This interview appears on two of Baktabak's interview releases: CBAK 4012 and BAKPAK 1003. It was
transcribed by Kristian Kier from the BAKPAK 1003 4-single pack. Q
represents the unknown interviewer, and Z represents Zappa.
Q: ... talking about Them Or Us book.
The [inaudible] say that you got a book as well, Them
Or Us, that I'm interested in. Can you tell me something about it?
Z: It will be presented in two weeks in the United States, and it's
360-some pages. I'm publishing it myself. The first printing is 5000 copies.
Q: Can you tell me something about it? What is it? I mean, you cannot
judge by the album, obvious. The storyboard has to be more crazy define, I say.
Z: There is a ... the book is ... written ... it's a book for people
who hate to read. And it's written in a style of a screenplay. So each situation is
described in terms of what a camera would see, what the physical action is, what the
people say and what they do. And so it takes you very quickly to complicated situations
where, written as a normal book, will be [inaudible] insufficient [inaudible].
Q: Has it got anything to do with the album? I mean, can the album be
used as a soundtrack to it all?
Z: No ... the way it works is that the book ... you know what a
unified field theory is, you know?
Q: No, apparently not.
Z: Well, in physics they had this thing they have been looking for is
the Unified Field Theory, that explains the inner relationship between how gravity works,
how the energy and all that stuff. They are looking for one equation that explains it all
and makes it work, 'cause right now there's contradictions. And, let's just say that the
book is ... like a unified field theory of a whole together. "Billy the
Mountain", "Greggary Peccary", Joe's
Garage, Them Or Us, Thing-Fish, all these
different stories, that shows you how it works together, to make one long [inaudible]
story. In the Them or Us album is only one part of this major release
that is coming out being in the book. There are three other albums that will be released
approximately at the same time: The Boulez album, the Francesco
album and the Thing-Fish album. And the book release. The Boulez album is
not related to, but the ... all the rest of the stuff will be related. So, if you read the
book and listen to ... those three plus, knowing from the past, Joe's Garage, "Billy
the Mountain", "Greggary Peccary", then it will make a lot of sense to you.
Q: The way you describe it, it's ... ah ... it ["can Z
us"?] ... uhm ... some nation or culmination of what you been working for the
past when [inaudible] outside.
Z: Well, no, it doesn't really work like that. The people, especially
in Europe, when they wanted to know about what the lyrics
mean ... they can read english ... [inaudible passage with background noise] ...
they used to be very much.
Q: And the possibility for the book being issued in this country? I
Z: You have to be ... Since I painted and printed myself [inaudible,
noisy bit] ...
Q: But it's certainly communible what's published in our days, that
anything serious ... you know ... doesn't really ... being ["dropped"?]
being printed in our days [?].
Z: Yes, true. When we talk to the US publisher ... they are more
concerned that it looks like a book. And this doesn't look like a book. That looks like a
screenplay. And so they are taking the position that people won't read it because it
doesn't say [inaudible]. It's three inches five long, and it's all full of
paragraphs. But, I, personally, don't like to read. And ... I said in another interview:
For me reading is about as much fun as standing in a line at a passport indoor at a French
Q: It's very exciting ...
Z: Yeah ... very exciting. So ... It's designed basically for people
who would enjoy the albums, or for a [inaudible] audience.
Q: Now saying that the book, which is in a book form obviously, is
written like a screenplay, and the music you've been making for the past 20 years ...
Z: That's [inaudible] ...
Q: Yeah ... obviously have a certain disregard for the ... what is
considered a proper album? You know what I mean? One style, each song nicely defined, I
mean, let's take the Them Or Us: It's the different pieces which, I mean,
by the today's industry standard, is they art?
Z: Uh-huh ... so?
Q: So ... [abrupt end of side 2]
Q: My question is: How have you managed to survive all these years in
such a bitchy industry?
Z: It's not even a matter of surviving, because I refused to be
stopped, just because somebody ... there's a big audience that wants albums that have
all the same songs on. And there's another [inaudible] to do that. So they never
get run out of material, they always have what they like. The people who like what I do
like writing ... and they can ... they enjoy that experience of having the
contrast between the song in one style, but one kind of a sound by all of by something
completely different. So then that's a refreshing experience. And that's why I like do
music a lot. That's ah ... next to each other that first scene in ["congress"?]
when you step back on ecological [inaudible] you'll see it fits together ...
THIRD PARTY: [something about a microphone]
Q: So, in this context of a [inaudible], what does success
mean to you?
Z: Success to me is: If I have a musical or ... um ...
um ... Let's say any kind of artistic concept and then start out to execute it, [inaudible] ...
if it is executed to a hundred per cent of a specifications of an imagination one of the
ideas first came up, that's success. That's what will really matter to me, because I don't
really enjoy listening to myself. It's all [inaudible] to do it. Is there other
things like little make more money in this. This is a [inaudible -
"highnred" has been suggested] business. I happen to like what I'm doing,
so ... to me success is getting close to a hundred per cent.
Z: Let me point you about serious music: What most
people regard as serious music is not really that serious at all. See it?
There's been a lot of propaganda about classical music since it was first invented. Let's
examine the history of classical music briefly, then you will see what I´m talking about.
Um ... All the music that people regard as very classical today were written for the
amusement of kings, churches or dictators. That's what they has paying the rent. If the
man who wrote the music happened to be working in a style that was appealing to the person
who was paying for it at that time, he had a hit. He had a job. And he stayed alive. And
if he didn't ...
Q: He was losing something [inaudible] ...
Z: That's right! He could loose his fingers, he could loose his head, he
could be exiled or starved to death. There was very little in between. All you have to do
is look at the book called Grove's Dictionary of Music and
Musicians, and you can see throughout the ages: There've been guys who had hits, and
guys who didn't have hits. And it's not necessary to connecting to the quality [inaudible
- most likely something like "of their"] work. It's connected to how well
they pleased the patron that was paying the [inaudible]. And it's the same thing
today. So ... all the norms, the acceptable norms of classical music are really the
taste norms of the church, the king, or the dictator that has been paying for down through
the ages ... that's not ... that was not the taste of the people. People don't
do have to decide. So ... when you say I have a more than interest in serious music:
I take my work seriously, but I perceive that as entertainment. As entertainment for those
people who like that sort of entertainment. I don't write for a king, I don't write for a
church, and I don't write for a government. I write for my friends.
Q: And it's the way the material should be [inaudible] this?
As entertainment for that?
Z: ... if it is written for an orchestra, or it's written for a rock
& roll band. It makes not any difference. It's the same people who would listen to the
music. I have several orchestral albums, OK? Those who are not [inaudible] like
people who are not [inaudible]. But they are all rock & roll consumers. A
special type of rock & roll consumer.
Q: So, in other words, by a reason, because whatever music you make is
serious in approach. Regardless to being ... regard as rock & roll or put it in
ah ... you know ... in a shop's rack "Rock & Roll", and the other
one ... ah ... is serious music?
Q: Hmmm ... I see ... Well, future ... Where have you
recently took place?
Z: No, I've written it and me happened to produce it.
Q: I see ... Now, I see the [inaudible] is no right,
so ... huh ...
Z: That's right.
Q: That's the only thing I had to ... I see ... are you
expanding into these areas? I mean, the movies being old love of yours since you're
sixteen, or something. Is there a way to stop you?
Z: I have to spent into movies [?], because it costs so much
more money to make a movie than it does to make a record, and I´m [inaudible].
Q: But if I'm not drop you ... you ... ah ... were one
of the first who are on an independent label.
Z: That's true.
Q: O-ho ... When did you realize that you can be self-employed in
an industry that does not? Until that ah ... did not allow self-employment?
Z: Ahm ... I realized that the point where they ... I had
first an independent label deal, as a result of a law suit against MGM. We were happy to
be on an independent label, because we thought we're doing
something ["read in the books"?], that was no right. So ...
y'know ... [inaudible]. My arrangement is unique in, not only the background
of being self-employed, but that I own all my masters. And own the rights for everything
that I do. Most people who do records, do not. And I'm proud of that. And ah ... I
think ... [inaudible].
Q: ... and when did you get your first guitar?
Z: First guitar I played on was my father's guitar.
Q: So what was actually the first guitar that you owned? Was it after
that movie - Run Home Slow?
Z: No, the first one that, well, actually, that I owned, yes, because
prior to that time I rented a guitar. I rented a Telecaster from a music store in Ontario,
California - but the first one I was able to buy was the one on Run Home Slow.
It was a ES5 Gibson SwitchMaster.
Q: What is the one that you use now?
Z: It's a customized Stratocaster. The only thing on this guitar that
is Fender is the body. Everything else on it is custom. It has a custom neck, it has
customized electronics, custom pickups, Floyd Rose tremolo.
Q: Do you use it in the studio as well as on the stage?
Z: I just starting using this particular guitar in July, and usually
when I go on tour I take a number of guitars and I change them during the show. The ones I
brought on the '82 tour I changed a lot. On this tour I just play this one guitar.
Q: And the other part of the same article is going to be your thoughts
on some of your contemporaries and your people, if you don't mind. People like Chuck
Z: Chuck Berry? Well, I used to like Chuck Berry when I was in high
school. Songs like "Havana Mill" and "Wee Wee Hours", which were the
flip sides of the hits that he had - the more bluesy things. His main innovation besides
that duck walk choreography was the multiple string guitar solos - the lines were
harmonizing because he was playing on two strings at once. There was another guitar player
who used to do that named Jimmy Nolan who I had a lot of respect for.
Q: BB King?
Z: I don't like BB. I saw him on television before I
went on this tour and he was still blue [or "he's terrible"].
Q: Oh yeah? I've seen him recently and I thought he was amazing. Keith
Z: I don't know anything about Keith Richards.
Q: Jimi Hendrix?
