The trip to the Soviet bloc was a high point in [Van] Carlson' relationship with Frank. "It's what I imagine it was like to have been in New York when the Beatles arrived," Van recalls. "In Czechoslovakia, as the airplane was pulling in to the gate, you could hear voices growing louder and louder shouting 'Zappa, Zappa!' And we looked out the window, and there were huge crowds of people holding up signs saying 'Welcome Frank.' Even the baggage handlers were standing on top of the airport waving. From the moment we stepped out of that plane, for the next four or five days, it was just nonstop fans."
Only Carlson and Dave Dondorf accompanied Zappa on the trip, and they both worried for Frank's well-being, since he was swept away by the crowds. As a guest of a member of the government, eventually Zappa was afforded some rudimentary security. [...] "Havel was very nervous about meeting Frank, because he was a fan," Van states. "I overheard him saying to Frank, 'Oh, you know, my most favorite record was Bongo Fury with Captain Beefheart.' It was one of those moments of 'Pinch me—what am I doing here!'"
The stop in Moscow had its share of odd encounters as well. Carlson had visited there years before and expected the same strict monitoring of activity that characterized pre-perestroika Russia. "We were staying at a nasty hotel by the Kremlin," he recalls, "and St. Basil's was all lit up in the snow. So without any permission, we just stopped to get a hot of it at like two in the morning. It would have been impossible to do that in Washington, D.C.—to just drive, in a private car, up to the steps of the White House without having a security check. But there we were in Red Square, already rolling before a guard came over. Our driver said, 'Zappa.' The guard said, 'Fine.'"
DC: How did you make your first contact with President Vaclav Havel?
FZ: I called Michael Kocab, who is both a famous Czechoslovak rock-and-roll musician and—now here's progress—a member of Parliament. We had met in Los Angeles last year, and now all of a sudden he's in the middle of a democratic revolution. "Could I possibly have an interview with Havel?" I asked. No problem, he said. Thousands of fans greeted me when I arrived in Prague with my video crew. For twenty years, my albums have been smuggled into the country. After spending a day or so just looking about at life in Czechoslovakia, I went to Hradcany Castle to meet President Havel. The President told me he especially likes my early records with the Mothers of Invention and the Bongo Fury album I made with Captain Beefheart. He asked me to play at a concert honoring him during his state visit to the United States. He was hoping that the Rolling Stones and Joan Baez would also perform. [But the final result would be quite different. Instead, Paul Simon, James Taylor and Dizzy Gillespie played at the New York concert for Havel.]
DC: But you were there to discuss business as well.
FZ: Right. I stated to talk to him on behalf of FNN. "What sort of foreign investment is Czechoslovakia looking for? Why should foreign investors put their money into Czechoslovakia?" These questions, Havel said, should be addressed to his financial ministers. Then at a small lunch with Havel, his wife, Olga, Richard Wagner, Vice Minister and adviser for economy and ecology, and Valtr Komarek, a deputy prime minister and leader of their new economic team, we discussed how the country could increase its income, and the conversation continued later that day at dinner in a villa near the castle. At my request, Milan Lukes, the Czech Minister of Culture, was present. Havel and his ministers know they need some Western investment, but they don't want all the ugliness that often invades a country with Western investment. The easiest way to keep the lid on that is to have someone involved whose primary concern is culture, who can reject or modify a project if it is going to have a negative impact on society. Hence my request for the involvement of the Minister of Culture. After dinner, Lukes went on television and announced that I would be representing Czechoslovakia on trade, tourism and cultural matters. The next morning I received a letter from Komarek, which began, "Dear Sir, may I entrust you [with] leading negotiations with foreign partners for preparation of preliminary projects, possibly drafts of trade agreements?"
That was scuffled by James Baker. He was on his way to Moscow and took a side trip to Prague. I can't prove this, but two people have told me that they saw the meeting and they heard what he said. One of them almost did a television interview. From the day that the guy told me what had happened to the next day when I got the crew, somebody had gotten hold of him and he refused to talk when the camera crew was there. He absolutely verified that pressure was applied to the Czech government for them not to do business with me.
Q: Did Frank still like and respect Václav Havel despite the unfortunate results of Frank's dealings with the Czech government (thanks to James Baker III)? Did Frank still keep in contact with President Havel?
A: Love and Respect and it was mutual. FZ resigned his Czech appointment so as not to cause problems for President Havel. And yes, they did see each other again in the U.S.
RS: What about the project for Lyon, France, and the orchestra?
FZ: That's this June or July. They're gonna do it. They've got the scores.
RS: Are you gonna be there for it?
FZ: Yes, I'm supposed to go there to produce the recording, 'cause they're going to record 'Sinister Footwear'.
RS: Hmm. Great.
EB: Is there gonna be a public performance of it?
FZ: Yep, and the ballet will choreograph it, and then, the tapes will be used for this ballet company to tour with it. They'll dance to the tape.
Caller: Have you given up touring altogether?
FZ: Pretty much. Yeah.
Two years ago, following the departure of Zappa's long-time engineer Bob Stone, Spence was recruited, on the recommendation of Todd Yvega, to man Zappa's Neve console, where he now sits ten hours a day, five days a week.
In October 1990 I went to Los Angeles hoping to connect with Frank, since we hadn't heard from him in 2 years. I was in contact with a guy named Gerald Fialka, who worked at Barking Pumpkin. He said I could stay at his place if I planned to come over. So I did. I called Mike Keneally the day after my arrival and said hello. Mike called Frank and told him I was in town. Frank had said: "Great, take him over so we can listen to some tapes!"
[...] Me, Mike & Frank listened through tapes for a couple of hours including our guest performance from the Stockholm '88 show. Just before it was time to go home Frank asked me were I was staying, and this particular night I wasn't suppose to stay at Gerald's house cause he had a date and I was going to spend the night in a youth hostel. Frank said I shouldn't have to stay in a youth hostel, and picked up the phone and asked somebody upstairs if the guestroom was vacant. It was and I could stay.
[...] Just before going back to Sweden, Frank was asked to put a band together for an orchestral kind of project in Japan, were he wanted to involve me and Mats. But it was turned down due to financial reasons.
PZ: We know that you already have told the story about when you met Frank, but is there anything you can tell us that we haven't heard before?
Morgan: One thing I actually remember at this very moment, is a funny one! When I had stayed at Frank's house in 1990 and was about to leave for Sweden, I wanted to give Frank something. I used to paint T-shirts in those days and had made a couple at Gerald Fialka's house just a couple of days before, that I had in my luggage. So before I left Frank's house I told him 'Here is a couple of T-shirts that I have made myself, and I wanted him to pick one!' Frank looked at the T-shirts for a few seconds and took one, and then he said "Well, what do I know about art?" . . . That was actually what he said . . . (laughs!) I could not believe those worlds came from HIS mouth! . . . Frank put the T-shirt on and walked around in his kitchen looking for coffee or something . . . That was some sight! I actually gave a T-shirt to Moon as well, which had "Farbror Kött" written on it, which means Uncle Meat on Swedish, how krejsy of me huh? [...]
PZ: Was Frank recording any of your music when you were visiting his studio UMRK in LA?
Morgan: No recordings unfortunately. To me, being there was off course unreal, but it wouldn't have been more unreal to record something with him since I now was there. I was a little bit surprised he didn't get something on his mind worth doing. I mean it wouldn't have been unlike him . . . He was working with other stuff for sure, but we didn't record anything . . . I was there for 4-5 days.
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos