This interview was made 20 december 1990 in Swedish Radio P2. The interviewers were Lars Bryngelsson and Anders Olsén.
INTERVIEWERS: Hello Frank Zappa and welcome to the National Swedish Radio from Stockholm
INTERVIEWERS: Then, I would really like to say from the Swedish radio and all Your fans in Sweden and Scandinavia - Happy Birthday
FZ: Thank You very much. I´m glad I made it this far.
INTERVIEWERS: (Laugh) Yeah. Frank! First question is easy. How does it feel to be fifty years old?
FZ: Well.. I know.. I know more about that in a couple of hours, but to be almost 50 years old is not that bad.
INTERVIEWERS: Yeah. How do You manage to reach this so far?
FZ: Eh.. Well I think it´s... if You talking about advice for health and diet and so forth, You´re not gonna get it from me because I´ll eat just about anything and smoke about a pack and a half of cigarettes a day and drink a lot of strong coffe, but other than that I don´t use any drugs or alcohol so maybe that´s how You get to be 50 years old.
INTERVIEWERS: I thougt more about Your continues struggle against the big society in America.
FZ: Well, I don´t know whether struggling against American Society will guarantee that You get to be fifty, I mean there been other people who struggled against the US government in this country and wound up to be disappeared.
INTERVIEWERS: Concerning Your own statement about plastic people. Do we still need to "freak out" to become real human beings?
FZ: Well I don´t know whether the word "freak out" is the proper one to use but I´ll garantee that there is plastic people everywhere, and I wouldn´t say it was just George Bush or just Dan Quayle or just James Baker the third or Dick Chaney or any of those other characters. I mean... just about every government You can find, has certain plastic person representatives talked the way in it... I think that... what is being lost during this tail-end of the twentieth century, is the will on the part of the especially the average American to be an individual. There are people seems to be to willing to just conform and be moulded into some bland opedient nothingness and.. I think that´s always better for an individual´s mental health and for the society at large to have more individualism expressed. That doesn´t means that individualism has to lead to a lack of co-operation. Individuals can co-operate. But I advise for a happy and healthy life that You try and maintain Your individuality because each person has a worth as a human being, and when You submerge that in order to just get along or to be an opedient member of some political party or organisation, You´ll lose something and ultimately it´s going to have negative effects. It´s more difficult to be an individual today in the Unites States becuse the laws are changing ,the social pressures are changing, the types of retaliation that can be brought against a person who wishes to be an individual are more prevalent today. You know the.. the economic risks You take if You open Your mouth and speak out about certain things. Most people won´t take that risk because they are... they want the security that comes when keeping Your mouth shut.
INTERVIEWERS: Has it become worse now than in the sixties?
FZ: Yes it´s much worse in the US for freedom of speech. It´s almost getting to the point where it´s a charade for this country to brag other nations how free it is and how democratic it is. But internally if You understand what´s going on here, You´ll see that the extreme right wing element of US government is clamping down on all possible means of free speeches. Not just the speech itself, but they are controlling the means by which You can speek, by placing labels on records, by making even more restrictions on films, by having restrictions on radio and television broadcasting. Even if You want to have free speech so called, the places where You may be allowed to have it are being limited more and more, and I think it´s rather hypocritical of this government to be speaking to other nations, making foreign policy statements about how wonderful democracy is and so and so forth when it´s eroding day by day in this country, through legal actions taking by the Supreme Court and by legislators. For example, the movie industry has just woken up
to discover, that today there are 350 different pieces of legislation in 46 states that have been proposed to set up regional censorship boards for films. And if this succeeds, it will no longer be possible to release a major Hollywood film, make 2500 prints and send it all over the country, because it will be possible for religious groups and other special interest groups to keep certain types of films out of that locality. And of course, once these censorship boards are set up for films, You know that they´re going to be looking at books and records. So, little by little America is been turned into a police state, not by having tanks in the streets, but by having ignorant legislators sitting in the government.
INTERVIEWERS: Can You understand the reason for that?
FZ: Well, one thing that will garantee that such a process can take place in anyones country, is when there is apathy among the voters. You know.. I´m sure it´s no secret to people outside the US, that although we have democracy here, the willingness to go out and vote has almost vanished. It´s very hard to get an American to go out and vote about something. The voter turn out in this country is embarrisingly low. In fact, one of the worst statistics I tell You is the... if You remember president Reagan when he come to power, he bragged that he this major mandat from the American people to move forward with his idiotic programmes. Now, here is what his mandat consisted of: 15% of the eligble voters in America went to the polls and 90% of the 15% voted for him.
INTERVIEWERS: You´ve been pretty sharp in Your critics of the American society through the years. But the Americans I´ve been spoken to, have told me that You are just considered a "weird" guy and nobody really pays any attention to You.
FZ: That´s true. Nobody cares about anything here. So that shouldn´t surprise You. I mean, if they cared, they would been out voting, wouldn´t they?
FZ: The person You talked to, he´s telling You the truth. They don´t care about me here. I´m virtually unknown in my own country. And the reasons for it, is if I´m in the music business and I make a single… like the biggest single in the CBS:s history in Scandinavia was Bobby Brown Goes Down. This was a surprise to everybody. That record has never been played on the air in America. Never.
INTERVIEWERS: How is it today with Your problems with that? Do they play Your albums at all on the American radio stations?
FZ: Well, tomorrow they will because it´s my 50:th birthday and some stations will play some songs. But basically, unless Your are willing to pay briberies to American broadcasters they will not play Your songs. It´s impossible to have a hit record in America unless You pay off.
INTERVIEWERS: But when we talking about Your ability to be heard in America. For example, an album like Broadway The Hardway, how many albums are sold in US?
FZ: Not many. I don´t know what the figures was, but certainly not many.
INTERVIEWERS: But could You gave us ... is it 100.000, half a million or just 10.000?
FZ: It probably under 100.000.
INTERVIEWERS: What happened to Your TV-show Night School?
FZ: Well, there´s no way that that show will ever go on television in US. It´s not gonna happen. At the time I proposed it, perhaps I was naive even suggest it to them. But if there´s one thing that´s clear, anybody who come to this country and try to watch the news, You´ll find it´s hard to know what´s is really going on in the world, because of the nature of what´s broadcast. What they call news here, it´s empty. And so... there is a reason for that. I think it´s US government policy to manage the news. It´s.. it´s one of those things You find out about later. So let´s say You´re me and You go to a broadcaster and You say You wanna do a show like Night School, that brings the true news to the public. Do You think You´ll get anywhere with that project? No way.
INTERVIEWERS: You´re dealing a lot with political stuff and You´re concerned about society, You´re making music, films, try to do TV-shows and so forth. How much do You work?
FZ: A lot.
INTERVIEWERS: And that means? (laugh)
INTERVIEWERS: When do You sleep?
FZ: Well, every chance I get. I trying to get eight hour sleep per night, if .. eh.. But seasons I don´t have to travel to do my work. You know, that means if I sleep eight hours, that leaves 16 others hours of non-stop work which I can do. All I have to do is to get out of my bed and walk downstairs and I´m at work.
INTERVIEWERS: Frank! We would really like to know what You are working on for the moment?
FZ: Well, I have to do now is to put a finishing touches on an album called "Make a Jazz Noise Here" which is supposed to come out in February and I´m also working on another album called Phase III which will be coming out either end of February or March.
INTERVIEWERS: Are they albums with musicians or is it all on synclavier this time?
FZ: Make a Jazz Noise Here and this other album called The Best Band You´ve Never Heard In Your Life, both of those use life musicians. It´s a material that was recording during the 1988 tour.
INTERVIEWERS: I read something in a Swedish newspaper about a tour in Japan?
FZ: Well, how did it get there already? I haven´t made the deal yet. I´m waiting for a fax from this company to tell me what the progress is in our negotiations. But since it´s already been published in the newspaper there... What I have proposed is that they come up with sponsorship money which will allow me to put together a twenty piece band with musicians from all over the world, which will then give 5 concerts in Tokyo in the fall.
INTERVIEWERS: Just a few years ago, the album Does Humor Belongs In Music ended with the Wipping Post as the last song of the last tour, the last concert, but still You went out 88.
FZ: Yeah. Well I made a big mistake of doing that because 1988 tour cost me 400.000$.
INTERVIEWERS: What was the reason to touring again?
FZ: Well, one of the things we did in United States 1988 was voter registrations during the tour and all the material that were performing in the US during the two months of the US portional tour was very politically oriented. I thought it was an important elections and the only way to really get that message out, since they wouldn´t play my songs on the radio was to go out and play it live. So I did it.
INTERVIEWERS: On that album Broadway the Hard Way there is one song called Promiscuous. Can You tell the background to that song?
FZ: Well, at the time we had this guy named Everett Koop who was a surgeon general in the United States and.. You know he was one of these people who was telling the US public that the AIDS epidemic started because a native in east Africa was skinning a green monkey and maybe he cut his finger while he was taking the skin off this monkey to eat it and the green monkey had the AIDS virius and that´s how it was transmitted to the human population. And somehow this native who cut his finger skinning the green monkey manage to transmitt this to 700 hundred people who died all at the same time in New York in November. I mean, it just doesn´t make sense okey. There´s never been a situation other than Legioners Disease where large number of people die all at the same time in certain locations. It doesn´t rise the question of biological warfare. And the Unites States government has in the past conducted biological warfare experiments on civilian population.
INTERVIEWERS: In Your book You write about a very funny story when You played in Stockholm 1971 I think it was, and two Swedish fans came up to You when You´re on Your way out from the concert hall. Do You think You can tell that story in Your own words for the Swedish radio listeners?
FZ: Yeah. We were supposed to play two shows at the Konserthuset and we were taking a break between the shows and some fans came up to me as I was walking outside and said that their younger brother Hannes had been to the first show and he had to go home and they were gonna stay for the second show. And what they wanna me to do was to come with them after the second show to their house in Tullinge and walk into Hannes´ bedroom. He would been sleeping and they wanna me to walk in and say Hannes, Hannes! wake up! It´s me Frank Zappa. I thought it was so absurd, but I said I would do it. So after the show, I took the drive out to Tullinge and walked in, walked in to his little room, there he was, sleeping in his bed and I said exactly that. Hannes, Hannes! wake up! It´s me Frank Zappa. And the mother and the father woked up and we sat around till about 4 or 5 o´clock in the morning, we had coffee and cookies and talked about politics and then I went back to the hotel and did my travel the next day.
INTERVIEWERS: In the book You don´t mention how Hannes reacted.
FZ: Well, he was surprised. (laugh). Yes I think enormously surprised. So if he out there listening, Hannes, Hannes! wake up! It´s me Frank Zappa.
INTERVIEWERS: Frank, let´s talk about Your music for a while. In Your book You write that the concept of the rock guitar solo in the eighties has pretty much been reduced to veely-veely-vee, make a face. Is that the reason why You´ve released all together 5 LPs with Your guitar solos?
FZ: The reasons for the guitar LPs is because there is a certain segment of the listening public that likes that.. likes the way I play the guitar and those people wouldn´t necessary be interested in my orchestral music or even some of the funny lyrics but they do like the guitar playing so that´s an acommodation for one spectrum of my listening public. Where as some of the people who like the orchestra album or even the synclavier stuff wouldn´t be interested in the guitar or the vocals.
INTERVIEWERS: When You write music I must ask, do You use an instrument, guitar, computer or You just write it down on a paper from Your head?
FZ: I do all those different ways, I mean some of the tunes that have gone on albums was things that I wrote while sitting in an airport, just waiting to catch a plane. Alien Orifice for example is one of those tunes.
INTERVIEWERS: In Your book You mean that anything can be music. It´s just a question of putting a frame around it and You think most people can´t deal with that. They just want a good beat. Something they can dance to it, has to go boom-bap, boom-boom-bap and so on. I would like to ask You, if it´s not more a question of difference between body-music and mind-music. I mean body-music is this You know, boom-bap, boom-boom-bap, but I mean mind-music speaks to You in another way.
FZ: Well You can make that distinction but I would say that in a general context while I say it´s true about You can say anything is music and consume it with Your mind or Your body depending on Your orientation. For example, there are certain types of dance music that You may encounter in eastern Europe that people definitely move their body to but it´s certainly not located to a boom-bap beat. It might be in seven or nine or some other time signatur.
INTERVIEWERS: But I understand it in Your book you mean that Americans are not so used to other music than this ordinary dance music.
FZ: Well they haven´t heard it. They have no experience. If You haven´t heard it, how do You know what Your mind will do with it, You see. The problem is that broadcasting is incredibly limited here. There´s not gonna be a widespread access for the listening public to anything other than hit records and all hit records go boom-boom-bap.
INTERVIEWERS: But there must be some sort of free broadcasting stations dealing with other material than boom-boom-bap?
FZ: Yes there are. They are very few and very far between and the government has limited them to transmitters with low power. And furthermore since they not playing hit records it´s hard for them to survive economically because sponsors don´t buy broadcasting times on those outlets. So those are supported by donations and the donations are not very large so those independent stations are always poor, they always been threatened by legal actions by religious organisations who want to take cases to the Supreme Court and try to put these operations out of business.
INTERVIEWERS: When You say all this about the American society, I sometimes wonder why You still live there?
FZ: Well, because I´m an American and I think that this country has a lot of potential if it only can straighten itself out.
INTERVIEWERS: Frank, if You look back on Your carrier. What album and which group during the years do You consider as a personal favourite?
FZ: No, I couldn´t even answer a guess of that. I wouldn´t want say that.
INTERVIEWERS: Your favourite drummer?
FZ: Well I can say I think my favourite drummer was Vinnie Colaiuta.
INTERVIEWERS: Thank You. What do You think of the old original Mothers if You compare it with the more modern sound You have today?
FZ: Well, I rather listen to the modern sound, that´s for sure but... I think that´s a matter of taste. There´s some people who prefer that early group and that´s their choice.
INTERVIEWERS: I have to ask You, when Your book came I know that thousands of fans run to the bookshoops, bought it, just to get an answer of the eternal question about Frank Zappa and that´s .. one question You never answered in the book and that´s ..
FZ: What´s that?
INTERVIEWERS: How Do You really do Your music? How is the process? What do You do?
FZ: Well, the process is different for each different type of things that I do. What I´ll have to go through in order to teach a song like Jesus thinks You´re a Jerk to a twelve-piece band is vastly different than what I would have to do to create a song on synclavier like "Jazz from Hell". It´s two completely different things.
INTERVIEWERS: But do You hear the music inside You or do You work mathematically. Can You describe it?
FZ: I can do it both ways. It depends on what You´re writing. You know, I can hear things as a completing finished piece of music and then just go through the drudgery of trying to reconstruct this finished image in my head and turn it into something that other people can listen to, or I can start off with a small idea and then develop it in conjunction with live musician which is.. what happen with "Jesus Thinks You´re a Jerk". It was written piece by piece. I started off with the completely written lyrics and then... in fact there´s a complete video coverage of this process taken place at rehearsal where it´s starts on the very first day where You come up with just a few notes for the tune and then each section of the lyrics You develop a setting to support the lyrics, and to just to create a finish piece on "Jesus Thinks You´re a Jerk" took about a week and after the structure is in place then which You have to do is rehearse it over and over again till it´s comfortable played. There´s different kind of processes You would go through to put things together. Where as with material on the synclavier it´s all about numbers.
INTERVIEWERS: But what do You really think You can achieve by Your work?
FZ: Oh I don´t know. I don´t know what anybody can achieve by any kind of work that they do. I can do what I do because I know how to do it and I like to do it and I just keep doing it. Whether or not I achieve anything that´s not why I do it. I don´t do it to achieve.
INTERVIEWERS: You don´t do it to change the way You thinking in the American society?
FZ: I´ve pretty realistic outlook on how affective anyone could be in changing the minds of the American people. Based on the fact that You can speak to the American people. It´s like that guy told You. I´m regarding in this country as a weird guy that nobody cares about. So. You know, what can I achieve? Nothing.
INTERVIEWERS: What about Your connections with Vaclav Havel? Why do You choose to visit him?
FZ: Well, the things about .. what he´s trying do to in Checkoslovakia that I approve of is… in fact his quote on this videotape that I made while I was there. He says we are all people from art and from culture and we must make the policy better than the politicians. And if.. if he can succeded that and since if You look on what normal politicans have done in every other country I don´t think it´s been particulary good. If there is anyway to improve on the way that policy is created and administered whether it´s been done by a painter or playwright, a ballet dancer or mechanic. Whatever it is we can stand some improvement in the invention of policy in just about every country. So I support that aspect they´re trying to do in Checkoslovakia. And he´s a very nice man and he´s a honest man and he he´s suffered a lot to get where he is. In fact I´m not even sure he likes beeing where he is. But I would call him one of the good guys.
INTERVIEWERS: When we talking about presidents, what would a country with Frank Zappa as a president look like?
FZ: I don´t know what it would look like, but I can tell You if that country happens to be United States it would run a hell lot better than it´s been run by George Bush and Dan Quayle. I mean that´s... You know… There´s no challenge there.
INTERVIEWERS: But do You need a challenge?
FZ: I think people needs challenges. Sure.
INTERVIEWERS: So that´s the reason why You don´t run for president?
FZ: (Laugh) No. The reason I don´t run it´s because I don´t have enough money to run and to run for anything in United States it cost a millions of millions of dollars.
INTERVIEWERS: Have You never thought about doing a Boom-Bap-Boom-Boom-Bap album just to raise money for such trust?
FZ: Well, that´s another thing represents no challenge.
INTERVIEWERS: The music itself You mean?
FZ: That´s right. I mean of course I could go Boom-Boom-Bap. Anybody could do that. If You can say it, You can play it.
INTERVIEWERS: Well, You work up to sixteen hours a day but You still have a great big family and I suppose a marvelous wife. Do You really get the time to see them?
FZ: Sure, because remember all the works been done in the house.
INTERVIEWERS: You´re sort of a working family or what?
FZ: Well, the only person in the family who doesn´t have a job is Diva and that´s only because she is eleven.
INTERVIEWERS: And You have time to spend with Your children also.. through the years?
FZ: Well, I´ll have as much time to spend with them as they would like to spend with me. I mean, let´s suppose You were them and You have Your own projects to work on You know and You have the choose between doing things that were fun for You or hanging out with a guy like me. Where would You be? They would be out doing their stuff so… We go out to dinner together, we sit around and discuss politics every once in a while but usually everybody is working.
INTERVIEWERS: Now I must ask one question that.. are You coming and when are You coming to play in Sweden next time?
FZ: I have no plans to do any life performance any time, any place in the future. This is all dependent on whether or not a sponsor is found for this musical project for Japan. If there´s another sponsor that wants to pay to keep this band together after those five concerts in Tokyo, then there might be some other concerts in 1992. But in no way will I ever - and I´m gonna garantee You this - will I ever spend one penny of my own money ever in the future to hire a musician. Because the amount of money that I lost since 1984, I lost 250,000 dollars on the 84 tour and I lost 400.000 dollars on the 88 tour and so that´s it. No more cash of my bank account to pay for musician salaries or travel expenses or any of the stuff that´s require to do a band and to do a tour. I can´t do it.
INTERVIEWERS: Do You think it´s more hard now to.. just thinking of doing it now when You´re older?
FZ: There´s no question about that because my health is not terrific and the idea of travelling a lot and just the physical stress for a person who is 50 years old is lot harder than it is for a person who is 20 years old. There´s no question. Especially, if the person who is 20 years old has never been on the road before and everything is a new adventure. Every day is an adventure. It´s a different mind-set. If I go on the road, I´ve already been to all the halls that I will play and I already know the dressing rooms is gonna smell like, I know what the backstage food is gonna taste like, I know what the hotellrooms looks like. There´s no surprise there. The only joy You get from that is the two hours You spend on stage, but the rest of the day is not pleasant.
INTERVIEWERS: But You really like the time on stage, don´t You?
FZ: Yes, but the question is when You get 50 years old You know, Do You like what happens on stage so much that You´re willing to put Your body through the rest of that stuff.
INTERVIEWERS: When You mention Your health You made us a little worry.
FZ: Eee .. I do have some health problems (pause).
INTERVIEWERS: Of serious type of?
INTERVIEWERS: You said... some serious problem?
FZ: Eee... (pause) no (pause)
INTERVIEWERS: You seem pretty weak about that answer.
FZ: Well, I feel pretty good today, I´m doing ok. (pause)
INTERVIEWERS: Okey. Are You in fact sitting in Your house now in Your home studio?
FZ: I´m actually sitting in my bedroom right now because the telephone in the basement where I would normally be doing this is broken.
INTERVIEWERS: What colour are the curtains? (laugh)
FZ: I don´t have any curtains. I have.. I have a nice.. I have a bay window which is looking out onto garden. The sky is blue, some puppy white clouds. There´s bunch of flowers out there and.. it´s pretty bright room. The only bright room that I hang out in. All the rest of the places where I work are pretty dark.
INTERVIEWERS: Okey. Thank You very much.
FZ: Okey, You´re welcome. Thank You very much. Bye, bye.
FRANK ZAPPA Interview -Fiftieth Birthday Reviewed by Klemen Hlupič on 12:58 Rating: