The following is the transcript of a telephone conversation that took place during the broadcast of the program Nightcall, which aired Sunday nights on WRIF-FM in Detroit. The main phone participants are Peter Werbe, the host of Nightcall, and Frank Zappa, who at the time was testifying at Senate hearings regarding pending legislation that would require the printing of song lyrics on the covers of record albums. This conversation took place October 28, 1985. Please note that first one or two minutes were lost.
note: i was lucky enough to have been the last caller to have gotten through to frank on this program.
Peter Werbe: . . . a few of the names behind those initials that Frank Zappa has been mentioning here. The PMRC, of course, the Parents Music Resource Center, that's the group that wants essentially a labeling of lyrics on albums that they feel violate their standards. Printing all lyrics on back covers, keeping albums with explicit covers under the counters, and rating live concerts and then reassessing the record contracts of those artists . . .
FZ: That's not correct.
Peter Werbe: No?
FZ: At the time that they got to the Senate, they had dropped all of those demands. Do you realize that? By the time of the Senate hearing, they were down to one demand, which was the rating on the front of the album. They had found out that their other demands were impractical and were not asking for them.
Peter Werbe: And also, their rating system: they've dropped the more complicated one with all the different letters.
FZ: That's right. They only want either an "R" or some other kind of letter-warning on the front.
Peter Werbe: All right. The RIAA is the Record Industry Association of America, and this is all getting complex, because there is this bizarre sort of relationship between all of these groups. Now the RIAA has pretty much gone along with the idea of having at least a simple warning on the album covers.
FZ: Let me try to explain to you the way I see it, and if somebody wants to argue with me or disagree, they're welcome to do it. The course of this event, the way I see it, is the PTA last year made some demands of the record industry to put the lyrics on the back of the albums. But they were not very well-informed about what the legality of demanding that is, because the record companies do not own the rights to the lyrics; they can't just automatically stick them on. Those rights are owned by publishers, and I recently found out that in some cases the publishers have subcontracted them to songwriter magazines, like "Hit Parader" and stuff like that. So, even the publishers don't have 100% control over their own lyrics, and when the PTA demanded that from the record company, it couldn't be done. I guess the RIAA was not too friendly with the PTA when the demand was made.
And so, here come the wives of these senators, and they form this organization, and they get something going with the PTA, and because they are politically connected, suddenly the RIAA starts paying attention to them. But the reason they paid attention to them is not because they feel any qualms of guilt or anything like that. It's very pure and simple: they have legislation that they are trying to get through the Congress. And one of the pieces that is up on the 30th [of October] is this Mathias bill.
Now it may interest you to know that at the time of the hearings, Senator Gore did not have his name on this bill. But it's on there now.
Peter Werbe: Yeah, right, and his wife of course [is] instrumental in the PMRC . . .
FZ: That's right. But what's happening is, you got a case of "Good Cop, Bad Cop". You've got [Senator] Hollings [D-SC] asking for legislation before December, keeping the pressure on—his wife is a member of it—and you got [Senator] Gore [D-Tenn] being the pal of the record industry and co-endorsing their bill. It's like, you know, let's play this political football here. But what this bill is—in case you haven't seen the ads about it in Rolling Stone and other places—this is the piece of legislation that will increase the cost of all blank tape and all recording equipment. Blank tape will go up probably about a buck a cassette, and cassette recorders will go up ten percent, and combination of a turntable and a cassette recorder, or a double cassette recorder, will go up twenty-five percent. And you won't get a chance to vote on it. This is going to be a private tax that the government collects on behalf of the record industry, and, bingo, it's there, and you're stuck with higher prices.
Peter Werbe: All right, Frank Zappa, let me just back up just a little bit—there seems to be now at least a third aspect to what I thought was only two. The first being censorship which I'm, being in the music business myself, of course, unalterably opposed to, but also what I started off, in the first question, really, was whether you thought, just independent of the PMRC—is there a problem with these lyrics? For instance, you know, you have a song [called] "Dinah-Moe Humm", that's sort of a lusty and humorous song [whose] traditions go back to troubadour days. But it's a lot different then one which talks about sex at gun point or something like that. Do we have a problem?
FZ: I don't think there's a problem. First of all, I don't think music turns people into social liabilities. Because you hear a lyric—there's no medical proof that a person hearing a lyric is going to act out the lyric. There's also no medical proof that if you hear any collection of vowels and consonants, that the hearing of that collection is going to send you to Hell.
Peter Werbe: (chuckling) I agree.
FZ: There's no science behind this, no matter how many CIA psychologists these people decide to rent to back up their point of view. If you use common sense, what is being proposed here is stupid.
However, all parents have the right to raise their children the way they want. If your standards in your household are such that you don't want your children exposed to that kind of language, those kinds of ideas, and that's the way you want to raise your kids, you don't need legislation to do it. You don't even need a rating on a record. You can just say, "Don't buy any of it."
Rock and roll was never conceived or designed for conservative tastes. There always the possibility that, no matter how many ratings you put on a record, that some word or some idea in that record will not offend somebody out there [sic]. I mean, how stringent can you make the ratings so that no one will ever complain ever again about what's on a rock and roll record? Because the slang changes every week.
Peter Werbe: Sure. And as people that aren't sympathetic to rock and roll—who was it? Susan Baker, the wife of the Secretary of the Treasury [James Baker] and one of the founders of the PMRC, describes herself as a devout Christian and a fan of country and western music. Well, you wouldn't think she would be real sympathetic to sort of the "rock values" and the "rock scene".
FZ: Well, you know, I not even very sympathetic to "rock values" or the "rock scene" myself. I'm not a participant in it; I'm not a consumer of it. However, what I'm saying is, the matter of personal choice here should be kept in the realm of personal choice and not handed over to the government, because when it comes to social programs and matters pertaining to things of this nature, the government has totally failed every time before.
You don't want the government involved in this thing, and you don't want a consumer group involved in it, either. Look at all the rest of the committee-type decisions that have been made in the United States. How many of them turn out to be really terrific?
Peter Werbe: Yeah, you're right.
FZ: You always have to average things out to the lowest common denominator. So who wins? The chairman of the committee.
If you want to keep integrity in your home—you're a parent, okay? And you're worried about heavy metal lyrics, you've got a number of alternatives you can apply that do not require the help of somebody's wife in Washington, don't require the help of the husband in Washington, or a local group that is going to fix your morals for you. If there's a moral problem in the United States, it's got a lot to do with people having a conscience, and it's got a lot to do with people having to know that they shouldn't lie and they shouldn't cheat each other—you know, it starts with that kind of stuff. It's not whether or not you want to hear a song about oral sex at gun point. [I mean], so what?
Peter Werbe: (laughing) All right, we're talking with Frank Zappa about rock lyrics, and we're going to be talking a little later—she's going to join Frank and I [sic]—Terry Marshall, who's the public relations director of the four-and-a-half million member Parent-Teacher Association, probably in about a half-hour or so.
FZ: I think it's 6.5 million members.
Peter Werbe: It must have grown since . . .
FZ: However, remember, those 6.5 million members don't vote. They have an electoral college, and there's only two thousand people in the electoral college.
Peter Werbe: All right, our guest Frank Zappa; this is Nightcall; I'm Peter Werbe.
You know there's always, of course, been these periodic crusades against rock and roll, and, part of it, I'm sure, is that it originally began as black music, and has always remained black music and youth-identified. Do you think rock is being singled out unfairly? I think of country and western lyrics, for instance—they certainly have their content that might raise a few eyebrows once in a while.
