This is a random list of people somehow related to FZ and not included in the Freak Out! List Of Contributors. Some of them are included in the Special Thanks list on The Yellow Shark and the MOFO List Of Contributors
Well, who were your major influences? I'd like to go back to Freak Out.
Well, there's a list in the album. 156 names.
All these people have been . . .
. . . legitimate influences.
What about since that time?
There have been about three or four.
I expected you might say that. Would you mind naming them?
Krzystof Penderecki, Gyorgy Ligeti, Phillipe Koutev . . . and I can't think of another one. There must be only three.
Those are people I'm not familiar with.
Krzystof Penderecki is a composer. He's the head of all Polish music and writes in a certain kind of style. Gyorgy Ligeti is a composer best known for his "scary music" in 2001. But they just borrowed that from his straight compositions. Phillipe Koutev is the organizer of a folk music ensemble in Bulgaria; it's the hottest band in that area.
Are they available on European discs?
Yea, sure. And American discs. Nonesuch has got several albums of the folk music of Bulgaria, the Phillipe Koutev ensemble included. Gyorgy Ligeti is available on Columbia, and Penderecki is available on RCA.
While I was working for Frank a recording of the music of George Antheil performed by the Netherlands Wind Ensemble was released—making many people aware for the first time how insanely great his early works are. These include the Ballet Mechanique (for percussion, pianos, airplane propeller, various buzzers etc), a Jazz Symphony and several sonatas for violin and piano. Frank liked Antheil's music too. Once, in a discussion with Frank and someone else, I mentioned that I thought the Jazz Symphony was the best piece on the album. Frank disagreed and chose one of the violin sonatas as his favorite (I believe it was the one with the drum bit at the end). I was surprised by this but also pleased that he chose a small-scale chamber work instead of a large, colorful orchestra piece. (I've spent a lot of my life playing chamber music and regretted that Frank showed so little interest in small acoustic instrumental pieces. At that time he was writing many large, colorful orchestra pieces. I had assumed—wrongly—that he'd be more interested in Antheil's orchestra work.)
Another time: I was working on something at the house and Frank was nearby. I was whistling while I worked—as I often do—not really aware of what the tune was. Frank said "Oh, Antheil's greatest hits." and I realized that I was whistling the Ballet Mechanique theme.
[David Axelrod's] Blakean tone poems [Song Of Innocence (1968) and Songs Of Experience (1969)] found fans in Sly Stone and Frank Zappa.
[...] "Good times. I'm getting all these write-ups, I've been in time magazine. What could go wrong?"
Zappa knew. Self-taught musicians and voracious devourers of knowledge, Zappa and Axelrod would discuss everything from the mountain-climbing prowess of Aleister Crowley to the inestimable importance of press officers. "He said, 'You've got to get PR.' I figured I didn't need it. Things were going well. He said, 'You're making a great mistake.' Quincy [Jones] said the same thing."
Worried that Axelrod was getting carried away as an 'artist'—and would be less inclined to work as a producer—Capitol decided the best thing to do was kill him off by not promoting the solo albums. "Today I realise that [Zappa] was right and I was wrong," says Axelrod. "What can I tell you? But you can never undo things. I never dwell on it."
Frank [Zappa] was a dear friend and we used to compare notes on how we studied. A great deal of it was done in a public library.
I like most of Bartok too.
Also you ought to get Bartók's first, second and third piano concertos, which are all very groovy and good to dance to. I have the version on Westminster (18277) by Edith Farnadi with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. I've never heard any other version of the second and third piano concertos so I don't know whether or not that's the best recording. It might not even be available. I heard another version of the first at Andy Kulberg's, of the Blues Project, who has an extensive collection of modern music.
I tried for a number of years to do an album with Jeff Beck, we discussed it about 5 or 6 different times, but because he's signed with Epic, and that's part of Columbia, they would never let him do anything like that, and so it could just never come off.
[Columbus, March 6, 1988] We got to rehearsal and ran through some stuff. Frank mentioned that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant might be popping up sometime to play "Stairway To Heaven," and he said it would be nice to do "Shapes Of Things" for Jeff Beck when he shows up in London. So Frank looked at me, and I figured out the chords and we did a reasonably good instrumental version of "Shapes Of Things" with Frank playing the vocal melody on the guitar.
