be stupid because there's a social stigma attached to being smart. If you're smart, you don't get laid. That's something every kid learns in school. The other thing that used to be true, it's not so true anymore, is nobody wants to fuck a comedian. Now it's different, a little bit. That used to be an axiom. Nobody wants to fuck a mad scientist either. So, Americans have steered themselves away from intellectual pursuits because they want to have a social life. And the ones that have been the most victimized by it are the women who have made themselves stupid. I think there's probably a lot of smart women in the United States. If we trace it all the way back to Eve, who was smart enough to suggest that that idiot man eat that damn apple, obviously she knew something that he didn't know. She knew the apple was something worthwhile. Now, the guy's been blaming her for all this time: "Now you want me to go buy your Kotex for you". But women are pathetic when they make themselves stupid. There's even more of a stigma to being a smart girl than there is to being a smart guy.
Bob Marshall: You talk a lot about sex and say you're a devout pagan. Is it your strategy to say, "Look, I'm a smart guy and I get laid"?
Frank Zappa: Well, that is absolutely a fact. There you have it.
Bob Marshall: It can be done.
Frank Zappa: It can be done.
Bob Marshall: Did you get laid much in high school, or were you interested in that at that point?
Frank Zappa: Being a normal American teenager, I was very interested in it, and I was truly blessed that I had a teenage girlfriend who lived three doors away from me. So, yeah, I was having a wonderful time in high school.
Bob Marshall: She's not the woman you first married?
Frank Zappa: No, I didn't meet her until I was in junior college. And eventually the girl that I was going out with in high school, her parents decided that we shouldn't be so serious and they moved away so that I couldn't see her anymore.
Bob Marshall: But you were sexually involved?
Frank Zappa: Yeah.
Bob Marshall: And you used condoms?
Frank Zappa: No.
Bob Marshall: You were careful?
Frank Zappa: Well, this is something that I believe is not germane to our philosophical conversation.
Bob Marshall: O.K. Another quote relating to people working in their institutions. And I think you set an example: you engaged yourself with the music Establishment, and kept your integrity, and did your part. And you're hoping that people in the military are infiltrating and getting to positions that can implement some positive changes.
Frank Zappa: Do your part. Pull your weight. Don't be a flake.
Bob Marshall: I have here a quote where you said "you were interested enough in politics to talk to people about it". And you said that in the late Sixties. Now, many people though in the Sixties, probably because of the way you were presented by the media, that you were very arrogant.
Frank Zappa: I think one of the techniques used to neutralize a person who has intelligence is to make them out to be a bad guy. And I"m not a bad guy, but I think that what's been written about me in print has basically been designed to make me less appealing to a broad spectrum of the American public. It's the same syndrome as why I don't have a talk show on television. They don't want to give me a forum.
Bob Marshall: Here's a question about the word "questions". I remember in Newsweek, back in '68 they did an article on you and you said, "My role is to ask questions". And then in the liner notes on the GRAND WAZOO album, you talk about the "Questions" who come out and get checked for musical talent, and then if they pass, they can go do a couple of simple musical exercises giving some rudimentary entertainment skill. But the ones that do not pass get dumped or drowned in the "UnDifferentiated Tissue".
Frank Zappa: The word "Questions" used in that story was instead of "Christians". The original name of that song was "Eat that Christian".
Bob Marshall: Is that right?
Frank Zappa: Yeah.
Bob Marshall: Why did you change it?
Frank Zappa: I thought "Question" was better.
Bob Marshall: Because it applies to other points, too?
Frank Zappa: Yeah, it's a more twisted concept - "Eat that Question".
Bob Marshall: Or multi-leveled. I think you sometimes criticize excessive verbality or talking without thinking, and sometimes instrumentals or pure sound can massage away that concern about verbal concepts.
Frank Zappa: yeah, I think a lot of people just like to talk , and they think what they have to say is really fascinating and they take as long as they can to say it. It's not always possible, because some of the stuff that people ask me is pretty ridiculous, but I want to find the quickest way to boil it down and give an answer that you could remember, if you could remember the question. Sometimes the questions are six weeks long, but just to bring the answer down to a manageable chunk, it's tricky to do it. It's the kind of thing that would be easier to do if you were writing it down on paper, but to me that's the most boring thing in life.
Bob Marshall: Well, your strategy is so appropriate for an electric technology when you're given thirty seconds to get your point across.
Frank Zappa: That's a challenge. Try it sometime.
Bob Marshall: I do it, or try to do it, on the radio every week. So you ask musical questions?