FZ: Let me give you some facts here, okay? When the PMRC first came out with all of this stuff, they didn't want to have anything to do with rating country and western. And then I raised this question on the air, I said, you know, like, you got this husband- and-wife team from Tennessee and they don't want to rate country and western. What is it—an affirmative action program to help the suffering multitudes in Nashville? The fact is, a lot of people in Nashville put money into Gore's campaign.
But now, I think that they are talking about rating country and western because, you know, [not doing so] looks a little bit weird.
Peter Werbe: Well, of course, what everyone asks is, how can they rate twenty-five thousand songs a year?
FZ: Well, I don't think they can. If you look at twenty-five thousand four-minute songs versus three hundred twenty-five films, because they always talk about a comparison between motion picture ratings and the record ratings—just the numbers alone are fairly substantial to deal with.
But the legislation that Hollings is proposing is not about a rating. He wants to legislate putting the lyrics on the back of the album, which is something that I suggested during the Senate hearings, and I also suggested that if you put them there, you have to pay the people what their appropriate rate is for printing those things.
What I did after the hearing was, I made some phone calls to try and find out what it would actually cost to do that. I called a couple of attorneys, and I also called a guy named Leonard Feist, who's the highest-ranking guy I could find at the National Music Publishers Association, since their president had just recently died. Leonard—I guess he's about sixty years old—he's of counsel to them, and he's one of their advisors. I asked him whether there was in fact a statutory rate for printing lyrics on the back, and he said there was not. Then I said, what would it take to figure out what that rate would be worth, and he said he would call publishers and see how they felt about it.
He called me back about four or five days ago and gave me the information about the subpublishing deals that were made by these guys. People who actually own the lyrics have earned extra money from the use of those lyrics by giving long-term contracts to songwriter magazines and stuff like this.
So when I read the thing in the trades about Hollings' bill, I called his office and I talked with a woman named Cheryl Wallace. She is the girl who is actually writing the bill in his office. I told her this information, which she did not know. I gave her Feist's phone number and I told her to call the guy up. Because if you want to mandate the printing of lyrics on the back of a record, you going to have a hell of a time trying to run down who owns the rights to all these things and paying them what they need to be paid in order to have the contract not be violated.
I think, in theory, Hollings does not want to do anything that is unconstitutional, and he's said that. At the Senate hearing, he also stated that he thought that printing the lyrics would be preferable to putting a rating on the front. Because a rating on the front means that a third party has decided beforehand—you know, it's like somebody who's chewing your food for you. They have to decide in advance what that record means, what the contents are, and whether or not it's going to be good, bad or indifferent for you.
Peter Werbe: Well, Frank, who normally decides when an album is released whether the lyrics go on the back or on the sleeve?
FZ: One of the things that has confused a lot of the people involved in this is because sometimes they have seen lyrics on a record. Lyrics will appear on a record if the guy who's making a record owns his own publishing and has written the song; he can do whatever he wants with it. But that is not always the case.
For example, when I recorded "Whipping Post" on an album we had out last year called Them Or Us—I didn't write the song; it was one of the Allman Brothers tunes—and I have to go to their publishing company and get permission not only to record the song, but also to print the lyrics on the back.
Peter Werbe: And pay them.
FZ: And pay them.
Peter Werbe: Aah—and what range is the fee? I mean, what would it be like if you did all Beatles songs?
FZ: Well, the fee is uniform, you know, it's a couple of cents or whatever it is—I don't even know what the statutory rate is. But that's an established rate.
Peter Werbe: Per album?
FZ: Yeah—well, per song.
See, the royalties that come off a record come in these flavors: there's the artist royalty, there's the publisher royalty, and there's the songwriter royalty. The publisher and songwriter royalties are paid in pennies—not percent, they're paid in pennies. And the artist royalties are paid in percent. And that percent does not start going to you as a royalty until after the point of the album recouping what it cost to record it.
In other words, the record company acts like a bank. The record company lays out the money to make the album, and after the album has sold enough units to pay the record company for back what the recording has cost, then you will get artist royalties. However, the royalties for the song and for the publishing are paid in pennies from the first record sold. And that's one reason why people who don't sell large numbers of records like myself can earn a living, because the publishing royalties come in from the first record sold—you could sell low numbers of albums and still be making some money on the record. There's a lot of people in the government [who] don't even understand how a record contract works, and that's obvious from the comments made, from some of the suggestions made by the various groups who wanted to bring the industry "to its knees". They didn't really understand what the contracts say or what they do.
Peter Werbe: That's interesting you said that, that you don't sell many albums—that just sort of just flashed by me. So many of us have grown up with your music that you're an institution. I never thought of it in actual records sold. Have any of your records been platinum, for instance?
FZ: No, I don't have any platinum albums. I have one album that sold 1.3 million units worldwide.
Peter Werbe: Yeah . . .
FZ: I sell a lot of albums outside the United States. In order to have a platinum album, you've got to sell a million units in the United States.
Peter Werbe: Okay. Our guest tonight: Frank Zappa. We're talking about the "porn wars", and, in fact, maybe that's even a media- induced term, although you're about to release a record, or already have, called "Porn Wars", aren't you?
FZ: That's not the name of the album. That's the name of one song on the album. The name of the album is Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention.
Peter Werbe: (laughing) Okay!
FZ: [It gets released] on November 15th, and on side two there's a twelve-minute cut called "Porn Wars", and what it does is, it uses the actual voices of the senators and Reverend Jeff Ling and Tipper Gore from the Senate hearing saying the things that made them famous during the hearing, and that makes the music. It had Senator Hollings, who made the statement early on in the hearing that since he traveled the country for three years and people couldn't understand him, "maybe I could make a good rock star, I don't know". I take that line and cause him to sing it in the middle of the piece. There's a lot of interesting things done on the computer to these voices.
Peter Werbe: You know, your albums have been carrying their own unique warning label. Do you have it handy, or can you somehow summarize it?
FZ: I can paraphrase it for you. The last two albums that I've had out that had lyrics on them—because I've had some in the last year that were just instrumental—but the two with lyrics had this warning on them. It says "Warning/Guarantee" in large letters. It says, "This album contains material that a truly free society would neither fear nor suppress. In some socially retarded areas, right- wing political organizations and religious fanatics try and violate your First Amendment rights by suppressing rock and roll music". Then the thing goes on to state that it is guaranteed that hearing the contents of this record will not cause you to go to Hell.
Peter Werbe: (laughing) Well . . .
FZ: You know, in fancier words than that, but that's the warning and the guarantee. You won't go to Hell from hearing it, and warning: a truly free society wouldn't suppress it.
Peter Werbe: Also, you're not just a one-man crusade. There's an organization set up, is there not? "Musical Majority", to oppose this.
FZ: Yeah, I have no connection with them. That's Danny Goldberg, another record company owner, and he's got a . . . I don't know whether it's the artists themselves or their managers who are signatory to his proclamation or whatever it is.
What I'm saying is, just for me—I don't represent the music industry, I don't represent anybody's company except my own. I happen to be an artist, a music publisher, a composer and a record company owner, so this thing affects me in a lot of different ways that I earn my living. And I also happen to be a guy with four kids and an interest in the First Amendment, so I got a right to open my mouth, and I did.