You may or may not know this but Frank and Jeff [Beck] were friends and played together for fun on a few occasions. They discussed making a record together. I would have loved to have heard that.
Stockhausen isn't really an influence. That is, I have some of his records but I don't play them much. [John] Cage is a big influence. We've done a thing with voices, with talking, that is very like one of his pieces, except that of course in our piece the guys are talking about working in an airplane factory, or their cars.
Before you mentioned the aspects of chance in your music, how much if any do you have looked at anything as far as John Cage has been dealing with, or also have you had any experience with a group of artists in New York called Fluxus?
I've heard of Fluxus, and I have listened to John Cage's albums, and I have attended a couple of John Cage lectures, and I did some research into that kind of aleatoric music, and studied other aleatoric composers during the late '50s when that was turning into something to be reckoned with, but there's very few of those people that I thought did anything that sounded musical, you know, it was interesting, but I wouldn't compare it to any lasting musical expression, you know it was just the sound of the times, and it was worthy as such, and if I listen to any of those records today, I just hear it as an indicator and not as a piece of music. Like the Bartok 2nd Piano Concerto is a piece of music, and John Cage's Music For 2 Prepared Pianos and something or other is . . . That doesn't register as music with me.
The most recent record that I heard and impressed me was a "Double Concerto for Piano and Harpsichord and Two Chamber Orchestras" by Elliott Carter. I did a radio interview in Boston, about three or four days ago and I found this record. It's a Nonesuch album and it's really good, just go get it. Found this record sitting in their bin and I was going: "What is this album doing here, you know? Most have got shipped to the station by mistake." And so I snatched it out of the bin and the whole concept of what I was doing on the show was: the disc jockey told the audience that he was going down to city hall to hear some speeches about the Red Sox. And that he was turning the station over to this disc jockey and Frank Zappa and I was: "I just play what I like", but actually he was still sitting there running the turn tables and I was running my mouth. So I grabbed this thing and put it on. I said: "We are going to try to make this record a hit in Boston." And we kept playing it, and playing it and playing it, you know, and just saying: "All the calls are coming in and the record stores can't keep it in stock. And then we played the flip side which was a duo for violin and piano. Just gave it this horrible hype [...] But people were people calling the station asking where they could find it? And it's a great record, but it's not the kind of thing that anybody is going to play on the radio.
When I wanna relax a lot I listen to classical music usually. [...] The stuff that puts me into the most dream like state would be something like Anton Webern string quartets. Or maybe I listen to Elliott Carter string quartets.
When I was working on the piano reductions Frank asked about the possibility of doing one for "Mo 'N Herb's Vacation." [...] I felt I knew what Frank would consider a successful piano version of an orchestra piece, and didn't think that "Mo 'N Herb" would work out to his satisfaction. He made a comment like "How about if we slow it way down? It would be so weird, like a ballad from Mars." But that was not seriously considered. But then he said, "Why not do it for three pianos? Morton Feldman has a beautiful piece for three pianos." We never did it, but that comment revealed that Frank was familiar with at least some Feldman, and had liked what he heard.
When I was 14 years old I made the decision that I was going to find and purchase every Frank Zappa record. In 1984, this took some doing since all of his records from the '60s and '70s were out of print. I would take buses all over L.A. and the Valley for these records, every one of which had a huge, powerful effect on me. [...]
By the time I was 15 I owned all of the records and was spending about 70% of my musical life studying and learning his music. [...] I taught myself to read music by comparing the written notes in the Frank Zappa Guitar Book to the recordings of those songs. [...]
By the time I was 16 I knew how to play damn near everything in terms of his compositions. That learning process, as well as the dedication and devotion I had for his music was a hugely important step in my eventually having my own voice as a musician. Also, those potentially difficult years were mostly a lot of laughter in my head, as his sense of humor felt to me like a friend. Furthermore, his self-assured and confident attitude gave me the reassurance to believe in myself completely and not let anyone tell me shit.