Z: I knew Jimi and I think that the best thing you could say about
Jimi was: there was a person who shouldn't use drugs.
Q: John McLaughlin?
Z: I met John. I think he's a great guitar player and I think that
he's probably done a lot to educate American audiences to some aspects of Eastern music
that they wouldn't have come into contact with before. We did a tour with McLaughlin and
old Mahavishnu, we did 11 concerts with them.
Q: Lowell George?
Z: There's another guy who shouldn't use drugs.
Q: And ... Eric Clapton?
Z: I ["don't"?] know Eric, I haven't seen him in years and
years. There's another guy who shouldn't use drugs.
Q: Heh heh ... Jeff Beck?
Z: One of my favorite guitar players on the planet. From a melodic standpoint
and just in terms of the conception of what he plays, he's fabulous. I like Jeff.
Q: Eh ... Rory Gallagher?
Z: We worked 2 jobs with Rory Gallagher on this tour and, er [pause] ...
he's still playing the blues.
Q: Eh ... Jimmy Page?
Z: I don't know anything about Jimmy Page.
Q: Eh ... Peter Green?
Z: I don't know him either.
Q: Eh ... Jerry Garcia?
Z: We did one concert with Garcia on this tour but we were the opening act and I
didn't see any of his set.
Q: Eh ... Pete Townshend?
Z: I've met Pete but I don't know what I can say about his guitar playing.
Q: Mmm ... Robert Fripp?
Z: I've never heard a Robert Fripp record.
Q: Eh ... Ritchie Blackmore?
Z: I have met Ritchie too, and ... I'm not really familiar with the work of
these people because you have to understand I'm not a pop consumer and I don't listen to a
lot of these.
Q: [inaudible, incomprehensible question that can probably be
simplified into something along the lines of "What do you listen to?"]
Z: Well, what I do is I take cassettes with me on the road because sometimes
you're sitting in the hotel room and you just want to listen to something, but what I take
is not rock & roll.
Q: Oh deah. [?] [inaudible]
Z: I like Chopin, I have Purcell, I have Webern, I have Varèse, I
have Bulgarian music. I don't listen to rock & roll.
Q: Yes, um, Carlos Santana?
Z: We worked with Carlos Santana on Cologne in 1980 or '81 and it was a similar
situation. We did two shows at the sport palace in Cologne. They opened the first show, we
closed it. Then we opened the second show and they closed it so I never heard him play.
Q: So ... As you said you don't listen to popular music so I don't expect
you know Eddie van Halen.
Z: I do know Eddie. He comes over to the house because he hangs out with my son.
Q: I see. But do you know him as a guitar player?
Z: Oh yeah. He and my son play together and he's fabulous, but there's another
guy who shouldn't use drugs.
Q: I presume you don't know "The Edge" - from U2?
Z: "The Edge"?
Q: [inaudible] from Big Country?
Q: What would be your thoughts on the original guitar playing of the Mothers,
Z: Well, there's one other guy whose work I know who should be included in that
list who I respect and that's Allan Holdsworth.
Q: I was going to ask you who was your favorite guitar player.
Z: Well, my original favorite guitar player was Johnny
"Guitar" Watson, not from a technical standpoint but from listening to
what his notes meant in the context in which they were played; and also Guitar
Slim who was the first guitar player that I ever heard that had distortion -
even during the '50s. In a strange way I think I probably derive more of my style from his
approach to the guitar from the solos that I heard then.
Q: You still haven't told me your thoughts on yourself as a guitar player.
Z: Well, I do something very different on the guitar. I don't so much play the
guitar as make up stuff ... the notes that I play during the solo, I conceive it as a
composition that's happening instantly at the time that it's ... You know, you have
two minutes to fill up or you have nine minutes to fill up or whatever it is - a
piece of time which is anywhere from 2 to 9 minutes long and you're gonna decorate it with
notes - you're gonna make a composition in there. The quality of that composition is
determined by what you're physically capable of playing at that time, what the rhythm
section will allow you to play and whether or not the keyboard player who's supplying the
harmonic climate is going to mess up what you're playing by sticking in his favorite Jazz
Chord right there. These are all the dangers a person faces when improvising a
guitar solo. There are some guitar players who will practise their guitar solos and they
will always be perfect and they will be the same every night - I don't do that. When
it's time to play, I don't know what I'm going to play until I start doing it; and then an
idea will pop up and I'll just develop it in the same way I'd develop an idea on a piece
paper except that I don't have to wait to hear it - I get to hear it as it's coming
Q: And the last question on this section is: What would be the future of
guitar - or rather, how do you see the future of guitar in the increasingly synth and
keyboard orientation to music?
Z: There will always be a market for people who want to hear guitars squealing
and oinking and bending and twanging and making sounds like guitars are supposed to make.
There is a market of people who are interested in fashion and they will begin hating all
those other old guitar sounds in favor of guitar sounds which are not like guitar sounds
but are played in guitar position but sound like synthesizers - there's a market for that,
there are people who want to hear it - but I don't think that will be the ultimate future
of the guitar.