Archive for April, 2007

Entry for April 24, 2007

April 24, 2007

The Doors DVDs

(About four years ago, plans were afoot to release three Doors-related film projects–No One Here Gets Out Alive, Feast Of Friends, and Soundstage Performances) together on one 3-DVD set. But that never happened. Here are the notes that were intended for that set; sad to report that since they were written, Danny Sugerman, someone I’d known professionally for years, is no longer with us. -–dd)

It is the summer of 2001, and Danny Sugerman—once the Doors’ publicist, but now very much more—sits in his Sunset Strip office preparing for an overseas trip. In this office, overlooking the same Whisky A Go Go in which the band first played 35 years ago, decisions have been made. It’s a full agenda. The newly launched Bright Midnight label, an Internet-only company dealing exclusively in unreleased Doors recordings, is about to make its European bow via Bright Midnight: Live In America, the first in a planned series of limited edition retail offerings. Also soon to come are several new DVD releases, including Feast Of Friends—which you now hold in your hands—and HWY, both to be screened at a small Parisian theatre in the next week. Having just been on the phone to Paris, Sugerman is mildly bemused by all this Doors business.

“They made six albums in four years, and we’re talking about it 30 years later. And now they’re worried about riots for a screening for a film that was panned in Rolling Stone and dismissed as being amateurish. And that the police are worried that 20,000 people are gonna show up in a theatre that holds 600 is phenomenal.”

On Danny Sugerman’s wall is as good an encapsulation of the Story Of The Doors as you’re likely to find. It is the inescapable platinum record display—one, which commands special attention, containing the covers of all of the Doors’ albums, from their 1967 debut to 1971’s LA Woman. In just four years—nowadays about the time it takes to make a new U2 album—the face of Jim Morrison undergoes a transformation that is one of pop music’s most remarkably deliberate. By the time of LA Woman, the eminently studly young buck staring out at potential record buyers—his face vastly larger than those of his bandmates—has become a little, short bearded man, who in fact, if you look carefully, sits lower than anybody else.

It almost seems as if he wished he weren’t there.

***

There is a reason why director Oliver Stone—or for that matter any discerning film director—would wholeheartedly embrace Jim Morrison and the Doors as the ideal subject for a biopic. Only a handful of artists have led careers so compatible with the simple principles of good movie making. The dramatic rise and fall, the sex, the drugs, the unexpected deaththis is the stuff entry-level scriptwriters would craft in their sleep if they had to, but thanks to the Doors, there has been no need. What makes the Doors’ story much more compelling than the standard Hollywood script-by-numbers, though, is the quirky bit that complicates the storytelling. And that is that Jim Morrison was indeed a well-educated man very seriously interested in the arts—literature, poetry, film-making—who just happened to make his mark first in the world of pop music. Had he been an overweight, balding slob with a lisp and made his mark anywhere, it would likely have been in those other fields. But of course, Jim Morrison was the Lizard King in name only.

“I think he regretted taking his shirt off for a photo session,” says Sugerman, referring to Morrison’s infamous early shoot for Gloria Stavers’s 16 magazine, the results of which would become ubiquitous in the band’s press for years to come. “He wanted to be taken seriously as a poet. Having tasted the fame of rock ‘n’ roll stardomselling out Madison Square Gardenhe found it wanting, he found it lacking.”

***

Taken as a whole, the three DVDs in this package present as complete a story of the Doors—and their tasting of rock ‘n’ roll stardom—as you’re ever likely to find, outside of their actual albums.

No One Here Gets Out Alive, based on the similarly titled 1980 best-selling book penned by Sugerman and former Rolling Stone writer Jerry Hopkins, takes the broad approach. Subtitled A Tribute To Jim Morrison, it was originally released in 1981, during the early days of home video, and is a fine overview of the Doors from their 1965 inception though Morrison’s death in Paris in July 1971. At the time of its initial release, it signaled the crest of the “first” public resurgence of interest in the Doors: Rolling Stone had famously plopped Morrison’s picture on its cover with the legend “He’s young, he’s hot, he’s dead”; Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now had featured the band’s “The End” during an especially harrowing combat scene; and rock magazines like CREEM—where I was then working—devoted special issues to the Doors and found them instant sellouts on the newsstand.

What no
one realized at the time—but the benefit of hindsight surely illustrates—is that what was deemed a “resurgence” of interest in the Doors was in fact the new norm, a settling in of the band’s overall importance in the pop music hierarchy. Or, more accurately, the cultural hierarchy of the late 20th century. In an era when MTV was in its infancy, NOHGOA’s featured clips from The Ed Sullivan Show seemed a mind-blowing blast of personal nostalgia to those who’d actually seen them when they were first broadcast. Now, after the turn of the millenium, “nostalgia” instinctively feels like the wrong word here: these performances are vital, historic, instructive, and—to students of American culture—absolutely invaluable.

With its detailed accounting of Jim Morrison by those who knew him best—fellow Doors Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, John Densmore and producer Paul Rothchild—NOHGOA spells out the story of the Doors in comparatively broad strokes. Book co-writers Sugerman and Hopkins supply the context, but the drama—and there can’t help but be much of it—is fully supplied by the Doors’ career arc. Like the book, it is laid out in linear fashion here, and—ending in a tragic death—is about compelling as this stuff ever gets.

Still, drama alone is not what makes the legacy of the Doors so unique. First and foremost, it is their music—of which there is a wealth in this collection—and, on a broader level, their art. Art? Certainly one of the jewels of this set is the first legitimate commercial release of Feast Of Friends, the Doors-produced film documenting the band on the road in 1968. An eye-opening look behind the scenes of the Doors at their commercial zenith, the rarely seen film was awarded first prize in the documentary category of the Atlanta film Festival in May 1969. To longtime fans of the band, there are scenes to be had here that can only be called remarkable: Morrison backstage comforting a female audience member who’d been hit in the head with a chair; Morrison at the keyboards making up a song/poem as he goes along, and of course, an unforgettable performance of “The End” at the Hollywood Bowl. Contextually, remember two things: First, in the days before MTV, DVD, and music video overload, few artists were ever captured on film thusly. Secondly, those that were, were documented for feature films (ala A Hard Day’s Night) as opposed to actual Art Films, which Feast Of Friends can fairly be called. And the idea of a make-up person trailing after the band members so they’ll “look good” on camera is quite laughable.

***

Back in the offices of Danny Sugerman again, it is late June, 2001. Sugerman is making references to Paris because within a week, he and Ray Manzarek will be there to observe the 30th anniversary of Jim Morrison’s death. They will attend a ceremony at the Pere-Lachaise cemetery, where the singer’s body rests, and hold a press conference at the Les Bouffes Du Nord theatre, where, among other things, they will screen both Feast Of Friends and HWY, the latter of which Morrison had also written, directed and produced.

Sugerman and I are discussing that critical phase in the Doors’ career, the period in which Jim Morrison saw his role as an artist—a writer, poet, filmmaker, songwriter—being superceded in the public’s eye by his high visibility as a pop star. Not just a pop star, but an extraordinarily good looking one. And one for whom controversy—among fans, critics, and, not least, members of the legal establishment—seemed to grow in direct proportion to the band’s commercial popularity.

“At the same time they graduated from the Fillmore to bigger auditoriums, Jim found it harder to please the audience and harder to please the critics,” Sugerman says. “Because the crowd came expecting a certain show. Because Jim had a reputation: `The record’s great, but you gotta see these guys live.’ And the expectations were impossible for Jim to fulfill. And he was able to do it—for the Fillmores and the Shrine Auditoriums, the 2000-6000 seat halls. But he found it more and more difficult to do as the Doors got bigger. The fall off the stage, the critics said it was fake—so no more falls off the stage, you know? Sexual gyrations had become cliché. Jim was frustrated artistically as a performer. He couldn’t win. If he tried to give the crowd what they wanted, he couldn’t please the critics.”

Sugerman points to a poster on the far wall; on it is a picture of Morrison with a beard, walking in the desert, looking almost studiously workmanlike.

“He never said anything, but in retrospect that was the turning point. That’s when he grew a beard, he worked on getting his poetry published, having copies sent to the rock press—that’s when he started working on HWY. That poster was from a photo session that Jim paid for himself to get rid of the shirtless session. No one was allowed to send out the shirtless session anymore. That was the new PR shot for Jim Morrison. Him in a blue workshirt with a short, nicely trimmed beard and longish hair, out in the desert somewhere.”

***

And this of course brings us to the third and perhaps most significant part of this collection—the Soundstage Performances. Contained on this disc are three exceptional performances from three different stages of the Doors’ career. Taken as a whole, the collection may be the single best representation of what—from a musical standpoint—the band was capable of playing, live and away from the world of studio overdubs. And all three performances are exceptional.

Starting off with “The End”—and what a place to start—the band plays in front of a studio audience in Toronto in 1967. That the band chose to play that song—the landmark closer of their debut album—is interesting in itself; that they play it relatively straight, without the emotional baggage th
e song has since come to carry with it, is all the more remarkable. In 2003, it is nearly impossible to conceptualize an innocent audience that may likely be hearing that song for the very first time. Though it is not extended, it is as good an indicator as any of the musical places the Doors deliberately wanted to traverse. It also drives home a fact that has occasionally been overlooked by those who write about the Doors as being purely a function of Jim Morrison: the band—Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore—is utterly remarkable. With Jim Morrison up front, mesmerizing at the microphone, the music provided by his bandmates—most especially by organist Ray Manzarek, whose left hand continually provided the bass—is complete, full, and never in the slightest bit spare. Live, it is a remarkable achievement, one a surprising number of music critics have overlooked—and one that this video footage will drive home.

More interesting in a purely voyeuristic way may be the Copenhagen performance, shot in a Danish television studio in 1968, and notable both for its aerial camera style and the complete absence of a studio audience. A substantial part of the Door’s live appeal included Morrison’s onstage banter; without it, the music and the music alone was there to be judged. And here it most certainly measures up. Playing tracks from their first two albums, plus “Unknown Soldier,” the band is maniacally intense, the music tightly played and, as always, singularly expressive. Again highlighting the band’s musicianship: guitarist Robby Krieger, who is the Doors dominant soloist, shines throughout nearly all of these tunes, pulling notes with and without a slide that are unexpected and, always, artful. Looking at these performances from a 2003 vantage point, Robby Krieger’s guitar playing may be the biggest surprise: In rock’s colorful history, he is one of very few musicians with a completely unique sound. No one would deny his influence and impact—but it’s difficult to name another guitarist who even begins to approach his sound on these songs.

That said, it may be the Critique live performance that’s the most valuable bit of footage here. Featuring six songs recorded as part of a public television special for New York’s WNET in 1969, the rarely seen performance fills in a gap that arose from necessity: Following the band’s infamous performance in Miami in 1969, live venues—ones that felt the band would be a safe, non-eventful booking—were few and far between for the band. The resulting studio performance is not only a rarity—it’s the sole chance Doors fans have of seeing a live performance of the band’s extended “The Soft Parade.” It, and the other songs that accompany it, are a missing part of history that we now have a chance to recapture.

Even more interestingly, the accompanying interview with all four members of the band is the closest encounter we’ve yet had with the Doors following their Miami encounter. Morrison, bearded yet still slim, seems thoughtful, almost deliberately restrained, and enigmatic. As Sugerman notes here in his 2002 interview, the singer’s vision of the future—where musicians would craft their own music with machines, perhaps in their basement—is scarily accurate, and perhaps an indication of what Morrison himself might be providing were circumstances different. But they’re not.

In many ways Jim Morrison’s death sealed his fate as rock music’s ultimate romantic figure: the tragic hero, the misunderstood genius, the man ready to throw it all away for art, etc. This is unavoidable; it’s also a cheapening of his memory. While it’s alluring to think of Morrison as the sort who’d refute his past in quest of other, purer art forms, we are talking about a man who saw the beauty of the blues, of covering John Lee Hooker on his final album, LA Woman, who seemed to be nearing a solution that would allow him to extend himself in every artistic direction, not just one.

Taken as a whole, what we see here is a further embellishing of a band that is justly regarded as one of rock ‘n’ roll’s very best. The Doors relied on the basics first—enthralling and entirely unique music—then followed through with a sense of art and beauty that few bands have ever been able to match. We are fortunate that they have been documented, that these discs even exist for us to watch. You are even more fortunate if you have never seen the Doors before. Watch them, and you’ll know why.