Frank Zappa: yeah.
Bob Marshall: I remember in an interview around the late Seventies, you brought up the concept of "sprechstimme", a German term.
Frank Zappa: A speech-song. That means, instead of singing all the pitches of the song, you half speak it, you half sing it. It's a technique that was attributed to Schoenberg who used it in a piece called "Pierrot Lunaire". And the way it was written was: all the pitches for the soprano to sing, the ones that she was supposed to half speak, had X's on the stems. But I don't think he invented it because this is a type of vocal styling that has been used in Blues. It's also been used in other types of ethnic music. You can find it in Bulgarian music where, instead of exactly singing the note, you imply the pitch of the note, but you're really talking it. It's in between.
Bob Marshall: You started doing your talking stuff around that time when you were talking about that concept?
Frank Zappa: The first album had "sprechstimme" on it.
Bob Marshall: Yeah. Now you related it to musical theory and thought, and you thought that you have solved some musical questions there in modern theory.
Frank Zappa: I would have to see the context of the interview that you're talking about. I mean, you know more about my interviews than I do.
Bob Marshall: (laughing) I apologize, I apologize.
Frank Zappa: That's O.K. I remember some of them and other ones I don't for example, you used that Rolling Stone ('68) interview several times. I always thought that was a terrible interview. It bore little or no resemblance to what I actually said, and I was horrified when it came out because it was virtually mutilated.
Bob Marshall: yeah, that's something we've talked about before. A long time ago, after I had mentioned some printed quotes, you told me, "I did not say that." That really happens a lot in your own personal experience.
Frank Zappa: Sure. I received something in the mail yesterday that I couldn't believe. In fact, Gerald, if you could go upstairs and ask Gail if she's got that newspaper clipping from Minneapolis, from a paper called New Reality. in this article there's a guy talking about the fact that I knew that Andy Warhol was murdered, and had some knowledge about Divine's suicide, and all this stuff. Did you see that?
Gerald Fialka: We get calls on Pumpkin, one a week. This guy's been doing this in Minneapolis for a while, and they try to connect, and I say, "There is no connection".
Frank Zappa: It's a porno paper. It's not even a real newspaper. It's got ads for bondage and stuff in it. And here's this guy making references to me knowing something about the supposed murder of Andy Warhol, and something to do with Divine, and a few paragraphs later, mine and my daughter's foot fetish, and all this stuff. It's just the most bizarre stuff. So, I laughed it off. But, you talk about things that appear in print with my name connected to it. I'm not to be held wholly responsible for what's out there.
Bob Marshall: So, that's like mental pornography, this gossip and rumour. In this society of information overload, people can get away with a lot of bullshit.
Frank Zappa: Sure. Just because that's in print, somebody's going to say, "Well, there must be something to it. Otherwise, he wouldn't have written it. Otherwise, somebody would go after it"
Bob Marshall: Yeah, there's a cop for everything.
Frank Zappa: That's right. "They'd get him if it wasn't true".
Bob Marshall: There's where the naivety is, and maybe that's why people are so hypnotized by father images. Because they said, "Well, things are so out of control, we need a tough guy". I mean, this could be a disservice of the television age bringing...
Frank Zappa: Anybody who looks at George Bush and sees a tough guy has really been mediated.
Bob Marshall: "Mediated" - don't they call in the "mediators" during the strikes? That relates to the media.
Frank Zappa: Well, they're "mediating" in the strike, really.
Bob Marshall: Yeah, they give press conferences.
Frank Zappa: That's right.
Bob Marshall: We've talked about this earlier, the confusion, the difficulty to communicate in this mass hallucination that's going on. You said once, "Information about my private life serves no purpose". But then music is an extension of yourself. I guess it's obvious that what you make as music does not relate to what time you go to bed.
Frank Zappa: I think that's irrelevant because the part of me that people should be most interested in, if they have any interest in me at all, is what I do. Not how I do it, or who I am, or whatever, because I provide a service for them. Whatever the information is I put out there, if it's useful to you, then great. If it entertains you, then great. That's what I do. That's my relationship to the outside world. Other than that, the world has no license to participate in my family life or anything like that. It's none of their business. But one of the things I attempt to do is: as I've said,k there is quite a bit of me in the music, but the me that I put in the music is the part of me that I think people would find entertaining. Nobody wants to know about my toothache. They don't want to know about my personal traumas and tragedies. Who gives a shit about that stuff? You want that kind of stuff? Go listen to a sensitive singer-songwriter with an acoustical guitar in his hand.
Bob Marshall: Yeah, there are people who want that kind of stuff who identify their own problems with the...
Frank Zappa: That's right. Well, I don't want you to identity with my problems. I want you to identify with the conclusions that I've come to that might be something you would agree with.
Bob Marshall: Actually, collective problems.
Frank Zappa: Yeah.
Bob Marshall: Public problems. I come to this next quote. You once said, 'The media is all their is'. And you must have to wrestle with the fact that we have this informational diversity on many levels, but it's controlled at the money making level. They control who's going to be the millionaires.
Frank Zappa: Yeah.
Bob Marshall: There's an incredible amount of information going out to the point that people can hallucinate and write ridiculous things in a little press...
Frank Zappa: That's why I've said, Information is not knowledge". O.K.
Bob Marshall: But the conclusion...
Frank Zappa: Even I appreciate the opportunity to receive an extra piece of information which will help me to determine the veracity of another piece of information I have received. I want to hear a second and third source. I want to check it out. And unless you do check out a second and third source, then you are going to be badly served by the deluge of information that is presented to you because most of it is not reliable. It's bullshit.
Bob Marshall: But then a lot of the sources contradict each other.
Frank Zappa: That's right. And what you have to do is investigate the contradictions and draw your own conclusions about where the action is.
Bob Marshall: And in that information flood, I can see the phrase "the medium is the message" helps you point out that there's a technical effect that's going in, aside from all the confetti or baby powder that's getting in your face through all the different media as information.
Frank Zappa: Yeah. You have to understand that the medium that brings you the message taints the message. It spins the message. In other words, the same factoid presented on CNN, if you took that same piece of data and put it in USA Today, as opposed to the Wall Street Journal or the Journal of The American Medical Association or the Encyclopedia Britannica. Now, if the same factoid was everywhere, which one would you say would reinforce all the rest of them? If the thing is in the Encyclopedia, it looks a little more like a real fact than it does if it's on CNN. CNN is really not a reliable source of news. It's a fountain of disinformation. It is probably the most biased, most spin-encrusted, totally unreliable source of information that you can lay your eyes on, but I watch it all the time because it gives me a great thing to compare other stuff to. And most people don't do that. Most people won't compare. They;ll just hear the news report and buy it right away and it's done. It's plugged into their memory bank, and when it's time to process information, that's the erroneous fact that they're operating on. Like people who have absorbed the latest polls, when it's time to figure out what they're going to do about the election, they're saturated with polls to tell them that all is lost.
Bob Marshall: In your work with "xenochrony", are you satirizing editing, the way you put things together, besides the technical innovation of doing it?
Frank Zappa: "Xenochrony" means strange synchronizations. Am I satirizing editing? I don't know whether the technical process of editing is enough of a commonly understood phenomenon that you could satirize it. You can't made a joke about something that people don't know exists. So, I would say that's not part of it.
Bob Marshall: How would you relate "xenochrony" to the time/rate thing we discussed earlier?
Frank Zappa: Well, a classic "xenochrony" piece would be "Rubber Shirt", which is a song on the SHEIK YERBOUTI album. It takes a drum set part that was added to a song at one tempo. The drummer was instructed to play along with this one particular thing in a certain time signature, eleven-four, and that drum set part was extracted like a little piece of DNA from that master tape and put over here into this little cubicle. And then the bass part, which was designed to play along with another song at another speed, another rate in another time signature, four-four, that was removed from that master tape and put over here, and then the two were sandwiched together. And so the musical result is the result of two musicians, who were never in the same room at the same time, playing at two different rates in two different moods for two different purposes, when blended together, yielding a third result which is musical and synchronizes in a strange way. That's xenochrony. And I've done that on a number of tracks.
Bob Marshall: What is the idea behind that? Or is it just an interesting sound?
Frank Zappa: What is the idea behind it? Suppose you were a composer and you had the idea that you wanted to have a drum set playing expressively and intuitively, eleven-four, at a certain tempor while an electric bass player is doing exactly the same thing in another tempo in another time signature, and you want them to do this live on stage and get a good performance. You won't get it. You can't. You can ask for it, but it won't happen. There's only one way to hear that, and that's to do what I did. I put two pieces of tape together.
Gerald Fialka: Do you realize it by chance though? Or do you say "I'm going to try this"?
Frank Zappa: That's what I do every day. I'm going to try this, and the stuff that works you keep and the stuff that doesn't you throw it away. I thought that one worked. That's why it's on the record.