Peter Werbe: I thought that, somewhere or other I was reading, you made a remark that they wanted to hit the First Amendment with a paper shredder.
FZ: Well, I said it sounded like something like that was in the back of somebody's mind. In fact, the rear cover of the album has kind of a political cartoon on it. It shows the Capitol in the background, and clamped to a table in the foreground is an old- time meat grinder, and then you see the hand of a Washington wife shoving the First Amendment into the meat grinder and cranking the handle, and what is coming out the hole is tiny little party hats and festoons and confetti.
Peter Werbe: (chuckling) Yeah, that's great.
FZ: That's the back cover.
Peter Werbe: You know, you'll probably hate this when I tell you, Frank, but every once in a while I'll mention Frank Zappa to somebody and they'll say, "Oh yeah, I just love 'Going To Montana' " or something like that. You've been doing a lot more since then. Can you maybe just give us an idea of what kind of music that you've been doing lately, for those of the audience that haven't heard it.
FZ: For people that have been in a coma for the last ten years?
Peter Werbe: (Laughs long) Right!
FZ: While you guys were all growing blue hair and wearing clothes with diagonal zippers, what have I been doing?
Peter Werbe: Yeah, sure.
FZ: Well, I've been doing a lot of stuff. I did an album with the London Symphony Orchestra; Pierre Boulez recorded an album conducting some of my chamber music; I've had a three-record box called Thing-Fish, which is a cast recording of a Broadway show which I was trying to do; I had a double album earlier this year called Them Or Us; and I also did an album of music that was written between 1765 and 1780 by a guy named Francesco Zappa who was a composer who lived in Milan at that time and just happened to have a name similar to mine. And I found out about this music from the Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, obtained it, put it into a computer and had the computer play it. So there's an album called Francesco if you'd be interested in hearing that kind of stuff.
Peter Werbe: Sure. Actually, that sounds like that's going back to some of your roots. You had formal musical training at Juilliard in New York . . .
FZ: No, no, not true. I don't know where you ever got that, but my musical education was absolutely free of charge, because I got it from the public library. I went there and read the books myself, and everything else I learned, I learned because a man named Godard Liebersen, who was running Columbia records at that time, had the foresight, the nerve and the gall to release albums of all different kinds of classical and contemporary music back in the days when people were taking chances. And so, if I didn't read it in the library, I got to hear it on a record, and that was my musical education. Everything else I learned by playing in a bar.
Peter Werbe: I'm just trying to thumb through all this stuff to see who smeared you—it might have been Rolling Stone, I don't know . . .
Anyway, our guest tonight . . .
FZ: If I've been smeared, I'm sure it was by Rolling Stone. You know how they are.
Peter Werbe: (chuckling) Okay. Frank Zappa, our guest. A little later, we're going to be talking to a representative of the Parent-Teacher Association, who I see by their release have not 4.5 million nor 6.5 million, but 5.6 million [members]. Who knows?
I'm Peter Werbe and we got some lines that are pretty clogged up right now with people waiting to talk to Frank Zappa. Let's put a couple of you on to Frank and see where you're going. Hi, this is WRIF, and you're on Nightcall.
Tom: Hi, Peter, it's Tom Sawyer calling.
Peter Werbe: Hi, Tom, go right ahead. You're on the air with Frank.
Tom: Okay. Hi, Frank.
FZ: Hi there.
Tom: Okay, I have a comment to make first, and then I have something I want to read to you.
Tom: First of all, I think that you're completely right. I do not think that there is really that much of an issue here, because . . . you know, where do these people think that they can really put a handle on somebody else's creativity, and say that because you're doing something creative in your own way, we're going to label you as bad?
FZ: Well, you know, they don't think it's creative, and the other thing is, they've often said that they don't feel they're doing any censorship and they're not stifling anyone. And if you look at everything on a superficial level, you could almost agree with them until you see what the results of their pronouncements and the results of their actions have been.
I don't know whether you know that there are three record labels who originally were going to put stickers on their albums that backed out of the thing about two weeks ago. MCA, A&M and Geffen backed out, and the reason they backed out was because they were told by Sears and JCPenney's that if they sent them any albums with any stickers on them, they wouldn't be racked at all. If you can't rack the album, no matter if it's got a sticker on it, that's total censorship. It doesn't even get to the marketplace.
Tom: That's right. Why did Geffen back out without Warner Brothers backing out?
FZ: Well, Warner Brothers is another story. See, Geffen may be distributed through Warner Brothers, and, you know, he's independent, but Warner Brothers and CBS, being the two giants of the industry, have the most to gain from HR2911, or the "Mathias Bill".
Peter Werbe: The blank tape bill. The royalties for the blank tapes.
FZ: Right. [It means] a huge, huge amount of money for them. And, so, you know that Warner Brothers have their own lobbying guy in Washington, D.C., just for Warner Brothers. Besides the guy from the RIAA who supposed to represent the entire record industry, Warner's has their own. You're talking very big business here. They're a very well connected company, and they don't want to do anything that's going to interfere with this bill. I don't think you're going to see them back out.
Peter Werbe: Tom Sawyer, you said you had something to read? A quick one, I hope.
Tom: Okay. There's a song that I want to read, and it's a song that has two parts in it—two totally opposite parts. I want to read the first part, get your views on it, and then I want to read the second part.
Peter Werbe: This is short, Tom.
Tom: It'll be . . . a minute or so. That's . . . not . . . that long.
Peter Werbe: It's from Rush.
Peter Werbe: All right, go ahead.
"The night is black without a moon,
The air is thick and still;
The vigilantes gather round;
The lonely torchlit hill;
Features distorted in the flickering light,
The faces are twisted and grotesque;
Silent and stern in the sweltering light,
The mob moves like demons possessed;
Quiet and conscience, calm in their right;
Confident their ways are best;
The righteous rise with burning eyes;
Of hatred and ill will;
Madmen fed on fear and lies;
To beat and burn and kill."
That's the first part of the song. What are your feelings on that? How would you rate that part?
FZ: Well, I'm not a guy who wants to rate anything.
Tom: I know.
Peter Werbe: We'll give it a "G". What's the point, Tom?
Tom: The point of it is is that there is some, even in very small ways, that part of the song shows some maybe occult views, don't you think?
Peter Werbe: No. I thought it was about a vigilante. I thought it was anti- . . .
FZ: [Do you say that because] of the word demon?
Tom: Demons . . . and of "madmen fed on fear and lies to beat and burn and kill".
FZ: Well, what are we talking here, the last three verses of "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic" or what?
Peter Werbe: Okay, I think what we're talking about, and maybe before you go on with the second part, Tom, which I think we're going to let go, is that is the whole problem. I'm hearing a song about some anti-Ku Klux Klan nightrider vigilante thing and you're talking about demons. That's the greatest argument for not having any censorship because ultimately it comes down to, who do you trust to be the censor? You know, I'll hear one thing, and the next guy will hear the other. Okay, let's go on and take another call for Frank Zappa. Hi, this is WRIF and you're on the air.
Peter Werbe: Hi, who's this?
George: This is George from Allen Park.
Peter Werbe: Go ahead, George, you're on the air with Frank.
George: Hi, Frank!
George: I was wondering, who would decide who would rate the records if it [were] put into effect?