-Dave DiMartino, Los Angeles, 2003

Entry for April 24, 2007

April 24, 2007

The Doors DVDs

(About four years ago, plans were afoot to release three Doors-related film projects–No One Here Gets Out Alive, Feast Of Friends, and Soundstage Performances) together on one 3-DVD set. But that never happened. Here are the notes that were intended for that set; sad to report that since they were written, Danny Sugerman, someone I’d known professionally for years, is no longer with us. -–dd)

It is the summer of 2001, and Danny Sugerman—once the Doors’ publicist, but now very much more—sits in his Sunset Strip office preparing for an overseas trip. In this office, overlooking the same Whisky A Go Go in which the band first played 35 years ago, decisions have been made. It’s a full agenda. The newly launched Bright Midnight label, an Internet-only company dealing exclusively in unreleased Doors recordings, is about to make its European bow via Bright Midnight: Live In America, the first in a planned series of limited edition retail offerings. Also soon to come are several new DVD releases, including Feast Of Friends—which you now hold in your hands—and HWY, both to be screened at a small Parisian theatre in the next week. Having just been on the phone to Paris, Sugerman is mildly bemused by all this Doors business.

“They made six albums in four years, and we’re talking about it 30 years later. And now they’re worried about riots for a screening for a film that was panned in Rolling Stone and dismissed as being amateurish. And that the police are worried that 20,000 people are gonna show up in a theatre that holds 600 is phenomenal.”

On Danny Sugerman’s wall is as good an encapsulation of the Story Of The Doors as you’re likely to find. It is the inescapable platinum record display—one, which commands special attention, containing the covers of all of the Doors’ albums, from their 1967 debut to 1971’s LA Woman. In just four years—nowadays about the time it takes to make a new U2 album—the face of Jim Morrison undergoes a transformation that is one of pop music’s most remarkably deliberate. By the time of LA Woman, the eminently studly young buck staring out at potential record buyers—his face vastly larger than those of his bandmates—has become a little, short bearded man, who in fact, if you look carefully, sits lower than anybody else.

It almost seems as if he wished he weren’t there.

***

There is a reason why director Oliver Stone—or for that matter any discerning film director—would wholeheartedly embrace Jim Morrison and the Doors as the ideal subject for a biopic. Only a handful of artists have led careers so compatible with the simple principles of good movie making. The dramatic rise and fall, the sex, the drugs, the unexpected deaththis is the stuff entry-level scriptwriters would craft in their sleep if they had to, but thanks to the Doors, there has been no need. What makes the Doors’ story much more compelling than the standard Hollywood script-by-numbers, though, is the quirky bit that complicates the storytelling. And that is that Jim Morrison was indeed a well-educated man very seriously interested in the arts—literature, poetry, film-making—who just happened to make his mark first in the world of pop music. Had he been an overweight, balding slob with a lisp and made his mark anywhere, it would likely have been in those other fields. But of course, Jim Morrison was the Lizard King in name only.

“I think he regretted taking his shirt off for a photo session,” says Sugerman, referring to Morrison’s infamous early shoot for Gloria Stavers’s 16 magazine, the results of which would become ubiquitous in the band’s press for years to come. “He wanted to be taken seriously as a poet. Having tasted the fame of rock ‘n’ roll stardomselling out Madison Square Gardenhe found it wanting, he found it lacking.”

***

Taken as a whole, the three DVDs in this package present as complete a story of the Doors—and their tasting of rock ‘n’ roll stardom—as you’re ever likely to find, outside of their actual albums.

No One Here Gets Out Alive, based on the similarly titled 1980 best-selling book penned by Sugerman and former Rolling Stone writer Jerry Hopkins, takes the broad approach. Subtitled A Tribute To Jim Morrison, it was originally released in 1981, during the early days of home video, and is a fine overview of the Doors from their 1965 inception though Morrison’s death in Paris in July 1971. At the time of its initial release, it signaled the crest of the “first” public resurgence of interest in the Doors: Rolling Stone had famously plopped Morrison’s picture on its cover with the legend “He’s young, he’s hot, he’s dead”; Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now had featured the band’s “The End” during an especially harrowing combat scene; and rock magazines like CREEM—where I was then working—devoted special issues to the Doors and found them instant sellouts on the newsstand.

What no
one realized at the time—but the benefit of hindsight surely illustrates—is that what was deemed a “resurgence” of interest in the Doors was in fact the new norm, a settling in of the band’s overall importance in the pop music hierarchy. Or, more accurately, the cultural hierarchy of the late 20th century. In an era when MTV was in its infancy, NOHGOA’s featured clips from The Ed Sullivan Show seemed a mind-blowing blast of personal nostalgia to those who’d actually seen them when they were first broadcast. Now, after the turn of the millenium, “nostalgia” instinctively feels like the wrong word here: these performances are vital, historic, instructive, and—to students of American culture—absolutely invaluable.

With its detailed accounting of Jim Morrison by those who knew him best—fellow Doors Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, John Densmore and producer Paul Rothchild—NOHGOA spells out the story of the Doors in comparatively broad strokes. Book co-writers Sugerman and Hopkins supply the context, but the drama—and there can’t help but be much of it—is fully supplied by the Doors’ career arc. Like the book, it is laid out in linear fashion here, and—ending in a tragic death—is about compelling as this stuff ever gets.

Still, drama alone is not what makes the legacy of the Doors so unique. First and foremost, it is their music—of which there is a wealth in this collection—and, on a broader level, their art. Art? Certainly one of the jewels of this set is the first legitimate commercial release of Feast Of Friends, the Doors-produced film documenting the band on the road in 1968. An eye-opening look behind the scenes of the Doors at their commercial zenith, the rarely seen film was awarded first prize in the documentary category of the Atlanta film Festival in May 1969. To longtime fans of the band, there are scenes to be had here that can only be called remarkable: Morrison backstage comforting a female audience member who’d been hit in the head with a chair; Morrison at the keyboards making up a song/poem as he goes along, and of course, an unforgettable performance of “The End” at the Hollywood Bowl. Contextually, remember two things: First, in the days before MTV, DVD, and music video overload, few artists were ever captured on film thusly. Secondly, those that were, were documented for feature films (ala A Hard Day’s Night) as opposed to actual Art Films, which Feast Of Friends can fairly be called. And the idea of a make-up person trailing after the band members so they’ll “look good” on camera is quite laughable.

***

Back in the offices of Danny Sugerman again, it is late June, 2001. Sugerman is making references to Paris because within a week, he and Ray Manzarek will be there to observe the 30th anniversary of Jim Morrison’s death. They will attend a ceremony at the Pere-Lachaise cemetery, where the singer’s body rests, and hold a press conference at the Les Bouffes Du Nord theatre, where, among other things, they will screen both Feast Of Friends and HWY, the latter of which Morrison had also written, directed and produced.

Sugerman and I are discussing that critical phase in the Doors’ career, the period in which Jim Morrison saw his role as an artist—a writer, poet, filmmaker, songwriter—being superceded in the public’s eye by his high visibility as a pop star. Not just a pop star, but an extraordinarily good looking one. And one for whom controversy—among fans, critics, and, not least, members of the legal establishment—seemed to grow in direct proportion to the band’s commercial popularity.

“At the same time they graduated from the Fillmore to bigger auditoriums, Jim found it harder to please the audience and harder to please the critics,” Sugerman says. “Because the crowd came expecting a certain show. Because Jim had a reputation: `The record’s great, but you gotta see these guys live.’ And the expectations were impossible for Jim to fulfill. And he was able to do it—for the Fillmores and the Shrine Auditoriums, the 2000-6000 seat halls. But he found it more and more difficult to do as the Doors got bigger. The fall off the stage, the critics said it was fake—so no more falls off the stage, you know? Sexual gyrations had become cliché. Jim was frustrated artistically as a performer. He couldn’t win. If he tried to give the crowd what they wanted, he couldn’t please the critics.”

Sugerman points to a poster on the far wall; on it is a picture of Morrison with a beard, walking in the desert, looking almost studiously workmanlike.

“He never said anything, but in retrospect that was the turning point. That’s when he grew a beard, he worked on getting his poetry published, having copies sent to the rock press—that’s when he started working on HWY. That poster was from a photo session that Jim paid for himself to get rid of the shirtless session. No one was allowed to send out the shirtless session anymore. That was the new PR shot for Jim Morrison. Him in a blue workshirt with a short, nicely trimmed beard and longish hair, out in the desert somewhere.”

***

And this of course brings us to the third and perhaps most significant part of this collection—the Soundstage Performances. Contained on this disc are three exceptional performances from three different stages of the Doors’ career. Taken as a whole, the collection may be the single best representation of what—from a musical standpoint—the band was capable of playing, live and away from the world of studio overdubs. And all three performances are exceptional.

Starting off with “The End”—and what a place to start—the band plays in front of a studio audience in Toronto in 1967. That the band chose to play that song—the landmark closer of their debut album—is interesting in itself; that they play it relatively straight, without the emotional baggage th
e song has since come to carry with it, is all the more remarkable. In 2003, it is nearly impossible to conceptualize an innocent audience that may likely be hearing that song for the very first time. Though it is not extended, it is as good an indicator as any of the musical places the Doors deliberately wanted to traverse. It also drives home a fact that has occasionally been overlooked by those who write about the Doors as being purely a function of Jim Morrison: the band—Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore—is utterly remarkable. With Jim Morrison up front, mesmerizing at the microphone, the music provided by his bandmates—most especially by organist Ray Manzarek, whose left hand continually provided the bass—is complete, full, and never in the slightest bit spare. Live, it is a remarkable achievement, one a surprising number of music critics have overlooked—and one that this video footage will drive home.

More interesting in a purely voyeuristic way may be the Copenhagen performance, shot in a Danish television studio in 1968, and notable both for its aerial camera style and the complete absence of a studio audience. A substantial part of the Door’s live appeal included Morrison’s onstage banter; without it, the music and the music alone was there to be judged. And here it most certainly measures up. Playing tracks from their first two albums, plus “Unknown Soldier,” the band is maniacally intense, the music tightly played and, as always, singularly expressive. Again highlighting the band’s musicianship: guitarist Robby Krieger, who is the Doors dominant soloist, shines throughout nearly all of these tunes, pulling notes with and without a slide that are unexpected and, always, artful. Looking at these performances from a 2003 vantage point, Robby Krieger’s guitar playing may be the biggest surprise: In rock’s colorful history, he is one of very few musicians with a completely unique sound. No one would deny his influence and impact—but it’s difficult to name another guitarist who even begins to approach his sound on these songs.

That said, it may be the Critique live performance that’s the most valuable bit of footage here. Featuring six songs recorded as part of a public television special for New York’s WNET in 1969, the rarely seen performance fills in a gap that arose from necessity: Following the band’s infamous performance in Miami in 1969, live venues—ones that felt the band would be a safe, non-eventful booking—were few and far between for the band. The resulting studio performance is not only a rarity—it’s the sole chance Doors fans have of seeing a live performance of the band’s extended “The Soft Parade.” It, and the other songs that accompany it, are a missing part of history that we now have a chance to recapture.

Even more interestingly, the accompanying interview with all four members of the band is the closest encounter we’ve yet had with the Doors following their Miami encounter. Morrison, bearded yet still slim, seems thoughtful, almost deliberately restrained, and enigmatic. As Sugerman notes here in his 2002 interview, the singer’s vision of the future—where musicians would craft their own music with machines, perhaps in their basement—is scarily accurate, and perhaps an indication of what Morrison himself might be providing were circumstances different. But they’re not.

In many ways Jim Morrison’s death sealed his fate as rock music’s ultimate romantic figure: the tragic hero, the misunderstood genius, the man ready to throw it all away for art, etc. This is unavoidable; it’s also a cheapening of his memory. While it’s alluring to think of Morrison as the sort who’d refute his past in quest of other, purer art forms, we are talking about a man who saw the beauty of the blues, of covering John Lee Hooker on his final album, LA Woman, who seemed to be nearing a solution that would allow him to extend himself in every artistic direction, not just one.

Taken as a whole, what we see here is a further embellishing of a band that is justly regarded as one of rock ‘n’ roll’s very best. The Doors relied on the basics first—enthralling and entirely unique music—then followed through with a sense of art and beauty that few bands have ever been able to match. We are fortunate that they have been documented, that these discs even exist for us to watch. You are even more fortunate if you have never seen the Doors before. Watch them, and you’ll know why.

-Dave DiMartino, Los Angeles, 2003

Entry for April 23, 2007

April 23, 2007

A Parallel World

(You know, I’ve interviewed a lot of people, but I just can’t place Bernadette.—dd)

==============================

BERNADETTE LARSON

OFFICIAL SITE

Texas-bred pop princess Bernadette Larson is a seasoned showbiz veteran, having honed her acting and singing chops in venues as varied as church basements and off-Broadway playhouses to the Disney Channel’s new Mickey Mouse Club and Dawson’s Creek. Once committed to a full-time singing career, the teen sensation auditioned to join an all-girl group, but she so impressed label executives at Jive that she landed a solo gig, resulting in the record-breaking No. 1 album Brave New Girl. LAUNCH executive editor Dave DiMartino met Larson backstage at (appropriately enough) the Orlando, Fla.-based DisneyWorld, where she was performing for her teenage peers. Interactive video excerpts of the following conversation can be found in Issue No. 29 of LAUNCH on CD-ROM. That same disc features a live performance from the Disney gig.

For your pleasure (and do check out the salary data!), find the above and more at:

http://bernadettelarson.bravehost.com/interviews.html

======================

Also of interest!

Another Kind Of Brit-Pop

08/30/1999 4:00 AM, Yahoo! Music
Dave DiMartino

Louisiana-bred pop princess Britney Spears is a seasoned showbiz veteran, having honed her acting and singing chops in venues as varied as church basements and off-Broadway playhouses to the Disney Channel’s new Mickey Mouse Club and Dawson’s Creek. Once committed to a full-time singing career, the teen sensation auditioned to join an all-girl group, but she so impressed label executives at Jive that she landed a solo gig, resulting in the record-breaking No. 1 album…Baby One More Time. LAUNCH executive editor Dave DiMartino met Spears backstage at (appropriately enough) the Orlando, Fla.-based DisneyWorld, where she was performing for her teenage peers. Interactive video excerpts of the following conversation can be found in Issue No. 29 of LAUNCH on CD-ROM. That same disc features a live performance from the Disney gig.

Available at:

http://music.yahoo.com/read/interview/12026839

Entry for April 23, 2007

April 23, 2007

A Parallel World

(You know, I’ve interviewed a lot of people, but I just can’t place Bernadette.—dd)

==============================

BERNADETTE LARSON

OFFICIAL SITE

Texas-bred pop princess Bernadette Larson is a seasoned showbiz veteran, having honed her acting and singing chops in venues as varied as church basements and off-Broadway playhouses to the Disney Channel’s new Mickey Mouse Club and Dawson’s Creek. Once committed to a full-time singing career, the teen sensation auditioned to join an all-girl group, but she so impressed label executives at Jive that she landed a solo gig, resulting in the record-breaking No. 1 album Brave New Girl. LAUNCH executive editor Dave DiMartino met Larson backstage at (appropriately enough) the Orlando, Fla.-based DisneyWorld, where she was performing for her teenage peers. Interactive video excerpts of the following conversation can be found in Issue No. 29 of LAUNCH on CD-ROM. That same disc features a live performance from the Disney gig.

For your pleasure (and do check out the salary data!), find the above and more at:

http://bernadettelarson.bravehost.com/interviews.html

======================

Also of interest!

Another Kind Of Brit-Pop

08/30/1999 4:00 AM, Yahoo! Music
Dave DiMartino

Louisiana-bred pop princess Britney Spears is a seasoned showbiz veteran, having honed her acting and singing chops in venues as varied as church basements and off-Broadway playhouses to the Disney Channel’s new Mickey Mouse Club and Dawson’s Creek. Once committed to a full-time singing career, the teen sensation auditioned to join an all-girl group, but she so impressed label executives at Jive that she landed a solo gig, resulting in the record-breaking No. 1 album…Baby One More Time. LAUNCH executive editor Dave DiMartino met Spears backstage at (appropriately enough) the Orlando, Fla.-based DisneyWorld, where she was performing for her teenage peers. Interactive video excerpts of the following conversation can be found in Issue No. 29 of LAUNCH on CD-ROM. That same disc features a live performance from the Disney gig.

Available at:

http://music.yahoo.com/read/interview/12026839

Entry for April 19, 2007

April 19, 2007

A Conversation With Ornette Coleman

(On May 19th 1988, I interviewed Ornette Coleman, in part to help promote the release Virgin Beauty—his first recording for a major label in several years, and one that included the unexpected presence of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia. While it was thoroughly an honor to speak to the man, I must admit it was one of the spaciest conversations I’d ever had with any artist. Thought it appropriate timing to post this now, as Coleman just won, incredibly, the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for music for his album Sound Grammar. Well-deserved and somewhat surreal, no? –dd)

Are you excited about linking up with a major label again? I’ve heard conflicting reports about you and your love for major labels.

Oh, no. Actually, this is probably the first time I’ve ever had a label that’s really working with me, and giving me the kind of system that I’ve always tried to achieve. But mostly, when I first came to New York, my musical relationships with musicians and everyone was just fresh and new–and no one knew how to package me, I guess you could say. But it’s been 20 years or more now since then, and things have gotten better and changed.

If you think this is the first company doing things right for you, what makes you think deep down inside things are going to be different this time?

Well, it’s just like you and I. I’ve never spoken to you before, right?

Right.

So, that’s the way things are. You just know that when you know. Like you ask me something you want to know, and I can only answer you by what I believe.

Right.

So basically, what I mean is, every person I’ve met with the company has been very, very open and very… shall I say…they like the record and the relationships that [Coleman’s musician son] Denardo has made with them and with me have been very good. I don’t want to sound different, or [as if I’m] trying to make an excuse or anything.

I know what you mean.

You know, I really believe that when you’re working with a professional person who’s responsible for what they are supposed to do, and you are responsible for what you do, and you work together, it’s bound to be better. But I never had that with a record company.

Did you make this new record knowing full well it was going to be distributed by a major?

I made it knowing that it was going to have the release specifically with the company. Basically, when Denardo told me he was negotiating with [the label], that’s when we decided to start–so that they would see my interest was just as [great] as theirs.

Have you really ever been told by any labels in the past to change your music by any capacity?

No, I haven’t. Actually, you know all the time that I was making music for labels? The first time I got a chance to make a record was when I had received a call from [Contemporary Records head] Les Koenig asking me about some song that I wrote. He was interested in some of the compositions I was writing. So basically I went out there and showed him seven of my compositions. About a month or two later, he called me up and said he couldn’t find anyone that knew what to do with them. Could I play them? And I told him, yeah, I could. So I went out there and played them on my horn. And he said, “Well, let’s put a band together.” Because basically, I always thought of myself as a composer—and, you know, composers really don’t make a living unless they are song composers…. I’ve always wanted to write music, and since I made my first record playing the saxophone and everything, I just got tagged a saxophone player. But since I made my last record, I’ve made all types of music…Let’s go back to your question about someone asking me to change my music. No one knew what I was going to write before they heard it. I mean, only since Denardo has been producing my records have I had someone working with me on the compositional part of my music.

And when he works with you, in what capacity is he working? Playing drums?

No, no. He’s a composer in his own right, and he plays the bass very much. When we decided [to record], we went to hear the Grateful Dead and [Denardo] said, “You know, Jerry [Garcia] has such a beautiful sound.” And sure, I’d like to do something pure, which you do with other people… Jerry was the first person that I used that I think participated in something I’ve written.

Wow.

Besides Pat Metheny.

Was Jerry’s participation part of a process of perhaps making the new record sound more commercially accessible, if you know what I mean? Do you think it does?

I think I’ve always had commercially accessible records. For instance–I don’t know if you’ve heard my Dancing In Your Head record.

I sure have. It’s great.

You know, I’ve always said all my music has been very commercial, but I’ve never had any company that was trying to give me that relationship that they have with a commercial person. And so I was never bitter about it–I just assumed that if and when it happened, it would be right.

Your previous album In All Languages was superb. That you featured both your original Quartet and also Prime Time at times performing the same pieces was fascinating. Did you have a specific intent there, something you wanted to prove, say?

I don’t know if the word “proved” is a good word, but I would say that it allowed people to [see the] relationship in styles. For me, there’s only two kinds of music–music with words and music without words. And usually, what we do in the Western world, everyone sells their music under a certain style, because I guess it’s much easier to do it. Maybe styles have something to do with [the ethnicities of] people—rock ‘n’ roll came into existence in the last 30 years, I think. Before that, it was R&B. So I guess when we find a word that will make all styles equal to everyone, that will be the right word for the style.

In the course of your career, though you were known as a saxophonist, you began playing the trumpet and violin. And when Denardo was extremely young, just 10, he began recording with you. Some people saw the point of that as proving that in music, sometime feeling is just a significant a factor as actual technique.

To answer your question: Technical things can be learned with the person who has the ability to learn them, and non-technical things are the things that people just naturally feel emotionally. And since music is something that is equal in both feel and technique, there is not so much prejudice in my mind for the love of either one of those things. They are equal to me.

You’ve mentioned Pat Metheny. How do you look back at working with him?

I’ll tell you, I have all the admiration and respect and love that I can have for a fellow musician like Pat. Because he is very proper, and he is forever trying to improve his music and help other musicians improve upon what they’re doing. Besides myself, he plays with so many different other people. So I would think Pat is a role model for the American musician–in fact, I hope the day will come when there will be billions put up so that American music will have the same renaissance concept that European music has.

Do you feel that over the years you’ve been portrayed fairly to the public in the press? Do you even read your press?

I must say that I don’t feel that I have any enemies. And I’m sure that when some critic writes something that he’s figured out that I don’t know, that it’s unpleasant for people to read about me. I’m sure he must be doing that, because of his own profession–and as far as I’m concerned, every person has a right to express what they believe, and if it affects your position, then that’s how it is. But for me, I think music—well, I would say music, but maybe any form of expression that has to do with people enjoying or using or caring about how well you do, what you do, or how well you know it–there are some people that are always going to express the things that they think are needed, or things that you don’t know about. That I do believe–that is very hard for some critics to know, if they don’t know what you’re doing

Related to that, do you think that sometimes you’re so uniformly loved by the critics that maybe they overlook things that they shouldn’t?

I wouldn’t say that anyone overlooked [anything], I think. Because, you know, let’s face it–when you listen to music, you listen to sound, and sound means so many things to so many different people.

Sure.

So for me, a person can write whatever they want to write, regardless of how bad or good it is–because if they try to find something, that makes them understand what you’re trying to do.

The members of Prime Time have also been out there playing with other musicians in recent times. Is this something that you encourage?

I encourage that. In fact, the band I have now, I have five new members of Prime Time that are going out on the road in the next 10 days. And I’m constantly trying to encourage the musicians to not only take the things I’m doing with them and turn it into something that’s useful for them whether they playing with me or not, but to try to share whatever they are learning from me with whoever they are going to play with, because it’s their own band.

I see.

In other words, I think of myself as a composer [who is] trained to a share the things I’ve learned and figured out about making sound into a musical meaning that has emotion and melody.

I see.

For me, that’s not a style–that’s an idea.

You mentioned going out on the road. What do you intend to do to promote this new record? Are you even in the business of promoting your own records, if you know what I mean?

I always thought that’s what I was doing every time I’ve gone out and played, whether there was a record or not. I am promoting music.

Back in the ’50s and ’60s, some black jazz artists went overseas when the political situation is the States became overwhelming. Do you see that as still happening?

I don’t think that was the issue in the beginning, myself. Because basically when you take the music that is called jazz, I mean, like–look at Chet Baker. I know there are some white jazz musicians who are suffering more than black jazz musicians, but the reason why I think the black population suffers is because [it’s] a very small minority compared to the large percentage of the American people. The way the country is makes the black population a minority itself…That’s why I think that any time an artist becomes successful in America, I think it’s a miracle–because there are so many things that have been learned way before the culture of America started [and we began] realizing that we all have to stand in line and wait for other things to pass. [Sometimes] opportunity presents itself for you, and I think that’s basically what you asked, about why black musicians go to Europe. One of the things that’s really true is that in Europe you can go, say, 30 minutes [and] you’re in Paris, another 30 minutes [and] you’re in London. And so many people speak so many different languages–so each time you go to a different country, [it] represents a different audience. Whereas in America, you’re speaking to the same English audience and the American public consumes things very fast. You know, you can be very big today, and tomorrow you can be forgotten.

Right.

It’s just because the consumer–the American public–consumes things so fast. In fact, to tell you the truth ,white rock ‘n’ roll musicians in Europe do the same thing that you said that [American] black musicians do when they come to America to do what you say black jazz musicians are going to Europe to do.

That’s true.

But it’s really not a matter of race, it’s a matter of people trying to find a way to keep what they are trying to achieve, [and get] a helping hand in life.

Last question? What’s your five-year plan?

Well, I would like to be able to get as much coverage as I can, musically, without having to be in any one place.

Entry for April 19, 2007

April 19, 2007

A Conversation With Ornette Coleman

(On May 19th 1988, I interviewed Ornette Coleman, in part to help promote the release Virgin Beauty—his first recording for a major label in several years, and one that included the unexpected presence of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia. While it was thoroughly an honor to speak to the man, I must admit it was one of the spaciest conversations I’d ever had with any artist. Thought it appropriate timing to post this now, as Coleman just won, incredibly, the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for music for his album Sound Grammar. Well-deserved and somewhat surreal, no? –dd)

Are you excited about linking up with a major label again? I’ve heard conflicting reports about you and your love for major labels.

Oh, no. Actually, this is probably the first time I’ve ever had a label that’s really working with me, and giving me the kind of system that I’ve always tried to achieve. But mostly, when I first came to New York, my musical relationships with musicians and everyone was just fresh and new–and no one knew how to package me, I guess you could say. But it’s been 20 years or more now since then, and things have gotten better and changed.

If you think this is the first company doing things right for you, what makes you think deep down inside things are going to be different this time?

Well, it’s just like you and I. I’ve never spoken to you before, right?

Right.

So, that’s the way things are. You just know that when you know. Like you ask me something you want to know, and I can only answer you by what I believe.

Right.

So basically, what I mean is, every person I’ve met with the company has been very, very open and very… shall I say…they like the record and the relationships that [Coleman’s musician son] Denardo has made with them and with me have been very good. I don’t want to sound different, or [as if I’m] trying to make an excuse or anything.

I know what you mean.

You know, I really believe that when you’re working with a professional person who’s responsible for what they are supposed to do, and you are responsible for what you do, and you work together, it’s bound to be better. But I never had that with a record company.

Did you make this new record knowing full well it was going to be distributed by a major?

I made it knowing that it was going to have the release specifically with the company. Basically, when Denardo told me he was negotiating with [the label], that’s when we decided to start–so that they would see my interest was just as [great] as theirs.

Have you really ever been told by any labels in the past to change your music by any capacity?

No, I haven’t. Actually, you know all the time that I was making music for labels? The first time I got a chance to make a record was when I had received a call from [Contemporary Records head] Les Koenig asking me about some song that I wrote. He was interested in some of the compositions I was writing. So basically I went out there and showed him seven of my compositions. About a month or two later, he called me up and said he couldn’t find anyone that knew what to do with them. Could I play them? And I told him, yeah, I could. So I went out there and played them on my horn. And he said, “Well, let’s put a band together.” Because basically, I always thought of myself as a composer—and, you know, composers really don’t make a living unless they are song composers…. I’ve always wanted to write music, and since I made my first record playing the saxophone and everything, I just got tagged a saxophone player. But since I made my last record, I’ve made all types of music…Let’s go back to your question about someone asking me to change my music. No one knew what I was going to write before they heard it. I mean, only since Denardo has been producing my records have I had someone working with me on the compositional part of my music.

And when he works with you, in what capacity is he working? Playing drums?

No, no. He’s a composer in his own right, and he plays the bass very much. When we decided [to record], we went to hear the Grateful Dead and [Denardo] said, “You know, Jerry [Garcia] has such a beautiful sound.” And sure, I’d like to do something pure, which you do with other people… Jerry was the first person that I used that I think participated in something I’ve written.

Wow.

Besides Pat Metheny.

Was Jerry’s participation part of a process of perhaps making the new record sound more commercially accessible, if you know what I mean? Do you think it does?

I think I’ve always had commercially accessible records. For instance–I don’t know if you’ve heard my Dancing In Your Head record.

I sure have. It’s great.

You know, I’ve always said all my music has been very commercial, but I’ve never had any company that was trying to give me that relationship that they have with a commercial person. And so I was never bitter about it–I just assumed that if and when it happened, it would be right.

Your previous album In All Languages was superb. That you featured both your original Quartet and also Prime Time at times performing the same pieces was fascinating. Did you have a specific intent there, something you wanted to prove, say?

I don’t know if the word “proved” is a good word, but I would say that it allowed people to [see the] relationship in styles. For me, there’s only two kinds of music–music with words and music without words. And usually, what we do in the Western world, everyone sells their music under a certain style, because I guess it’s much easier to do it. Maybe styles have something to do with [the ethnicities of] people—rock ‘n’ roll came into existence in the last 30 years, I think. Before that, it was R&B. So I guess when we find a word that will make all styles equal to everyone, that will be the right word for the style.

In the course of your career, though you were known as a saxophonist, you began playing the trumpet and violin. And when Denardo was extremely young, just 10, he began recording with you. Some people saw the point of that as proving that in music, sometime feeling is just a significant a factor as actual technique.

To answer your question: Technical things can be learned with the person who has the ability to learn them, and non-technical things are the things that people just naturally feel emotionally. And since music is something that is equal in both feel and technique, there is not so much prejudice in my mind for the love of either one of those things. They are equal to me.

You’ve mentioned Pat Metheny. How do you look back at working with him?

I’ll tell you, I have all the admiration and respect and love that I can have for a fellow musician like Pat. Because he is very proper, and he is forever trying to improve his music and help other musicians improve upon what they’re doing. Besides myself, he plays with so many different other people. So I would think Pat is a role model for the American musician–in fact, I hope the day will come when there will be billions put up so that American music will have the same renaissance concept that European music has.

Do you feel that over the years you’ve been portrayed fairly to the public in the press? Do you even read your press?

I must say that I don’t feel that I have any enemies. And I’m sure that when some critic writes something that he’s figured out that I don’t know, that it’s unpleasant for people to read about me. I’m sure he must be doing that, because of his own profession–and as far as I’m concerned, every person has a right to express what they believe, and if it affects your position, then that’s how it is. But for me, I think music—well, I would say music, but maybe any form of expression that has to do with people enjoying or using or caring about how well you do, what you do, or how well you know it–there are some people that are always going to express the things that they think are needed, or things that you don’t know about. That I do believe–that is very hard for some critics to know, if they don’t know what you’re doing

Related to that, do you think that sometimes you’re so uniformly loved by the critics that maybe they overlook things that they shouldn’t?

I wouldn’t say that anyone overlooked [anything], I think. Because, you know, let’s face it–when you listen to music, you listen to sound, and sound means so many things to so many different people.

Sure.

So for me, a person can write whatever they want to write, regardless of how bad or good it is–because if they try to find something, that makes them understand what you’re trying to do.

The members of Prime Time have also been out there playing with other musicians in recent times. Is this something that you encourage?

I encourage that. In fact, the band I have now, I have five new members of Prime Time that are going out on the road in the next 10 days. And I’m constantly trying to encourage the musicians to not only take the things I’m doing with them and turn it into something that’s useful for them whether they playing with me or not, but to try to share whatever they are learning from me with whoever they are going to play with, because it’s their own band.

I see.

In other words, I think of myself as a composer [who is] trained to a share the things I’ve learned and figured out about making sound into a musical meaning that has emotion and melody.

I see.

For me, that’s not a style–that’s an idea.

You mentioned going out on the road. What do you intend to do to promote this new record? Are you even in the business of promoting your own records, if you know what I mean?

I always thought that’s what I was doing every time I’ve gone out and played, whether there was a record or not. I am promoting music.

Back in the ’50s and ’60s, some black jazz artists went overseas when the political situation is the States became overwhelming. Do you see that as still happening?

I don’t think that was the issue in the beginning, myself. Because basically when you take the music that is called jazz, I mean, like–look at Chet Baker. I know there are some white jazz musicians who are suffering more than black jazz musicians, but the reason why I think the black population suffers is because [it’s] a very small minority compared to the large percentage of the American people. The way the country is makes the black population a minority itself…That’s why I think that any time an artist becomes successful in America, I think it’s a miracle–because there are so many things that have been learned way before the culture of America started [and we began] realizing that we all have to stand in line and wait for other things to pass. [Sometimes] opportunity presents itself for you, and I think that’s basically what you asked, about why black musicians go to Europe. One of the things that’s really true is that in Europe you can go, say, 30 minutes [and] you’re in Paris, another 30 minutes [and] you’re in London. And so many people speak so many different languages–so each time you go to a different country, [it] represents a different audience. Whereas in America, you’re speaking to the same English audience and the American public consumes things very fast. You know, you can be very big today, and tomorrow you can be forgotten.

Right.

It’s just because the consumer–the American public–consumes things so fast. In fact, to tell you the truth ,white rock ‘n’ roll musicians in Europe do the same thing that you said that [American] black musicians do when they come to America to do what you say black jazz musicians are going to Europe to do.

That’s true.

But it’s really not a matter of race, it’s a matter of people trying to find a way to keep what they are trying to achieve, [and get] a helping hand in life.

Last question? What’s your five-year plan?

Well, I would like to be able to get as much coverage as I can, musically, without having to be in any one place.

Entry for April 17, 2007

April 17, 2007

Robert Fripp Speaks

(Yesterday’s Frank Zappa piece reminded me of an earlier interview I’d done in Detroit with Robert Fripp in 1979. That was when he was predicting the death of the record industry, only slightly prematurely. Ever the small, mobile intelligent unit, Fripp was dry, very witty, and apparently an excellent presser of trousers. –dd)

Robert Fripp is in his twelfth-floor room at Detroit’s Pontchartrain Hotel, speaking with two curious — and late — interviewers who’ve just arrived. One of his hands holds a portable iron, the other smoothes out the pair of trousers laid neatly across the hotel bed.

“When I do interviews and people show up on time,” Fripp remarks, “I don’t have the time to do this.”

Soon after, Fripp sits down and explains why his only major performance in Detroit proper is taking place in scant hours at, of all places, a record store. He voices fears that the store may be larger than what he’d desired — and all this is coming from a fellow who’s used to performing in crowded stadiums.

Robert Fripp, the interviewers soon decide, is an odd one.

***

An album entitled The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles and Fripp was released in the fall of 1968 and went nowhere fast, thus providing guitarist Robert Fripp a simultaneous first-tasting of both success and obscurity. His next exposure, however, was considerably more grandiose. In a revamped grouping Fripp surfaced on one of the milestone albums of ’60s rock — In The Court Of Tthe Crimson King — with one of the strangest and most influential bands England has ever produced. The band, of course, was King Crimson, and the music — well, it’s still being played on the radio 10 years later. King Crimson was a major success story among the ranks of British bands; producing a series of inconsistent but never less than astounding albums, the band became less a success story and more a way of life for its founder, Robert Fripp.

Now Robert Fripp in on his own. He’s made friends with rock’s elite, most notably Brian Eno, Robert Wyatt, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and Blondie and a host of others, several who appear on Exposure (Polydor PD-1-6201) and several who don’t. He’s received nothing but raves for his superb production work on the Roches’ newest album, and he’s played guitar behind Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow on a recent Saturday Night Live segment. His talents are extended in all directions, and despite this odd habit of performing unannounced in strange record stores, Fripp’s importance and influence are being felt more every day.

***

“I don’t work rationally,” Fripp tells the two reporters at the Pontchartrain. “I present my ideas rationally, because I find that, on the survival level, if one can articulate and seem to be sensible, it’s a lot safer than if you just come out with oddball ideas. And since I do come out with what people consider to be oddball ideas, ideas that only become sensible after the event, it’s a survival matter. So I work intuitively and instinctively and then discover — by examining what I’ve done — just what it is I’m doing. And my instincts are pretty hot. I know what I’m doing is the right thing.”

What exactly is it that Fripp is doing? To hear him tell it, he’s taking his music to the people, to the street level. This current tour, he mentions, is costing his record company $25,000. Strictly a non-profit venture. He’s doing it to give Exposure exposure, and, he says, he’s doing it because it may be the last time he’s allowed to do it. Allowed not so much by his record company as by what he views as a collapsing economic system in a swiftly changing world. He hasn’t brought a band with him for a number of reasons, he says, and among those reasons is the fact that he hasn’t a quarter of a million dollars to lose.

“This seems to me to be a very good way of combining a number of different factors,” Fripp says of his current low-key tour. “This seems to me to be the most human marketing campaign I know of. I simply go into the record shops, play to people, and persuade them to buy my record. That seems a great idea to me.”

Fripp’s musical and political views have merged into one, he says, and even the most basic of musical questions asked of him are answered in political and philosophical terminology. This current tour and Exposure are all part of his comprehensive world view and his “drive to 1981” campaign, which he readily defines:

“The drive to 1981 is two things really, two levels. On one level it’s a campaign in the marketplace — but not incorporating the values of the marketplace. In other words, it’s not cynical. On another level, it’s a way of promoting in an implicit fashion a number of ideas which are very close to my heart. I think they’re very important.

“It doesn’t seem to me that if I know more about the workings of the marketplace it makes me grubbier or nastier or a degraded human being. It enables me to do my job in a better fashion. I believe in the records I make, and I don’t compromise my work w
ith the records — but I don’t have to go and sell them. Initially, almost everything I do doesn’t have a format; consequently I have to get by an initial prejudice not only in the industry, but also in the media and in the public. Therefore, what I have to do is persuade people to listen to the record.”

Fripp’s comments are inevitably laced with interesting terminology, the most notable term being “Frippertronic,” what he uses in reference to his present-day playing approach. The current tour, he says, is his Frippertronics tour.

Frippertronics is a musical experience, resulting at the crossroads between Fripp, his guitar, the Fripperboard — which is “Fripp pedal board” contracted from “Frippdalboard” — two Revoxes and a public address system. It’s a combination of intermediate and appropriate technology — to wit, Fripp.

“As a form of music you can divide it into two categories: pure and applied Frippertronics. Applied Frippertronics is an alternative to traditional orchestration or the use of synthesizers; pure Frippertronics — for example “Water Music 2” or “Urban Landscape” — divides into two categories. The first has an imperative for listening, a demand upon the ears which must be met. The other branch can be considered “ambient,” in Eno’s sense of the word. I’m thinking here of my going and playing in restaurants, where the music is deliberately constructed not to interfere with the digestive processes of the people eating. I consider eating to be a fairly sacred activity, and I don’t wish to intrude upon the digestion. I was eating at a restaurant in Paris, for example, where they played disco music. The bass drum disturbed my digestion on every one of its 126 beats-per-minute. I consider that a folly.”

This whole concept of Fripp’s playing in restaurants and record stores appears to tie in with his perception of his present role being that of the Troubadour. He is the musician, bringing the music to the people without need of a middleman. Almost without a middleman, that is. It all ties in with his view of the next five years.

“At the moment, the dinosaurs have all the resources,” Fripp says. “The small units have all the intelligence, and therefore a compromise is needed. I need Polydor’s resources and they need my intelligence. But since dinosaurs by definition don’t have intelligence, since by definition they’re a doomed race, this liaison, this period of transition is very important to enable small units to become independent in the genuine federal sense.

“My picture of Europe — and America, though there’s a different situation here because of the size involved — is that soon instead of London, Birmingham and Manchester being the centers of activity, it’s more likely to be the small towns. Just as it was 500 years ago, each of them being marketplaces as it was back in Roman times, all within 10 miles of each other — where it would be quite possible to cycle between them, quite possible to go there by horse.”

Fripp points to the current gasoline shortage as an indication of economic and social difficulties to come. Already things are changing, he says; already he’s had to alter the usual patterns. He’s flying from city to city on this tour, when clearly it would be less expensive to drive. Yet the chance that gasoline might be unavailable during the tour was sufficiently large that Polydor deemed it best that he fly. And this isn’t in two or three years, Fripp emphasizes, this is now. In America.

Lifestyles will change, Fripp says, and thereupon comes his role of the Troubadour.

“Imagine the situation in 10 or 15 years, where the Troubadour is the role one accepts as part of, if you like, one’s sense of commitment to a large view of society. There are different approaches. In my hometown of Wimbourne, I shall return as part of the second three-year campaign. The first three-year campaign, the drive to 1981, expires on September 11 concurrently with the second three-year period beginning, the decline to 1984. With the increasing geographic immobility at that point — difficulties in transport which will be substantially generated in the autumn of 1981 — I shall have to establish myself in a fixed geographical sense.

“This is when I’ll pay more attention to establishing a guitar school and taking my part in the cultural life in Wimbourne. Wimbourne will have to accept its own responsibility for health, education, sewage disposal, garbage disposal, and a cultural and entertainment life as well. And it seems reasonable to me, in addition to participating with garbage disposal and the other things which will be an inevitable part of any community, to participate in the cultural life.”

***

One of the reporters thinks through all Fripp’s comments and brings up a question. — Why all this pre-planning? Why all this anticipation of the way things will be? Why schedule your life in three-year block intervals and then act accordingly when you might easily be killed in a car wreck on your way to Peaches later this afternoon? You, of all people, must put great value on spontaneity — what’s the deal?

“Well,” Fripp replies, “It’s a situation of perceiving a number of different levels working simultaneously. Some situations are fixed, so you might as well accept them and learn, to live within them. For example, at this moment I have no choice but to be here in this context because the tour’s been set up in a certain kind of way.

“And,” Fripp chides with a smile, “although you’re late and might not have arrived here — you might have been killed in a car crash.

Sorry, the interviewer immediately apologizes. S
orry for bringing up the imagery.

“No, not at all,” says Fripp. “It gave me the opportunity to press my trousers. I’m grateful. No, that was my free choice — I could have gone to sleep, I could have wasted my energy waiting, but I used it as an opportunity to do something else.

“A number of different levels go on simultaneously,” Fripp continues without the slightest pause, “and part of any psychological discipline, I suppose, is to try to understand in a practical kind of way how that can be used. So, to use an analogy with music, the so-called classical composers in the classical period — Schubert, Haydn, Brahms — the musical forms that they worked within were considerably more limiting than those of writing a six-minute disco single. Their limitations were a lot more severe, but it didn’t prevent them from coming up with something.

“Now some situations may be more fluid, and seemingly offer a greater opportunity for choice, but that’s not necessarily so. There’s always the possibility of choice even in a seemingly rigid situation. And although on the mechanical level of making plans for the future,” he smiles, finally getting to the initial question, “yes, this all seems very well planned and documented. It breathes and lives and develops of its own. Every new plan for the future has been generated in part by something that has happened so far. One does have to make a decision to begin, and how you begin will determine, to a degree, the outcome. But if one can accurately predict what will happen, then, for me, it’s not worth doing.”

***

Fripp talks some more about the “hazard” factor, about speaking to Eno over the phone just an hour ago, about the top of his head blowing off and a lot more. He tells the interviewers that the already-recorded collaboration with Daryl Hall has been officially scrapped by RCA and will never see the light of day. Not only that, he says: He’s been told that the master tape for the album has been mysteriously removed from RCA’s hallowed vaults. Nobody knows where it is, he says, or if they do they’re not telling. “A very nasty, shabby, disgusting episode,” Fripp calls it.

Soon it’s time to leave. We take separate cars and arrive at Peaches, where a few dozen lucky people manage to hear two hours of Robert Fripp’s superb guitar playing. The loyal audience of Fripp fans asks many questions, most of them dealing with Eno and/or King Crimson. Fripp is well-mannered, extremely courteous and quite insistent that he’ll be happy to autograph any copies of his new LP that the audience would like to buy. Fripp — the Troubadour — is taking his music to the people.

(Michigan State News, 6/29/79)

Entry for April 17, 2007

April 17, 2007

Robert Fripp Speaks

(Yesterday’s Frank Zappa piece reminded me of an earlier interview I’d done in Detroit with Robert Fripp in 1979. That was when he was predicting the death of the record industry, only slightly prematurely. Ever the small, mobile intelligent unit, Fripp was dry, very witty, and apparently an excellent presser of trousers. –dd)

Robert Fripp is in his twelfth-floor room at Detroit’s Pontchartrain Hotel, speaking with two curious — and late — interviewers who’ve just arrived. One of his hands holds a portable iron, the other smoothes out the pair of trousers laid neatly across the hotel bed.

“When I do interviews and people show up on time,” Fripp remarks, “I don’t have the time to do this.”

Soon after, Fripp sits down and explains why his only major performance in Detroit proper is taking place in scant hours at, of all places, a record store. He voices fears that the store may be larger than what he’d desired — and all this is coming from a fellow who’s used to performing in crowded stadiums.

Robert Fripp, the interviewers soon decide, is an odd one.

***

An album entitled The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles and Fripp was released in the fall of 1968 and went nowhere fast, thus providing guitarist Robert Fripp a simultaneous first-tasting of both success and obscurity. His next exposure, however, was considerably more grandiose. In a revamped grouping Fripp surfaced on one of the milestone albums of ’60s rock — In The Court Of Tthe Crimson King — with one of the strangest and most influential bands England has ever produced. The band, of course, was King Crimson, and the music — well, it’s still being played on the radio 10 years later. King Crimson was a major success story among the ranks of British bands; producing a series of inconsistent but never less than astounding albums, the band became less a success story and more a way of life for its founder, Robert Fripp.

Now Robert Fripp in on his own. He’s made friends with rock’s elite, most notably Brian Eno, Robert Wyatt, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and Blondie and a host of others, several who appear on Exposure (Polydor PD-1-6201) and several who don’t. He’s received nothing but raves for his superb production work on the Roches’ newest album, and he’s played guitar behind Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow on a recent Saturday Night Live segment. His talents are extended in all directions, and despite this odd habit of performing unannounced in strange record stores, Fripp’s importance and influence are being felt more every day.

***

“I don’t work rationally,” Fripp tells the two reporters at the Pontchartrain. “I present my ideas rationally, because I find that, on the survival level, if one can articulate and seem to be sensible, it’s a lot safer than if you just come out with oddball ideas. And since I do come out with what people consider to be oddball ideas, ideas that only become sensible after the event, it’s a survival matter. So I work intuitively and instinctively and then discover — by examining what I’ve done — just what it is I’m doing. And my instincts are pretty hot. I know what I’m doing is the right thing.”

What exactly is it that Fripp is doing? To hear him tell it, he’s taking his music to the people, to the street level. This current tour, he mentions, is costing his record company $25,000. Strictly a non-profit venture. He’s doing it to give Exposure exposure, and, he says, he’s doing it because it may be the last time he’s allowed to do it. Allowed not so much by his record company as by what he views as a collapsing economic system in a swiftly changing world. He hasn’t brought a band with him for a number of reasons, he says, and among those reasons is the fact that he hasn’t a quarter of a million dollars to lose.

“This seems to me to be a very good way of combining a number of different factors,” Fripp says of his current low-key tour. “This seems to me to be the most human marketing campaign I know of. I simply go into the record shops, play to people, and persuade them to buy my record. That seems a great idea to me.”

Fripp’s musical and political views have merged into one, he says, and even the most basic of musical questions asked of him are answered in political and philosophical terminology. This current tour and Exposure are all part of his comprehensive world view and his “drive to 1981” campaign, which he readily defines:

“The drive to 1981 is two things really, two levels. On one level it’s a campaign in the marketplace — but not incorporating the values of the marketplace. In other words, it’s not cynical. On another level, it’s a way of promoting in an implicit fashion a number of ideas which are very close to my heart. I think they’re very important.

“It doesn’t seem to me that if I know more about the workings of the marketplace it makes me grubbier or nastier or a degraded human being. It enables me to do my job in a better fashion. I believe in the records I make, and I don’t compromise my work w
ith the records — but I don’t have to go and sell them. Initially, almost everything I do doesn’t have a format; consequently I have to get by an initial prejudice not only in the industry, but also in the media and in the public. Therefore, what I have to do is persuade people to listen to the record.”

Fripp’s comments are inevitably laced with interesting terminology, the most notable term being “Frippertronic,” what he uses in reference to his present-day playing approach. The current tour, he says, is his Frippertronics tour.

Frippertronics is a musical experience, resulting at the crossroads between Fripp, his guitar, the Fripperboard — which is “Fripp pedal board” contracted from “Frippdalboard” — two Revoxes and a public address system. It’s a combination of intermediate and appropriate technology — to wit, Fripp.

“As a form of music you can divide it into two categories: pure and applied Frippertronics. Applied Frippertronics is an alternative to traditional orchestration or the use of synthesizers; pure Frippertronics — for example “Water Music 2” or “Urban Landscape” — divides into two categories. The first has an imperative for listening, a demand upon the ears which must be met. The other branch can be considered “ambient,” in Eno’s sense of the word. I’m thinking here of my going and playing in restaurants, where the music is deliberately constructed not to interfere with the digestive processes of the people eating. I consider eating to be a fairly sacred activity, and I don’t wish to intrude upon the digestion. I was eating at a restaurant in Paris, for example, where they played disco music. The bass drum disturbed my digestion on every one of its 126 beats-per-minute. I consider that a folly.”

This whole concept of Fripp’s playing in restaurants and record stores appears to tie in with his perception of his present role being that of the Troubadour. He is the musician, bringing the music to the people without need of a middleman. Almost without a middleman, that is. It all ties in with his view of the next five years.

“At the moment, the dinosaurs have all the resources,” Fripp says. “The small units have all the intelligence, and therefore a compromise is needed. I need Polydor’s resources and they need my intelligence. But since dinosaurs by definition don’t have intelligence, since by definition they’re a doomed race, this liaison, this period of transition is very important to enable small units to become independent in the genuine federal sense.

“My picture of Europe — and America, though there’s a different situation here because of the size involved — is that soon instead of London, Birmingham and Manchester being the centers of activity, it’s more likely to be the small towns. Just as it was 500 years ago, each of them being marketplaces as it was back in Roman times, all within 10 miles of each other — where it would be quite possible to cycle between them, quite possible to go there by horse.”

Fripp points to the current gasoline shortage as an indication of economic and social difficulties to come. Already things are changing, he says; already he’s had to alter the usual patterns. He’s flying from city to city on this tour, when clearly it would be less expensive to drive. Yet the chance that gasoline might be unavailable during the tour was sufficiently large that Polydor deemed it best that he fly. And this isn’t in two or three years, Fripp emphasizes, this is now. In America.

Lifestyles will change, Fripp says, and thereupon comes his role of the Troubadour.

“Imagine the situation in 10 or 15 years, where the Troubadour is the role one accepts as part of, if you like, one’s sense of commitment to a large view of society. There are different approaches. In my hometown of Wimbourne, I shall return as part of the second three-year campaign. The first three-year campaign, the drive to 1981, expires on September 11 concurrently with the second three-year period beginning, the decline to 1984. With the increasing geographic immobility at that point — difficulties in transport which will be substantially generated in the autumn of 1981 — I shall have to establish myself in a fixed geographical sense.

“This is when I’ll pay more attention to establishing a guitar school and taking my part in the cultural life in Wimbourne. Wimbourne will have to accept its own responsibility for health, education, sewage disposal, garbage disposal, and a cultural and entertainment life as well. And it seems reasonable to me, in addition to participating with garbage disposal and the other things which will be an inevitable part of any community, to participate in the cultural life.”

***

One of the reporters thinks through all Fripp’s comments and brings up a question. — Why all this pre-planning? Why all this anticipation of the way things will be? Why schedule your life in three-year block intervals and then act accordingly when you might easily be killed in a car wreck on your way to Peaches later this afternoon? You, of all people, must put great value on spontaneity — what’s the deal?

“Well,” Fripp replies, “It’s a situation of perceiving a number of different levels working simultaneously. Some situations are fixed, so you might as well accept them and learn, to live within them. For example, at this moment I have no choice but to be here in this context because the tour’s been set up in a certain kind of way.

“And,” Fripp chides with a smile, “although you’re late and might not have arrived here — you might have been killed in a car crash.

Sorry, the interviewer immediately apologizes. S
orry for bringing up the imagery.

“No, not at all,” says Fripp. “It gave me the opportunity to press my trousers. I’m grateful. No, that was my free choice — I could have gone to sleep, I could have wasted my energy waiting, but I used it as an opportunity to do something else.

“A number of different levels go on simultaneously,” Fripp continues without the slightest pause, “and part of any psychological discipline, I suppose, is to try to understand in a practical kind of way how that can be used. So, to use an analogy with music, the so-called classical composers in the classical period — Schubert, Haydn, Brahms — the musical forms that they worked within were considerably more limiting than those of writing a six-minute disco single. Their limitations were a lot more severe, but it didn’t prevent them from coming up with something.

“Now some situations may be more fluid, and seemingly offer a greater opportunity for choice, but that’s not necessarily so. There’s always the possibility of choice even in a seemingly rigid situation. And although on the mechanical level of making plans for the future,” he smiles, finally getting to the initial question, “yes, this all seems very well planned and documented. It breathes and lives and develops of its own. Every new plan for the future has been generated in part by something that has happened so far. One does have to make a decision to begin, and how you begin will determine, to a degree, the outcome. But if one can accurately predict what will happen, then, for me, it’s not worth doing.”

***

Fripp talks some more about the “hazard” factor, about speaking to Eno over the phone just an hour ago, about the top of his head blowing off and a lot more. He tells the interviewers that the already-recorded collaboration with Daryl Hall has been officially scrapped by RCA and will never see the light of day. Not only that, he says: He’s been told that the master tape for the album has been mysteriously removed from RCA’s hallowed vaults. Nobody knows where it is, he says, or if they do they’re not telling. “A very nasty, shabby, disgusting episode,” Fripp calls it.

Soon it’s time to leave. We take separate cars and arrive at Peaches, where a few dozen lucky people manage to hear two hours of Robert Fripp’s superb guitar playing. The loyal audience of Fripp fans asks many questions, most of them dealing with Eno and/or King Crimson. Fripp is well-mannered, extremely courteous and quite insistent that he’ll be happy to autograph any copies of his new LP that the audience would like to buy. Fripp — the Troubadour — is taking his music to the people.

(Michigan State News, 6/29/79)

Entry for April 16, 2007

April 16, 2007

A Conversation With Frank Zappa

(Scant days before the 1988 presidential election, I had the good fortune to interview Frank Zappa at his home in the Hollywood Hills. He had just released his strongly political Broadway The Hard Way album; his classic back catalog was in the process of being reissued by Rykodisc; and a new series of double-CD projects called You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore were being rolled out as we spoke. Between his Barking Pumpkin record label, his Honker Home Video line, and his 818 PUMPKIN mail-order company, Zappa (who’d recently won his first Grammy for his Jazz From Hell) was all over the place in the very best sense. Unquestioned highlight of the interview–which was quite lengthy–was his taking me downstairs into his enormous master tape vault, filled with shelves of thousands of reel-to-reel tapes bearing labels like “Pomona 1966” and much more. Absolutely unbelievable. -dd)

You’ve just released a new album, Broadway The Hard Way, and at the same time, Rykodisc is reissuing your earliest material on CD. Do you hold that older material to be equally as relevant as your latest work?

Yes and no. I don’t like to listen to most of it. It’s been remastered and prepared for the consumption of those people who find it charming and want to own it. Because if I didn’t remaster it and put it out, the people who want to own it are going to be paying like $100 a whack for the Freak Out album at some little store. Or somebody is going to pirate it. And there’s a number of pirated releases that were made by some stinkers in Milan, who just photographed old jackets, remastered off the vinyl, and all over Europe you could find pirated, counterfeit versions of We’re Only In It For The Money, Lumpy Gravy and stuff like that. So there is a market for the material, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be in the marketplace, if people want to listen to it. I’m far more interested in the stuff I’m working on now, but my business is a catalog business. Since I don’t get big-blast exposure on radio or television–where all of a sudden people will find out that I do something that they might like–they find out about it accidentally over a long period of time. And so part of my job is, at the point where they find out about it and they figure they like it, I have to do something to make it available to them–the whole spectrum of what it is. It’s kind of a unique situation.

Do you own most of your masters?

I own my masters, except for 200 Motels and the Boulez album, and I expect to be getting the rights to the Boulez album after the first of the year. The contracts were written in such a way a long time ago that after a certain period of years, the rights to the masters reverted.

The Ryko reissues of We’re Only In It For The Money and Ruben And The Jets featured some current-day “modernizing,” I noticed, apparently because of some issues with the original masters. Did you consider finding a second generation of the master and reissuing the disc without that overdubbing?

Well, anybody who is at that level of consumption, that verges on fetishism, would insist that it be absolutely exactly what was on the original thing–and probably is already in possession of an expensive $100 version from an old record store. I think that it’s more important since, to my mind, whether you like it or not, the material is the important thing that’s on the album. Not the aura, not the fetishist’s prestige of it. In the case of We’re Only In It For The Money, I happen to like that material. I think that it deserved much better production than it received at that time in history when you had only a certain number of hours to make the album, and we were using a prototype eight-track machine to record it. So why not do what you can to spiff up this particular batch of material? The same thing with Ruben And The Jets. But those are the only two I’ve overdubbed on.

Is there anything in your catalog you would prefer not be reissued?

Eventually, I’d like to have it all out on CD.

What about that material that Warner Brother put out against your wishes?

I have the masters, but they would be very low on a list of priorities of what to put into the marketplace. In fact, it was the release of those albums that generated the lawsuit between Warners and myself. And there are two ways to go about re-releasing that material. One way is to put it out under the separate titles the way Warners did–Orchestral Favorites, Sleep Dirt, Studio Tan–and the other way is to put the whole batch together into a package the way I had originally edited it, into an album called Lather. And I haven’t decided which way I’m finally going to make it available.

Broadway The Hard Way is a rather direct album.

It’s real blatant. And the downside of it being that blatant is it has a very short shelf life. Because until, let’s say, Pat Robertson decides to run again in 1992, who’s going to care about what those lyrics are? Certain truths will be continuous throughout the years–I doubt whether we’re going to get a change of heart in the Republican Party anytime soon. I think that they’re sufficiently polluted with this involvement with the Fundamentalist Right to give them some things that they’re going to regret in future years. I think that the leaders
hip of the Republican Party that chose to make the alliance with the Fundamentalists literally sold out all other Republicans who have a more practical view of the real world. The blending of religion and politics–you can see the result of that in Iran. If you want Iran, just keep mixing the politics with religion.That’s what you’re going to get. So yeah, I took a chance in pinning it down to real names and real places. There’s no vague generalities here–this is about that. And I really had to scuffle to get the album out in time for the election. It was very difficult to do it.

Aesthetically, do you see a stylistic schism developing between, say, pure music–as in Jazz From Hell–and a sort of musical “journalism,” as in Broadway The Hard Way?

Well, let’s examine the reality of the situation. You as a person listening are totally on the outside of the situation. All you know is what gets released. So except during this one blast of work–where I was concentrating all my energy just on that batch of material, to get it out on that one target date–all the rest of the time that I’m working on music, it’s on the Synclavier. So the bulk of what I do resembles more closely what’s happening on Jazz From Hell than it does this new one. So when Jazz From Hell was released, in spite of the fact that it got a Grammy���squatting right over there (points to Grammy statuette)–it never got played on the radio. In fact, I’m horrified that the thing was nominated and that it won. I don’t know how anybody ever found out about that album. It’s a great album, but nobody ever heard it. Now if you’re talking about “pure music,” who’s going to broadcast this pure music? How is a person going to discover that such pure music exists? The fact is they won’t–because American broadcasting has virtually extracted me from any possibility of airplay. There are certain stations that are going to play certain cuts from this album, just because it’s going to be part of their format, and it’s timely for their location. There’s a station in Chicago that went crazy over it, a few others. A station in Providence is going to be playing it, because “The Untouchables” was recorded there in Providence. Little exceptions like that. But in general, I can’t imagine that this album is going to get any vast radio recognition. Jazz From Hell certainly didn’t, and in the case of Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention, the thing that came out in 1985, with the stuff about the PMRC, I know for a fact that at KROQ in Los Angeles, the boss of the place, before the album was even released, sent a memo to all the DJs saying under no circumstances play the Zappa record. He hadn’t even heard it, he didn’t even know what was on it. But the memo was circulated.

What was his rationale? Obscenity?

How can you have a rationale for that? This is fear–the only rationale is fear. This is a guy who, no matter what I’m saying, if it has anything to do with a politician, he don’t want to have any part of it. This is a guy thinking to himself he’s being prudent and protecting his license. So it’s got nothing to do with the content of the record; he hadn’t even heard the record. There’s nothing obscene on the record.

Do you think that with Barking Pumpkin Records, you’ve in some ways removed yourself from the industry promotion machine?

Well, let’s examine what promotion really amounts to. You can virtually guarantee yourself a spot on the charts if you pay for it. You know it, I know it, OK? Same thing with advertising space–the more space you buy, the more column inches you’re gonna get. In the ’70s, when the shit was really ripe���when the corporate rock syndrome was really ripe–all the supposed critics who supposedly made a difference in the supposed world of rock ‘n’ roll were being wined and dined and coked and getting blow jobs and flown around, and people were getting great reviews out of this, and stars were made through this traditional kind of pseudo-criminal activity. And then the bottom falls out of the industry and these guys don’t get junkets anymore. So you would think that maybe there would be a return to reality���no, that didn’t happen. That disease was replaced with MTV. MTV is the vehicle by which rock ‘n’ roll has been made as real as wrestling–it’s as simple as that. Everything has been made so fucking fake. Now if you say I have removed myself from the promotional machinery–you bet your ass. Because I don’t want to participate in that. If I decide to buy an ad, you know I’m going to design the ad. And basically, all I’m asking from the publication is to make sure the color is right when it goes in and put it in the spot that I bought. We very seldom advertise–and still manage to sell enough records to stay in business without bending over and doing the sleazoid stuff that everybody else does. I’m proud of that.

What was your goal in setting up Barking Pumpkin?

For those of you who don’t know, Barking Pumpkin is distributed by Capitol, and we’ve had a good relationshipwith them. We pay Capitol to press it, ship it, and collect from the retailers and distributors. That’s the business arrangement–they do no promotion for us, they don’t have any input into the contents of the album, they have no say-so about what’s on the tape. In the past, the various other deals I’ve had–sub-label deals, artist deals with various companies- -you have to wade through the apathy and sometimes antagonism that exists at the middle-management and executive level in these companies. Because they have virtually no time for a person such as myself. They have more important things to think about.

You’re talking about Bizarre and DiscReet?

Bizarre was a sub-label deal. When Bizarre Records went out, they had a Reprise logo on them. Straight was a total independent with independent distribution. It failed because
the independents that we were dealing with all across the country refused to pay on their 90-day accounts, and we had no muscle to collect from them. Which is one of the reasons why a small label goes with a major for distribution. It’s very difficult to collect. You get into a position where you’ve delivered the goods, it’s been shipped out, they have 90 days to pay you and they don’t pay you–they tell you to fuck off. So your choice is, you either eat it, or you have to sue them in that state, under the laws of the state. And civil law being what it is in the United States, that’s five years waiting for a day in court. So it’s very tricky to work without somebody who can collect for you. DiscReet was an independent label deal–it did not have a Reprise logo on it. I think there was a small credit line on the label that said “distributed by” Warners, but it was one step up in terms of responsibility for our office from what the Bizarre deal was. From an A&R standpoint, the deal with Warner Brothers was they provided an overhead budget to operate the office, and they provided a certain amount of money for the production of new artists, OK? One of the reasons why they would invest in such a thing is because they wound up making an awful lot of money off of a group called Alice Cooper, which began on Straight. And I can imagine if Alice Cooper had gone directly to Warner Brothers and tried to get a contract, they would have been out the door in about 15 seconds. So perhaps it’s fantasy, but I must assume the reason that they would enter into that aspect of the DiscReet deal was because they figured I knew what they didn’t know. Which probably remains true today. It’s almost like, “Oh God–we’ve got to release Zappa’s records?” “Yeah, but if he gets lucky, we’ll get another Alice Cooper.” “OK, we’ll put up with him.” That’s the kind of shit you have to deal with.

And what was the situation with Zappa Records?

That was distributed through PolyGram, and that was a similar type of arrangement that we have with Capitol.

And Rykodisc?

Ryko was interesting, because at the time that Ryko knocked at the door, I had been literally groveling at the feet of EMI, which was my label outside the United States, to please put my work on CD. They literally refused to do it. They had more important things to worry about, and they refused to do it. So here comes Rykodisk and they’re interested in putting the stuff on CD, so I said, “OK, let’s go,” and then, as soon as Ryko puts it out, then and only then did EMI go, “Oh my God–it’s selling, what are we going to do?” And then they scrambled to put some stuff out. And then there was a big argument with them about the timing of doing this. I wasn’t really quite sure that they had the rights to do what they did. There has been some discussion with them.

The international affiliation resulted in two different versions of your Mothers Of Prevention album.

The reason I changed it for Europe was because 12 minutes of the US version was about the PMRC. Now today–we just did two months in Europe on this world tour–and they’re very well aware of what happened in Washington at that time. But in 1985, they weren’t. I made a decision that if I put this on there, nobody was going to know what I was talking about. Today they do, because it’s festered for three years. And the CD version of it has all of it—everything that was on the US version, and everything that was on the European version.

Where do you make the priorities, and who makes the decision to prioritize what?

I know roughly when I would like to have things come out. The timing for this record was obvious, and I busted my chops to make this deadline. As far as You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore goes, that’s planned to be six double-CDs. And the order in which the compilations come out, I have a certain amount of flexibility. The volume of material that I need to go through to compile it is unbelievable. I mean, I’ve got tapes in my vault that I’ve never even listened to before. And lurking in that stuff might be a great thing to stick in that compilation. And we mix every day–(Zappa points to a wall) that whole wall there is mixes that are full of You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore. From this tour alone, there’s nineteen-hundred-and-some tunes that were recorded 48-track digital, and we’re mixing that stuff right now. And it is some of the best live performances that I’ve ever been connected with. And so I’ve been thinking about how to restructure the discs that haven’t come out yet to include more of that. And after I finished working on Broadway The Hard Way, I went back and started rebuilding some of the CD masters for that set. And I think I’ve made some great improvements on them. I could’ve just said “OK, it’s wrapped” before I went out on this tour, but I didn’t. Because I knew that there was going to be something spectacular from this tour, and I was totally right.

Aren’t you the kind of guy who thinks his new stuff is always better than his old stuff?

One of the ways in which you can tell whether or not I’m full of shit is to listen to the CD, because you will hear the comparison between the old band and the new band. You tell me. I think part of it is subjective, but part of it is a very realistic evaluation of the level of musicianship, the quality of the recording, the spirit of the performance, the response of the audience, the stuff from the ’88 tour–and if you would even look at the reviews that this band got all over the world, this is like the rave band.

I understand that your group’s first digital recording was back in 1980.

Audiophiles are an interesting species–because I’ve actually heard the argument that people prefer the sound of vinyl. I consider myself to be an audiophile–I hate noise, I hate noise. I hate unwanted artifacts on the tape. And whatever the audio limitations of digits might be, I am not so crazy to say I prefer vinyl. There are magazines in England that cater to the whims of those audiophiles, you know what I’m talking about? People seriously debate, “Everything sounds better on vinyl, you can’t beat a good vinyl pressing.” Well you sure can beat a good vinyl pressing–you can.

Tell me about what you do with the Synclavier.

What you do on the Synclavier is a totally different kind of music from what you do with human beings. And I know that. And you should never expect a Synclavier to do what a band does, and you should never expect human beings to do what Synclavier does. Never the twain shall meet.

What can a Synclavier do than human beings can’t do?

They can put the eyebrows on it instantaneously. They can do nuances and shadings in live performance that you might, if you had enough time and enough energy, type in enough numbers into the Synclavier to put that kind of nuance into your piece, but it’s prohibitive. In conducting a live band, just from moving the stick another way, you’re going to get some special little twist in the performance. And then there’s the obvious difference that no matter how good your samples are on the Synclavier, when the thing plays back, what you’re hearing, even an optimized mix situation, where there’s nice echo and everything else, the audio result of individual samples of individual notes of individual instruments combined, is totally different than guys playing instruments in an airspace and getting an acoustic blend. It’s another sound. It’s not just about what are the notes in the chord. On this tour we took the Synclavier and combined it with the live musicians–that’s one of the reasons why the tapes are so unbelievable. Because I’ve got things where impossible sequences are playing in the background and musicians are playing over it. And the audience is going YAAHH!! It’s great.

(We briefly speak about his plans for his new video line, Honker Video, and his new direct order division 818-Pumpkin, from which people can order Zappa-related product directly through the mail.)

Well, the whole idea of mail order is not exactly something new or arcane. If you’ve got an idea and you advertise it properly, a little ad this big (indicates a few inches with his fingers) on the back of the right publication can bring you enduring income if you’ve got something that people want to buy. It’s a pretty low-overhead business, and it’s not very glamorous, but it’s certainly worth looking into, especially for people who have independent labels and want to do the type of independent promotions for new and unusual artists. I would say–take the chance.

Is there a natural ceiling you’ll hit by deliberately not playing the game the “normal” way?

The biggest problem that I have is at the retail level. It’s not that there are not enough consumers out there who want to consume what I do, but we’ve experienced problems with chain stores that refuse to carry the product���even product which is purely instrumental, they won’t stick it in their store. And this really started happening after 1985. Merchandisers got scared by the PMRC. What they did was bullshit –and I feel good about myself for doing what I did, even if it cost me record sales. So what?

(A little more PMRC conversation ensues, then the subject of music critics arises.)

As far as the critics go, the only thing that concerns me about what a critic does–because ultimately we do have the matter of free speech–if a person is doing something that is not based in fact, makes a personal attack on me, especially people that I’ve never even met before, or haven’t even done an interview (with), you get a review of a record that has nothing to do with the content of the record and they’re talking about my personality. Well, if it was a guy who had met me and hates my guts, that’s fine. But if it’s somebody that you never met in life, and they’re talking about you like a dirty dog, and this accumulates, then what you wind up with is something that tends to affect your industrial bottom line. On that level, I would be very annoyed with some of the stuff that has been written about me in the past. Because it’s bad for business–to the extent that the opinion of a record reviewer is actually going to impinge on business. I’m not saying that any single record reviewer could make or break my career, but the result is cumulative. The way in which an artist is regarded in the industrial marketplace has to do with what the so-called “buzz on the street” is about that artist–in other words, who’s hot and who’s not. And so we come to the basic philosophical question–how is the hotness determined? And in the mind of the executive, who may be a person that you have to negotiate with in order to make a deal, who really is out of touch
with reality because his main priority is keeping his perks and keeping his little desk and the rest of the stupid shit that they worry about. They’ve got nothing to do with music, they’ve got nothing to do with art or any other reality–it’s, like, saving their ass. Part of the job of them saving their ass is pretending to other executives that they know what’s hot. And so in order to do this, they’ll read Rolling Stone magazine, as if that were some sort of ultimate source of information on hotness and coolness. Or other publications in that realm. Or someone with a typewriter certifies someone with an electric guitar as hot or not. And that can cause you more damage on that level than whether or not that stupid review in the publication is going to influence the mind of the consumer. So the way in which I have been regarded inside the record business has a lot to do with the way in which executives get their data. I don’t go to lunch with these guys, I don’t hang out with them. Anything they know about me is what they read, what their secretary read, or what the word of mouth on what the street is. Now if I don’t buy ads, and I’m not seen plastered all over Billboard or Cashbox or any other thing, and if I don’t buy windows in record stores, and if I don’t get on the radio, and if I don’t get in some retail outlets, then who in the fuck am I? Who needs to worry about this guy over there? Forget about him. All right. Do I really need to have people like that as my friends? The answer is no.

Entry for April 16, 2007

April 16, 2007

A Conversation With Frank Zappa

(Scant days before the 1988 presidential election, I had the good fortune to interview Frank Zappa at his home in the Hollywood Hills. He had just released his strongly political Broadway The Hard Way album; his classic back catalog was in the process of being reissued by Rykodisc; and a new series of double-CD projects called You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore were being rolled out as we spoke. Between his Barking Pumpkin record label, his Honker Home Video line, and his 818 PUMPKIN mail-order company, Zappa (who’d recently won his first Grammy for his Jazz From Hell) was all over the place in the very best sense. Unquestioned highlight of the interview–which was quite lengthy–was his taking me downstairs into his enormous master tape vault, filled with shelves of thousands of reel-to-reel tapes bearing labels like “Pomona 1966” and much more. Absolutely unbelievable. -dd)

You’ve just released a new album, Broadway The Hard Way, and at the same time, Rykodisc is reissuing your earliest material on CD. Do you hold that older material to be equally as relevant as your latest work?

Yes and no. I don’t like to listen to most of it. It’s been remastered and prepared for the consumption of those people who find it charming and want to own it. Because if I didn’t remaster it and put it out, the people who want to own it are going to be paying like $100 a whack for the Freak Out album at some little store. Or somebody is going to pirate it. And there’s a number of pirated releases that were made by some stinkers in Milan, who just photographed old jackets, remastered off the vinyl, and all over Europe you could find pirated, counterfeit versions of We’re Only In It For The Money, Lumpy Gravy and stuff like that. So there is a market for the material, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be in the marketplace, if people want to listen to it. I’m far more interested in the stuff I’m working on now, but my business is a catalog business. Since I don’t get big-blast exposure on radio or television–where all of a sudden people will find out that I do something that they might like–they find out about it accidentally over a long period of time. And so part of my job is, at the point where they find out about it and they figure they like it, I have to do something to make it available to them–the whole spectrum of what it is. It’s kind of a unique situation.

Do you own most of your masters?

I own my masters, except for 200 Motels and the Boulez album, and I expect to be getting the rights to the Boulez album after the first of the year. The contracts were written in such a way a long time ago that after a certain period of years, the rights to the masters reverted.

The Ryko reissues of We’re Only In It For The Money and Ruben And The Jets featured some current-day “modernizing,” I noticed, apparently because of some issues with the original masters. Did you consider finding a second generation of the master and reissuing the disc without that overdubbing?

Well, anybody who is at that level of consumption, that verges on fetishism, would insist that it be absolutely exactly what was on the original thing–and probably is already in possession of an expensive $100 version from an old record store. I think that it’s more important since, to my mind, whether you like it or not, the material is the important thing that’s on the album. Not the aura, not the fetishist’s prestige of it. In the case of We’re Only In It For The Money, I happen to like that material. I think that it deserved much better production than it received at that time in history when you had only a certain number of hours to make the album, and we were using a prototype eight-track machine to record it. So why not do what you can to spiff up this particular batch of material? The same thing with Ruben And The Jets. But those are the only two I’ve overdubbed on.

Is there anything in your catalog you would prefer not be reissued?

Eventually, I’d like to have it all out on CD.

What about that material that Warner Brother put out against your wishes?

I have the masters, but they would be very low on a list of priorities of what to put into the marketplace. In fact, it was the release of those albums that generated the lawsuit between Warners and myself. And there are two ways to go about re-releasing that material. One way is to put it out under the separate titles the way Warners did–Orchestral Favorites, Sleep Dirt, Studio Tan–and the other way is to put the whole batch together into a package the way I had originally edited it, into an album called Lather. And I haven’t decided which way I’m finally going to make it available.

Broadway The Hard Way is a rather direct album.

It’s real blatant. And the downside of it being that blatant is it has a very short shelf life. Because until, let’s say, Pat Robertson decides to run again in 1992, who’s going to care about what those lyrics are? Certain truths will be continuous throughout the years–I doubt whether we’re going to get a change of heart in the Republican Party anytime soon. I think that they’re sufficiently polluted with this involvement with the Fundamentalist Right to give them some things that they’re going to regret in future years. I think that the leaders
hip of the Republican Party that chose to make the alliance with the Fundamentalists literally sold out all other Republicans who have a more practical view of the real world. The blending of religion and politics–you can see the result of that in Iran. If you want Iran, just keep mixing the politics with religion.That’s what you’re going to get. So yeah, I took a chance in pinning it down to real names and real places. There’s no vague generalities here–this is about that. And I really had to scuffle to get the album out in time for the election. It was very difficult to do it.

Aesthetically, do you see a stylistic schism developing between, say, pure music–as in Jazz From Hell–and a sort of musical “journalism,” as in Broadway The Hard Way?

Well, let’s examine the reality of the situation. You as a person listening are totally on the outside of the situation. All you know is what gets released. So except during this one blast of work–where I was concentrating all my energy just on that batch of material, to get it out on that one target date–all the rest of the time that I’m working on music, it’s on the Synclavier. So the bulk of what I do resembles more closely what’s happening on Jazz From Hell than it does this new one. So when Jazz From Hell was released, in spite of the fact that it got a Grammy���squatting right over there (points to Grammy statuette)–it never got played on the radio. In fact, I’m horrified that the thing was nominated and that it won. I don’t know how anybody ever found out about that album. It’s a great album, but nobody ever heard it. Now if you’re talking about “pure music,” who’s going to broadcast this pure music? How is a person going to discover that such pure music exists? The fact is they won’t–because American broadcasting has virtually extracted me from any possibility of airplay. There are certain stations that are going to play certain cuts from this album, just because it’s going to be part of their format, and it’s timely for their location. There’s a station in Chicago that went crazy over it, a few others. A station in Providence is going to be playing it, because “The Untouchables” was recorded there in Providence. Little exceptions like that. But in general, I can’t imagine that this album is going to get any vast radio recognition. Jazz From Hell certainly didn’t, and in the case of Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention, the thing that came out in 1985, with the stuff about the PMRC, I know for a fact that at KROQ in Los Angeles, the boss of the place, before the album was even released, sent a memo to all the DJs saying under no circumstances play the Zappa record. He hadn’t even heard it, he didn’t even know what was on it. But the memo was circulated.

What was his rationale? Obscenity?

How can you have a rationale for that? This is fear–the only rationale is fear. This is a guy who, no matter what I’m saying, if it has anything to do with a politician, he don’t want to have any part of it. This is a guy thinking to himself he’s being prudent and protecting his license. So it’s got nothing to do with the content of the record; he hadn’t even heard the record. There’s nothing obscene on the record.

Do you think that with Barking Pumpkin Records, you’ve in some ways removed yourself from the industry promotion machine?

Well, let’s examine what promotion really amounts to. You can virtually guarantee yourself a spot on the charts if you pay for it. You know it, I know it, OK? Same thing with advertising space–the more space you buy, the more column inches you’re gonna get. In the ’70s, when the shit was really ripe���when the corporate rock syndrome was really ripe–all the supposed critics who supposedly made a difference in the supposed world of rock ‘n’ roll were being wined and dined and coked and getting blow jobs and flown around, and people were getting great reviews out of this, and stars were made through this traditional kind of pseudo-criminal activity. And then the bottom falls out of the industry and these guys don’t get junkets anymore. So you would think that maybe there would be a return to reality���no, that didn’t happen. That disease was replaced with MTV. MTV is the vehicle by which rock ‘n’ roll has been made as real as wrestling–it’s as simple as that. Everything has been made so fucking fake. Now if you say I have removed myself from the promotional machinery–you bet your ass. Because I don’t want to participate in that. If I decide to buy an ad, you know I’m going to design the ad. And basically, all I’m asking from the publication is to make sure the color is right when it goes in and put it in the spot that I bought. We very seldom advertise–and still manage to sell enough records to stay in business without bending over and doing the sleazoid stuff that everybody else does. I’m proud of that.

What was your goal in setting up Barking Pumpkin?

For those of you who don’t know, Barking Pumpkin is distributed by Capitol, and we’ve had a good relationshipwith them. We pay Capitol to press it, ship it, and collect from the retailers and distributors. That’s the business arrangement–they do no promotion for us, they don’t have any input into the contents of the album, they have no say-so about what’s on the tape. In the past, the various other deals I’ve had–sub-label deals, artist deals with various companies- -you have to wade through the apathy and sometimes antagonism that exists at the middle-management and executive level in these companies. Because they have virtually no time for a person such as myself. They have more important things to think about.

You’re talking about Bizarre and DiscReet?

Bizarre was a sub-label deal. When Bizarre Records went out, they had a Reprise logo on them. Straight was a total independent with independent distribution. It failed because
the independents that we were dealing with all across the country refused to pay on their 90-day accounts, and we had no muscle to collect from them. Which is one of the reasons why a small label goes with a major for distribution. It’s very difficult to collect. You get into a position where you’ve delivered the goods, it’s been shipped out, they have 90 days to pay you and they don’t pay you–they tell you to fuck off. So your choice is, you either eat it, or you have to sue them in that state, under the laws of the state. And civil law being what it is in the United States, that’s five years waiting for a day in court. So it’s very tricky to work without somebody who can collect for you. DiscReet was an independent label deal–it did not have a Reprise logo on it. I think there was a small credit line on the label that said “distributed by” Warners, but it was one step up in terms of responsibility for our office from what the Bizarre deal was. From an A&R standpoint, the deal with Warner Brothers was they provided an overhead budget to operate the office, and they provided a certain amount of money for the production of new artists, OK? One of the reasons why they would invest in such a thing is because they wound up making an awful lot of money off of a group called Alice Cooper, which began on Straight. And I can imagine if Alice Cooper had gone directly to Warner Brothers and tried to get a contract, they would have been out the door in about 15 seconds. So perhaps it’s fantasy, but I must assume the reason that they would enter into that aspect of the DiscReet deal was because they figured I knew what they didn’t know. Which probably remains true today. It’s almost like, “Oh God–we’ve got to release Zappa’s records?” “Yeah, but if he gets lucky, we’ll get another Alice Cooper.” “OK, we’ll put up with him.” That’s the kind of shit you have to deal with.

And what was the situation with Zappa Records?

That was distributed through PolyGram, and that was a similar type of arrangement that we have with Capitol.

And Rykodisc?

Ryko was interesting, because at the time that Ryko knocked at the door, I had been literally groveling at the feet of EMI, which was my label outside the United States, to please put my work on CD. They literally refused to do it. They had more important things to worry about, and they refused to do it. So here comes Rykodisk and they’re interested in putting the stuff on CD, so I said, “OK, let’s go,” and then, as soon as Ryko puts it out, then and only then did EMI go, “Oh my God–it’s selling, what are we going to do?” And then they scrambled to put some stuff out. And then there was a big argument with them about the timing of doing this. I wasn’t really quite sure that they had the rights to do what they did. There has been some discussion with them.

The international affiliation resulted in two different versions of your Mothers Of Prevention album.

The reason I changed it for Europe was because 12 minutes of the US version was about the PMRC. Now today–we just did two months in Europe on this world tour–and they’re very well aware of what happened in Washington at that time. But in 1985, they weren’t. I made a decision that if I put this on there, nobody was going to know what I was talking about. Today they do, because it’s festered for three years. And the CD version of it has all of it—everything that was on the US version, and everything that was on the European version.

Where do you make the priorities, and who makes the decision to prioritize what?

I know roughly when I would like to have things come out. The timing for this record was obvious, and I busted my chops to make this deadline. As far as You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore goes, that’s planned to be six double-CDs. And the order in which the compilations come out, I have a certain amount of flexibility. The volume of material that I need to go through to compile it is unbelievable. I mean, I’ve got tapes in my vault that I’ve never even listened to before. And lurking in that stuff might be a great thing to stick in that compilation. And we mix every day–(Zappa points to a wall) that whole wall there is mixes that are full of You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore. From this tour alone, there’s nineteen-hundred-and-some tunes that were recorded 48-track digital, and we’re mixing that stuff right now. And it is some of the best live performances that I’ve ever been connected with. And so I’ve been thinking about how to restructure the discs that haven’t come out yet to include more of that. And after I finished working on Broadway The Hard Way, I went back and started rebuilding some of the CD masters for that set. And I think I’ve made some great improvements on them. I could’ve just said “OK, it’s wrapped” before I went out on this tour, but I didn’t. Because I knew that there was going to be something spectacular from this tour, and I was totally right.

Aren’t you the kind of guy who thinks his new stuff is always better than his old stuff?

One of the ways in which you can tell whether or not I’m full of shit is to listen to the CD, because you will hear the comparison between the old band and the new band. You tell me. I think part of it is subjective, but part of it is a very realistic evaluation of the level of musicianship, the quality of the recording, the spirit of the performance, the response of the audience, the stuff from the ’88 tour–and if you would even look at the reviews that this band got all over the world, this is like the rave band.

I understand that your group’s first digital recording was back in 1980.

Audiophiles are an interesting species–because I’ve actually heard the argument that people prefer the sound of vinyl. I consider myself to be an audiophile–I hate noise, I hate noise. I hate unwanted artifacts on the tape. And whatever the audio limitations of digits might be, I am not so crazy to say I prefer vinyl. There are magazines in England that cater to the whims of those audiophiles, you know what I’m talking about? People seriously debate, “Everything sounds better on vinyl, you can’t beat a good vinyl pressing.” Well you sure can beat a good vinyl pressing–you can.

Tell me about what you do with the Synclavier.

What you do on the Synclavier is a totally different kind of music from what you do with human beings. And I know that. And you should never expect a Synclavier to do what a band does, and you should never expect human beings to do what Synclavier does. Never the twain shall meet.

What can a Synclavier do than human beings can’t do?

They can put the eyebrows on it instantaneously. They can do nuances and shadings in live performance that you might, if you had enough time and enough energy, type in enough numbers into the Synclavier to put that kind of nuance into your piece, but it’s prohibitive. In conducting a live band, just from moving the stick another way, you’re going to get some special little twist in the performance. And then there’s the obvious difference that no matter how good your samples are on the Synclavier, when the thing plays back, what you’re hearing, even an optimized mix situation, where there’s nice echo and everything else, the audio result of individual samples of individual notes of individual instruments combined, is totally different than guys playing instruments in an airspace and getting an acoustic blend. It’s another sound. It’s not just about what are the notes in the chord. On this tour we took the Synclavier and combined it with the live musicians–that’s one of the reasons why the tapes are so unbelievable. Because I’ve got things where impossible sequences are playing in the background and musicians are playing over it. And the audience is going YAAHH!! It’s great.

(We briefly speak about his plans for his new video line, Honker Video, and his new direct order division 818-Pumpkin, from which people can order Zappa-related product directly through the mail.)

Well, the whole idea of mail order is not exactly something new or arcane. If you’ve got an idea and you advertise it properly, a little ad this big (indicates a few inches with his fingers) on the back of the right publication can bring you enduring income if you’ve got something that people want to buy. It’s a pretty low-overhead business, and it’s not very glamorous, but it’s certainly worth looking into, especially for people who have independent labels and want to do the type of independent promotions for new and unusual artists. I would say–take the chance.

Is there a natural ceiling you’ll hit by deliberately not playing the game the “normal” way?

The biggest problem that I have is at the retail level. It’s not that there are not enough consumers out there who want to consume what I do, but we’ve experienced problems with chain stores that refuse to carry the product���even product which is purely instrumental, they won’t stick it in their store. And this really started happening after 1985. Merchandisers got scared by the PMRC. What they did was bullshit –and I feel good about myself for doing what I did, even if it cost me record sales. So what?

(A little more PMRC conversation ensues, then the subject of music critics arises.)

As far as the critics go, the only thing that concerns me about what a critic does–because ultimately we do have the matter of free speech–if a person is doing something that is not based in fact, makes a personal attack on me, especially people that I’ve never even met before, or haven’t even done an interview (with), you get a review of a record that has nothing to do with the content of the record and they’re talking about my personality. Well, if it was a guy who had met me and hates my guts, that’s fine. But if it’s somebody that you never met in life, and they’re talking about you like a dirty dog, and this accumulates, then what you wind up with is something that tends to affect your industrial bottom line. On that level, I would be very annoyed with some of the stuff that has been written about me in the past. Because it’s bad for business–to the extent that the opinion of a record reviewer is actually going to impinge on business. I’m not saying that any single record reviewer could make or break my career, but the result is cumulative. The way in which an artist is regarded in the industrial marketplace has to do with what the so-called “buzz on the street” is about that artist–in other words, who’s hot and who’s not. And so we come to the basic philosophical question–how is the hotness determined? And in the mind of the executive, who may be a person that you have to negotiate with in order to make a deal, who really is out of touch
with reality because his main priority is keeping his perks and keeping his little desk and the rest of the stupid shit that they worry about. They’ve got nothing to do with music, they’ve got nothing to do with art or any other reality–it’s, like, saving their ass. Part of the job of them saving their ass is pretending to other executives that they know what’s hot. And so in order to do this, they’ll read Rolling Stone magazine, as if that were some sort of ultimate source of information on hotness and coolness. Or other publications in that realm. Or someone with a typewriter certifies someone with an electric guitar as hot or not. And that can cause you more damage on that level than whether or not that stupid review in the publication is going to influence the mind of the consumer. So the way in which I have been regarded inside the record business has a lot to do with the way in which executives get their data. I don’t go to lunch with these guys, I don’t hang out with them. Anything they know about me is what they read, what their secretary read, or what the word of mouth on what the street is. Now if I don’t buy ads, and I’m not seen plastered all over Billboard or Cashbox or any other thing, and if I don’t buy windows in record stores, and if I don’t get on the radio, and if I don’t get in some retail outlets, then who in the fuck am I? Who needs to worry about this guy over there? Forget about him. All right. Do I really need to have people like that as my friends? The answer is no.