Zappa Interviews

This page is devoted to all fans of Frank Zappa and future music investigators who hopefully will say to contemporary musiclisteners that there was a clever guy during 2000 century who actually could write music. Yes, Frank Zappa is probably one of this century  most well-informed musician and composer. Some of his abilities were for example:

- almost all his broad and large catalogue was written, composed, arranged and produced by himself.

- he won respect among many guitarist in the way he played rock guitar and he also won respect in the classical scene with his classical compositions.

- he had a good political awareness and among other things he met the president of Checkoslovakia Vaclav Havel for discussion for further cultural cooperation between Checkoslovakia and US.

- he was called for hearing at the US senate at the time when political forces in the US tried to censor lyrics on the records.

Name another musician with the same broad knowledge. Prince, Michael Jackson, John Lennon, Madonna?  Surprise me and mail me some suggestion if You have any.

Well, here is some interviews from Swedish and Danish radio. 

Zappa explain the secret meaning of the words to Bobby Brown

Zappa and his relation to folkmusic

Zappa and his 50:th birthday

Kent Nagano tells about his cooperation with Olivier Messiaen and Zappa

Zappa about his overpaid musicians

Zappa makes comments on news media and satellite technics


Zappa explain the secret meaning of the words to Bobby Brown

This is an extract from an interview in Swedish Radio, from a programme called Nightflite (circus 1980), and this interview was made after the release of Joeīs Garage. Here he explain the words to Bobby Brown, and when I heard it 1980 and got the text explained, I had to laugh.

(Sw-En) means a translation from Swedish to English.

Introduction to the programme

FZ: Hello, this is Frank Zappa and Youīre listening to a very special programme where in I will explain the secret meaning of the words to Bobby Brown.

Reporter: (Sw-En): As You maybe know, Frank Zappa has been in town recently and our reporter Ola met him as a matter of fact.

Later in the programme

Reporter: (Sw-En): Frank Zappa tells that he during 1979 released 7 LPīs, and the three latest of them was titled Joeīs Garage part 1, 2 and 3. On my question what Joeīs Garage stands for, he answered this:

FZ: In the United States there are many garage bands. You know what garage is?

Reporter: Yeah

FZ: In England they call them church hall bands. But people who just…when they just learning how to play, they go out in the garage and turn up their amplifier. And they get their first set of drums and beats on them and You practise until You can play rockīn roll. Classical musicians go to the conservatories, rockīn roll musicians go to the garages.

(A little Green Rosetta was played)

Reporter: (S-E) I also asked him about the wellknown song Bobby Brown and why it became a hit only here in Scandinavia.

FZ: As a matter of fact. Itīs so unusual. I suggested to Stan from CBS, what they should do, is to hire an anthropologist from a major university and bring him to Scandinavia to examine the people here and find out why such a thing could happen. Because itīs very unusual.

Reporter (Sw-En): There are some funny words in the song and I asked him what Tower of Power is. Considering my old aunt I let Zappa himself explain the word.

FZ: The Tower of Power is a..... You know what S&M is?

Reporter: Yeah

FZ: Itīs a S&M device that they sell at a store in Los Angeles. Itīs a stool... small stool, You know to sit on. That has this spindle that comes up, thatīs sticks up Your asshole and it has straps on the legs of the stool where You supposed to put a persons ankle into the straps on the edge of the stool. And they actually sell this thing there and itīs called the Tower of Power.

Reporter: Is Bobby Brown someone special guy?

FZ: No. Itīs actually talking about that device, cause the words in the song says "I can take about an hour on the Tower of Power, as long as I get a little golden shower". You know what a golden shower is?

Reporter: No.

FZ: Golden shower is a sexual abberation or sexual activity, where one person pisses on another person. So You get the idea that Bobby Brown in this song as the result of following the advice of Womens Liberation, has wound up sitting on a stool with a thing up his ass while somebody pisses on him. And thatīs why I think thatīs unusual that the song is so popular here. I mean, when I go to a disco and see people dancing the Bobby Brown, I had to laugh.

Reporter: (Sw-En): Yes, You heard that Frank Zappa said it was strange that the song became a hit here in Sweden regarding the fact that Womens Liberations got this sneer from him in the song Bobby Brown. We returned to peoples reactions to the words in Bobby Brown and I wondered if some religious aspects was the reason for the negative reaction. Not for a moment, he would agree on that.

FZ: Letīs be honest about it. Words canīt hurt You and thereīs nothing in that song that should offend anybodyīs religious sensibilities. That song talks about things that are real, You know. And if You going to live in a world and deal with the world in a real way, You should face up to what actually goes on. The story of Bobby Brown may not be something that happens every day in Sweden, but I wouldnīt be surprised if there are few Bobby Browns out there. And somebody should write about them.

Reporter: (Sw-En): Regarding religious aspects and the political situation in the world, Frank Zappa say this:

FZ: Itīs a terrible thing in the world today that religion generates most of the problems. Everytime You turn around and thereīs a threat of war, itīs not based on money, itīs based on religion and thatīs not what religion should be used for.

Reporter: (Sw-En): And finally he will only say one thing more:

FZ: I want to thank all the people in Sweden who has enjoyed Bobby Brown and Dancinī Fool, for whatever reasons. Iīm glad You liked it and I hope that maybe there are some songs on the other albums that Youīll likes as much. Iīm always pleased if somebody likes the music.


Zappa and his relation to folkmusic

This short interview with Frank Zappa, was from Swedish Radio and from a recurrent programme about folkmusic. This programme was broadcasted in december 1990 but the question to Frank Zappa must have been done during the tour in 1988.

(Sw-En) means a translation from Swedish to English

Canard du Jour was played

Reporter: (Sw-En): Here is Frank Zappa on Bouzouki with the violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. Yesterday Frank Zappa played at Johanneshov. The day before yesterday, it was rumoured that there was a press conference during Saturday evening. I rush off there, met Zappas bodyguards who stopped me abrupt on the stairs. But after some dispute, I was allowed to ask one question, guess which?

Reporter: Mr Zappa, what is folk music to You?

FZ: It is been one of the most important influences in my career. It is one of the things I really enjoy listening to, especially Bulgarian folk music, and... Indian music. Itīs my two favourites.

Reporter: Is it a living thing to You?

FZ: Itīs hard to tell wheter or not. The records that I receive are documents of living things, but it is music that... You know makes me feel good when I listen to it. But it is hard to tell, especially in terms of the Bulgarian music whether or not it folk music or folk style music which has been rearranged for recording.

Reporter: When You talk about Bulgarian music. Are You talking about the record "Le Mysterie de voix Bulgarie"?

FZ: Well, I have other records. I donīt even owing that one. I know that record, but I have many other records that Iīve collected over the years of Bulgarian folk music, like "Village music of Bulgaria". Itīs an electric release and another one called "Folk music of Bulgaria". I have maybe four different Bulgarian albums. And then recently, a painter in Bulgaria sent me a collection of five Bulgarian albums, made in that country. Bulgarian pressings which is not all that good. One was from the "Bulgarka folktrio", You know these ladies?

Reporter: Yeah

FZ: Yeah, and another one was a Bulgarian trumpet soloist, whose name I canīt remember and then two groups, two musical groups.

End of interview


Zappa and his 50:th birthday

This interview was made 20 december 1990 in Swedish Radio P2. The interviewers was Lars Bryngelsson and Anders Olsén.

INTERVIEWERS: Hello Frank Zappa and welcome to the National Swedish Radio from Stockholm

FZ: Thank You so much

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. Iīm 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 itīs... if You talking about advice for health and diet and so forth, Youīre not gonna get it from me because Iīll 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 donīt use any drugs or alcohol so maybe thatīs 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 donīt 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 donīt know whether the word "freak out" is the proper one to use but Iīll garantee that there is plastic people everywhere, and I wouldnīt 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 thatīs always better for an individualīs mental health and for the society at large to have more individualism expressed. That doesnīt 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, Youīll lose something and ultimately itīs going to have negative effects. Itīs 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 wonīt 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 itīs much worse in the US for freedom of speech. Itīs almost getting to the point where itīs a charade for this country to brag other nations how free it is and how democratic it is. But internally if You understand whatīs going on here, Youīll 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 itīs 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 itīs 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 theyīre 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.. Iīm sure itīs no secret to people outside the US, that although we have democracy here, the willingness to go out and vote has almost vanished. Itīs 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: Youīve been pretty sharp in Your critics of the American society through the years. But the Americans Iīve been spoken to, have told me that You are just considered a "weird" guy and nobody really pays any attention to You.

FZ: Thatīs true. Nobody cares about anything here. So that shouldnīt surprise You. I mean, if they cared, they would been out voting, wouldnīt they?


FZ: The person You talked to, heīs telling You the truth. They donīt care about me here. Iīm virtually unknown in my own country. And the reasons for it, is if Iīm 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 itīs 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. Itīs 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 donīt 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, thereīs no way that that show will ever go on television in US. Itīs not gonna happen. At the time I proposed it, perhaps I was naive even suggest it to them. But if thereīs one thing thatīs clear, anybody who come to this country and try to watch the news, Youīll find itīs hard to know whatīs is really going on in the world, because of the nature of whatīs broadcast. What they call news here, itīs empty. And so... there is a reason for that. I think itīs US government policy to manage the news. Itīs.. itīs one of those things You find out about later. So letīs say Youīre 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 Youīll get anywhere with that project? No way.

INTERVIEWERS: Youīre dealing a lot with political stuff and Youīre concerned about society, Youīre making music, films, try to do TV-shows and so forth. How much do You work?

FZ: A lot.

INTERVIEWERS: And that means? (laugh)

FZ: (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 donīt 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 Iīm 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 Iīm 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 Youīve Never Heard In Your Life, both of those use life musicians. Itīs 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 havenīt made the deal yet. Iīm waiting for a fax from this company to tell me what the progress is in our negotiations. But since itīs 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 wouldnīt 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 thatīs 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 doesnīt make sense okey. Thereīs never been a situation other than Legioners Disease where large number of people die all at the same time in certain locations. It doesnīt 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 Youīre 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 Hannesī bedroom. He would been sleeping and they wanna me to walk in and say Hannes, Hannes! wake up! Itīs 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! Itīs me Frank Zappa. And the mother and the father woked up and we sat around till about 4 or 5 oīclock 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 donīt 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! Itīs me Frank Zappa.

INTERVIEWERS: Frank, letīs 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 Youīve 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 wouldnīt necessary be interested in my orchestral music or even some of the funny lyrics but they do like the guitar playing so thatīs 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 wouldnīt 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. Itīs just a question of putting a frame around it and You think most people canīt 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 itīs 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 itīs 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 itīs 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 havenīt heard it. They have no experience. If You havenīt heard it, how do You know what Your mind will do with it, You see. The problem is that broadcasting is incredibly limited here. Thereīs 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 itīs hard for them to survive economically because sponsors donīt 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 Iīm 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 couldnīt even answer a guess of that. I wouldnīt 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, thatīs for sure but... I think thatīs a matter of taste. Thereīs some people who prefer that early group and thatīs 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 thatīs .. one question You never answered in the book and thatīs ..

FZ: Whatīs 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 Iīll have to go through in order to teach a song like Jesus thinks Youīre 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". Itīs 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 Youīre 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 Youīre a Jerk". It was written piece by piece. I started off with the completely written lyrics and then... in fact thereīs a complete video coverage of this process taken place at rehearsal where itīs 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 Youīre 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 itīs comfortable played. Thereīs different kind of processes You would go through to put things together. Where as with material on the synclavier itīs all about numbers.

INTERVIEWERS: But what do You really think You can achieve by Your work?

FZ: Oh I donīt know. I donīt 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 thatīs not why I do it. I donīt do it to achieve.

INTERVIEWERS: You donīt do it to change the way You thinking in the American society?

FZ: Iīve 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. Itīs like that guy told You. Iīm 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 heīs 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 donīt think itīs been particulary good. If there is anyway to improve on the way that policy is created and administered whether itīs 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 theyīre trying to do in Checkoslovakia. And heīs a very nice man and heīs a honest man and he heīs suffered a lot to get where he is. In fact Iīm 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 donīt 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 itīs been run by George Bush and Dan Quayle. I mean thatīs... You know… Thereīs no challenge there.

INTERVIEWERS: But do You need a challenge?

FZ: I think people needs challenges. Sure.

INTERVIEWERS: So thatīs the reason why You donīt run for president?

FZ: (Laugh) No. The reason I donīt run itīs because I donīt 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, thatīs another thing represents no challenge.

INTERVIEWERS: The music itself You mean?

FZ: Thatīs 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: Youīre sort of a working family or what?

FZ: Well, the only person in the family who doesnīt have a job is Diva and thatīs only because she is eleven.

INTERVIEWERS: And You have time to spend with Your children also.. through the years?

FZ: Well, Iīll have as much time to spend with them as they would like to spend with me. I mean, letīs 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 thereīs 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 Iīm 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 thatīs it. No more cash of my bank account to pay for musician salaries or travel expenses or any of the stuff thatīs require to do a band and to do a tour. I canīt do it.

INTERVIEWERS: Do You think itīs more hard now to.. just thinking of doing it now when Youīre older?

FZ: Thereīs 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. Thereīs 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. Itīs a different mind-set. If I go on the road, Iīve 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. Thereīs 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, donīt 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 Youīre 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?

FZ: What?

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, Iīm doing ok. (pause)

INTERVIEWERS: Okey. Are You in fact sitting in Your house now in Your home studio?

FZ: Iīm 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 donīt 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. Thereīs bunch of flowers out there and.. itīs 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, Youīre welcome. Thank You very much. Bye, bye.


Kent Nagano tells about his cooperation with Olivier Messiaen and Zappa

This interview with Kent Nagano was made 1992 or 1993 by Martin Hansson at Swedish Radio P2. (Publication of this interview is approved by Martin Hansson himself) Itīs actually not a regular interview. Martin Hansson (MH) tells in Swedish - translated here into English - about Kent Nagano (KN) so KNīs own words are extracts from a conversation. I missed to put on the tape-recorder in the beginning of the programme, so I missed the first 4-5 words, but Iīm pretty sure he said whatīs in the brackets.

(Sw-En) means translation from Swedish to English.


KN: (A friend of me, Peter Sellars, stage) director, once told me, that doing rehearsing for performances is little bit like throwing a bag full of marbles up in the air and You try to catch as many as you possible can and donīt let any of them hit the ground. And if You can do that, then You have a perfect performance. And what he meant, was if You could correct all the little details that You wanted to by the time the performance comes, then You will have a great performance. That, also what he meant to say is of course it is impossible because we are human beings, we are not perfect, we are never going to have the perfect performance. So whatīs really more important, is that soul and the spirit and the real insides of the music. If You can have least have these as a common idea and working towards it, then You just go as far as You possible can and itīs the processes, the real joy of working together to go as far You can towards realizing that ideal. Iīm not one You can hold back very well and the music is great music, You can carry it away. And I ask for things, sometimes they are impossible because, they are only the sort of things that You can get. Intellectually You know You only can get it if You have five months of rehearsal.These kinds of nuances and subtleties. On the other hand, I can tell You how many times the impossible has happen during a performance. Just a moment, where everyone is really thinking the same way and feeling the music the same way, and then something extra beyond our human control comes in a play and You can many many times realize things that You never thought You could. But unless You try, then of course thereīs no chance they will happen at all. So my feelings is, today, orchestras need a motivation, a point of a direction, someone who can point the way towards investing Your enthusism. As well, as someone who is carefully familiar with this score. So these are the things that You try to share with any orchestra, if it is my own band as You say, or if it is visiting a guest orchestra or if it is with one of the orchestras where I often go as a regular guest and I mean it is always the same. Music is always the same.

MH (Sw-En): He not only strive for the impossible. A couple of times during the concert in Gothenburg, the time actually ceases. You goes into the eternity with goose flesh that would make God to confuse You as a winged insect. I have never heard the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra play like this. The concentration and the devotion are total among the musicians. And in the front, a small thin American with Japanese stock, that is full of enthusiasm. Kent Nagano seems to be driven of an unmistakable passion, guided of the knowledge that music always is about "one for all and all for one". No airs and graces, no ego, not a trace of interest for something else than just this performance of Mahlers third symphony will be the best the world ever have heard.

Exaggeration? Well, the fact is that the most this 42 years old from California, USA set to work at come into gold. His first operarecording – Prokofievīs "Love for 3 Oranges" on the original language French – was voted as the "Record of the Year" by Gramophone, the latest record with Poulenceīs Carmelite has already became "Grand Prix du Disque (und Pasandour)". His productions, whether they are live or on record, is now events in the musicworld. Today he is artistic director of the opera in Lyon which he succeeded John Erik Gardner 1989, he has the same position at the renowned Halley-orchestra in Manchester and he is also first guestconductor at London Symphony Orchestra. He became a good name in the musicworld when he assisted Seiji Ozawa in the preparations for the premiere of Messiaenīs opera "Saint Francois dīAssise" 1983. The composer himself demanded from Paris Opera that Nagano would be present during more than the six monthīs rehearsel of this enormous opera. Messiaen knew that Nagano was the right man. They had met earlier, but at circumstances that was much less glamorous.

KN: The very first orchestra that I became music director of was an orchestra that was experiencing serious financially difficulties. So when I came to the orchestra, it was a very interesting situation. Having an orchestra that wasnīt able to play very well, that didnīt have any money to hire better musicians and further more, had no audience that wanted to listen to it. I mean that is a pretty negative situation. (Laugh). So, in a way, it was a very good place to be, because when Youīre in a situation like that, all You can do is to be really honest. You simply got to turn out a very good product, otherwise Youīll cease to exist. So, I worked the orchestra very very hard. So I thought the orchestra needed to do something that was astoundly identity, and to actually have the orchestra serve a real function, at have a real reason to exist. So, during this period I introduced works that I thought the orchestra could play very well, that somehow the vast musical community there which is rather sophisticated, could come to hear music they couldnīt hear any place else. And one of the first projects that I did was to put together a cycle of the great Messiaen orchestra pieces, whiched I loved, and I felt the orchestra with enough rehearsel time could play them very well. I never done modern music before that point ever, I came.., my background is in opera, Mozart, Verdi, Bellini, Puccini (laugh) the concept of doing them, a contemporary score was a new thing to me as well, so I wanna to study, so I studied as best I could the scores for the cycles of Messiaen works. And then I went to look for a teacher who could show me how to interpret the music better. But to my alarm, the teachers whome I went to, didnīt know the scores as well as I did. I already knew the scores better than they, and they couldīt teach me anything. So out of... out of frustration, I wrote a letter in french to Olivier Messiaen, c/o the Paris Conservatory, Paris, France, and mail it (laugh). Saying, Dear maître - Iīm in the process, Iīm about ready to embark on a cycle of Your great orchestra pieces. I canīt find anyone to study with who knows the scores so Iīve come to ask for Your guidence on this. And I included with the letter, a taperecording of the performance of the first piece of the cycle which included seven works. And to my great surprise, four weeks later I got a letter back from Olivier Messiaen, saying, Iīm very happy to hear that Youīre doing a cycle of my works, I listened to the tape, and here is some critisicm. In bar number five You might try to do this and figure number 27 try to do this little differently, try doing this, try doing that. Two type-written pages of notes and it was fantastic. I learned a lot of this. I sent him a taperecording of the second work of the cycle to be criticise, and again he sent back notes. This time there was only one type-written page of critisicm. I sent a tape recording of the third work, which is Turangalila Symphony and he came back and he said: I canīt criticise this performance, itīs such a wonderful performance, thereīs nothing that I can say, itīs wonderful. But what I`ll like to offer is that I come out and listen to Your rehearse the next piece in the cycle and perhaps my wife could be the soloist. Next piece was the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ which call for pianosolo and of course Yvonne Loroid was the greatest interpreter of his music. And we reinvited him back for both the sixth and for the seventh works in the cycle and after the cycle was finished he invited me to come to Paris to (conferences??) so that, as I said it was a sort of complicated story, but that was how we got to know each other. I was looking for someone to teach me the music of Olivier Messiaen so I went to Olivier Messiaen himself (laugh) and thatīs how we met.

Messiaens music is of exceptional quality. Itīs really great music, thatīs someone the greatest of this century. I wouldnīt be so presumptuoses to say that I know what a good piece is and I know what a bad piece. However, I think itīs fair to say that, if one has studied composition, and if one has taken the time to look at the score carefully, You can generally tell whether a score is coherent and well written. It doesnīt mean that is an inspiring score or that is a great score or that it would be make such an impact that I would enter it in to the repertoar. But I think that people are often times afraid to get up and say, I really believe in this piece. I have studied it, I have done my homework on the piece, I have taken the piece apart, Iīve put it back together, and itīs a good piece and I wanīt to share it with You. I donīt see that happen enough actually, what I see happening is: Well here is a new piece for You tonight. Not even, I hope You like it. I mean (laugh) this is a new piece (laugh) so, and then the audience is left to have the experience without sort of any support. You know (laugh) Letīs take for example the Death of Klinghoffer (by John Adams - own commentary) that was a work that I recently premiered and recorded. This is a great piece and I can honestly 100% stand up there and say I really believe in this music, itīs fantastic. Inside this music are things that, thereīs questions we are asking ourself a members of the world today. It deals with human tragedy and human emotion on a very profound way, the way that touches us and everydays alives. Itīs meaningful to us and itīs relevant to us. And I spent so many hours, just sitting at the piano playing through this score to find out a way how to best phrase, and how to best use the harmonies and melodies to try to communicate these human elements. Thereīs so much great repertoare to be heard. We canīt possibly get through it all in one lifetime really. So why should You play bad repertoare (laugh).

The people (whome admires my), the really great conductors, spend almost every single living moment studying. I myself do my studying very very early in the morning, and then usually some administrate of work during the late part of the morning, usually rehearsing on the afternoon, study during dinner, no dinner, do rehearsel or perfomance that night and then after the performance go home and study again and then get up very early and study again. So studying is ... itīs a .. itīs every day, seven day a week through 365 day year. You never, it never stops. And if You talk to most conductors, I think most of them will say that they, they havenīt had a vacation in years in years. My last vacation was 1976 and I can remember it very very well (laugh) and it sounds like terrible lot of work to keep studying and studying. I mean, most of us think, I thought after Iīve graduated from school, I didnīt have to study anymore (laugh) and in fact I study now three times harder than I did when I was in school. And get a lot less sleep that I did when I was at school.

MH (Sw-En): No, Nagano does not at all have time to get stucked into any of the international musiclifeīs countless coctailpartys. And if You would talk about any breakthrough, it was probably 1984 when he replaced Seiji Ozawa and without no rehearsel conducted – according to the reviews absolute brilliant - the performance of Mahlers 9:th with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. "Hardwork" as I said before, and then a scholarship that has given him the chance to study with some of his examples. Just recently, he was visiting Brüggen and acquainted oneself with the practise to perform the older music. But the most important are maybe just Ozawa, the stay with Pierre Boulez at IRCAM in Paris and maybe the greatest teacher to him, Leonard Bernstein.

KN: I remember we were working together on the Pathetique symphony Tchaikovky 6. And weīre working at the piano, and he said: now okey, so how do You play this phrase so I played the phrase and he said no, no, no. Go go further, what do You want to say? So I played it again, he said no,no, no, go further. And at a certain moment he got really frustrated and just stood up and yelled: I want You to be a human being (laugh). It was the funniest thing, so I mean of course I laughed and then... so I tried to be more of a human being. And then he stood up again and said: I want You to be a crazy human being (laugh). Go further, go further. And over.... You can imagine he was just trying to pull.. he was trying to encourage me to be.. to be more generous, to be more giving. And he was a remarkable teacher. After Youīve been under that kind of inspiration for four-five years, I canīt remember, even longer I think. I was working with him for seven or eight years. You learn to bring out different aspects of the music. You learn really how the notes on the score, read on the very beginning when You learn music. The notes on the score have very very little to do what the actual communication is, and the musicīs score is not the actual printed, inprinted C natural D sharp. Itīs what the meaning is between those notes that really counts and these sort of things that Mr Bernstein was really really try very hard to pull out of me. You asked whatīs exactly is important of teaching in music? I think itīs very important. The music field, is an old fashioned field anyway, You learn by having those who know better pass on.

MH (Sw-En): When he tell himself, so bear his hereditary of eastern humility, the occasional shimmer over his career. But more You know this little bit reflecting timid conductor, the more You realize which will-power and energy there is. For example, the studies at the University ended with two complete examination, music and law. But luckily for us, the career as a lawyer has to give way to the musical passion. Of course, it is not anybody that write letters to Messiaen. But his first work in Europe was with a conductor that does not enjoy same respect as Messiaen in the corridors of the classical music. And it is certainly not a chance that Kent Nagano began with something of the most hardest that exist, with Frank Zappas orchestral works.

KN: When I was working with this orchestra that didnīt have any money (laugh) and didnīt have any audience, I mention that it was really important to work very hard and fast and quickly, be efficient and my reputation was spreadin by word of mouth of someone who had ears, could hear and good sense of precession for complex scores. So when Zappa was looking for a conductor for his music, which is extremely difficult, itīs one of the most difficult music to count thatīs been written. The only thing comparable that will beat it, perhaps a very complex Elliot Carter score or Takahashiīs music or perhaps some of Pierre Boulezī music, I mean itīs mathematically how to count out the rythms, itīs extremely difficult and technically.. itīs exercises the parts of instruments ranges thatīs not very easy to play, quite virtual (some writing). And large orchestras, complicated passages where You really have to have a good control of basic rythm technic to help guide a orchestra through it. Unknown to me if Frank was doing some research to find out who could actually conduct his music. He had at that moment, just had a huge tremendous commercial succes with one of his records and he wanted to realize a dream of his that he always had, which is to hear his symphonics scores played by one of the worlds great ensemble so that he actually could hear what it sounds alike instead of being massacred by.. by an orchestra that wasnīt properly rehearsed. So he wanted the best orchestra that he could find and he wanted a conducter that could actually deal with it. And .. Iīve had heard of his music beacause I was visiting Mr Boulez in the Institute of Research eh .. IRCAM at Georges Pompidou Center and I saw on the bullentin board "feature commissions" and on the list of composers who have been invited to write for Boulez and IRCAM was Frank Zappas name and I couldnīt believe it. You know I mean, this was for me a relic of the 1960:s. So I asked my friend of who worked there: whatīs the story with this Frank Zappa commission. He explained to me that there was a project that Pierre Boulez was going to conduct a concert of all Frank Zappa pieces and record them. And I thought God this is crazy, so I got in touch with Frank Zappas manager and I said I like to see some of his scores but I never.. I never really heard anything for a long time until one day I just got a telephone call, it was from Frank Zappa, inviting me to come to one of his concerts. And he will give me some scores.

So I never in my life been to a rock concert before (laugh), having lived a very sheltered life as a classical musician, though I went out and bought some earplugs and went to this rock concert. And it was everything that I have feared. It was smokey and sort of light shows all over the place, crowded with thousands of people, dressed in very unusal clothing (laugh). During the intermission, this enormous bodyguard found me where I was sitting in the seatos. He was so big, he looked lie a sumo wrestler and said "follow me" and of course I didnīt argue and I followed him and he tooked me downstairs to the dressingroom. And there I met Frank Zappa. He was taking his intermission break and he showed me the scoreīs he brought with him. He said, take a look at that, what do You think? And I open up the scoreīs and they were really, as I said, so complicated that.. I was a bit taken aback and I didnīt know what to make of them so I explained to him that I really didnīt know what to make out of the scoreīs. I had to take them home and study them a little bit before I could answer him. He said okey, he said take the scoreīs, go home and let me know what You think. So I studied the scores and I had a great time because they were so complicated. They were challenging to figure out. And I found in my great surprise that in this stack of scores was some pieces that were really great, really exciting wonderful pieces. That, not only were itīs complex but they were.. they were well written compositions.

And few weeks went by and I got a telephone call from Frank Zappa, again announced out of the blue, said: well, what do You think, Would You be interested in the scores. And I said: well yes, Iīm really interested in a couple of scores and I would like to perform them. He said: how would You like to come with me. Iīve hired the London Symphony Orchestra, how would You like to come with me to London and record these pieces, do public concerts in London and record them? And at this point I was really unknown, I was just basically out of school and I was working with this orchestra thatīs having a tough time. This is one of the very few times in my life when I tried to be coy (laugh), cause I want to be cool. So, of course I wanted to go, and I liked the music a lot, but I said: well gee, I donīt know. I have to think about it, and of course that was being dishonest. But I said it anyway and Frank said: "hmm, well I tell You what. Iīll give You fifthteen seconds to think about it, and after fifthteen seconds You either say yes or no and if You donīt say anything at all, Iīll just go to another conductor". So I said: "well actually Mr Zappa I am.. I am interested" (laugh) and that was the last time that I actually ever tried to be coy. Because when Youīre dealing with people who are really serious, thereīs really no room to play games. I mean people who are really concerned about making music, just want to make good music, so in a way he taught me a lesson very early on in my career.

And it was a wonderful experience. Frank Zappa is a great musician. He has ears that can hear things that are just phenomenal. Extremly complex textures and we founded partnership because they were... I could call a lot of wrong notes but actually so could he. He could hear this incredibly complex orchestrations and identify what wasnīt working right. And because of that, he earned my great respect. Oftentimes a composer doesnīt even know what heīs written and then... I canīt be serious about his music if the composer is not serious. He earned my respect and the London Symphonyīs respect. They stood up and gave him a standing ovation after the public concert. And we produced three albums during that period and that was my introduction to the London Symphony, a group whom I still serve today as principal guest conductor. Itīs a funny way to make the acquintance of an orchestra but I suppose You have to started somewhere (laugh) and so now, twelve years later we were a lot together and record a lot together.

MH (Sw-En): Is there any musical dreamproject, any music that You just must have to do?

KN: I guess I have a list of about 5.000 things (laugh), all equally important, all equally urgent and I would like to do them all tomorrow. Thatīs about the best answer I can get

End of interview

Zappa about his overpaid musicians

This interview is from Danish Radio (date unknown) and itīs by the time after the release of Sheik Yerbouti. The interview was made at Hotel Valse in Copenhagen. (Dan-Eng) means that this is translated from danish to english.

Reporter: (Dan-Eng). A interview that Jarlfrid Mikkelsen did yesterday at Hotel Valse. It was a meeting that sometimes became irritated.

FZ: "You donīt seem able to get it through Your head, do You? That the only reason that money is functional in this conversation is in the way that it converts into things that will enable me to make music."

Reporter: (Dan-Eng). Although Jarlfrid Mikkelsen did his best, it was evidently not adequate for Frank Zappa who did some attacks against our reporter. But now Jarl Mikkelsen has the possibility to answer in his section about Frank Zappas new LP.

(Baby Snakes was played)

FZ: The thing that bothers me is spending hundreds of thousand of dollars on lawyers. That bothers me. So far, Iīve spent over hundred thousand dollars on process sueing Warner Brothers. That bothers me. Because of hundreds of thousand dollar, Iīll buy an awful lot of studiotime.

Reporter: Isnīt it killing Your inspiration and Your lust of music?

FZ: No. It hasnīt affected my lust for music at all. It has made me a mean ordinary son of a bitch. But it hasnīt kept me from being interested in music. As a matter of fact, itīs the only reason that I keep going. Itīs because I happen to love music, more than I love lawyers, and more than I love the law, and more than I love any record company on the face of the earth. Iīll like music. Thatīs it for me.

Reporter: (Dan-Eng). The musician and the monster Frank Zappa is in town. The yearly concert and the promotion of a new LP Sheik Yerbouti, that originally would be titled Baby Snakes which also was the title of the song we heard recently. Sheik Yerbouti is at the same time a parody of the KC and the Sunshine Bands "Shake Your Booties" and it marks also at the same time his new cooperation with the record company CBS, now after he sued Warner Brothers during a couple years and spent more than hundreds of thousands dollars on lawyers. An amount of money he instead could buy studiotime for. But Zappa mean that the thing "I hate You, You hate me" are necessary for the unfair business of the record companies so that the music can get its condition it deserves. His new deal with CBS gives him 11 times more in revenue but if it means 11 times better LPs are another question. Sheik Yerbouti are 4 sides with favourite variations of dirtyness and as usual his words are censured in US because the spirit over there are rather specific. The Americans are not provoked. As Zappa says: "They canīt be provoked, because all they hear, it was Godīs will that they would enjoy and have a good time. That was what they ment.

FZ: Well the spirit is strange for those people are not easily provoked, because they donīt take anything seriously. They believe that all matter on the face of the earth is to be consumed for entertainment purposes.

Reporter: Even for Frank Zappa?

FZ: Absolutely. Thatīs the American way of life. Thatīs the key to understanding American sensibility. No matter what it is. God put it there for You to enjoy.

(Jewish Princess was played)

Reporter: Nobody else has thought that much of sexuality and all itīs aspects as You.

FZ: Hey, I canīt help if Iīm fantastic. I canīt help if Iīm doing something that should be done all along. It seems natural to me and thatīs what I do.

Reporter: Whatīs the purpose of it?

FZ: Well as I said before, the songs that I make are on one level reportage and another level just purely abstract. Some of the lyrics I talk about is things that Iīve seen, heard about, experienced, read about in newspaper and things like that, and I commemorate these things in songs and stories. And from musical standpoint, Iīll just do things that interest me, with notes.

Reporter: (Dan-Eng). The reason to the many of his sexual allusions Zappa says: "I canīt help if Iīm fantastic. I canīt help if Iīm doing something that should be done all along. And my lyrics is two things, either reportage or abstract things" and that was nice illustrated in "Jewish Princess". Zappa has more or less used over hundreds of musicians during the years and his about 30 LPs. But itīs necessary to shift, because as soon they have played with him for a while, they think they only feel (something to the music). Instead of proving the musicians that they are wrong itīs easier to fire them, says Frank Zappa. But You can probably disregard the myth that Zappa would underpay his musicians. On the contrary they get 10 times more what they are worth. Really they should pay to be in Frank Zappa band. Itīs the best school on the whole they can get.

FZ: First of all, there has never been a musician that was ever hired for a band. Nor has there ever been an employee in any other profession, who ever believed he was adequately paid for anything that he did. I happen to think that my musicians are overpaid. I think they probably paid ten times more than they are worth. And Iīm happy to remind them of this all the time, because I think a musician who gets the opportunity to work in this band really ought to be paying to be in the band, because heīs getting a chance to experience things that nobody else in the business would get a chance to do. And that might sound a little bit arrogant, but itīs arrogant and itīs also true. This is the best music school that any musician could ever go to.

Reporter: (Dan-Eng). And when we Scandinavian and the English go to a Zappa concert, we would not expect that we will understand the faintest idea of his music or words or can we…?

FZ: No. You donīt. You havnīt the faintest fucking idea what Iīm talking about, anyplace in Europe, not even in England. You donīt have any idea and donīt kid yourself.

(I Have Been in You was played)

End of interview.

Zappa makes comments on news media and satellite technics

This is written down from a documentary in Swedish Television from 1988. The documentary was made by Måns Herngren (MH). The subject was about the development of the satellite channels and television. Frank Zappa had a big part of the programe and he comments certain things about television in the US. The interview with Zappa was made at his home in Los Angeles. This is my resume of the programe with Franks comments. (Sw-Eng) means translation from Swedish to English.

Introduction to the programme by MH: (Sw-Eng). In February 1945 the magazin Wireless World published a letter to the press. The author believed that the B-52 rockets could been used for scientific and civilian purposes. The author asserted that a rocket that will be send out into space with a correct speed to a level at about 15.000 miles, would end up in a geostationary orbit round the earth. It would be stationary over the same point above the earth. The author was a guy named Arthur C Clarke. He later become an author of science fiction and 20 years later after the letter to the press, he wrote the manuscript to the movie 2001 by Stanley Kubrik. In the beginning of the sixties, US sent up the first satellite and it was placed on the same position which Arthur C Clarke predicted and matter of this it would turn out to be called the Clarke-belt.

(Art of Noise by Lou Reed was played)

Today there are about hundreds of satellites round the earth and with Your own dish on the roof or with a cabel-TV in Your own apartment, the American can choose between 100 different channels. And all the time new channels are never-ceasing founded.

(Features from CNN was showed)

FZ: An illusion. There is more broadcasting here, but the subject matter is in a very narrow range. You got to see the same kinds of things over and over again.

(Feature: Commercials from US TV was showed)

MH: Do You think that TV in the US is a mirror of how people wants to be or become or a mirror of how the government and the companies want the Americans to be?

FZ: Both. Because the programming that is brought to the American people is very scientifically manufactured. They do research on it, to make sure that enough people will watch it, that the sponsors who buy the time are going to get results for the dollar investments. So lot of the stuff that goes on the air, has already been researched and it has been assertained that there are enough stupid people in this country who wanna watch it.

(Feature: How news media reports accidents and other catastrophes)

FZ: Most of the reports dealing with news in other parts of the world are stupid here and it goes back to a slogan from CBS News "If it donīt bleed, it donīt lead". Another word: if the top story of the hour doesnīt have some death involved in it some way, itīs not gonna be good news entertainment and so therefor doesnīt get good coverage. And the people who run the news in the US are always looking for the most spectacular bloody events some place on the world to keep their news ratings up. Because if thereīs no blood, the audience will turn to something else. And what happens in a week when thereīs no much blood?

(Feature: Showing how a news team was filming a murdered man and how quickly this has to be edited and broadcasted as a result of the satellite technics. The journalist Stewe Powers tells how fast the newsreportage has been speeded up the latest years.)

FZ: To trying describe how bad television could be in the US, I suggested that they create something called the "mortuarity channel" which would be a specialized broadcast channel - 24 hours a day - that features as an entertainment, people being entombed and made up for burrials. And I believe that the US audience is twisted enough if such a thing worked to go on the air, not only would it make money but people would watch it all the time. Furthermore Youīll have some people writing into their will, that they would not want to be buried until they least been on television once they are dead.

MH: What kind of commercial do You think would fit in that programe?

FZ: How about commercial for mortuarities. How about commercials for places that sell burial plots or the Neptun Society which actually advertizes on the regular television that You can have a burial seed. You can be cremated and Your ashes can be sprinkled up seas.

MH: Or just flushed up through the toilet?

FZ: I think so, maybe thereīs a law against that.

(Features: A TV-evangelist – with a very low voice – who wanted donations was showed)

FZ: The electronic churches is a big racket in the US that takes millions and millions, well maybe the figures is in billions, from the people sitting at home who wants to have a religious experience without leaving their armchair. And the way it works is...One of the rackets is something called prosperitous theology. Jim and Tammy Bakker were involved in that. Thereīs an other guy named Robert Tilton who is still on the air who preaches this kind of stuff. The idea is that all Your financial problems will be cured by Jesus. But the way he will cure them is: You have to prove to Jesus that You trust him and the way You prove to Jesus that You trust him is to send a large amount of money, more than You can really afford in Your life. It has to be a painful offering. You send this painful offering to the preachers on television. And by doing so, he tells You that, that proof to Jesus, that You love him, You believe him and You trust him. And then, and only then, he will solve all Your financial worries. So people actually do this, they actually send this money, they charge on the credit card or whatever. Because...and the people who do this has a similar mindset to people who will buy a lot of tickets. They taking a gamble. If it works, Jesus will take care of me. And if it does not, well at least Iīve tried.

(Features: Same TV-evangelist as latter but now with telephone number 214 620-6200 for foundation was showed)

FZ: These evangelists, the people from the video church made a deal with the Republican party 1979, that they reinvested some of the money they took from these people who sent to them. These money was giving directly to the Republican party to help them finance the political campaign of those candidates who would agree to support the policies of these churches. So they have a partnership going. They still trying and they still wanna have a ban on abortion, they still wanna have parent school, they still want to have all homosexuality declared sinful and against the law. The same thing they got rattling about since Reagan got in.

(A sign showing up with “About his own project - Nightschool”)

FZ: I got a lot of  problem with it so thatīs why I donīt have a television show right now, Iīve tried for almost a year. Tried to put together some kind of show that will be on the air here and in Europe. Couldnīt do it. In one instance where I had a chance to get some access to some time, at last minute, the people who ran the station pulled out because they also happen to have Jimmy Swaggart on their station and they...  I told them bluntly (my approach) about doing the show. The one of the things that was going to happen in my show was material that will ridicule television evangelists. Well these people who was (  ?  ) here in Los Angeles, the people who run the station, decided they really shouldnīt put my show on the air. Because if my show went on, then they might loose Swaggarts account and Swaggart was paying them a lot of money for the airtime. I think the only way I could do it would be to make a deal with an european channel and eventually have the show brought back to US.

(Features: Commercials from US TV was showed.)

FZ: There is an illusion in the US that we have free press and itīs purely an illusion. Because the censorship who takes place here doesnīt just come from the government, it comes from... itīs a result of the editorial viewpoint of the people owing the individual broadcast licenses and the individual newspaper and magazines. None of these people are liberal. Everybody, I think 90% of the people who own media are of extreme right wing persuasion. And fact, one of the things these right wing broadcasters have done is to create a smokescreen. A few years ago they started this campaign and it works like this: They had people from right wing organisations go on televisions and complain that the media has liberal byas, and then spent a year or more, having debates and arguments between these people who would talk about whether or not in fact that media was to liberal. And it never was liberal, it was always right wing. But by bringing these people from the right wing on to television to challenge the liberality of broadcasting, they created the situation where they can claim: then order to have more fairness in their broadcasting, they had to inject more right wing element to the broadcasting. Think about that. Nice trick. And it still going on today. I mean, they created the myth that american broadcasting and american media has liberal byas. It never has had. It couldnīt have, because the people who own it are in no way liberal.

MH (Sw-Eng): In spite of the fact that the Americans got the world largest access of media in form of TV, newspaper and libraries, not even 15% of the population can point out their own country on a world map.

(Feature: Jonathan Sander from Columbia University. “Unfortunately has prevented the Americans – who have this wonderful richness of information – from using them. Itīs a kind of the opposite to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union practices censorship by restricting information. America practicing censorship by having so much information that no one could possibly process it all and nobody really has an interest. You can publish anything here because most people know that it wonīt be read. No one would pay attention to it. Thereīs a fear of ideas. Thereīs a conformity in American life.”)

FZ: The thing is, thereīs an attitude in US... itīs an unspoken...attitude. That if as an American, You become too interested in things going on in other countries, then maybe Youīre not a really good American. A good American in a right wing sense of the world, are people who absolutely donīt care about what happens in any place else of the world. Theyīre only interested in their own economical situation and their own stuff right here. FBI recently asked librarians in the US to keep track of people who checked out certain books out of the library.

MH: Really?

FZ: Yeah. Like how to build an atomic bomb or books on communism or things like that. They actually wanted US librarians to function as spies in the library to report citizens who would check out books on certain topics, and the librarians refused. That doesnīt mean the FBI wonīt stop trying find out what kind of people checks out certain books out of the library. Well, think about that. Do You have that in Your country?

MH: No..

(Feature: Kenny Schaffer –“inventor” and former publisher of Jimi Hendrix and Lenny Bruce. 1977 he invented the wireless guitar and the wireless mikrofon. Among other things he tells: “After doing this in 5 years, whatīs next? So one night I found myself up on my roof of the apartment building where I lived, with a satellite dish. And this was back 1980-81 when none even know how to spell satellite. So I was trying to find entertainment channels in the sky, by point the dish around to find the Playboy Channel, Home Box Office and MTV. I just lived north of Rockefeller Centre in Manhattan and all this big buildings would block all the satellites from the south. But there were these freaky satellites that – the only considerations for me, there were no buildings in the way – these satellites straight over Manhattan – straight up, oh good no buildings – and they happened to be Russians. ......  280 millions Russians watching this picture and this one person on the Western hemisphere. And I didnīt speak a word of Russia. I only knew that Russia was spelled with an exclamation  market in the end. I could see that they lived in a very different world than I did but they were people like me. I found this profound to see that Russians were closed and they breed.“ Further he tells that television has changed his thinking a lot of what the world can be. As a result, he spent three years on phone calling Yale, Princetown and Harvard University and suggested them: “Gee, You guys should have this”, but the professors usually hang their phones up saying “We donīt even watch American TV, why would we watch that?” Finally he established a cooperation with Jonathan Sander at Columbia University.

Jonathan Sander tells “The American notion about the Soviet Union and about other countries are pretty primitive and notions of the Soviet Union are very much toward by images generated during the cold war. They are very simple and primitive. One of the great things that television does do, is to show people as people. Iīve shown segments of Soviet television to American high school students, had the reactions: “They have stove in their kitchen? They have kitchen? You mean they donīt live in big collective?”.  Kenny Schaeffer says later that he managed Discovery Channel to once broadcast Russian television live six hours each day for a week.

Jonathan Sanders again: “What would be absolutely wonderful for the cross(fertilization) is that we have the ability on our national system to watch Soviet Television and to watch Swedish and Italian television. And the Soviets to watch American television all the time so that the world really would be (?) called the global community” Kenny Schaeffer tells later: “We have sold to Soviet television, American programmes for the first time – You know several programmes. Itīs the first time that American television of any type been showed. And what we proposed to do was to do something similar what we have done here, Soviet television four weeks to American television. We discussing that now. It will do take some time. Itīs not a couple of people in a room in Soviet Union who can decide do this and go ahead "do it")

FZ: Well I think that would be ideal. One of the reasons why there are certain peoples who worried about satellite technics is: the easier it is for a person in one country to look in on a lifestyle of a person in an other country, the more tense to create a demand for goods and services that might not be available in one country. For example: If everybody in the Soviet Union could watch as much American television as they wanted, I think the Soviet government would have some problems. Because I believe inside Russia, there are number of people who are just as stupid as the Americans and wants to buy those potatoes chips and rest of that stuff and live that kind of life and when they see people consuming it, theyīre gonna want it. It will drive them wild.

(Feature: Showing commercials from US TV.)

FZ: Itīs not an easy solution to the problem of making the Americans smart. There is a mechanical problem and there is built in a psychological problem. The Americans donīt want to be smart. Itīs embarrasing for them to admit theyīre smart. The fact is, Iīm sure You noticed it, that the Americans do everything they can to pretend to be stupid because they think they are more likeable when they are stupid.

(Feature: Showing a commercial with two”stupid” men talking about a new TV they bought .)

FZ: Thatīs not gonna change until the educational system is improved in this country.

(Feature: A girl announcing “Iīm gonna tell You about an exciting new medium that is revolutionizing the way the college and universities educate, inform and entertain their student. The new medium College Satellite Network, using satellite transmission and large screen video systems to bring programmes of vital interest into lecture halls and auditories.” Arlene Krebbs from New York University then says: “On the one hand in the US, childrens, pre-schoolers and young children spend enormous mount of time watching television. And thereīs some in the educational community who feel they already watching too much television and we must concern ourself with the basics of reading, writing and developing new skills from the printing culture before the electric culture. One the other hand, thereīre an enormous push in the US to provide equal education opportunities to schools that are poor, to schools that are in more rural areas. And in this sense there has legislations authorized this year for “Stars schools”. This legislation was issue rated by senator Ted Kennedy from Massachusets. Itīs a direct contrast of the Star Wars concept. And Stars schools is to support nationwide distribution of education to primary and secondary schools in language, science and maths training. Itīs less and less expensive, because the schools has the equipments and satellite time in the US is only few hundreds dollar per hour, 200-300 dollars per hour.”)

FZ: One of the reasons why... Your... promise doesnīt work is... Even if a guy has 400-500 dollars once to buy an hour on satellite, he has to pay that 400-500 dollars to a right wing guy with certain point of view. And that right wing guy doesnīt care about that 4 or 500 dollars. He is more concerned about with making sure that the airways are ideological pure. So, if the thing You wanna broadcast has a certain political slant to it, itīs not gonna go on the air.

MH: Could he actually stop that?

FZ: Sure.

(Feature. Among other things an interview with John MacDougall alias “Captain Midnight” who 26 of April 1986 interrupted a film from Home Box Office with following sign in the picture “God evening HBO from Captain Midnight. 12,95$ a month. No way. Showtime movie channel beware” This was an objection to the price HBO was charging dish owners for access to these recently (scrambled?) programmes.)

FZ: In this country there are 250 millions willing consumers, people dumb enough to buy just about anything from any country. Anything. Theyīre born to buy. The people in this country are bred to purchase things. Thatīs what the educational system turns out – consumers. So, if any country would to attack US, I think first of all, the Japanese will come and fight on our behalf to keep an attack for coming in, because they donīt want to loose 250 millions consumers. And we will be stupid to shot anything over on to the Soviet Union because thereīs a whole country full of people willing to pay 100 of dollar for a pair of Levis. So, that You canīt get that every day and itīs the desire to do commerce thatīs gonna keep the world from blowing up. Ultimately the ... itīs maybe the businessmen of the world who keep the place from being destroyed.


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