By the time he was 16, John Frusciante had mastered all of Frank Zappa's guitar solos—some of the trickiest licks in rock—and had even auditioned for Zappa's band, a sobering experience that drew him up short. "I was sitting there thinking, do you want to be a rock star and write your own songs and draw all the girls," he told Mojo magazine, "or do you want to be in Frank Zappa's band, where you'll be told what to do all the time, not allowed to take drugs, and it's kind of a square band so there's not going to be a lot of girls at the shows?" It wasn't a tough call. When the Chili Peppers came calling the following year, he jumped at the chance.
"Frank is my Elvis," he emphasizes. "His example encouraged me, comforted me, made me feel it was okay to go my own way, to not do things the way the authorities told me to."
Pre-planning and chutzpah actually afforded Matt the chance to meet Frank once in those days of impoverishment. "When I drove down to Los Angeles in 1975 to see the big orchestra," he recalls, "I showed up a day early figuring they'd be rehearsing, and I was right. I walked in, and there was Frank Zappa directing the musicians. I asked if I could sit and listen, and he said fine. That was my first personal encounter.
"I moved to Los Angeles on a hot August night in 1977. My car broke down in the fast lane of the Hollywood Freeway right above Capitol Records at the same time I was listening to a disc jockey on the radio who'd just been fired, who was drunk and ranting about the station on his last show. That was my introduction to Los Angeles. Moving here is why Life in Hell originated."
Between 1979 and 1985, Groening supported himself as a music journalist writing a weekly column called "Sound (???)" for an underground music tabloid, The Los Angeles Reader, about his misadventures trying to get from club to club in a beat-up car. Long before he became Bart Simpson's creator, he intended to be Frank Zappa's biographer. He actually got down 500 pages of notes, supplemented by 1,500 pages of research material. Matt's success with his self-published Life in Hell series led to Bart's cameos on The Tracy Ullman Show in 1987, and then on December 17, 1989, the premiere of The Simpsons, which catapulted Groening into the stratosphere of commercial television. Of necessity, the Zappa project was placed on hold. But not his interest.
"Around 1988," he continues, "I was on KCRW, a local FM public station, playing an hour of Frank Zappa music as a guest on Roger Steffens' program about music of the '60s. In the middle of the show, Frank called in, gracious and grateful and surprised that someone was playing so much of his music on the radio at once. I was delighted. That was basically my real introduction. Then about a year ago, I did an interview for Interview magazine, and the guy who talked to me said that Frank Zappa had told him that he liked The Simpsons. Through him, Frank invited me to call. I did and we've become friends."
We approached Danny Elfman, whose career I'd been following since I saw him perform as the leader of The Mystic Knights Of The Oingo Boingo (best described as an avant-garde Cab Calloway-on-Mars vaudeville ensemble) at the Whisky-a-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip in the late '70s. Elfman had recently composed the soundtrack to Pee-wee's Big Adventure, and I knew he'd be perfect.
I gave Elfman what I called a "flavors" tape, featuring the kind of sound I wanted for The Simpsons theme. The tape included The Jetsons theme, selections from Nino Rota's Juliet Of The Spirits, a Remington electric shaver jingle by Frank Zappa, some easy listening music by Esquivel, and a teach-your-parrot-to-talk record.
Elfman gave it a listen and said, "I know exactly what you're looking for."
Rutger Hauer: "Zapppppppa o man he is/was/4ever will be. Love him/his stuff".
In June 2000 Rutger was at the 200 Motels & Suites event played by the 'Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest' in Carré Amsterdam. I read somewhere that Gail even asked Rutger to perform on that 200 Motels event. Instead of performing he was sitting one row in front of me enjoying the show. The Zappa's and Hauers were neighbors.
FZ: The only people I would add to it would be Penderecki and— that would be about it. I'd add Honegger too.
DR: Why Honegger?
FZ: I like his music, I like the way it sounds. I got about three albums by him, last year. I listened to them over and over again for about 4 months.
DR: What particular works?
FZ: The Liturgical Symphony, uh, Symphony for Strings and Two Trumpets, the Pastorale d'Ete, the Chant of Joy. I like that stuff.
There's nothing wrong with a good sound effect if you stick it in the right place. Spike Jones made a living out of it. Really one of the greats.
Another huge influence was the zany bandleader Spike Jones. Through Jones' weekly TV show, Zappa was given a tutorial in serious music turned into musical mayhem. Jones was the only here to whom Zappa would ever send a fan letter.
"I was a massive Spike Jones fan," [FZ] told Charles Amirkhanian, "and when I was six or seven years old, he had a hit record called 'All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth' and I sent him a fan letter because of that." [Society Pages, 6, "Ode To Gravity".]
"I used to love Spike Jones," said Zappa. "He had a lot of special instruments built to do all that stuff, like arrays of car-horns that you could honk that were in pitch. In the early sixties, when I moved to Los Angeles, they were having an auction of that equipment and I would have dearly loved to have bought it, but I had no money."
I've developed a 'formula' for what these timbres mean (to me, at least), so that when I create an arrangement—if I have access to the right instrumental resources—I can put sounds together that tell more than the story in the lyrics, especially to American listeners, raised on these subliminal cliches, shaping their audio reality from the cradle to the elevator.
We crack up during rehearsal because some of the stuff is so stupid. When building an arrangement, every time I have an opportunity to insert one of those modules I cram it in, and since rehearsal is a daily two-hour occurrence while we're on the road, the arrangements often change overnight, based on the daily news or some morsel of tour-bus folklore.
During the pretour rehearsals, the band members pencil these 'extras' in next to 'the real notes' so, when they finally have the show learned, they know not only the song-as-originally-written but also, superimposed on it, a flexible grid which will support a constantly mutating collage of low-rent Americana.
I owe this part of my musical existence to Spike Jones.
For starting, I used to really enjoy Spike Jones and Leiber & Stoller. America should give them an award for what they did to make rock 'n' roll happen.
FZ: The only people I would add to it would be Penderecki and— that would be about it. I'd add Honegger too.
DR: [...] What about Penderecki?
FZ: I like his instrumental music more than his choral music. The Violin Capriccioso I thought was a good piece.
DR: What's that violinist's name . . .
(FZ and DR in unison) Paul Zukofsky.
DR: The Threnody (for 52 String Instruments for the Victims of Hiroshima), have you heard that?
FZ: Yeah, I have two different versions of that.
DR: Yeah, the Victrola and the Phillips
FZ: I like the Victrola one better.
FZ: The sound is better.
BD: Speaking of recordings, there seem to be rather few discs with your music.
DR: You know, I have very few records. I have been very dilatory about promoting myself, and the reason is not for any modesty at all, it's just that for the most part I have always done it very ineptly. You know, I get some idea and I think "This is just great," and "I think I oughtta do this," and then I don't do it well. It's not that I lack belief in what I do, it's just that I hate the whole thing. In fact, that RCA record you and I were talking about [David Raksin Conducts His Great Film Scores (RCA Red Seal ARL1-1490, 1976)], which is the one with Laura, [directed by Otto Preminger and released in 1944], The Bad and the Beautiful and Forever Amber [directed by Otto Preminger and released in 1947], if it hadn't been for Frank Zappa (1940-1993), that record would never have been made.
BD: Well, thank goodness for Frank Zappa, then. How did he get a hand in it?
DR: We had become friends. I brought him down to USC to talk to one of my classes—not one of my music classes, but a class I teach in the School of Public Administration. He was down there and we became friends. I find him a very remarkable and interesting, a wonderful man. Anyhow, I had been asked by a young record producer to do some stuff. He said, "You can have any orchestra you want, so get busy and write some stuff. I've been listening to your music and I think it's wonderful." Well, you know, there it was. So I sat down and started to write, and I was about two-thirds of the way through, when all of a sudden he was killed in a dreadful accident. It was really sad. So there I was. I kept writing. I said, "Well, I'll do this, that's what I'm here for." And then I said to myself, "I should really make some kind of an effort to do something that would not be out of my way of doing things. I'll tell a few friends." So the first guy I ran into was Benny Carter (1907-2003), the saxophonist and composer. He was a wonderful, wonderful, dear man. I told him about it and I said, "Benny, if you ever run across anybody who's interested in doing an album of this kind, just let me know." Well, the second guy was Frank who wanted me to come over. I can't remember what it was we were talkin' about, but he said, "What are you doin'?" So I told him about this thing, and I said, "You know, this guy has been killed." He said, "Yes, I heard. That's too bad. What're you gonna do about the album?" I said, "Well this is what I'm doing—I'm talking to you!" He said, "Well that isn't good enough," so he said, "I'll take care of it." And he called up a guy who was then president of RCA and told him about it, and this guy came out here and saw me. I didn't know who he was. I just went to see him, and the first thing he said to me was, "If you think you're gonna have to do any convincing, forget it. I was around when Percy Faith (1908-1976) made a recording of The Bad and the Beautiful, and I've never recovered. You've got it, carte blanche." Later I wondered if this guy could do it so I looked at his card and it said, "Kenneth D. Glancy, President, RCA Records." [Both laugh] So then I finished the thing and of course I'm mighty grateful to Frank for it. There were still many battles ahead which had to be taken care of.
Friday night Maragarita-driven get-togethers were a regular occurrence and I hung out at a bunch of them, but they were mainly social gatherings. The one documented on the Late Show program was different and special. Although one Friday, Gene Simmons came over and he and Frank talked about a bunch of stuff, including (CC alert) the group Angel who were on the same label as Kiss in the 70's. (Gene was talking about compiling and releasing an Angel box set—did that ever happen?)
NICOLAS SLONIMSKY SIGNED POSTER AND HANDWRITTEN MUSIC
A pair of Frank Zappa items relating to conductor, composer and pianist Nicolas Slonimsky. The first is a signed poster from a concert in New Haven, Connecticut, on May 24, 1973, where Slonimsky was a guest conductor. The poster is housed in a frame, and a note on the paper backing explains that this was given to Zappa during a recording session in 1993. The second is a single-page handwritten piece of music signed by Slonimsky and dated January 1988. Written on Slonimsky stationery, the page is marked "Molto zappo" and references the International Star Registry at the bottom of the page.
Larger, 23 1/4 by 16 inches, framed
Question: Who is your favorite classical composer?
Zappa: Varese, Stravinsky, Penderecki, and I like some of Takemitsu's compositions, and I have some scores by Mayuzumi.
Oh Takemitsu! I love "November Steps". If you see him in the future, you must send him this message: when I was in a hospital, I was just crazy about "November Steps", listening to it everyday. It's really excellent. Another good one is "Dorian Horizon".
I like other things in contemporary music, too, particularly Takemitsu. He's one of my favorites.
When I went to Billy [Bob Thornton]'s to meet him, I was immediately embraced by the star and shown his posters of the Mothers of Invention taken while I was in the band, as well as his collection of Turtles and Flo and Eddie records. Billy told me that when he was first making his way to California from Arkansas, he listened to our music exclusively.
I guess I must have heard them as early as '66, definitely by '67 I was listening to the Mothers (of Invention). I had their first two or three albums. My brother and I used to go in the record store [...]. I would go in there and I would look at records—I wouldn't even know anything about it! In my town, people didn't walk around the street talking about the Mothers of Invention or anything. I'd see a record and say "Wow, that looks strange. I'll take that one."
So my brother and I got real hooked on the Mothers of Invention as well as the Bonzo Dog Band out of England as they were kind of their version of the Mothers. The first record of Beefheart's I heard was Trout Mask Replica which I guess wouldn't have been 'til about '69. Got hooked on Beefheart too. So I was kind of musically a person with multiple personality disorder. I would listen to Hank Williams and Jim Reeves on the same day I would listen to Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart.
It quickly became clear that Zappa's ideas for changing society and those of the militants were two different things. "Society is trying to do away with dreamers," he said. "They want to straighten them out. A dreamer is dangerous if he has an angry dream up his sleeve because it becomes contagious. I am in favour of being comfortable, everyone wants to be comfortable, but everyone has a different idea of what that is. I work towards it in my way and other people do in their ways. There are a lot of Americans who like teenage fairs and Lawrence Welk, now why be a dirty guy and stop them?"
You used the word "obnoxious." A lot of people think that sometimes you actually fit that category.
Well, a lot of people could say the same thing about Lawrence Welk or they could say the same thing about any other music that they didn't like. But we do enjoy it and the people that have various negative opinions about it can use any adjective they want to describe it.
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos