Interview by Howard Smith
This interview was recorded on June 6, 1971 in Zappa’s hotel room. At the time, Zappa was on tour with the Mothers promoting their latest album, Chunga’s Revenge, and the upcoming film, 200 Motels (check out the wicked trailer).
We discovered the interview in The Smith Tapes collection.
The Animated Transcript
Howard Smith was an Oscar winning film director, journalist and broadcaster. He had a weekly column during the formative years of The Village Voice.
I used to have a pair of shoes like that.
When I worked at the Garrick Theater.
You must have got them at the same place, 6th avenue.
I don’t know where they came from. They were given to me. But Mine were all covered with dead vegetables and whipped cream by the end of the season.
It’s funny, the guy who sold me these, that’s what he had to take off of them.
Boil them little bit.
For a long time, you’d been in New York, and then went to LA. Why? I mean, what’s …
I served my time in New York.
What do you mean?
I didn’t like it that much while I was here and I like California a lot better. It was so depressing during the time I was here, I really hate to come back.
I don’t know, I always find LA and New York sort of similar, it’s like the same hustles going down in both places.
Ain’t no hustle where I live. I got a place with a bunch of trees around it, some space. I don’t have to shuffle around the street and walk over people who have pissed all over themselves and are laying down there in the gutter and policemen coming along beating them on the legs, screaming at them to get up and dogs shitting all over the place. It’s just a little different in Los Angeles.
I’m wondering if in you’re touring around, whether you’ve started to notice something, a kind of more political consciousness of the audiences.
Yeah. I really believe that. It’s as superficial as their musical consciousness. It’s just another aspect of being involved in the actions of their peer group. One guy in the group says, “Hey, politics,” and they go, “Yeah, politics.” Or they go, “Grand Funk Railroad,” and they go, “Yeah, Grand Funk Railroad.” It’s the same thing.
And you don’t see really any real change that’s gone down?
Sure, I’ve seen a lot of changes. But I think that they’re all temporary things and any change for the good is always subject to cancellation upon the arrival of the next fad. And the same thing with any change for the worst. You have a nation of people who are waiting for the next big thing to happen.
How about before each concert, though, do you have to get yourself up to do it? Do you think, oh God, those idiots out there?
No, I don’t think oh God, those idiots out there until I found out they’re idiots. I give them the benefit of the doubt.
This is something from out of left field. The whole women’s lib thing.
Has that touched you at all? Have any people said, “How come you don’t have any girls in the group,” women, pardon me, “women in the group”?
Yeah, somebody asked me that last night as a matter of fact.
How come you don’t?
Well, I just don’t think it’s practical.
It’s not practical?
No, not for what we do. It’s just not practical. I don’t think that there’s a girl around that would fit in with what we do. I just … I don’t like to change personnel all the time, but it does seem to happen, and I would hate to stick a girl in, get new publicity photos, and then have the poor thing bomb out in the middle of a tour.
Has it touched you at all, women’s lib? I mean, do you think that is a valid movement, or just a fad also?
Just a fad also, yeah.
Sure. Which is not to say it’s bad if it keeps them off the streets. It keeps them occupied.
How do you personally though think about women? Do you think a woman’s place is the home? Is that basically how you see it?
No, some women are very badly suited to being in the home. I don’t think they should be there. They should be in a factory. Or in a library as a librarian. Or even doing something more exciting, like show business. Women are different, you know. I hate to think of women as a big group because you can’t judge them that way. But in most instances I find out they’re just really stupid people. They just happen to wear dresses.
Why do you think America is so fad crazy then? Because you seem to see everything in terms of fads.
I think that’s a reasonable way to look at it because it doesn’t have any real sort of values, you know? And a fad provides you with a temporary occupation for your imagination. Really, it doesn’t have any real culture. It doesn’t have any real art. It doesn’t have any real anything. It’s just got fads and a gross national product and a lot of inflation.
But that also puts you in as part of the fad, right?
I’m an American. I was born here. I automatically got entered in a membership in the club. You can compute me any way you want.
Is there anything else you want to … I always feel that whenever I’m interviewing you that we hit some kind of dead end. Remember that interview couple years ago?
As a matter of fact, I don’t.
We hit some kind of similar dead end at that point, because you … I don’t know, you just seem so down on so many things.
I don’t know, I have a good time.
Well That Was Awkward
“Frank Zappa came to be interviewed for our TV show and I think that after the interview I hated Zappa even more than when it started.”
Warhol had detested Zappa ever since the Velvet Underground (whom Warhol managed for a time) crossed paths with Zappa’s band, the Mothers of Invention, in NYC in the mid 1960’s. So when Zappa appeared on Andy Warhol TV, he refused to talk to Zappa and sat in icy silence while someone else assumed interviewer duties.
Zappa’s Laurel Canyon Haven
The Zappas moved to Laurel Canyon in 1968 when the neighborhood was becoming a focal point for the LA music scene, with the likes of Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, and the Mama’s and the Papa’s Cass Elliot all moving to the area. Zappa first lived in the “Log Cabin,” pictured above, then to another home in the neighborhood when the first house was overrun with groupies and other hangers-on.
Hey Zappa super-fan, wanna live in Frank’s house? The Zappa family is allowing Alex Winter, director of the upcoming documentary Who the F**K is Frank Zappa?, to offer the house as one of the “rewards” for contributing to the film’s crowdfunding campaign. You just have to donate $9 million. Interested? It’s still available.
How Far Does the Apple Fall From the Tree?
No Girls Allowed
Zappa may not have wanted any women in his band, but he had no problem with them being on tour. It’s well known that he loved the company of groupies when he was on the road. Hey, he even wrote about it:
“These girls, who devote their lives to pop music, feel they owe something personal to it, so they make the ultimate gesture of worship, human sacrifice. They offer their bodies to the music or its nearest personal representative, the pop musician. These girls are everywhere. It is one of the most amazingly beautiful products of the sexual revolution.”
– Life Magazine, June 1968
Zappa was more traditional in some areas than his counterculture image let on. He and wife Gail had the proto-typical rock star marriage: he went on the road, while she stayed home and managed the kids and his career.
“I think there’s a real problem today that women feel compelled to have jobs,” she says. “I think if most women sat down and asked themselves why in hell they want to work – why do they want to wear that suit? Why do they want to carry that briefcase? What the fuck does it mean? I think it means that they’re competing with their husbands; they have to have some status in their marriage. I don’t know why they’re not at home taking care of the kids where they should be.”
– Gail Zappa, from Rock Wives by Victoria Balfour
The conservative, Reagan-era 80’s brought on the battle of the Washington housewives vs. the rock n’ roll establishment in a war over censorship, explicit lyrics, and the black “Parental Advisory” sticker we’re all familiar with today.
Here Zappa breaks down the Senate hearings and PMRC circus on the 1980’s TV show Nightflight:
“Mr. President, if you are not serious about getting government off our backs, could you at least do something to get it out of our nostrils? There seems to be a lethal cloud of brimstone and mildewed bunting rising from the Senate floor.”
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“Linear Wet Highway” Thomas Woodard Jr., Ray Barnette
“Freedom Breakout” Dave O List