FZ: What they're asking for is a one-time, one-shot panel of consumers, record industry people—you know, the average do- gooder panel—who will set standards by which these things will be judged. But I object to it because I don't want anybody to judge for me or for anybody else in advance. I don't want that right taken away from you to make up your own mind. They call it a consumer tool, but who are they really helping? What kind of a bimbo do you have to be to need that tool? I mean, to me that's really offensive to the American public, that they are so ignorant that they couldn't decide for themselves and need that kind of help. That's drastic.
If you're worried about rock and roll lyrics, the easy thing is, don't buy the rock and roll records.
Peter Werbe: Well, of course, what they say they're worried about, the PMRC, is the impressionable fourteen year-olds getting sexually explicit lyrics about sex or masturbation or drugs or alcohol.
FZ: [Then] don't buy it. You can never tell when it's going to pop up. I mean, look, Sheena Easton wasn't exactly noted for sexually explicit lyrics, so here she comes with a song called "Sugar Walls" and these people go crazy. You never know when your favorite is gonna go hog-wild.
What you have to do is avoid it like the plague. I always tell them, get classical music, get instrumental music, get jazz, listen to something else. Listen to cowboy music, whatever you want. Stay away from [rock and roll]. If you're afraid that it's going to upset your children, if you want your children to be that sheltered from what's really happening in the world . . . because remember, the songs don't make the reality, the songs reflect the times.
George: The people listening should decide, I believe.
FZ: I think so.
Peter Werbe: Well, there's censorship all the time . . .
FZ: [If they're the ones who are] spending the money, it's up to them.
Peter Werbe: Within airplay, of course, we're looking at a different facet of it. There's all sorts of censorship that goes on. Every station I've ever worked at, of course, there are certain records that were altered by tape, because they just did not want, like that one famous four-letter word that everyone right now is visualizing but I can't say or I lose my job, and we don't want to play here at WRIF in the middle of the day.
George: Well, who decides . . . who has the last word on it? Do you decide what goes on the air?
Peter Werbe: Me? Personally? Well, during the day, within a limited framework, and after midnight, pretty much complete control of it.
FZ: That's not true on most stations.
Peter Werbe: No, it's not. WRIF is very unusual. That's why I get to play a lot of your music, Frank.
FZ: Well, in Detroit, I've always found that you've had pretty active radio there. You've got some variety, and there are things that you can hear on the air in Detroit that you won't hear in other parts of the country.
Peter Werbe: Yeah, that's true. All right, George, thank you very much. I appreciate your call. Good morning, this is WRIF, and you're on the air with Frank Zappa.
Bill: Hi, I'm Bill from Allen Park.
Peter Werbe: Hi, Bill.
Bill: I just wanted to ask Frank, what is the PMRC's goal? What are they trying to accomplish?
Peter Werbe: It was a little low, I'll repeat your question. He asked—that's sort of a broad question—what is the Parents Music Research [sic] Center's goal?
FZ: I have no idea. To me, it seems a little bit cloudy at this point. For one thing, Tipper maintains that their standpoint is not fundamentalist. However, Mrs. Baker definitely is a fundamentalist, and there's no way that her philosophy could have been kept from seeping into what's going on here. They also say that they don't favor legislation, but one of the reasons why they can't favor legislation is because they have a tax-exempt number. That tax- exempt number goes away the day that they raise a nickel for or recommend legislation, so the ladies can't say [the word] legislation. But that's not what their husbands say. Understand? So it's hard for me to say—in fact, it's hard for them to say—what it is they're really after.
Peter Werbe: Well, you've said a couple of times, or at least I've seen in print—you can tell me whether it's really correct or not—that you've said that the PMRC has a hidden agenda.
FZ: Well, it looks like that because they talk in circles. Let me give you an example. I debated Tipper Gore on a radio talk show in Atlanta a couple of days ago, and she was saying the same thing she always says: "Our position is clear, we do not favor legislation, blah blah blah." I said, "Are you aware of the fact that Senator Hollings is seeking legislation before December?", and apparently she hadn't read the article. And I said, "Yeah, look, that's what he's trying to do. If you really are against legislation, will you help me fight it?" And she said, "Well, our position is clear, we have always not recommended legislation . . . ", and the talk show guy says, "But will you help him fight it?" And there was, "Our position is clear, we have . . . "—you know, it's like a broken record. If they really are against legislation, she should be appalled by it. [She should] say, "Why, that's the worst . . . well, I would never . . . of course I'll help you fight it. We'll go out there and get in the trenches together, Frank." But there's none of that.
Peter Werbe: Well, in about ten minutes, we're going to be talking to Terry Marshall of the PTA, which is in alliance with PMRC, and we'll put that question to her. Thank you, Bill. (To next caller.) Good morning, this is WRIF, and you're on the air.
Caller: How're you doing, Peter?
Peter Werbe: Hi. You're on the air with Frank. Go ahead.
Caller: How're you doing, Frank?
FZ: I'm doing fine.
Caller: I think if they were to ban or label albums, I think one of your albums . . . Drowning Witch album? [The track] "Teenage Prostitute"? Do you think that would be one?
FZ: Well, you know, it's funny. Throughout all of this, they have never attacked any of my lyrics. As a matter of fact, during the Senate [hearings], I volunteered to recite some to Senator Exon [D-Neb], and he said, "no, please, don't". They haven't said anything about my lyrics. Some of the songs that are driving them wild sound like nothing compared to the Thing-Fish album, for example. But they haven't said anything at all about my stuff.
Peter Werbe: You know, one thing that's interesting is that Blackie Lawless from Wasp, he said, "Yeah, hey, rate [the albums]. Our sales will triple." Because people really know, you know, "Pick that up."
FZ: That may be true on a certain level, but then on the other hand, how can [consumers] pick it up? They won't be able to pick it up at JCPenney or Sears, because they're not going to allow the stickered album into the store. And there's another chain called Camelot that functions in shopping malls in the United States that have been told by the shopping mall association owners, you know, "you stock this stuff, you're going to lose your lease." They're not going to stock it.
Peter Werbe: Yeah, well, I say that almost for its comic value because I think you're right. That's what's going to happen. It will be a de facto censorship.
FZ: But even though, the other problem about printing the lyrics on the back: if you have the lyrics available on the back, and Stan Gortikoff from the RIAA stated this before, that if the lyrics are visible, that means that some D.A. in some little town is going to make a name for himself by treating record stores the same way they do adult book stores, by claiming that there's filth on the shelf and he's going to go in there and shut the place down. That's why these people don't want to have [the lyrics visible]. The retailers would like to have this issue go away in a hurry because it means nothing but trouble for them.
Peter Werbe: Sure. All right, caller, thank you very much. Well, Frank, let me ask you a question. For instance, on your album, The Man From Utopia, you have the lyrics printed, but on Apostrophe', you don't. What makes you decide what to do one time and not the other?
FZ: Sometimes it depends on the artwork on the album. I haven't been completely consistent in printing all the lyrics all the time. Sometimes there's not enough space to do it; sometimes the lyrics have been printed on the inner sleeve; sometimes you have a double gatefold album and the lyrics get printed on the inside of the gatefold; and if it's a single sleeve album, sometimes you just leave them off. But I started recently having them on most of the time because we do sell a lot of records outside the U.S. and it helps for people who can't speak English to see it on paper.
Peter Werbe: Yeah, I'm just going (through your albums)—actually, the ones I'm looking at, the vast majority of them do. You realize, don't you, that most listeners do appreciate having them on there.
FZ: I know that.
Peter Werbe: Okay, good.
FZ: You also have to know that, if I have a contract with a certain record company—and I've had a number of different ones—they have different rates that they charge me for putting an extra piece of paper in there. Like, if I wanted to stick a lyric sheet or something like that inside the album. So it's always a decision as to whether or not the album art itself will support the lyrics, or if I have to stick another piece of paper in there, because they charge me more money than that actual piece of paper is actually worth. They take it out of my profit in order to have that piece of paper in there.
Peter Werbe: All, it's all sweet, isn't it?
FZ: But it's the same thing that would apply to any artist. In other words, if [the government is] going to require lyrics to be on the album, they have to realize that there's a thing in [the] artist's contract called a packaging deduction, and every extra piece of paper that goes in there, you've got to pay for out of your pocket.
Peter Werbe: Okay, let's take some more calls and then we'll get on to Terry Marshall from the PTA in just a few minutes. Hi, this is WRIF and you're on the air with Frank Zappa.
Charles: Hi, how are you doing? This is Charles Oliver, [and] I'm with a citizen's group in Ann Arbor trying to figure out what to do to fight this sort of thing.
Peter Werbe: Okay.
Charles: And we notice that there is a precedent for what they're proposing. The comics book industry adopted a code in the Fifties because of a similar sort of outcry, and this has all but strangled the industry. We've got nothing but the long-underwear heroes and things like that, and when Marvel tried to do something that was blatantly anti-drug, they had to issue it without the code seal of approval because of this sort of thing.
Peter Werbe: Charles, you're from the Citizens For Artistic Freedom?
Peter Werbe: Okay. I'm sorry, Frank, I talked over you.
FZ: Do you think people still look for that code seal of approval on there? I mean, you know how that comic thing got started. I think there was some kind of a doctor who wrote this book . . .
Charles: (interrupting) Right, "Seduction of the Innocent".
FZ: . . . [it was] like, "Oh, look, the hidden picture inside the picture." You know what that's the equivalent of is this bimbo business about the backwards masking, you know, devil-worship messages backwards on the album.
The thing about rating a movie or rating a comic book is like this: if you rate a movie, and a guy is acting in a movie, it doesn't hurt him. He's a hired hand. If you rate a comic book, it's not hurting the superhero that's in the comic book. But if you rate a record and the guy's got his name on it, you're rating a person.
Charles: Yeah, well, the thing is that the comparison between the movie ratings and the record ratings is really not valid, because the reason for the MPAA rating was that they were trying to get Hollywood loose of the grip of the Hayes Office.
FZ: Hayes Office, yeah, I know that. That's one of the arguments that, when I was on the Ted Koppel show, Candy Stroud said, "Look, you know, they have this rating for films, and what did they have before? Nothing." What they had before was much worse, and that's the reason why the ratings exist now.
But look at the ratings for movies. Even now, they're talking about adding yet another one. They're still not satisfied with the ratings that they've got now. They're talking about putting an "SA", [meaning] substance abuse, rating on films anytime a movie shows anybody using drugs in a positive light. They have to put an "SA" on the thing along with the "R" or whatever else. Where do you stop this stuff? You're going to use up the alphabet with labels on everything.
Peter Werbe: I think so. You know, Frank, Charles and some other people at the University of Michigan have formed something called . . . which just went out of my hands. Where is it? Charles, you tell us.
Charles: Well, we call ourselves Citizens For Artistic Freedom.
Peter Werbe: Here it is. Yeah.
Charles: And we put together a very long, very boring expository paper on why we feel this is a bad thing.
Peter Werbe: Oh, stop putting yourself down. I thought it was pretty interesting.
FZ: Can I tell you were to send it?
Peter Werbe: Sure. You want to send for it? Sure.
FZ: I would like to have you guys bring it to the attention of Senator Hollings, because it's his office which is preparing this legislation. He should get a copy of it, and so should Senator Gore.
Charles: Okay. I take it they were listed in the Rolling Stone interview . . . I mean, the Rolling Stone article recently . . .
FZ: I don't think Hollings was, and I don't have their addresses handy right here, but . . .
Peter Werbe: You could always just send it to . . . yeah, Hollings is listed . . .
FZ: Just send it to Senator Hollings, Democrat-South Carolina, Washington, DC. That should probably get there.
Peter Werbe: Okay. And Charles, you're having a meeting, I see,on November 5th. Why don't you just maybe invite people to it real quickly? I think we're going to put Frank in touch with the PTA in a minute.
Charles: Okay, it's going to be on November 5th at 7:30 at the Kienzle Room at the Michigan Union.
Peter Werbe: In Ann Arbor.
Charles: Right, in Ann Arbor. And that's not too far from downtown.
FZ: Well, I hope everybody goes to it, and they should take this seriously. One of the things my father told me before he passed away, and I'm sure you might have even heard it from your father: "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." Even people who want to do something good can accidentally make bad things happen, and that's part of what's been happening since this record censorship came out, because of the business that's going on in San Antonio right now, where they're trying to set a minimum age for attendance to a live rock show. You know about that?
Peter Werbe: No.
FZ: All right, well, I'll tell you about it later. But [there are a lot of] bad things going on, and people should pay attention to this, and if you really don't like it, then you should write as many letters to the people who've already backed it up. The people in the Senate have to know that there's somebody who's awake out here.
Charles: Yeah, and the question is, if they get away with this, when does it stop? What is it going to apply to next?
Peter Werbe: I think that is the question. Thank you, Charles, thank you very much. A couple of RIF reminders and then we'll get right to Terry Marshall and hear what the PTA's position on all this is. (Werbe reads two PSA's.) We'll put off our hour's commercials for another fifteen minutes so we can get Terry Marshall on the air here, and let's say good morning to her. Terry Marshall, good morning to you.
Terry Marshall: Good morning.
Peter Werbe: And welcome to Nightcall here in Detroit on WRIF. You're the public relations director of the Parent-Teacher Association?
Terry Marshall: That's right.
Peter Werbe: We've been talking to Frank Zappa who's also on the line right now with you.
FZ: Hi, Terry.
Terry Marshall: Hi, Frank.
Peter Werbe: So you're a little at a disadvantage because you don't know what preceded, but the first questions I asked Frank, and I'll ask it to you, Terry Marshall: do you think that there is a problem in what we're faced with in terms of rock and roll, its style, its lyrics or its presentation?
Terry Marshall: It's getting to be a little more explicit than I think it has been in past years. The problem is that adults generally have been disturbed about some of the music that their children have listened to for years and years and years, and they've never had any way to have any kind of judgment over what their children are bringing into their homes. What we've been trying to do is come up with a way for parents to have a little discretion over what their children are bringing into their homes, specifically when it relates to the very explicit material, the very explicit sex and violence that's going on right now.
Peter Werbe: Of course, my parents, and maybe yours as well, were equally horrified by my interest in Elvis Presley and Little Richard and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters and people like that. In other words, they felt it was equally problematic as . . .
FZ: [As judged] by the standards of that time.
Peter Werbe: Yeah.
Terry Marshall: Right. Right, and say, these are the standards of this time, but it's no less of a problem than it was back then. We're not saying that we should use the standards of the 1940s or 1950s to judge today's music or whatever. But, say, when things are very explicit in nature, there should just be some information that parents can use to maybe sit down and talk to their children about the music that they're listening to. Or in the case of younger children, when the parents are buying the materials for their children, that they know what it is before they buy it.
Peter Werbe: Do you have any sense of what percentage of the twenty-five thousand songs or so a year that come out would be offensive to the PTA and the PMRC?
Terry Marshall: No, I have no idea.
FZ: (slyly) I do.
Peter Werbe: O.K., Frank.
FZ: Tipper Gore's statistic is five to eight percent.
Peter Werbe: O.K., well . . .
Terry Marshall: [That's why] I say in those five to eight percent of the instances, it would be helpful to parents to have some information, and that's all we're asking for. If you're going to record explicit material, let us know that that's what it is.
Peter Werbe: Well, you say, or at least the PMRC's news releases say, that you do not support censorship and that this is simply an informational device for people or, as you said, parents to understand what their children were purchasing. Frank Zappa had brought the information that I had not known, but does make sense, that large department stores like Sears and JCPenney say they will not handle anything that has an "R" label on it.
Terry Marshall: Well, we're not talking about an "R" label anymore. It was a suggestion that was made, and it just seems to not be . . .
FZ: It's not even an "R"—it's any kind of a warning sticker, They won't take it.
Peter Werbe: Well, this goes by too fast. Since September 11th, you've changed . . . I mean, it's all right to change.
Terry Marshall: Yeah, well, we're working together with the industry to try to come up with something that will be feasible for the industry and that will be helpful to parents, and if those stores won't carry something with a label, I don't know about lyrics. We like Frank's idea that the albums carry the lyrics so that somebody can read it.
FZ: Yeah, but see, you know that Hollings is recommending legislation by December. His office is writing a bill, you know this, don't you?
Terry Marshall: No, I hadn't heard that.
FZ: Well, that's in the 10/24/85 issue of Variety, and in it announced that Senator Hollings is drafting legislation to require the lyrics. I saw this and I called his office and I talked to Cheryl Wallace, who's actually the girl who's writing the bill. And I'd done some research even since the last time I'd talked to you on the phone, Terry. I called this guy from the National Music Publishers Association and I tried to find out if there was a statutory rate for printing the lyrics on the back, and if there was, how much it was. And he said, there wasn't one, and he had to call some other publishers and find out if they would even be interested. So he called me back about four or five days ago and he gave me the results of his checking around, and what he found out was that many publishers—major publishers—had made subcontracting deals for the lyrics, where they no longer control the words minus the notes. In other words, just the poem of the song, these have been subcontracted to song magazines. They don't even control that right anymore. And so, in order to accommodate a mandate of government order to print lyrics on the back of an album, as Hollings is trying to put forth, is going to be a really complicated thing to do.
I told this to the girl who's drafting the bill; she didn't even know that. I gave her the phone number of this man and said, "Call up and check it out". So I said, I think the best thing you can do with this bill, since Hollings did state in the Senate that if he could do away with this music constitutionally, he would—at least he's still using the word "constitutionally"—that maybe the best thing to do would be to forget this particular piece of legislation. And her reply was, "Well, you never know what happens to a bill. You've got to put it in because you'll never know what they'll add on to it—maybe the thing will come out on the other end with a tobacco subsidy hooked on to it." But they are going to move forward with legislation on this thing, and based on what I've been able to find out, if they try and make it work, it's going to be real complicated.
Terry Marshall: Well, as I say, we haven't been encouraging legislation at all. Everything that we've been saying is, we agree with you—that there shouldn't be legislation. It should be something that the industry should be able to work out for itself. That's why we just feel that some sort of a warning label . . . I think that part of the fear is that there's going to be orange sticker or something splashed all over the front of an album . . .
FZ: Well, that's what I put on mine.
Terry Marshall: Pardon me?
FZ: That's what I put on mine.
Terry Marshall: Well, that's up to you, if you would like that. We aren't necessarily saying that that's what it can be. Even if there's just a line somewhere, on the back [or] wherever, so that if somebody is looking for that, if that's what they are concerned with, that they can see it there.
Peter Werbe: Well, you know, in a lot of ways, the problem is the nature of rock and roll music itself, I mean, certainly, it has always contained themes and lyrics that have shaken the sensibilities of a white, "gentle" class of people. The word "rock and roll" is blues slang for sexual intercourse. That's the way the Rolling Stone Dictionary of Rock And Roll describes it, and as far as I've ever known, that's accurate. It's always been about parties, it's always been about lusty life, and we've all survived it. It is the popular music in the country today. I guess I read these lyrics, Terry, and some of them, from some of the bands I've seen from the PMRC, the ones that they've sent me, you do kind of shudder, and I think, "boy, I wonder what a thirteen year-old thinks when they [sic] see that." But I guess I survived Elvis, and I guess that you did, and I guess I'm a little more confident, I guess, than you that they'll survive Motley Cr e.
Terry Marshall: Yeah, they'll survive, but part of it is that parents like to have some control over what their children are learning in terms of their moral values or whatever. Do we want our pre-teenagers to become sensitized [sic] to violence?
Peter Werbe: Of course not.
Terry Marshall: And it's up to individual choice. We want parents to be able to have a choice and to be able to sit down with their children. In the past two weeks alone, I started counting the letters that have been coming in and we've gotten a little over a thousand in the last two weeks. Generally, what they're saying is, that they do buy albums [for their] younger children, and we're hearing mostly from parents of children who are anywhere from eight to thirteen years old, and they're saying [that] they feel that this would be helpful to them. There were a number of letters from parents who felt they were stuck: they had bought albums from their kids and that they ended up throwing them away, because they can't take it back to the store because they don't like the lyrics.
FZ: But they can take it back to the store, though. I don't think that there's a record store in the United States that somebody got an album [from], and they said, "Oh, this is not what we thought it was going to be," and they would at least get a credit for it, because I don't think the record store owner wants to have any problems, either.
Terry Marshall: No, not all stores. Because some of [these parents] have said that they tried to do it, and not all stores will do it. There have been some that have said that they would, granted, but not all stores will. And you're stuck.
FZ: Then I would say that if you are so concerned about children's possible exposure to a "sneak attack" of some unwanted piece of information, that those kinds of parents should steer their children away from rock and roll altogether. It is just not for them. Why do they persist in wanting it? Why do they want "clean" rock and roll?
Terry Marshall: But there is good rock and roll.
FZ: Well, of course there is good rock and roll . . .
Terry Marshall: All the songs on a radio station . . . it's funny, a radio station will selectively edit what they put on the air. Why can't a parent selectively edit what their children bring into their own home?
Peter Werbe: Well, they certainly can. I guess what disturbs me is, I guess what's the real clincher, and I'm just sort of across the board opposed to any sort of censorship or anything that smacks of it, is this idea of, I'm an adult, and if I want to hear "R-" or even "X- rated" lyrics in this country, under the laws we have I do have the right to hear it, and I would not be able to buy a Wasp album, for instance, because it would not be available. You'd have to go to the store that sold all the slimy, sleazy . . . you know, here it is in a brown paper bag. So, in a sense, you would be interfering not with just a parent's or promoting a parent's right to select what they could select for their child, but also what I could actively go and buy at my neighborhood record store.
Terry Marshall: Well, this is all hearsay. Everyone thinks that maybe this will happen, you know, it's not a fact.
FZ: It is a fact. Penney's and Sear's have already said that they won't take any record with a sticker. That means it won't be there. You think JCPenney is going to take the next Blackie Lawless album?
Terry Marshall: But there will be stores that will carry it. Not every store in the country has said that they won't carry it. At least I haven't heard it.
FZ: Yeah, but those are two major chains. That's enough to tell a record company like . . . Geffen, A&M, and MCA have already backed out of the RIAA proposal. They refused the sticker because they have been told by those major retailers that, "If you send us an album with any kind of a warning on it, we're not going to rack it." Then you've got the situation with Camelot stores where they've been threatened by their landlords. They will lose their lease; that's four hundred outlets in malls in the United States that will lose their lease if they stock this kind of material.
Terry Marshall: I think it's rather interesting from the store's point of view that they'll carry it without a label, but they won't carry with a label.
FZ: Here's what it is: it's that "bomb the abortion clinic" mentality that a lot of these right-wingers have adopted, because once the thing has been labeled as filth, if it is existing in the store, it's a target now. And these store owners have stated that they're afraid.
Terry Marshall: But we're not labeling it as filth. We're just saying [by stickering it that] it's explicit lyrics. If you are not ashamed to record a sexual lyric or a violent lyric, what is the problem with telling us, "This is violent, this has sexual content"?
FZ: Because, for some people's taste, if you record something, you might think it's perfectly okay. Let's take the John Denver example. He makes a song called "Rocky Mountain High". He thought it was all right, but somebody else thought it was a dope thing.
Terry Marshall: No, it was probably one person somewhere and it's been publicized very highly.
FZ: But it was enough to get his record banned on some radio stations. That's why I'm saying the standards differ.
Peter Werbe: What happens too, Terry, within our industry, is that the record companies start interfering with the artistic creativity of the performer, and they say, "We don't want you to record this anymore".
Terry Marshall: Yeah, unfortunately, they are already doing that, and Frank has had that problem before in the past, where he has been limited by his own company. It's happening already, and it's not like we would like that to become a larger problem.
FZ: Well, if it happens once, it's a large problem. You're the one who told me that [the PTA has] it in their charter that you're in favor of the First Amendment and all that stuff.
Terry Marshall: Absolutely.
FZ: Well, then, what you have to understand is that with Hollings asking for legislation, I'm going to ask you the same thing that I asked Tipper Gore on this radio station in Atlanta. She didn't know the legislation was being proposed, either. I said, "Will you help me fight it?" [To Marshall:] Will the PTA help fight legislation? Because if you are really against it, you should get out there and say, "Mr. Hollings, please don't do this."
Terry Marshall: Well, I'll tell you what: our president is going to be in the office tomorrow and I will bring it up with her.
FZ: You tell her that it's in the 10/24/85 issue of Variety, and if she can't find it, I'll have my wife send her a copy of the clipping.
Peter Werbe: Terry, I have to close off this segment of the program. Terry Marshall from the Parent-Teacher Association in Washington. Is there an address that someone could write and get information from you on your side of things on this issue?
Terry Marshall: Well, we're based in Chicago, and it's the National PTA, 700 North Rush Street, Chicago, Illinois 60611, and they can direct it to my attention and I will be happy to send whatever information.
Peter Werbe: All right, Terry Marshall, thank you for giving us your opinion. I appreciate it so much.
Terry Marshall: You're welcome.
FZ: Good-bye, Terry.
Terry Marshall: I'll talk to you, Frank.
Peter Werbe: Have a good morning. Frank, it's one o'clock. We usually end our segments on the hour. If you have the time, we've got a whole phoneload of people who would like to talk to you.
FZ: Oh, God . . .
Peter Werbe: How about another fifteen . . .
FZ: Well, I can do another fifteen minutes but, believe it or not, I actually do have another appointment.
Peter Werbe: Okay, let me just pay some bills, and if you want to take a little break, it'll be about three or four minutes.
FZ: I'll go get a cup of coffee and I'll be right back.
Peter Werbe: Thanks a lot. This is WRIF in Detroit and I'm Peter Werbe and we have Frank Zappa on the line. We're talking about rock lyrics and videos and what have you. We'll get to your calls right after these.
Peter Werbe: We're back with hour number two of WRIF's Nightcall. I'm Peter Werbe. Our number's 354-WRIF or 298-6360. Our guest: Frank Zappa, and we're talking about the proposed rating system for rock and roll records. We just heard from Terry Marshall from the Parent-Teacher Association, and Frank's going to be with us for another ten minutes, so as they say, with no further ado, let's get right back to Frank. Frank, are you with us?
FZ: You bet.
Peter Werbe: Okay, let's go right to our phones. Hi, this is WRIF and you're on the air with Frank Zappa.
Rick: Yeah, this is Rick from Royal Oak, and I'd like to ask Frank: do you think there will be a time when I won't be able to buy your records because of record ratings and be forced to listen to, "The white zone is for loading and unloading only", as you'd say?
FZ: Yeah, well, that's always possible, but I'll tell you, if you want to avoid it, and this would be good for a lot of issues, there is something called the Twenty-Sixth Amendment. That's the thing the gives the eighteen year-olds the right to vote. And it wasn't easy to get that, but since they got it, very few eighteen year-olds [have] registered to vote, and if you know any eighteen year-olds that haven't registered, encourage them to do so, because that could tend to change the balance of political power in the United States.
In that way, if you—and I'm not saying "you" personally—but if the eighteen year-old age range have things that they are interested in, in terms of legislation, or a way of life that they would like to protect as much as some of the older people want to protect theirs, they will have a voice in government and they can make these people in Washington, D.C. tap-dance for them. But you've got to register, and you've got to vote. It's very important that you pay attention to local issues rather than just waiting every four years to choose between Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee.
You've got to get in and register and look at what's happening in your town. Because these people who are in favor of censorship, and I'm not just talking about the PMRC, but all their copycats and weird little regional deviates that pop up, they're getting ready to spring some legislation on you that is really going to cork stuff up. It's not just about records.
I was [talking] earlier [about] this situation in San Antonio, Texas. There's this group down there that wants to set a minimum age—for "health" reasons—a minimum age at which it would be "healthful" for a person to see a live rock concert. That's coming up before the San Antonio City Council either on the 7th or the 14th of November. If they pass that city ordinance down there, that is going to be used as a model for other cities across the United States that want to put the lid on rock and roll. And if you don't register to vote, you're not going to be ready for that one when it comes around.
Peter Werbe: Yeah, Michigan's junior senator, Donald Riegle, is on the committee, too, that is going to be deciding on this issue, the Hollings bill.
FZ: Oh, really?
Peter Werbe: Yeah. All right, Rick, thank you very much, I appreciate your comment. One thing . . . I was going to give it all to the listeners, but I forgot about this one press release I got from the Parents Music Resource Center—the PMRC—and they were talking about how bad some of these rock records were, and they said some promote "defiled sexuality, Satanic worship, violence, and even rebellion".
FZ: Right. I think that that's what the basis of this whole thing is. Remember, we're dealing with a society that is not a literate society. The bulk of the people in the United States get their information either from television—they hear it orally—or they get it from records, and there's a lot of information that an authoritarian, totalitarian, right-wing kind of government would love to suppress. And what better way than by scaring parents into legislation in order to keep people from hearing dirty words? The "dirty words" these guys really don't want to hear is anything that reminds the world of what they're really doing in Washington. That's what they would like to clamp down. They want to make sure that they don't hear it on a record; they want to make sure that they don't hear it on the radio; they don't want to see it in a video; and they don't want to see it on stage. This is just the beginning of that kind of stuff. Even people with good intentions can be sucked into it.
Deep down behind all this stuff is the urge to put the lid on dissent in the United States, and there has always been that element that would like to keep the kids under control. People in power have been afraid of teenage reaction—you know, the "wild teenage thrill seeker" syndrome—which has been around since rock and roll was first invented. Alan Freed [the Cleveland disk jockey who popularized the term "rock and roll"] went through this kind of harassment. It's been there since time immemorial, but it's more dangerous now because of this administration that has been installed. [We've] got a President that used to cooperate with Joseph McCarthy and finger people as communists when he was the president of the Screen Actors Guild. This is nothing new for him. This is right up his alley.
Peter Werbe: Okay, let's take a couple final calls for you, Frank. Good morning, this is WRIF and you're on the air.
Tom: Hello, my name is Tom Sexton and I'm from Livonia, Michigan.
Peter Werbe: Hello, Tom.
Tom: It's a real honor to speak to you, Frank, and I want to thank you for the time you've spent fighting this stupidity. I applaud the fact that you have a solution which was also not covered by any of the news media. They seem to be more concerned with Senator Gorton's [R-Wash] . . .
FZ: Well, you know, that's what we call "news management". For anybody who even knows that I went to the Senate, that's the only thing that they saw on television. And that's what rubs me the wrong way about this whole thing. The way it's been covered in the media, the media is totally behind it. And I'm glad to be able to get on any kind of a talk show and talk to people on the phone and get some facts out. But I'll tell you what: this album that I got coming out that has the "Porn Wars" song on it have taken the actual things that people have said in the Senate that never got on the air. It's twelve minutes long. You will hear what these guys really said, and you ought to hear it.
Tom: Well, I've heard the Senate testimony and I feel that if anyone wanted to see a great example of hypocrisy, they could just look at the Congress with their pet projects, and I wonder of you felt that there's any collusion, or if there's any liability based on the collusion with the senators and their wives.
FZ: You know, I said that in the hearing. I said, "I believe there's liability here." But in order to go after them for liability, they have to do something more than just be in collusion. You want to hear some statistics? Try this one on your imagination. When the Los Angeles Times did the first review of this album, they gave it a good review and they mentioned the "Porn Wars" cut. And then, the Los Angeles Times started calling senators' offices to get their comments on the tune. Well, obviously, they haven't heard it yet because the albums will not be shipped until November 15th. So, they couldn't say anything, but they started calling my house. I got a call from [Senator] Paula Hawkins' [R-Fla] office, and the staffer was asking my wife some questions about this, and along the way he wanted to clarify something that I had been saying in news interviews about Paula Hawkins. Here's what I've been saying, and here's where I got it. When Paula Hawkins appeared before that committee, she was neither a member of that committee nor a member of the PMRC.
After the Senate hearing, I had drinks with Senator Gore and his wife, and I asked him, "Who is she and where did she come from?" His answer was, as a Republican, she asked [Senator] Danforth [R-Mo] for permission to attend the hearing so that she could get some of the same kind of exposure that the other people were getting. And he obliged even though she was not part of the committee. And what the staffer told my wife was, that this is not true, that originally she was asked . . . that she is the head of the Senate Committee for Parents, Children, Drugs and Alcohol, and that originally the PMRC asked her committee to hear it. Apparently, her committee was busy at the time, so they couldn't hear it.
I eventually wound up talking to the same staffer, and I asked him this question: "If their committee was so busy, what was she doing there?"
Tom: Good question.
FZ: All right, well, here's the answer. On her committee, they did not happen to have five senators who were married to people in the PMRC. And that's why this matter was heard before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee instead of the Senate Parents, Children, Drugs and Alcohol Committee.
Peter Werbe: That's interesting.
FZ: That's why it went in there, because Senator Danforth's wife signed a letter, Senator Trible's [R-Va] wife signed a letter, Senator Hollings' wife signed a letter, Senator Gore's wife signed a letter, and Senator Packwood's [R-Ore] wife signed a letter. Packwood didn't show up at the hearing, but the rest of them were there.
Peter Werbe: All right, Tom, thank you, I'm going to take my last call for Frank Zappa. Thanks for your question. Good morning, this is WRIF and you're on the air.
Chuck: Hi, this is Chuck [Hildebrandt] from Warren.
Peter Werbe: Hi, Chuck.
Chuck: Hi, Frank, how're you doing?
FZ: How're you doing, Chuck?
Chuck: Fine, thank you. This is quite a burden that you've taken onto your shoulders, rising to champion the cause of all manners of artists. I'm wondering, why haven't any other major music figures joined in your campaign?
FZ: Well, I don't know, I can't speak for them. I'm talking just for myself, and if you agree with me, I'm talking for you. I have no idea. I think that they ought to, and I maybe eventually they will, but I think that maybe some of them have been advised by their managers to keep their mouths shut and stay out of it. It's a hot issue and it could affect their careers.
Chuck: And, of course, you don't have that problem.
FZ: No, they've already called me every bad name that they could call anybody, and if they run out of names, they could always look it up in Rolling Stone, because they've done the rest.
If you want more information, I would say to anybody who's listening, if you want to hear my side of it instead of the PTA's side of it, you can call this number: 818-PUMPKIN. It is not a free call, it's not an 800 number. It's 818-PUMPKIN, and that's the Barking Pumpkin hotline. After business hours, there's an answering machine on there. Leave your name and address and we'll send you one of the Z-Pack Information Kits, and check it out and register to vote and be ready for these suckers when they come after you, because otherwise, you're all going to be dressing like they do in Red China.
Peter Werbe: All right, Chuck, thank you very much. I'm going to have to say good night to Frank because he's got another engagement.
FZ: Yeah, I've got to go.
Peter Werbe: Well, I look forward to your record coming out. Try to get me a copy of it and I will play the twelve-minute version for sure. I don't think you're going to get it on too many Top 40 stations.
FZ: Let me tell you, I'll warn you in advance that a mystery word lives right in the middle of it, but I'll make an exception in your case. Ordinarily, I wouldn't let anybody do it, but you can beep the word out of the middle of the thing just so you can play the full- length version of it.
Peter Werbe: Frank, after midnight, I think anything goes here on the RIF.
FZ: Well, then, crank the sucker out, then.
Peter Werbe: (laughing) There's no problem.
FZ: Just give me an address and I'll have Gail send you a copy of it tomorrow.
Peter Werbe: I never thought I'd get the chance to say this, but I'll have my people call your people, Frank.
FZ: Well, that'll be fantastic. Please do that.
Peter Werbe: Hey, it's been a wonderful hour and fifteen minutes. I want to thank you so much, and I think Chuck put it down right, I mean, thank you for fighting the good fight. We need that, and I also think your advice for other people to get involved is good stuff.
FZ: Well, I'll guarantee you one thing: I can't do it by myself. I've got one vote, and you've got one vote. Eventually, this thing is going to have to be settled with a ballot box because, even if the issue itself doesn't come up for a vote, remember that these zombies who have supported it in the Senate and in the Congress—you need to reevaluate their contract, and you've got to let these guys know that the rock and roll audience is not just asleep on its feet—you know, they're not gone. You have to let them know that you're alive and kicking and that you can vote and that you can cancel their contract. Let them know.
Peter Werbe: All right, Frank Zappa, thanks so much for being on WRIF's Nightcall.
FZ: All right, bye-bye.
Peter Werbe: Have a good morning.
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