Saturday, June 6, 2015

Secrets of the Dog-Root


FLIPSIDE #104
November/December 1996

Bob Dobbs and Nigey Lennon discuss Frank Zappa at Gerry Fialka’s home in Venice, California, summer 1995.

Being Frank: My Time With Frank Zappa, by Nigey Lennon

BD: Now let's relate this to music as a concept. Can there be music? Can there be a new present-day composer? Are there some ideas that you thought of, maybe even later, about the concept of the Big Note? There was this interview once that was done in Canada, where he interviewed himself. Have you ever seen that footage? He was a journalist interviewing himself, and the first question is something like, "Frank, what do you really want to know?" And he turns and goes, "What time is it?"

NL: "When's this over?"

BD: And it's a great multi-level thing, because it's like "Oh, that's a question I can't answer -- let's get out of here -- what time is it? can we get out of here?" It's multi-level, but it's also the total musical, percussive question -- what time are we playing in?

NL: For him that was the question of his life: what Time is it?

BD: I have an obscure interview on a little record in a magazine where he said "I'm just decorating time" -- but it was a real time thing. So we bring that up [during the interview], and he refers back to it: "Rate is time". And then he quotes me: "What time is it?", he refers back to when we had brought that up. "But then you see how that relates to health -- think of disease. Because if you're comfortable and you're satisfying your different rate needs, you'll probably will be a more energetic, healthy person -- or dog..." I'm thinking of energy, not in [a sense of] a prissy, puritan, New Age kind of health, but to have the energy that he had, as a dog energy, that allowed him to burn up all the coffee and cigarettes. It did him in, maybe, in the end, but he was able to overcome that just with the power of his energy, and eat crap food all the time. Which is what you used to talk about. I'd be amazed -- how'd this guy live like this?

NL: His stomach was a mess, too.

BD: But he still went on for twenty years.

NL: He was a stoic, too -- you have to understand that about him. He was in horrible pain a lot, but you'd never see him wince.

BD: That's where he was a yogi, or very strong person. So Frank says [in the interview], "I don't know if you're going to be more energetic" -- I guess in terms of being healthy, see, there's where he qualifies it -- good foods don't necessarily make you more energetic, because [diet] is another form of repression. But people talk a lot about stress, and see, he really believed that stress was the hidden ground. [Quoting from the interview, Frank said] "That's big media thing -- stress is the difference between your calibrated rate and another rate at which you're forced to perform." I go, "One size fits all -- and that causes stress?" and then he says, "I don't think so...'One size fits all' means that the universe is the one size, it fits all." I projected a dictatorial meaning, of one size we all have to fit, but he meant another level. "Oh, I see," I say, "it's not imposed, it adapts to everything." Frank says, "'Impose' is the wrong word -- it exists" -- meaning the universe -- "and you can consider the universe an imposition, if you're truly arrogant." (General laughter) Which, in a funny way, he was! Which gets into Jarry and Joyce, and how they wanted to be God, and outdo God. Frank, somehow, was trying to do that.

NL: If he hadn't been so Catholic -- he never quite broke from a lot of Catholic, medieval kind of concepts. Whereas Jarry just steamrollered right over them, and Joyce as well.

BD: Actually, it's another topic, but we could get into where Frank failed to do what he attempted. But I'm glad it took a long time for him to fail, because he produced a lot of good music.

NL: It was interesting in the meanwhile, yeah.

BD: So he says, "If you're truly arrogant, you can consider the universe an imposition" (more laughter) --

NL: That's a great quote.

BD: " -- or you can just deal with it the way it is."

NL: Which is what he did.

BD: Here: "It's a universe of rates. You have molecular rates, you have large-scale rates, you have the expansion of the universe rates. You have the rate of atomic decay. You have the rate of aging. You have all these rates, so it's a world of rates, and rates are time. So just so you really understand it, the rate is the difference between when it starts and when it ends. That's the rate, these are cycles -- now that brings us back to the Big Note." I was really glad he brought that up. "A note is a cycle -- a cycle is the way it goes up, the way it goes down, that's one cycle. You know, it's pretty consistent, the way I look at stuff, but I seldom do interviews with people where they ask me about any of these kind of things. They usually want to know, well, what about Tipper Gore." Now, Nigey, in light of the quote that I've read, what ideas do you get about Frank, from your knowledge now, in retrospect as over the last 20 years you've grown to understand his music more, and if you want to relate back to things he'd said to you at that time that might have related to the Big Note quote you have here?

NL: I hadn't listened to his music in 15 years when he died --

BD: These reviews [in "Being Frank"] are done from the point of view of now.

NL: Yeah. I went back and listened to everything I could, when I was writing the book, so we'll put it into that context -- it's very much the present [August 1995]. Frank, to me, in retrospect, as I go back and look at his work, to my amazement, is so consistent and rigorously logical in that every piece he ever wrote, recorded, released, or otherwise intuited in any form that was ever publicly brought to light by him as part of his oeuvre, fits into a larger composition. It was so funny, because when I knew Frank, especially on that tour in '71, which was my first unprotected exposure, day after day, to him --

BD: And for a time, in August '72, for a month, when you were at the Zappa School -- that was the period of an intense four weeks of involvement, seeing him.

NL: But also on the tour, too, playing.

BD: There's two aspects.

NL: Right. The later one was listening, and the earlier one was actually performing.

BD: The private Frank -- what he likes to do, personally, with music, and then the public Frank. So you were saying, about the public point --

NL: Publicly and privately, it's sort of a macro-micro thing. It's staggering how, the more closely you look at his work, and the closer you get to [its sources], the more consistent it becomes. It's like some kind of mathematical model.

BD: That's just what I was going to say. But you were going to talk about when you were on tour in '71, and what you noticed then?

NL: Again -- if you want to look at it as a two-phase operation for me, of education, on the tour I sensed things intuitively. I had no concrete evidence of any of it, I just had a sense of certain things being true about Frank.

BD: And you describe it pretty well, your sensing. You knew what to remember when you wrote the book, because you remembered viscerally what you did notice. And you noticed there was something -- what? A controlled conceptual consistent in him?

NL: Frank was messing with reality. What was so funny about that quote -- "if you're arrogant, you view the universe as an imposition" --

BD: That's almost Frank. He was partly that.

NL: It reminded me a little bit of Alfred Jarry, who did very much the same thing by becoming his character, Ubu, and living his life that way. And Jarry's character Dr. Faustroll, who was sort of a high-level Dr. Zurkon, said: "I live all dreams as one" -- and Frank, when I asked him on the tour once what he dreamed about when he slept, just said "I live in my dream". So I sensed that Frank was doing this, living and creating in simultaneous levels of 'reality'. I never took drugs, but being around Frank felt like what I imagined must have been like to take a really strong psychotropic drug.

BD: That's what you thought then.

NL: Yeah, and it was just a sense that I had of Frank controlling reality to the point where it was really exhilarating. Sometimes it was kind of strange, and I felt like I was all at sea, adrift in the cosmos.

BD: Did you feel like you were in the movie "Freaks"?

NL: Sometimes. I know what you mean -- he loved that movie.

BD: In other words, you'd sometimes look at Frank and say, "This guy is a pervert" -- there was a perverted image that would come out of the environment around him, and that was what you saw, as you stand back.

NL: Yeah, because if you mess with reality that much, there's nothing

really left to hang on to.

BD: Right -- he might just kill you right out of the blue.

NL: I never felt that he was capable of that, but I did feel sometimes that the energies were going from positive to negative, because it was just that intense.

BD: There's a story [in "Being Frank"] of something he did -- he yelled at someone for being late, and that's where you saw the negative karma.

NL: He was giving him hell, and it was just like, ugh, this is horrible.

BD: Yeah, it was a little extreme.

NL: I thought, "You don't have to go that far". And he felt a little funny about it, because when we got back to the motel room he was being really nice and solicitous, and he gave me a back rub and stuff. He could feel my discomfort -- he knew.

BD: When you say it was like being on a drug, do you mean you felt that he was on a drug?

NL: No, no, no -- I felt that the experience I had entered into, working with him on this tour, was like I was on drugs.

BD: And he had this alchemical energy to warp the whole environment. The 'drug' was Frank's body, 'dog' chemistry, physical and mental -- the dog chemistry swallowed you up in the vortex, and you'd be stuck in there.

NL: "Am I ever going to get out?!" That's what I was wondering sometimes. It was really a powerful feeling. Nothing I had ever experienced in my life up to that point --I was 17, what did I know? -- had been anything like that. I thought it was great -- if I'd been a little older, I might have been both more closed off to it, and more upset when it did happen, just for that reason.

BD: You were just at the right age to be young enough to flow with it and take it --

NL: This is a bit of a digression, but I read a book a number of years ago about primitive societies and adolescent initiations. One of the things that was done with both young boys and young girls in tribes in New Guinea, I think it was, was that they were cut off at the same age I was, 17, from all of their peers and their family, and taken away by shamans. The boys were given hallucinogenic drugs and had visions and somehow found their place in society by relating the internal to the external. The girls, on the other hand, weren't given drugs, but they were sexually initiated.

BD: By the women?

NL: No, by the men, by these older guys.

BD: You mean they lost their virginity? They'd rape them?

NL: They wouldn't rape them, but ritually -- Anyway, I kind of felt that, even though I wasn't a virgin, and even though I didn't take drugs, I went through something very similar with Frank -- it was a mystical initiation.

BD: When did you read that book?

NL: Three or four years ago, probably.

BD: Did it remind you --

NL: It reminded me a little of Frank, it kind of jogged some dim memories.

BD: In other words, you hadn't thought of that up until you read the book, and you didn't relate that process to your experience.

NL: When I was writing the book it all came back to me. I thought, "Aha!" It's sort of like it was a subtext.

BD: In other words, when you read the book a few years ago, you thought of Frank.

NL: Yeah, dimly.

BD: And then when you wrote ["Being Frank"], you said, "Oh, that book is telling me what I went through." We said, hours ago, that Frank was the cool high school teacher. Well, it's even more tribal -- he was a shaman. It's almost like, when you listen to Steve Vai and the younger guys -- not the Don Prestons, or that age group -- they always talk about Frank glowingly -- "it was a great experience, he was a great musician" -- like the kids who've been shamanized, you know? Now would you say that Frank consciously did that?

NL: I don't know how conscious it was.

BD: I think he was trying to do it to the universe, and you got the microversion.

NL: A fractal variation.

BD: "I Was a Frank Abductee!" (general laughter)

NL: I did one interview recently, and it came out that I was a sexual fugitive harbored in Frank's basement, and I thought that was great.

BD: They said that, or was it you?

NL: Well, it was partly a quote of mine, but it came out a little twisted, as those things often are.

BD: They put that in there?

NL: It was the lead (laughs).

BD: I don't want to emphasize that -- I think it was a very privileged, special experience, that you got hijacked. You had a drug without the drug -- did you ever want to take drugs after that?

NL: No.

BD: And you never did before.

NL: No.

BD: But it seemed as if everybody in the '60s was going to have to deal with drugs somehow, and you got it through Frank. The "chemical monstrosity" -- when you think of the metaphor, you could even think that he knew he was trying to provide a counter-Leary, another form of drug. In the Life magazine article in '68 ["The Oracle Has It All Psyched Out"], he says, "We produce a chemical monstrosity like household ammonia", or something, and he did that chemical thing. That's alchemy.

NL: Well, because Frank, don't forget, when he was blowing things up, was making his own chemicals. Alchemy was a very real thing for him; it wasn't some kind of abstract concept.

BD: He didn't just follow the little catalogue, or the manual -- he was taking risks.

NL: Always. Actually, the last time I ever heard him play any guitar stuff was recordings of the '88 tour, and he was still doing it -- he was still blowing things up. But we've gotten kind of far afield --

BD: You were saying that you saw something consistent [in Frank's work over the years]. Now what was that consistency?

NL: Frank was very detail-oriented, of course. Every little thing that came under his nose was grist for the mill, and it ended up in his work, some way or other, partly digested, some of it, and some of it just got spewed out.

BD: If it fit -- if it resonated.

NL: One size fits all.

BD: One size fits all -- hmm -- if you look at it like that -- . You see, I asked him that in this interview --

NL: He had a different spin on it for the interview.

BD: I said that I thought he'd said in Rolling Stone that he was misquoted. I said "You take an event and impose a pattern on it" -- but he said, "No, I never impose a pattern on it". That might have been semantics, because he is imposing a pattern on it. Look at "Civilization: Phaze III", the way he takes from "Lumpy Gravy". In "Lumpy Gravy", the first one, he just takes these random quotes and makes them fit his point about the Big Note.

NL: And then in "Civilization: Phaze III" he's extrapolated, or intrapolated, more dialogue to give it a story line, almost, or a philosophical bent, anyway.

BD: So you were impressed with "Civilization: Phaze III"?

NL: Yeah, and no. It's too bad it was his last work. For me, his work really ended with the Ensemble Modern's rendition of "G Spot Tornado" [on "The Yellow Shark"]. That's the way I like to think of him going out. It's not that I don't like ["CPIII"], it's just that I find it kind of tough going, because the music is a lot less graspable than a lot of his stuff. I know what he's trying to do, but it's kind of labored, to me. The dialogue is interesting -- but there's an awful lot of it.

BD: But you did say that "Civilization: Phaze III" has the plague theme. Does that relate to his technical musical structure? What is the musical point of Frank, other than everything happening at the same time?

NL: We've actually narrowed it down today, I think, to Good Frank/Bad Frank. The dog Frank, the dog energy, and the high-minded energy. And the pivotal character in all of this, of course, is Dr. Zurkon/Uncle Meat, who can either labor in bettering mankind, or [acts as] the destroying angel, blasting them to hell. And in Frank's music, that dichotomy is very, very apparent.

BD: He's acting out the collective schizophrenia --

NL: That's the 20th-century dilemma, and it's true, it comes to a head in "Civilization: Phaze III".

BD: So rock gave him a medium to create this schizophrenia metaphor in relation to classical music.

NL: Beginning with high-minded, again, which was Varese, working quietly in his lab on Sullivan Street -- he was the "good" Dr. Zurkon -- and you get somebody like, on the other hand, Guitar Slim or Johnny "Guitar" Watson -- Frank viewed that distorted R&B guitar style as a stick of dynamite, literally, or a loaded charge.

BD: It was dynamite for him, he recognized it -- it blew him up, and then he wanted to say "This is an aesthetic -- this is a principle, a metaphor of alchemy". That's where he wasn't completely a musician -- he used music as a metaphor.

NL: It was abstract, in a strange sense. But that was the thing with Frank, you see -- he was always driven to make concrete that which was intrinsically abstract. Way back at the beginning of this interview, this conversation, I mentioned that I needed to run into Frank, and it was fortuitous that I did, because I had very abstract notions about what I wanted to do with music.

BD: And he concretized them.

NL: He was Mr. Concrete. And for him, that pull [between abstract and concrete] was always there, and you hear it in all his music, and that's another consistent element. But when I say the elements are consistent, it's almost frightening -- every interview that he ever did, every piece of music that he ever recorded, good, bad, or indifferent -- and they do run the gamut, all of those things -- at the core of them all, there's an atom of sameness, and it's almost like you're looking at the universe, macro and micro.

BD: Have we pinned down the atom -- the electron is Dr. Zurkon, and the proton is Varese, and the nucleus is him? What is the atom? I think it's [the question] whether the present-day composer can live or not. Isn't that what it is -- whether there is music? Kent Nagano -- I think it will be relevant to say this -- says that Frank solves the musical problems of the 20th century, blah blah blah -- but he says that Frank disagrees, Frank says he's just an entertainer. Now there's the dialectic -- whether he's a serious composer or an entertainer.

NL: It's kind of getting on one side of the issue, which is that Frank liked to entertain, but he just didn't want to admit it. He himself was a very serious person -- in fact, one of the things when I first met him at that Bizarre Records interview in 1970, he was being the stern, paternalistic kind of guy in the sense that he thought I was much, much too trivial. Because I've always tended to take things lightly. Frank had no way of knowing this, and when I was 15 I probably seemed relatively giddy, but I think very fast, and I tend to put things in humorous contexts. That may not be the way I feel, but he misunderstood -- he thought maybe I didn't take life seriously. He didn't realize how seriously I took it until later.

BD: When did he realize that? When's "later"?

NL: '75. It took him a while to begin to understand me, and in fact, in the song "Andy" he was trying to grapple with who I was.

BD: How do you know it's about you?

NL: Oh, I could run all the references down. It's a whole string of references.

BD: Like "Andy Devine" --

NL: Andy Devine was the actor with the squeaky voice, and the reason there's a reference to that in the song was, well, one, my name struck Frank as boyish, so there was the "Andy" part of it; but also, one of the things I had to do on the tour was when [one of the vocalists] would get laryngitis periodically, it was what Frank called the "Andy Devine School of Voice". That was almost like the code word, that I had to sing that night. So hearing that in the context of the song --

BD: So that's what it is --

NL: -- it makes perfect sense.

BD: There was also a "thong" --

NL: That's the shoe. That's in the book. What he meant when he said "it was sublime, but the wrong kind" was, metaphorically, I was getting off on the wrong thing, confusing the symbol with the actuality -- having feelings about him that could really go nowhere. And, ironically, when he says "have I aligned with a blown mind" and "do you know what I'm really telling you, is it something that you can understand?", he was misunderstanding me as a person. I did understand, perfectly well. In my way I was as consistent as he was. But we were coming at it from two different places. That was the tragedy of our relationship, as far as I was concerned...But getting back to what we were talking about --

BD: The entertainer/seriousness thing. I saw Frank working out [the issue of] what's the role of music, what's the role of sound in this sound-obsessed society? That was a dilemma, that's the seriousness.

NL: All the work he did, he put 100% into all of it, macro and micro -- whether it was a little detail, or a big, operatic gesture. That comes through in all his work -- the more I listen to his stuff, the more I realize that. The integrity that it comes from is almost a schizophrenic stretch, from incredibly joky, throwaway kinds of stuff, like the band that I was with in '71, all the way through to the end, like "Civilization: Phaze III". Now how could one mind create all this? But there is a unifying principle in all of it.

BD: I think that he was a modernist and maybe even a post-modernist. He knew the divisions between high and low didn't work anymore, and there was something else --

NL: That's where he was ahead of the game, I think, too, because that was not a common concept at all.

BD: He was a genius on that level --

NL: Like all innovators, he wasn't thinking about it that way; it was just that, to him, it was either Varese or Guitar Slim, and he thought it was all good music, and he internalized that.

BD: He would say "I like it -- it's just an extension of me", but he had put a lot of concepts into it, to build up around the preference of taste. And there's a dialectic in him. I think he acknowledged it as just his taste because I think he thought other people should get the point too.

NL: Sure, judging by the way he played stuff for me, and tried to get me to listen to what he thought was 'good' music -- he was very elaborate about it. It was almost as if the unspoken message was, "This is good stuff", but it never passed his lips; he didn't say "Now you should listen to this because it's good", he said "This is some stuff that I like."

BD: This comes back to the seriousness issue. This is the male chauvinist -- he thought you were the giggly little teenager?

NL: That was at the beginning. This was more like when I was there in '72, playing stuff in the basement. His thought was, I think, that I needed to be steadier in the way that I approached things. Here he was, dealing with this vast body of stuff in a very serious, businesslike way. With me, I tended to be a lot more scattered.

BD: In other words, there was a personality and a temperamental difference. You were serious, but the way you came across to him, he thought you had the potential to be serious, that you should be serious, that it would be good if you were serious. And he didn't know that you were.

NL: I described this to somebody the other day, how in Robert Crumb's "Mr. Natural" comix, Mr. Natural is always lecturing Flakey Foont in different ways -- well, Frank kind of set himself that role with me. He was always sort of trying to show me the ultimate reality whether I understood it or not, and he figured that sooner or later I was sharp enough that I'd figure it out. That's the significance of the drawing at the end of the book, "The Universe works whether or not we understand it" -- it's my tongue-in-cheek comment on his question "Do you know what I'm really telling you? Is it something that you can understand?". But I think he was right -- it's taken me, like, 25 years, but I think I really do understand his work as well as anybody can.

BD: I missed a word -- he wanted you to -- ?

NL: He wanted me to get a grip on the ultimate reality --

BD: And you think you did, as he understood it. You think you got his message.

NL: I got his message. Now, of course, there are hundreds of other universes out there that I didn't know existed, so it's kind of like you never really end that process. His music is about that, in a lot of ways...Do you know that famous line from R. Crumb, where he had a panel in one of his strips, showing his father -- who was crazy as a loon -- lecturing him: "Son, life is mostly hard work". It's hilarious, but it's so existential at the same time! That was Frank. Frank was medieval.

BD: Frank was a hard worker. He was the father.

NL: Right, exactly. The first thing Frank ever said to me at that meeting -- I had talked to him briefly on the phone to set up the meeting, and that was it -- the first thing he said, face to face -- he looked at me with that steady look, that sort of chilled your marrow if you weren't ready for it -- and he said, "My father always used to say to me, 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions'".

BD: Is that what he said?

NL: I'm sitting there going, "Oh, God...!"

BD: It's like a cult --

NL: This means something -- he was putting it in the context where he wanted it, I guess.

BD: Did he ever talk about his father? Once I read that he had fights with his father over Shakespeare, and [his father would] beat him up on the lawn if he brought the car home late -- did he ever tell you stories about his life with his father?

NL: I met his father. In your interview, where Frank is talking about

molecular rates -- it's his father talking.

BD: Really? Now that's some new information.

NL: Frank was his father, in a lot of ways.

BD: Really?

NL: Oh, yeah. They were one and the same.

BD: I saw it as a metaphor --

NL: Did you ever meet his dad, or see his dad?

BD: No.

NL: Poor fellow, he passed away in --

BD: About 1973, I think.

NL: Yeah, when Frank was on tour, as a matter of fact. I remember when he got back and found out he was really upset about it and didn't want to admit it to anybody.

BD: How did you meet his father? Where did that happen?

NL: In August of '72, when I was there. I guess he wasn't really that well, and he'd come to the house to do some business stuff. He was a really cheerful little guy -- he'd sit there and talk your ear off.

BD: So he was down in the basement?

NL: Yeah. I saw this old gent coming slowly through the door, and I said, "Are you Mr. Zappa Senior?", and he said very proudly, "Yes!" because he was really proud of the fact that he had this famous son. He used to pull stunts all the time, like he'd run ads to sell cars in the Valley News -- he'd put in there: "Frank Zappa's father has '55 Chevy for sale", or whatever.

BD: So you're saying that you talked to him, and he talked about metaphysics?

NL: He didn't talk about metaphysics, but he was Mr. Scientist. I could see right away -- the light bulb went off -- here is where Frank gets those theories from! His father was Mr. Theory, too -- everything fit into a system.

BD: And he demanded that Frank like Shakespeare, and Frank wouldn't --

NL: Frank said, "Go to hell!", and he's, like, bucking the system!

BD: But his father was like a cult -- "you gotta understand Shakespeare, you've gotta learn this stuff".

NL: I think so many of us are condemned to repeat our parents without really understanding them, and Frank certainly fit that picture.

BD: And yet he at least saw some dilemma his father was in as a government conspiracy scientist, whether it was good or not.

NL: That must have been the dilemma for him, because he must have realized how much of his father's emotional and biological makeup was part of him.

BD: That's very interesting. That is the male spirit in Frank, that he put up as an anti-environment to everything else that was going around. I don't know if it's macho, but it's just male energy -- it really comes from him wrestling with his father presenting that to him.

NL: There's so many of his songs, where you get little snippets of that -- like, it wasn't from his better period, but the song "Tryin' to Grow a Chin": the conflict described in that is really Oedipal. And of course "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama" -- on the surface it's parents in general he's referring to, but I always sensed a struggle to tear his girlfriend away from her father, the Electra/Agamemnon thing. That one was autobiographical; it described that abortive high school relationship so perfectly.

BD: It's funny how he took the Hitler thing in the opposite --

NL: He turned the mustache upside down. You have to be careful with that kind of symbolism, I think.

BD: Even before he became the conceptual Frank Zappa, it was interesting that he said, "I'm going to be a mock dictator in my band, and it's disciplined" -- a reverse Hitler, a software Hitler rather than a hardware Hitler. I always thought that was the meaning. Do you think he meant that by that?

NL: I don't think so, because I saw pictures of him in high school, and his mustache grew like that then too -- stringy, you know.

BD: He had it before he'd think about it that way. So is the atom in the universe -- and that's the Vatican -- the father-son relationship?

NL: Yeah. It's Catholic -- it's the Father and the Son.

BD: It's Catholic. So is that the conceptual continuity?

NL: It's the root of it, and from there it's very, very consistent. Frank was the sum of his experiences, but he was much more. Like any great artist, he took those experiences and in the process of creating his own reality he made a really fascinating universe that anybody can get into if they want to give it a chance. It took me 25 years -- it might take somebody else five minutes.

BD: You mean, after he died, it took you 25 years to understand it and enjoy it?

NL: I always enjoyed it. But to really understand it in an intellectual sense.

BD: That's different from getting into it. You got into it --

NL: Oh yeah, I got into it in an emotional sense --

BD: But it took you 25 years to understand it.

NL: See, I'm getting older. I'm 41. When I knew Frank, he was almost 30, and the big age difference -- if I'd been older -- that's why I say I wish I'd been at least ten years older, because then I could have understood faster, and it would have saved me a lot of time. But I'm beginning to understand more and more, and probably by the time I die I'll be able to understand Frank perfectly, if I'm still thinking about him at that point.

BD: You'll understand the peculiarity of your relationship with him.

NL: I understand that now, whereas I didn't, before.

BD: In your musical compositional knowledge, within the music jargon, say what the assets of Frank were.

NL: Theme and variations, on a very grand scale. What he's talking about there, with rates and almost like molecular disintegration, it's a very slow decay. It's like we were talking about, in those very long guitar solos. Once something becomes part of his musical oeuvre, or his vocabulary, whatever you want to call it, the decay rate is extremely slow. The first time it pops up in his work -- it might not have been the first time he thought of it -- you can trace that element all the way through, from wherever it starts to wherever it ends.

BD: So the radioactive plague?

NL: Well, I wouldn't say radioactive plague, but half-life, definitely. And if you take, simultaneously, all these elements that are decaying at a very slow rate, although the slow rates vary a lot -- now we're starting to sound pretty metaphysical here -- the interplay of all of that slow decay, all at once, in this bewildering, staggering universe of concept -- that's Frank. It's the axis, the vertical and the horizontal.

BD: Are you familiar with "Finnegans Wake"?

NL: Yeah. Somewhat.

BD: I've said for years that Frank Zappa is "Finnegans Wake" set to music. Would you agree?

NL: Yeah. I would. Conceptually.

BD: Have you read Ben Watson's book?

NL: I've looked through it. I get the gist of it.

BD: He's talking about "Finnegans Wake". I don't know if he's accurate -- he's got the right book, but I don't know if he understands "Finnegans Wake" the way you're talking about it, and how it could be applied.

NL: Well, there are people who have been studying "Finnegans Wake" for years and years, and I would give them far more credit than myself for that. But it's the same thing that Frank liked about Pynchon, too --it's that real spatially-aware conception of time as having axes, vertical and horizontal, though you can't limit it that way.

BD: There's a quote from Frank, which I read in a little pop culture book about 1971, "I think music is way behind literature and the other arts, and I want to have music catch up". I always remembered that, and I thought, OK, he's taking the accomplishments of "Finnegans Wake" and applying them to the musical world. If that quote is accurate, he was playing catch-up and he knew it, and he felt responsibility for catching up.

NL: I think he did.

BD: Did he ever say anything along those lines?

NL: Not in one specific statement, but in a lot of different statements, I would say.

BD: He felt that the musical establishment had gone back, had slowed down?

NL: He never pontificated. He would drop in little hints for me to pick up. In a sense, that's what this book is. It's my way of piecing together the total work. As I've grown to understand his work, that's how the book has come about, putting the pieces together. I could write a whole other one now that would be a lot more in-depth, because this one was just as I was groping toward the end of my conception of what was really going on with him.

BD: I would say that -- time's running out, isn't it, Gerry? -- I would say that you did succeed in putting the pieces together, and you made a big contribution to understanding Frank, so I think there's nothing more for me to ask. If there's anything that you have to say, you can say it and then I'll say my last bit.

NL: I've got a question for you. You've been asking me really great questions, and I don't know if this is a really great question, but what would you say Frank's gift to you has been? As someone who's very familiar, and intimately knowledgeable, about his work?

BD: As I've said before -- I think it's in my book, as a quote from one of my radio shows -- we went to the Zappa concerts in Buffalo in 1988, and my co-host asked me, "Why did you go there?" and I said, "Even Bob Dobbs needs acoustic stimulation sometimes." And I said, "Frank's the only one who gives me the acoustic release" -- which Frank often said: "People who are attracted to my music are in a tense situation, or in some situation where my music releases their stress". And the releasing goes back to this quote -- the melody and the dissonance, the building up of stress and releasing it. The explosion.

NL: The blowing things up.

BD: For me, Frank was the only musician who I bought -- I bought his stuff -- I listened to the whole range of music, but for me, Frank's music spoke to me the way you said -- I think it was you, I just read this quote today -- the emotional makeup of Frank's music is similar to my emotional makeup, and his tones and textures are satisfying to me. I don't want to say sexually -- but Clapton and them would play, but they never had the right timbre, they never had the right pitch. And so it was a totally pleasurable experience to hear Frankie. As a matter of fact, I can't sing, generally, and I can't play, but with Frank's music I can sing, I can play -- it's my music. It's me. So to me, Frank has always been me. "Being Frank". (General laughter)

NL: I think that's where we should end this.

BD: I just want to add this (more laughter).

NL: OK. Well, it was a good tag, anyway.

BD: Wasn't that a mindblower ending?

NL: That's great. Of course, it's not true, right?


BD: That's something I want to bring up, about Frank the drummer.

NL: To me, he was a percussionist first, and everything else was second.

BD: And that's a very astute statement to make about Frank. But before we go into that -- here you are, you're five, in '59 and '60, when all the kids are into 45s, and you're getting mutated by being presented music in a different medium, and that is starting to separate you from the mainstream.

NL: I never was part of the mainstream, because of that.

BD: So when you talk about, there was something, despite your different backgrounds, how you and Frank had something in common, and it's like, he was unique by going into R&B, and being out of the mainstream, and you did it through 78s.

NL: Right.

BD: And R&B was on 78s.

NL: Yeah.

BD" So you're [both] products of 78s.

NL: In fact, I just did the Dr. Demento show last night -- we taped it the week before -- and he and I, of course, were talking about 78s, because he's Mr. Shellac. I think anybody who really got into music through 78s got a totally different take on music in general, because the way it sounded, what was on there tends to be quite a bit different than what was on 45s. In fact, R&B labels would often do releases in both formats, but it was different stuff -- the real hardcore race records weren't on 45s, they were on 78s.

BD: Yeah. Do you ever listen to the Bill Gardner show? When I'm in L.A. I like to get those, because I like those really moody [records] in the middle and late '40s.

NL: That was sort of the golden era, because it was still jazz, really. It

was before R&B took off as a really popular kind of slicked-up format.

BD: But it's chunky R&B -- I dunno what you call it -- garbage can R&B...

NL: It's called jump.

BD: So then you had that mutation happen (laughs)...

NL: Maybe I had no choice. I was born mutant.

BD: So then when did you become a guitarist?

NL: I started playing the guitar when I was...uh...pushing ten, between nine and ten. This is a little bit of a digression, but my great-uncle was a Western swing fiddler who had worked dances and called square dances and was sort of itinerant, he worked his way through the whole Southwest...he was a fairly elderly gent, he was 103 when he died. When I knew him he was in his 80s. He had a good recollection, and he played for me, like, a lot of cowboy tunes which...Western music is pretty much for me, if I have to have a favorite kind of music, it tends to be Western swing.

BD: Because that gets you in your glands when you're very young...

NL: Exactly. I had no choice. The sound of a fiddle, to this very day, makes my hair stand on end, I just love it so much. So he was like a feisty character. He saw that I had musical talent, and he tried giving me a fiddle when I was about three, but he realized pretty quick that to play the fiddle you have to have an extremely direct, almost a laser-like focus, concentration, and he saw that I was all over the place. I was never gonna have that concentration. So he said, "You should be playing the guitar". He knew that I was stubborn, and to get me to do it he said "OK, I'll make you a bet -- I'll bet you you can't play that thing in a year."

BD: Really.

NL: And I said, "How much?" and he said, "Five bucks." He won the bet, but by then I was really hooked. I had started taking the guitar pretty seriously.

BD: How old were you then?

NL: Ten.

BD: Was it unusual for a young woman or a girl to get a guitar at that point?

NL: Absolutely. Nobody, not even the boys, in that age group, played electric guitars -- I did. My first was an acoustic, but I rapidly moved over to electric, just because I liked the way it sounded and I liked the way it looked.

BD: And how old were you then?

NL: My first electric I got when I was probably twelve, I guess.

BD: This is three years before you've discovered [Alfred] Jarry. (laughs) But to continue the music thing, there were people like Bonnie Raitt and these others that we hear about now -- they were unique, they were getting guitars, but there weren't that many, it seems. So you were on that track, you could've become a Bonnie Raitt or something, maybe.

NL: Once again, I think that because I was a mutant, it wasn't likely to go in any sort of mainstream direction. Bonnie is a terrific blues musician, and she always had that blues tradition behind her. She knew, probably, what direction to go in. With me, it was reinventing the wheel all the time.

BD: And you picked the one musician that no woman guitarist goes toward, towards Frank.

NL: That was sort of true. It was kind of a bi-polar thing, you know, it was male energy, which was something -- maybe I didn't know it, but I was kind of looking for that in my playing.

BD: That male energy thing, that's one we gotta develop, because that's what Frank is in a lot of ways -- the archetypal thing to counter the basic liberation of women in the '60s and '70s. Frank was the anti-environment to that. So that's what makes your book very interesting -- you're the only one who got in there and had a talk with him and interacted with him, and you also, being a musician -- that's a pretty unique situation. That was totally unknown.

NL: That's why I decided to write the book, because I figured I did have some kind of perspective.

BD: But it wasn't until he died that you really thought of that, right?

NL: Yeah, when he died I hadn't seen him in more than 15 years.

BD: Well, '93, you saw him in '75, that was your last time with him.

NL: And of course the last year or so that I knew Frank, it was pretty strained.

BD: So you didn't know you'd have this reaction, this emotional reaction.

NL: No, not at all. Because, like I said, the last year I knew him it was

very, very strained, there was all kinds of personal stuff. We're jumping around here in the chronology, but by the time we came to our parting of the ways -- which I describe in the book, how that happened --

BD: In the spring of '75.

NL: Yeah. Frank really had turned so nasty, and I have some theories about how that happened, because he wasn't like that when I met him. It was that accident that he had, where the guy pushed him off the stage in London in late '71.

BD: That changed Frank.

NL: I think so, because I think there were physiological changes as well, because you can't have a bad concussion like he had, and not have some fallout from it.

BD: You mention that when you first talked to him after the accident, his voice was different. Didn't he even damage his vocal cords or something?

NL: Yeah, I think they were crushed. His voice had definitely dropped about a [major] third, I would say, in pitch.

BD: So you're getting the electric guitar when you're 12, would you say?

NL: Yeah, I was about 12.

BD: And that's '66, that period.

NL: There was a confluence of things. I heard "Freak Out!" and it changed me forever. I got my first electric guitar, and I began to realize that I needed an expanded musical vocabulary entirely if I wanted to write songs that were anything like what Frank was doing, which I thought was just terrific. See, rock 'n' roll left me pretty cold.

BD: You already had a complex musical intelligence...

NL: Well, I'd been listening to a lot of different kinds of music.

BD: Like Stravinsky and that stuff? That early?

NL: Not too much Stravinsky. A lot of composers that were on 78s, that I had been listening to since childhood.

BD: The jazz world...

NL: Jazz, definitely.

LIONEL ROLFE: What about the Ravi Shankar thing?

NL: Ravi Shankar was, like, a year or so later. I took up Indian music too, I loved that a lot.

BD: You mean, after "Freak Out!"? In '67?

NL: Yeah, in '67. But that was another thread entirely.

BD: So you found rock 'n' roll, by your upbringing and environment, to be simple. Frank was obviously a complex rock musician to you, so you said "This is interesting".

NL: Right. For me, ["Freak Out!"] was like, this is great stew, you can pick a little of this, a little of that, and it all goes together, in a certain sense. What it was, I guess, was sort of my pre-concept of 'pataphysics. Frank was the ultimate 'pataphysical composer.

BD: Right. So then, how did you discover Jarry at the age of 15? Even though, I guess, the counterculture was in the high schools a bit, but how-- ?

NL: No one had ever heard of Jarry in my high school, or anywhere where I was, but in Hermosa Beach there was a bookstore called the Either/Or Bookstore.

BD: It used to be advertised in the L.A. Free Press.

NL: It had started out as a beatnik coffee house called The Insomniac in the '50s, and it was just a cool place to hang out if you were an alienated teenager like I was -- cutting class, smoking, you know, that kind of thing (laughs). So one day when I was cutting class I walked down there and in the literature section there was a whole bunch of Evergreen Review stuff, collections of stuff, and there was The Selected Works of Alfred Jarry, which I had never seen before. I didn't know anything about it --

BD: You'd been in the bookstore before --

NL: Oh yeah, a lot.

BD: But that book -- so you knew what was there, and you saw something new.

NL: Because it had that woodcut of [Jarry's character] Ubu on the cover. It's a little bit like "Freak Out!" in that sense, it just jumps right out at you, you can't ignore it. So I looked through it, and the first thing I happened to see was the poem "Nookie"-- Tatane, and I said, "Hmm, 'Nookie' -- this guy's right up my alley!"(laughs) I didn't have enough money to buy the book. It's a little bit like what happened to Frank, when he first ran into that Varese record [The Complete Works of Edgard Varese, Vol. I, Elaine Music Stores EMS 401, 1950] in La Mesa in the hi-fi store. The epiphany: "Oh, shit, I don't have money!" (laughs) In his case, he talked the guy into selling it to him for five or six bucks. In my case, I didn't even have nickel one, I mean, I'd spent my lunch money on a pack of cigarettes, my last pack of cigarettes, right (laughs). So I have to admit, it was a dishonest act -- I had a bulky sweater on, and I just shoved it under there (general laughter).

BD: Steal this book.

NL: Jarry would have approved! (laughs)

BD: You didn't know he would approve --

NL: No, not until after I read it -- then I saw, and I said, "Gee, I guess I did the right thing." (laughs)

BD: Can you place the time of year that was?

NL: Oh Lord -- well, it was fall, because school had reconvened in

September, so it was --

BD: So you read [Jarry] religiously through that winter --

NL: Oh yeah, I got hooked right away. I didn't understand a lot of it, and again, there's sort of an analogy between me and that book, and Jarry in general, and Frank discovering Varese.

BD: "A whole new world that I can swim around in, and find out what it is".

NL: Yeah. See, the other thing is, my mother was Greek and Irish. She was born in England. And her first language, that she loved the most, was French. She spoke it at home. She'd spent a lot of time in France before the war, and before coming here. So the sound of the language, and the shape of the language, were fairly familiar to me, although I didn't speak it. I could certainly read it and understand it fairly well, in a certain sense. So a lot of Jarry's thought processes, which would have been alien to me if I hadn't had some grasp of the language, were not. So that was interesting.

BD: So you really were primed for that.

NL: I was ripe for the pluckin' on that one...

BD: Did you tell your friends in school that you were reading it?

NL: I tried to, not in the sense of "Gee, I'm so cool, look what I'm reading", but more --

BD: "Can you make anything out of this?"

NL: My boyfriend, who was extremely bright as far as IQ and intellect, he got it but he didn't, because he was really from an "Amurrican" background, and there's a certain European cast to Jarry, let's face it.

BD: The Symbolist world. Maybe you could say it's the dandy world, and the American macho doesn't resonate with that. Is that accurate?

NL: Yeah, because it's a narcissistic thing, the gesture, the Grand Literary Gesture, of course.

BD: So then did you just keep focusing on the book, or did you try to find out more about him -- was there a biography of him?

NL: Yeah, I found The Banquet Years, and read that. I thought that was pretty interesting, and as a result I also got interested in Henri Rousseau, and Erik Satie, who after Frank and Beefheart may be my favorite composer. And so that was a valuable link. But what Jarry and Frank did was, they got me through high school, as far as I went with it. I got kicked out of high school, but before I did, they enabled me to survive.

BD: This was '65, '66 -- ?

NL: No, see what happened was, I got skipped a grade in junior high. I went from seventh directly into ninth, which in southern California, anyway, is freshman year of high school. In a lot of school districts that's still middle school, but ninth grade here was freshman in high school. That would've been September 1967 I started high school.

BD: Is this bookstore near your school?

NL: Yeah. You walked down -- I don't know if you know Hermosa Beach -- if you walk down Artesia Blvd., that's where Mira Costa High School is, or where the campus is; they closed it down a few years ago. You walk down Artesia, where there's a little dogleg, and you go off to the left, down Valley Dr., and you're on Pier Avenue. It's a little bit of a walk, but anyway, Pier Ave., right by the water, is where the bookstore is.

BD: So Jarry prepares you for Frank. Now, when you started to hear "Freak Out!" did you say, "Is this Jarry?" Were you putting the two together, or was it too hard to comprehend at first?

NL: I think it was the other way around. I didn't know about Jarry when I heard "Freak Out!".

BD: No, you were 15 when you get Jarry, remember?

NL: But I'd already heard "Freak Out!"

BD: No, that's in summer of '66. See, if you're 15...oh wait, you're right.

NL: Believe me, I was still in grade school when I heard "Freak Out!". I wasn't even in junior high.

BD: Let's redo this.

NL: OK (laughs).

BD: You're eleven in '66 --

NL: Right.

BD: Oh...and I was thinking that, I was getting the '65 mixed up with the 15. So you're 15 -- is that '68?

NL: No, that would've been the fall of '69.

BD: So we're talking about the fall of '69. OK. So you're listening to Frank from '66 till '69. Through him you discover Stravinsky and all these classical people --

NL: Right. I was kind of going in that direction, and that's why I say I needed a new musical vocabulary, because I began to hear stuff there that there was no way I could play, even with chord charts. I tried getting chord charts, and by that point I'd been playing percussion long enough, and my music-reading skills were up to enough snuff so I even tried cracking Walter Piston's Harmony and some books like that. I never thought of going and having someone teach me the stuff, because I didn't think anybody could.

BD: So when you read Jarry --

NL: I was already pretty primed because I'd heard "Freak Out!", "Absolutely Free", "We're Only In It For The Money", "Lumpy Gravy", "Uncle Meat", and it was pre-"Burnt Weeny Sandwich" and pre-"Hot Rats".

BD: So you think you got the Jarry book in September of '69?

NL: Yeah.

BD: So do you think, "This is an early Frank"? What did you think?

NL: I thought, "This guy's definitely got some Frank in him". I didn't

think it that consciously, but that was what I was thinking.

BD: Or you might've thought, "Frank has got this guy in him".

NL: Both. This was the text, and that was the soundtrack, the score.

BD: Even in '69, that late, with the counterculture coming into the high schools, the kids weren't interested in Jarry? It was just too much...

NL: Nah, they weren't. The South Bay is something you have to look at in context. It's not an intellectual bastion of any sort. It's surfers, it's defense industry, it's very wealthy and very smug, and it's very pleasant.

BD: And you're Jewish...

NL: No.

BD: What was your background?

NL: My mother was Greek and Irish, and my father was Scotch-Irish. He's Jewish [looking at Lionel Rolfe].

BD: So that was the thing with the B'nai B'rith, that newspaper.

NL: Yeah.

BD: So I was looking at [the book], and I couldn't tell whether you were Jewish or not, because you don't say what you were. What religion were your parents?

NL: Well, my father was an atheist, really. My mom, kind of an agnostic.

BD: So you didn't go to church.

NL: I wasn't raised with any kind of religion.

BD: Art is your religion, it would turn out to be.

NL: When I was in high school I had some application to fill out, some school form, and it had "Religion" on it, and I put "Musician". (General laughter) They called me into the office!

BD: That's a Frank thing to say.

NL: Frank did do that, as a matter of fact. I think it was maybe when he got married, on his marriage license, or something, but he did put "Musician" for "Religion". I saw that years later and grinned.

BD: He worships the Big Note (general laughter).

NL: Well, why not?

BD: So you get Frank, and "Freak Out!", and you look into Stravinsky, and these strange names on the list --

NL: That was a big list. There was a lot of stuff to go through on there.

BD: Were you thinking of being a composer that early?

NL: Yeah.

BD: So when you're 12, 13 and 14 --

NL: That jumps back, in a way, because when I was maybe four or five, my parents had a big fireplace with a big brick hearth, and I would stand on it and envision conducting an orchestra.

BD: Really. So that really was in you.

NL: Yeah, I just wanted to do that. About that time, when I was about four, my parents had taken me to one of those Leonard Bernstein "Young People's Guide to the Orchestra" concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. I don't know why my folks took me to this, because they weren't the cultural type at all, not musical --

BD: You mention that in the book.

NL: Yeah, much later, in the "Statement of Earnings" part of it. But it was really fascinating to see this guy pick up the white stick, he raised the white stick, and The Machine -- it kicked in! It was like, "Who - o - oa! You mean, if I stand there and wave a white stick, I can get a machine to do that? Ohhh, this is it -- this is the life!"

BD: Almost like Disneyland -- you know, Tinker Belle.

NL: I loved Fantasia, the Sorcerer's Apprentice, that whole section --

actually it wasn't the Sorcerer's Apprentice, it was partly that, but the Stravinsky [Firebird] music was in there too. In my mind they were forever linked together -- waving the white stick and the machine starting up, and you could blow things to kingdom come with it. But, getting all those brooms to fetch buckets of water -- in my mind there was somehow a metaphysics here, because the sum was so much greater than the parts. If you wave the white stick, not only is it not just a bunch of people sitting around in evening clothes making funny noises on strange pieces of equipment, but it's almost like physics, or metaphysics -- you've got this whole thing --

BD: Moving matter.

NL: Right! And Frank explained it to me perfectly. He said, "What you're doing is, you're moving the air molecules around, and you're transforming them into something totally different."

BD: Ooh -- well, we won't get into that yet. But when you conducted when you were four, you had not seen Bernstein? Or you had seen him and that's what you were imitating?

NL: It was actually after we saw the "Young People's Guide to the

Orchestra" thing that I started thinking about it. I never realized before that, when I listened to classical records and I'd hear an orchestra come out of the little speaker in the front of the Victrola that I had, you know: how does this happen?

BD: You didn't know who was doing it.

NL: I knew people were involved, somehow, but I'd never seen that, so this put it into some kind of a visual perspective for me, and then I could wave the white stick and have my fantasies.

BD: As a little kid, you knew what you were doing. So it was that. But when did you actually compose your first piece? Can you say, like Frank, when you were 13 or 14, you composed your first piece?

NL: Well, I started writing songs before I started writing pieces, quote unquote.

BD: When was that?

NL: Starting when I was about ten, probably. Just little songs, you know, but they were kind of -- I was very frustrated, because I knew what I wanted, in a sense, but it wasn't concrete. I could hear in my head -- I would hear relatively complex chords and sonorities, and counterpoint a lot of the time -- it was kind of mathematical music, in a lot of ways. I'd hear it in my head, and I'd have no idea where it was coming from or furthermore how to get it outside of what was internal, how to externalize it.

BD: This was in the genes or something. We don't know what it is, but you had music in your head.

NL: The musicians in my family were pretty limited, really. My uncle was a pretty good folk fiddler, of a certain type, but he wasn't --

LIONEL ROLFE: You got it from me.

NL: Oh, I see. I didn't know you then.

BD: Psychically you knew him.

NL: I knew you before this life...(general laughter) His family were well known musicians, they were the Menuhin family, Yehudi Menuhin.

LR: Yehudi was my uncle, and my mother is Yaltah, and they were all prodigies.

NL: There's not any prodigy composers.

LR: Mozart...

NL: Yeah, Mozart was about it. But who else?

BD: There aren't any others?

NL: Some started young --

LR: Mendelssohn --

NL: Was Mendelssohn really young when he started?

BD: So you're right, there aren't that many.

NL: It's not an easy thing to do.

BD: That's a big cultural myth, of prodigies. But you're right, you look back and there are only five of 'em (laughs).

NL: Maybe. If that many. So I started writing songs, but I was really frustrated with them, and what I realized much later was that my concept of music was extremely abstract.

BD: When did you realize that later? When's "later"?

NL: Probably when I started to work with Frank on polishing up my

orchestral technique, much later -- this was probably 1972.

BD: The "Statement of Earnings" period.

NL: Yeah. I realized that I hadn't wanted to write little songs with lyrics and chord changes and simple guitar parts -- I wanted to actually come up with intellectual concepts that were couched in musical terms. By the time I realized that, it was a lot, lot later, and I went through a lot of unnecessary frustration. I don't know who could have helped me out of that problem.

BD: Did you read lots of novels? Were you an intellectual as a young person?

NL: I never really liked fiction. I liked science fiction, I liked history, and the more I got into the stuff that was analogous to Jarry, some of the writers out of that period, I discovered I liked them quite a bit. But fiction never did much for me. There's one other person I have to list among my influences, and that was Mark Twain, and he of course didn't really write fiction, either -- he wrote sociology masquerading as fiction, so in a way he wasn't really a novelist, even though Huck Finn is a novel, I suppose. But anyway, he was the other person I read a lot.

BD: When did you discover him?

NL: I started reading him when I was a little kid. I probably read Huck Finn when I was about seven, and I read Twain through high school, but it was when I was an adult -- if you can call 18 or 19 an adult -- that I read The Innocents Abroad, which was his travel-in-Europe book. I happened to be in Europe at the time, traveling.

BD: But you're reading more than your peers. You were an intellectual.

NL: Compared to other kids who didn't read anything except for school or whatever, yeah.

BD: Yeah, because you sort of present yourself as a rebellious kid, but I don't know if you present the intellectual side of yourself, that you were doing your own education.

NL: See, now I think the reason Jarry appealed to me so much was that he was an intellectual punk, or a literary punk. He was an intellectual, savagely so, incredibly so, but it wasn't an armchair thing for him.

BD: That's what you liked about Frank -- he was a street intellectual, and he didn't like the pomposity of flowery 'culture' or whatever.

NL: God! And Twain also, in spite of the fact that he was considered part of the literary Establishment, he wasn't -- he was a wild barbarian from the West.

BD: He's wandering around looking at Tesla and these guys -- he's like Frank --

NL: His mind was open.

BD: He's studying reality.

NL: Yeah. In all its permutations (laughs), exactly.

BD: So when did you do your first piece? you did songs, and you were frustrated --

NL: Well, what happened was that I had a tape recorder. My dad was in the furniture business; he built hardwood case goods, mostly, and he had also been, not a recording engineer, but a sound engineer, off and on -- he got a license back in the '30s when that meant you had a couple of ribbon mikes and a wire recorder. But he'd always been interested in audio stuff, so he built from a kit a Viking 808, their first really good high-end stereo quarter track reel-to-reel recorder. He had it built into a wooden case and we had it in the living room. My mom hated it, it was just a bunch of junk in there, and she was always going "Whaddaya playing with that thing for?" I got fascinated by it, because here I am, a musician, and I'd sort of been writing these little tunes that I didn't like that much --

BD: Now how old are you when you were doing that?

NL: The first recordings I made on it were in '68, '69, in that period. I can't tell you exactly, but it was probably summer of '68. I was off school, and my boyfriend at that time and I started messing around -- he played a bunch of instruments too, cello and a bunch of different percussion instruments, and I played guitar and keyboard. So we started messing around and composing a bunch of songs, and in the summer of '69, we put together the tape that led to my meeting Frank. And these were songs that I was beginning to like -- they were really bent, the kind of things you would hear on Dr. Demento, probably.

BD: Right. But you were thinking of Stravinsky, you were processing what you were hearing?

NL: I wasn't thinking so much about Stravinsky, I was just thinking about trying to get maximum information in that little two-minute block.

BD: But you were listening to Stravinsky by that point.

NL: Not so much. Ravel a little bit -- again, I didn't really get heavily into those 20th-century composers until I met Frank. I'd see records, and he'd be listening to stuff, and I'd ask him "What's that?" and he'd tell me something about it, and then I began to spread out more into that. Although I can't say I had never heard Stravinsky, because I had.

BD: So that's why you're going towards a pop culture orientation rather than being a Juilliard conductor in '69 and '70.

NL: Well, you have to have an infrastructure to do that kind of thing. You have to be raised in an acculturated background. My parents did notencourage me in any way, shape or form in anything.

BD: You really put down -- you don't have any compunction about -- "my mother with stupid pajamas on" --

NL: She wasn't stupid, she was extremely intelligent, but very twisted.

BD: Your portrait is very negative. Does she mind that, or you don't speakto her anymore --

NL: She passed away a number of years ago. She never saw this book.

BD: You would never write that if she was still alive, present it that way?

NL: Sure I would.

BD: Would she mind?

NL: She might. I mean, we weren't close.

BD: Did you ever become close later?

NL: No. It only got worse as she got older.

LR: She married me.

NL: That wasn't the beginning of the end, it was the end, baby, The End, beautiful friend.

BD: And you married in '75?

NL: '75, yeah.

BD: OK, so you present the tape -- why was Frank so impressed with the tape? I don't get that, I mean many people were sending him tapes. He didn't ask everybody to come over, did he?

NL: I don't know if he did or not. Maybe --

BD: He got the package, and --

NL: Maybe if it was in the ballpark he would. I think what he liked about it was that it was very 'out there'. It was extremely strange stuff, it was no holds barred. What he liked, what he told me at least, was my guitar playing. By that point I'd been playing a few years, and I was going in a certain direction. I always got the impression, as far as Frank being my mentor, that he saw himself in me, to a certain extent.

BD: Was this by hearing the tape, or once he started to get to know you?

NL: Well, after he'd known me for awhile, I think, he began to see himself in me a lot. Let's face it. We all have certain proclivities that are based on who knows what, and I think probably when he heard my guitar playing he could think "Shit, this is what I was like when I was 14 or 15".

BD: And you're a girl.

NL: That was fascinating to him, I think.

BD: The male energy goes "Ooh, what's this mutant? there's something surfacing in the other camp! must check this out!" (laughs)

NL: Exactly! He was very confused by it, and I don't think he minded being confused. It was a state I think he'd been in perpetually --

BD: Did you feel that when you met him that first time, that he was confused?

NL: I got it later. At that moment, no. I was kind of intimidated because Frank -- you probably had lots of Frank experiences like this yourself when you first met him -- he was very good at sizing people up, just incrediblygood with psychology, he just sort of fixed me with this unwavering stare-- that stare...

BD: You mention that in the book. 'Cause when I met him, I was just looking at his face and I saw the "Absolutely Free" eye, it spiraled sorta -- I don't know if I saw spirals, but it was like a magician you met. Itwas the first time I ever met a magician eye. And you describe the same thing, right? It was very weird, how --

NL: I'm not really a mystical person, but when I met Frank I got into a very strange level of whatever.

BD: You mean that one incident. And you had stumbled out of the building --

NL: Who-o-oa! (laughs) Because he definitely was able to manipulate levels of reality. He was really good at that.

BD: He was psychic. Which is interesting -- why do you have him going "Telepathy...bullshit" [in one of the photos in "Being Frank"]?

NL: That was kind of like I was razzing Frank a little by leaving that in there; I didn't do that, it was Phil Stern, the photographer, who put the dialogue balloon in.

BD: You knew -- you were trying to describe him as a psychic kind of person.

NL: Well, if you look at that picture, it's part of the joke of that picture, because the [video] monitor has that picture of him, and it looks like he's projecting himself into the monitor.

BD: I see. And he's jokingly saying that it's obviously telepathy, but he's going to dare you to think --

NL: That was Frank, see. He was really mystical, and he dared you to make him come out and say it, and meanwhile he's doing all of this stuff, and it was kind of a funny thing with him.

BD: This is my interview with Frank in '88, it's 70 pages, and it's considered the best interview with Frank, and it got bootlegged. Have you seen the bootleg "Apocrypha: Thirty Years of Frank Zappa"?

NL: No, I haven't actually.

BD: Maybe Gerry can show you a copy afterward. They took the whole interview and put it in this beautiful little package --

NL: Great. They should have paid you something, but --

BD: For the record -- it's good to get it out there. In Circus magazine, their first issue or something, in the summer of '69, is a very interesting interview, and they give Frank various [word] association things. It's either in that or another one: "Psychic?" "No comment!" (General laughter) So then he got interested in how music mutates vegetables, how it controls people -- the "Uncle Meat" thing. Now years later I got a chance to get back to that. "Are you into psychic blah blah blah?" -- because in his United Mutations literature [in the 1960s] he had "ESP? God?" and questions like that. And so it got clarified, he didn't say whether he believed in it or not, but when he said "No comment" [in the 1969 interview] he said, "You don't talk about it with someone who's not gonna understand it". Which meant that Frank understood it, or was interested in it.

NL: Right. And there's no point in wasting elaborate descriptions on people if they don't know where you're coming from.

BD: Or worrying about whether it's real or not. Now this interview gets a lot into that, and I'm going to bring up some concepts in it that I want to see if he told you in '71 and '72. That's what I'm leading to. So then you meet Frank, then you go away and you come back a year later, and 24 years ago today -- August 7, 1971 -- and I was here in L.A. in the summer of '71 after being with Beefheart in Ben Lomond, I came back here -- and I didn't see the ad, or I would've stayed here and gone to that concert, and got in the band! (General laughter) So you went! --

NL: There's a lot of confluence in this project for me. Every time I do a book signing I run into somebody else who shared all or part of the story in some way, chronologically.

BD: Like what I'm saying --

NL: Yeah, yours is much more detailed than most people's --

BD: But they identify. They were moving in that direction, like you, towards Frank.

NL: Anyway, this guy in Chicago said the same thing. He said, "Damn! You mean if I'd walked up to Frank --" I mean, he was at that show. He was an excellent bass player, loved Frank's music -- he was a terrific musician, he actually is; he's played me his stuff since -- but he said, "If I'd walked up to Frank after that show --"

BD: "I coulda gotten into the band!"

NL: It would've been the biggest band in history! (General laughter) Frank Zappa and His Very Large Band!

BD: That's why people find this book very hard to believe, 'cause they think Frank was so policed, that there was no way anybody got in -- NL: Well, maybe later, after he'd become a household name, but --

BD: Back then it was still -- [to Gerry, who is gesticulating vigorously]

Why are you signaling? (General laughter) It's all right, Gerry, just to show the proper --

GERRY FIALKA: One more minute.

BD: OK, well let's stop now.

GF: We'll return in one moment with Nigey Lennon and Bob Dobbs.

BD: See, that's like Frank, where you talk about the offstage props.

(general laughter)

BD: So miracle of miracles, he actually allows this little girl to be in

the band! (general laughter)

NL: Well, I wasn't so little (laughs).

BD: I know, but you were --

NL: I was tall and gangly, and I didn't, you know, come across as a shrinking violet. Don't forget, in the intervening time between getting kicked out of high school and hooking up with Frank, I had gone through the rodeo circuit in Arizona, and got pretty tough physically.

BD: So this is -- you were, what did we say you were?

NL: Seventeen.

BD: In July '71 you'd just turned 17. You're in your eighteenth year. So now, you get in the band -- Oh, let's see here. Page 22. [Flips through "Being Frank"] In that first talk with him, at his home, right? --

NL: Right. That audition.

BD: Yeah, that audition, it was a strange audition in the sense that he'd already kind of decided you were in the band, right?

NL: Well, he wanted to see -- he knew what my guitar playing sounded like, so he wanted to see how it would fit into his framework.

BD: What's really interesting -- I met him in March '70. I went up to his home and waited around until he came home from the studio or whatever, and we talked outside his home. I had noticed there was some kind of continuity going on, that there was a pattern he'd impose on his albums that would go back. It was just an intuition --

NL: That was pretty sharp, because that didn't really become apparent until quite a bit later.

BD: Right. I always give myself credit as being the first kid to notice it (laughs).

NL: The first on your block.

BD: Yeah, so what happens, I asked him. My question wasn't good, because I said, "When you put out 'We're Only In It For The Money', which was a satire on the Beatles' ['Sgt. Pepper'] album" -- I think I said,"Did you know you were gonna do something like that before it happened?" and he said, "No, no". And in retrospect of course he didn't know they were gonna make "Sgt. Pepper", but in retrospect I was onto the right thing. He would fit things back into Varese, 1955, there was some continuity.

NL: For him, Time was so elastic. It didn't have a beginning, it didn't have an end. He was always saying, you know, you want to pinpoint, not so much why, but when.

BD: In this interview he spells out his belief that everything's happening all the time. So that was in '70, I asked him, and he said no. But then, years later, like I'd say, middle '70s, I found this "Hey Hey Mr. Snazzy Executive" interview, where he presents the conceptual continuity project/object. Now that's the summer of '71 --

NL: The first I ever saw of it was when I went up to his house to do the audition, and he showed me the press kit to 200 Motels, which I think was the same thing maybe you're talking about.

BD: That press kit, yeah!

NL: It had some very interesting chart that showed points in Time -- do you remember that? It had, like, little dots --

BD: Do we have that, Gerry? I remember the interview, but were there charts?

NL: There were lots of charts. It was a big press kit. If you've got it --

BD: I don't remember seeing it, knowing that.

NL: It was a couple of hundred pages.

BD: As a matter of fact, when he put out, in 1974, "Ten Years on the Road with the Mothers of Invention", you remember that little thing? And on the back there was an interview with Dr. Demento.

NL: That's right. I just ran into that the other day.

BD: For the first time, you mean.

NL: Well, I've had the press kit since it came out, and I had leafed through it, but I hadn't realized that that interview on the back was by Barry Hansen.

BD: Right. And so, they talk about conceptual continuity, and I got that in 77, I got it from one of his attorneys here. So I read it in '77, said "There it is", and then within a few years, probably in the late '70s, I got "Hey Snazzy Exec". So my theory at that point was, Frank the sociologist/psychologist, studying his audience, when I said "Is there a conceptual continuity?", I sort of picked it up in March '70, [Frank reacted] "Oh, my audience is starting to notice this -- I'd better pontificate about it". So here I was, stimulating him, giving him the clue to do it. So you -- you're the first person to see it, because you see the booklet just before it's come out. This is like, we could say August 15? A week later?

NL: Yeah, it was a week later.

BD: So did you read this? You didn't read the conceptual continuity stuff in it? He just told you about it.

NL: Yeah, he wanted to give me a copy of it, and then he was looking around and he didn't have an extra one. So I read a little of it -- I was not in much of a mental state, I was nervous about that audition. He showed it to me first, then he said "Now let's play some" -(snorts).

BD: Yeah, yeah. You wanted to get it over with.

NL: If I was gonna go to the gallows, I wanted to get it done.

BD: But he did say this, and you remember this.

NL: Oh yeah, yeah.

BD: This is part of your diary? You made notes on this at the time?

NL: I'm really cursed with a retentive memory (laughs).

BD: So you can remember conversations.

NL: Oh yeah. I didn't have notes about that, but on the tour I kept kind of a sketchy journal. I didn't have time to write in it too often.

BD: But this was based on your memory.

NL: Yeah.

BD: So you're the first to hear it -- maybe the band members heard about it --

NL: Oh, I'm sure he probably talked to them about it.

BD: I go into a lot of that in the interview: what is the conceptual continuity. And my interview is probably one of the few that brings out the Big Note, where he explains the Big Note. So what you have here -- does he tell more than you have here in that conversation?

NL: You mean the initial one, at the audition?

BD: Yeah -- is there more than what he told you here?

NL: He didn't really give me an overview of his work, per se, outside of just explaining the thought behind 200 Motels, and how the tour fit into that. Essentially he was talking about practical things, like how the tour was designed to promote the movie, which was very important because it was increasing his recognizability nationally. I'm sure you're aware, when they open a movie, they open it in test markets, and they're in big cities. And the tour was hitting all those big cities. Everything was just beautifully coordinated, but he was concerned because a couple of the guys in the band that he was relying on heavily were showing all kinds of signs of battle fatigue. He felt that they had substance abuse problems. That was just his lack of knowledge about that stuff. They weren't about to drop dead, or run off, or have an OD onstage or something, but he wanted to be sure the tour would run smoothly right to the end.

BD: Right when he was peaking, there was fatigue in the band, and that's what your role was. He was anticipating that.

NL: He figured it was almost kind of a diversionary tactic: I could come out and sing and play the guitar. In a sense, when I look back on it, realistically, I think it showed what he thought of me as a player at that point. If I'd been a really terrific virtuoso he would've had me join the band as a full fledged member, and we'd have kicked the other guys out (laughs). Well, I'm being facetious, but seriously, I think that was part of it. So that's OK, because how old was I?

BD: A prop to keep them on their toes, is that what you mean?

NL: That was part of it. It wasn't really the best situation for me to enter into. I was being a scab. If it had been a few years later I'd have said "Hey, that's scabbing, and I don't do that".

BD: You were only 17 -- yeah --

NL: And my political conscience was, admittedly, a little on the antediluvian side at that point (laughs).

BD: So that's August, and the tour -- you get on the road a week or so later.

NL: That was it! I think it was two weeks.

BD: And then you're in the band for basically two months.

NL: Mm-hmm.

BD: And how many concerts did you play?

NL: You mean, how many did I attend, or how many were on the tour?

BD: How many did you perform?

NL: About fifteen, I would say.

BD: Fifteen. Was one of them in Toronto?

NL: No. That was right after I left the tour in New York City, and the next show was Toronto. I've run into people, in fact, there's a guy who's a good friend of ours here who was playing in the band Crazy Horse, and they were the opening act on the tour, starting with that show.

BD: I have a big Zappa collection, and I remember years ago reading about the "magic sofa period", the thing you were on, and there was a review in some paper -- I thought it was Toronto, but now you're right, it couldn't have been Toronto -- it could've been anywhere on the East Coast -- and they describe a woman in the band. I always remembered, "What? What woman?" We all knew the members, who was this? That was you.

NL: I'm sure it was (laughs). Who else?

BD: But it was like a mystery. I thought maybe the reviewer was hallucinating -- there was no woman in the band. But actually what's really funny was, that was stuck right there, and someone could have researched it, said "Who is this person?" and then you could've told your story 20 years ago!

NL: There's been a lot of funny stuff like that on the Internet since the book came out.

BD: Like what?

NL: About me, and my presence in the band, or whatever, because --

BD: Oh, I saw some of that.

NL: People arguing back and forth -- it's terrific.

BD: They can't believe it.

NL: And yet, once again I've run into quite a few people who either saw me do one of those shows, or -- there was one guy who came to the event that I did over here at Bookstar in West Hollywood, who was actually at those Carnegie Hall shows, the famous ones, my swan song, my last gasp.

BD: And he remembered and told you.

NL: Yeah, he was another Mr. Confluence -- there's a lot of confluence here. He had the same thing; he was about my age, and he was a terrific guitar player, and he came backstage at one of those shows, and jammed with Frank, and Frank liked his playing so much that he said "Let's do some recording". He was supposed to get together with Frank and record some guitar duos. He never did it, I don't know why.

BD: That's the last phase -- remember, it's two months before he gets

knocked off the stage [at the Rainbow Theater in London].

NL: Everything changed for him then.

BD: After that he was under lock and key. So it was like, he was available for new people to join, or do things.

NL: Until his accident. And that was sort of the end of the window. The window closed in December of '71.

BD: What's interesting in that period, I went to New York in May of '71 and met Dave Walley. He was describing his unpleasant experience of having gone to London for the film 200 Motels, and how Frank was a little irritated with Dave and the book ["No Commercial Potential"] and that, and wouldn't let him in. So in '71 Dave is working out whether to do the book or not. So then, when I meet Beefheart in June, July '71, and talk to [Art Tripp], I tell him there's a guy named Dave Walley who wants to do a book on Zappa, and they go "Why would anybody want to do a book on Frank?!" (General laughter) "The guy, he's a lousy composer -- maybe he's a good technician, a good engineer, but he's not a musician!" So they were ranting on that. And Beefheart said "Do you have his number? I want his number" -- and he didn't say it, but he wanted to discourage [Walley} from doing the book! So that was that. And then in November '71 I went to New York to see 200 Motels, and I stayed at Dave Walley's, and I read his manuscript. It was very interesting. Dave said, "Frank's created some bad karma dealing with me". I always remember this. "I've talked to musicians, and people, and they don't like what he's done, the negative side of whatever business effect Frank had". And he started really saying, you know, "Frank screwed up -- he's a great musician, but you can't screw up with people, you can't use them -- you can't do that". Now, he's a hippie, Dave Walley, and he's thinking philosophically about karma and that, so he said "Frank's gonna get his". And in fact, two weeks later he got nailed! And I didn't wanna encourage Dave to think it, but Dave and I had an understanding that he would think it was because of him! (General laughter)

NL: I think there are a few people -- because my experience was, I was really upset with the way the tour ended for me.

BD: You had karma -- I think of Walley when I read your point.

NL: I think there was what Frank would have called "a mountain of bad vibes", you know, and it just piled up there.

BD: Here's what's funny -- it's in '71, he's gonna launch the movie, he's really gonna hoick himself up as The Artist, and the figure for the Zeitgeist, and the band is falling apart, and he gets you in. Now why did he have a sexual relationship with you? What about the age factor -- the illegality of being under eighteen? Was he concerned about that? You don't go into it too much -- was that a factor?

NL: I think that Frank's psychology was extremely complicated, and I'm sure it was not the first time he had done that, with somebody underage. Obviously there were nubile young things running all over the place back home, starting in the Log Cabin and that scene there.

BD: It's the life of being a musician, being cut off from society. You've got your own means of supporting yourself, you can kind of be an anarchist.

NL: There was a cartoon in The New Yorker ten or more years ago, I don't exactly remember the date, but it showed a guy sitting in a bar, looking very self-important -- he could have been an academic, I suppose -- and this nubile, giggly young gal sitting next to him is saying "You mean you have your own private moral universe?"(General laughter) I had that up over where I worked for the longest time, because it reminded me of Frank!

BD: I want to go into your relationship a little bit, but let's finish the

thought of his karma -- he's messed with you here, in '71, and then the movie -- I thought the movie was great, but in retrospect it was panned, it was put down --

NL: Have you seen it recently? Have you seen the video version, which, I think, restored some of the scenes that were cut?

BD: Oh yeah?

NL: Yeah. I saw the original shooting script, although it was after the fact, and what I realized was that if it had been shot as written it would have been a terrific movie. It would have had all the different levels of consciousness -- because Frank, like we were saying earlier, had a wonderful grasp of different levels of reality, and he was trying to put them into this, and it would've been difficult with a high budget, it would've been difficult with the best of technology, and they were doing it just on a shoestring.

BD: I think you talk about that in the book, that that's the reason. But I like the concepts, though, I could pick up the concepts in it.

NL: Yeah, everybody would probably have a different thing about it. When I saw it, I sort of was disappointed, because the music was good, I loved the music --

BD: At that time you saw it, right?

NL: I saw it in New York when I was there on tour.

BD: [Tony] Palmer made some interesting quotes at that time. He said that working with Frank was like working with a yogi. I remember that. But then later, he knocked the movie, he didn't like it, didn't want to be associated with it.

NL: I remember him saying some very positive things at the time. So anyway, I think Frank at the time had just amassed a lot of psychic debts there --

BD: I'm sure glad he survived. If he'd been killed, we would have missed all that music, that's the amazing thing.

NL: He suffered terribly in that accident. I mean, it wasn't an accident, let's be honest -- the guy intended to kill him, and it was just an accident that he didn't die. [Frank] really suffered physically, he was never the same after that. You interviewed him in '88 -- did you see him directly before the accident, and then shortly thereafter?

BD: The first time I saw him was at the "Hot Rats" [concert] at the Olympic

NL: Did you see him to talk to, to get a good look at him?

BD: I saw him in '74, and I talked to him in '75.

NL: Because the thing that just shocked the hell out of me -- the accident was in December '71, and he didn't call me, he didn't get around to doing any kind of business, plus I was a little leery, I felt so bad about everything. the way everything ended --

BD: Which you describe in the book.

NL: Yeah, right. Anyway, he gave me a call, it was probably three or fourmonths later, it was early '72 by this time, and I hadn't seen him. And I went up to the rehearsal [in Hollywood] to collect the insurance money heowed me on my guitar, which had burnt up in Montreux, which was the other piece of karmic payback. So I went to collect the money that he owed me, and when I first saw him I was just shocked.

BD: He had the foot sticking out --

NL: The busted foot sticking out -- But the way he kept his grip, not only on his reality, but on the reality of any scene he was involved in, he had sort of lost that grip.

BD: You felt that. You could tell his body was weakened.

NL: His energy level was down there. He looked stricken -- the expression on his face --

BD: He looked like a plague victim, he looked like he had a disease, like he was gonna die soon.

NL: He just felt, "How could somebody do that to me?" He just couldn't believe it. You could look at it negatively, and say, here's a guy who had maintained control, rigid control, to a certain extent, for all his career, and here he'd lost it -- boy, had he lost it!

BD: He almost unexpectedly got killed, in the least likely place you would've imagined.

NL: It was total absurdity. It would've been fitting in Jarry's life, maybe, but not Frank's. It didn't belong in Frank's life.

BD: Now that's an interesting point. Frank is a 'pataphysician, but he's not a 'pataphysician, he's also the opposite -- he's a controller.

NL: Right. Well, what was Jarry?

BD: Very controlled about his image.

NL: His reality, he totally seized that reality, very much like Frank, in

an iron grip and transformed it into what he wanted it to be.

BD: OK, so we were just saying that it's like a 'pataphysical event, what happened to Frank?

NL: Well, in a sense. It was what happens when you mess with random stuff to an incredible extent and it gets out of control. I mention that in the book a little bit; I just touched on it, but the fact is, the scene around Frank at his concerts was really anarchistic, often.

BD: It was an anarchistic period in the culture. You get that on "Burnt Weeny Sandwich", with the students yelling at him --

NL: There had been a riot not on the tour I was on, but the year before --

BD: The summer of '69?

NL: The riot in Berlin. In fact I talked to a guy on the phone, he interviewed me awhile ago, who had been there for that. He was in the service over there, and attended that concert. That was scary.

BD: That wasn't the one on "Burnt Weeny"?

NL: That was the "Holiday in Berlin" one.

BD: Where the guy calls out, about the uniform?

NL: No, that wasn't in Germany, I think. That was in the Albert Hall. But the thing in Berlin that led to the song "Holiday in Berlin", that was a horrible riot at the Sportpalast, I think, where the whole audience didn't even know why they were doing it, but they were storming the stage --

BD: Haven't we seen footage of that, Gerry?

NL: It's been shot. This had happened before, and Frank kept that iron control of it, but in this case in London it just...slipped.

BD: That was part of his charisma, that he could be a controlled anarchist in the way he controlled his band with hand signals and all that stuff, as a counter to everybody else's mythos, and ideology. Like the Jefferson Airplane, they had this great relationship [with their audience] --

NL: He used to make so many nasty cracks about silly hippies, and the feeling you get was that silly hippies leave things to chance, not in a good way; they're just too laid back, you know?

BD: Right, and so he was offering a proper perspective on having a little control of the thing. But what's interesting is that he took it to extremes --

NL: A Taoist would say that the positive turned negative, if you push it too far.

BD: If people are shocked, I think it would be younger people, who didn't know Frank. They have this image of this amazing guy who was an anarchist in public but had a wonderful family life, you know what I mean? You destroy this image, because here's this maniac, out of control! It's like Dennis Hopper in "Blue Velvet" -- "I'll fuck anything that moves!" -- you know what I mean?

NL: Yeah (laughs).

BD: And that image is a shock to people who don't know about that part of Frank.

NL: The road did that to Frank. I knew a number of people who'd known him right before -- Ray Collins was a good friend of mine for quite awhile, and he wasn't reticent at all, he told me all kinds of wonderful stories about Frank back in the days in Cucamonga, the Studio Z days, and even a little before. He really wasn't, according to Ray, all that glandular. I mean, he didn't sort of randomly seduce any young woman --

BD: He was selective.

NL: Yeah, if he did it at all. He was pretty...straight.

BD: Controlled. He was very controlled in what he was doing.

NL: Yeah. And the road, I think, introduced a real random element in everything, a sort of "What the hell"... I even saw him doing it. I think I saw him in the last stages of just letting it all go to hell.

BD: You mean with you?

NL: Maybe I was even responsible, to a certain extent -- I didn't want to come out and admit that, but it's quite possible, because at that age I was, you know, wide open to any kind of experience, and being there with Frank was exciting, and I kind of egged him on to do things, I'm sure, that he would not have done...

BD: That's not the way it's sort of presented the first time --

NL: Well, he had to get over my reticence, kind of blast that open.

BD: You were egging him on, but you didn't know whether you should egg him on.

NL: Right -- and he didn't know whether he should do it.

BD: So there is that point where you're egging him on a bit.

NL: But tension is always a really exciting thing, if there's a certain amount of it, so it was probably fun for all.

BD: So Jarry, he controlled, and Frank also controlled, but was a randomizer, and we were sort of saying now that Frank lost control. And that's what his relationship with you was kind of a manifestation of -- losing control.

NL: Right. I didn't realize it at the time, I thought I was a confused person of a certain age, and I didn't have much faith in my own abilities, certainly not to cope with that situation. And yet people that I talked to afterwards said that I was really giving Frank some sleepless nights, because he really couldn't control me.

BD: You mean they knew it, they told you.

NL: They saw that happening. It was really disturbing to him.

BD: He was always keeping his eye on you -- I thought maybe that was because he had to make sure that you didn't get moving around, because then the law could come in. Do you think he was kind of fathering, keeping an eye on you because of the law?

NL: You remember, of course, with Frank that he got into trouble in

Cucamonga in the Studio Z days with that dirty tape.

BD: Was that a five-year parole thing?

NL: Yeah. I think the parole was over [by '71] --

BD: But it could still be used against him.

NL: Let's get sordid here for a moment, we're being 'pataphysical: the Mann Act. You see, it's against the law to transport women of any age -- but the fact that I was underage made it worse -- across state lines for the purpose of sexual intercourse. If he'd got busted on the Mann Act, they would have sent him down the river. That would have been it.

BD: And they'd want to send him down the river.

NL: Oh, you bet! "This moral reprobate that's leading our youth astray" -- you could see what his thinking was.

BD: You portray him looking at you and monitoring you, and you sort of get into the jealous thing --

NL: That was separate from the other thing.

BD: Would you admit now that it was the Mann Act that was going on in his

NL: Like I say, it's separate, because on the one hand I think he actually developed -- you're dealing with a lot of complicated separate strands here. The Mann Act, yeah, that's just the practical side of it. Who wants to go down the river? "Mann Act Frank -- sent down the river" -- like that "Dildo Bob" thing that he did, have you heard that? Not too long before he died, he did a little radio interview -- part of it aired on WBAI, and I have it on a Ryko sampler...and he talks about the Arizona dildo law, in which it was determined to be illegal if you have more than five dildos in the state of Arizona.

BD: That might even be in my interview...

NL: It might be, 'cause he cracked up over that. He says, "Where's this gonna stop? Dildo police -- comin' in --" he does the whole little rap -- "I'd like to present to you Six Dildo Bob -- he's going down the river" -- it's really funny. But to get back to it, he was getting too fond of me, and that scared him. Emotionally he was just not forthcoming -- this person we've been describing for the past whatever length of time, was not somebody -- he could give, he was very generous, but emotionally there was a point at which [he said] that's it, I'm not crossing this line -- and plus, admittedly too, he was in a funny situation, I was underage, he was married, he was my employer, at least nominally, just a lot of real funny stuff. My feeling about the whole thing was, "Damn, I wish I was ten years

older, and I'd met this guy in about 1963, before he was famous" --

BD: In Cucamonga.

NL: In Cucamonga, in the produce section of the Thriftimart.

BD: Yeah, that would've been pretty ideal.

NL: "We really could've hit if off, and it would've been terrific, and this wouldn't be happening."

BD: You would have been the John and Yoko of good music (laughs).

NL: Or something. (laughs) Or maybe we would've ended up hating each other's guts after six weeks, but it would have been more natural than that funny [tour] situation.

BD: OK, so the accident happens, and then you end up living in his place a year later, in the fall of '72?

NL: That was '72, before the Grand Wazoo went off on that European tour.

BD: I saw him in London do the Grand Wazoo about the first week of

September '72 -- so that must have been August, probably?

NL: Summer, yeah -- because of that whole rehearsal thing, and "Statement of Earnings", and -- I have the date on [the tape of] "Statement of Earnings" -- {August 18, 1972].

BD: So you stayed there a month or so?

NL: Yeah.

BD: And that's when you started to see the Stravinsky level of your potential.

BD: That's when Frank was really trying to get me to listen to more orchestral works, and think about them, and see what it was about them that made them tick. It was really just an amazing period for three or four weeks.

BD: You were in the Zappa School.

NL: That was the "Universe-ity". And I guess I graduated OK (laughs).

BD: Did you go to school that fall? Was that when you were taking the

composition courses [at El Camino College]?

NL: Actually, no. That was '72 -- I had already done the stuff at El Camino.

BD: After you left the band.

NL: It was really short, really truncated.

BD: Yeah, but you learned some basics.

NL: Oh yeah, I learned how to orchestrate, I learned how to work a transposition chart, and that kind of thing. And I wrote a few piano pieces. The piano piece [written during that time] that Frank liked was called "Opus One", and it was based on the opening theme to "Little House I Used to Live In", the piano theme, that little falling thing in augmented chords.

BD: What I found interesting about your book was that you're doing the period just before Frank becomes a major [media] person via the movie -- then the accident -- but after that he really takes off.

NL: That's true -- "Over-Nite Sensation" was the big one with him.

BD: And it's like you're there in the period nobody knows about.

NL: To me it was the most exciting phase of his work -- I loved the Grand Wazoo. And I see no reason to change that [opinion], because somebody recently sent me a bootleg of material from those sessions that the Wazoo recorded, and also the band immediately following that, after the Wazoo came back from Europe and he broke them up. He used some of that personnel -- for lack of a better term people tend to call that group the "Petit Wazoo". It was really terrific stuff, and I was there for those sessions -- they were being held at Whitney Studios, and Paramount [Studios in Hollywood], but mostly at Whitney in Glendale. I remember that stuff -- oh God, it was so good. I mean, I would go home and think about it all night, and run it over and over in my mind until every bar was etched in my conscious somewhere. So this guy, I dunno where he got these, they're dubs of dubs of dubs, they're terrible ninth-generation [copies], but it's there, you can hear it. 'Cause I had thought, it's just nostalgia getting the better of me, it wasn't really that great -- but it was better than I remembered, because now I can really analyze it rigorously, from a theoretical standpoint, and go "God! What he was doing! How can anybody do that?"

BD: In other words, you were saying that before you heard these tapes, you might have thought you were romanticizing. Now you know you weren't. So your Zappa archives have been built up due to this book.

NL: Oh yeah, a lot of people have sent me wonderful stuff, for which I thank them.

BD: On the Internet, there doesn't seem to be anybody understanding you on the Internet that I've scanned. I don't know who they are, but they don't want to -- they're projecting an image on you -- they don't know that period.

NL: Exactly. See, they're starting from real ignorance.

BD: '79, '82, you know.

NL: At the most, yeah, at the earliest. Do you scan the whole Internet?

BD: alt.fan.frank-zappa, that thing.

NL: Yeah, I'm disappointed in that. I have, actually, a Web page.

BD: You do?

NL: Somebody has set it up for me. You can get it off St. Alphonso's Pancake Homepage. I've got a couple of citations in the FZ Biblio FAQ, which the University of Amsterdam runs. On America Online, too, there's a huge Zappa chat group. It's kind of silly, some of it, but it's not as silly as some of the stuff on that alt.fan.frank-zappa. The age group is just really low -- people are 18, 19, 20 -- and what do they know? I find it really amusing, myself, because they're trying to be so nasty, and so savage, and trash me, and drag me through the mud, and it's like they don't even know who I am, so -- why do this?

BD: I know. And I read the book and I knew you knew the period. You knew the secret codes, you knew Ben Lomond and all these things. Conceptual continuity. These were important. OK, so we lead up to '75, and that's the end. Late '72, '73 you're with the recording of "Over-Nite Sensation" --

NL: And also part of "'Apostrophe", that was in '74.

BD: OK, did you go to any concerts in '73-'74?

NL: Yeah. Sure.

BD: Were you at the Roxy in December '73?

NL: Oh yeah. I was there. In Sacramento, I did a thing at Tower Records/Books, downtown there, and who should come -- I'd never met her before, but I recognized her voice right away -- remember on the "Bebop Tango of the Old Jazzmen's Church", Lonna? "I'll do anything, Frank". She showed up, and we had this interesting conversation. Yeah, I was there for those.

BD: And she doesn't hassle you, you know what I mean? They understand -- they know.

NL: That's the thing with this --

BD: There's a generation gap, almost.

NL: You know, and Frank was sharp. He knew that he was going to lose a lot of his older listeners, and very few people stuck with him right through to the bitter end. If they did, well, those are not the people giving me a hard time.

BD: You're looking at one.

NL: Obviously.

BD: We've been there for -- I've never left him at all.

NL: Well, because it's a conceptual continuity. If you were there at the beginning, you might as well have been there at the end, because it was the same thing.

BD: Which reminds me. Here's a general question, which if I had remembered, I might have started off with this: I'm in New York now, so I haven't listened to Frank lately, so Gerry and me, we were getting in the mood and listening to Frank. And I go, "My God, that guy's such an amazing guitarist". I always rediscover that when I experience him. And I was saying, what is it about our culture -- Down Beat and that -- that never would acknowledge him? Obviously he was better than everybody. Was it because he was too weird, his playing, and it didn't match normal musical training? What was it, why did people ignore him as a great guitarist?

NL: I think what it is, he could play anything -- he really could, but what you heard on record of him, was stuff that was not normative. He did do some blues stuff, pretty much with straight blues changes, and a few things, like R&B things, where people might recognize the format he was working in, but it was hard for them to somehow extrapolate him out of this self-created universe, musically, that he had, and listen to him, just as a guitar player like any other guitar player. I'm sure you've had this experience if you've listened to other guitar players playing in a similar modal environment -- two chords, one chord type things, in, say, a Mixolydian minor, which he played in a lot, or a Dorian, or something -- but if you heard other guitarists trying to play that kind of stuff -- Jeff Beck did it to a certain extent, [Carlos] Santana did it to a certain extent -- they were terrific rock guitarists, but when you heard Frank, there was something else there.

BD: Now how come the people couldn't hear it?

NL: Because maybe whatever it is with that certain 'something else', you had to have a pre-programmed part of you that could recognize it. You didn't have the luxury, typically, of using the background to understand what Frank was doing in the foreground, because [compositionally] he was off in his own realm so often. If you put Frank in a -- I don't know if you ever heard them, but George Duke did some albums in the mid-'70s that Frank played on. One of them, I can't remember the name of it right now --

GF: "Feel".

NL: "Feel", that's it. He plays on two songs there, and he sounds a little out of his league, I think. He's not really comfortable, he's playing --

BD: His playing is guarded? He's holding back?NL: Well, he's blasting, but it doesn't quite fit, because George Duke is playing a relatively conventional funk/R&B kind of thing, and Frank is just too big for that universe. It's blowing the roof off the place, it just can't be contained. It's a really strange kind of feeling. It's like hooking up something that's over-amped to a small circuit.

BD: In a sense he was a fake musician.

NL: (laughs)

BD: He created his own thing, and he couldn't play certain rhythms, he couldn't sing and play this --

NL: He couldn't play straight time to save his life. If you went one, two, three, four, OK Frank, right on the beat, triplets -- he couldn't do it, he'd just hate it, because he followed his own rhythms in everything.

BD: So that's really the reason -- it was good to have someone, he created new music which we required, because jazz started to smell, right? So that would explain why he couldn't get back into the George Duke thing --

NL: It was just too mundane. George is a terrific musician, and I don't want to disparage him in the least, but he's a conventional terrific musician, whereas Frank was, maybe 'fake' to a certain extent, but whatever it is, it was his own thing.

BD: Talking to Don Preston the other night, he said he doesn't respect Frank as a composer -- in the pop culture world he's better than Sting, but he's nowhere near -- who did he mention? -- Penderecki, the Japanese guy --

NL: He would say that -- Takemitsu? or somebody like that. Yeah, he would

say that, because that's --

BD: Do you know Don?

NL: Yeah, I used to live at his house (laughs).

BD: Oh yeah, that's 20 years --

NL: I knew him from the band.

BD: I was thinking of Ian Underwood. But you also lived at Don's house too.

NL: Yeah, I stayed with Ian and I stayed with Don.

BD: Have you talked to him lately?

NL: I talked to Tina, his wife, about three or four weeks ago. She gave me a call.

BD: But not in a long time to Don, right?

NL: No, not really.

BD: But did he have that view back then?

NL: Oh yeah. He comes out of a real avant-garde, New York kind of Soho,

Village scene --

BD: Steve Reich.

NL: Yeah, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass, and --

BD: Guys that Frank would take pokes at now and then.

NL: You bet he would (laughs).

LR: Because they're phonies, you mean?

NL: Not that they're phonies, but --

BD: Their concepts were limited.

LR: I think Philip Glass is a phony.

NL: Well, he definitely knows how to make money from limited resources, taking advantage of that.

BD: I agree with Frank's attitude towards them.

NL: Me too.

BD: I respected his view on that.

NL: I don't like to put down any composer, unless they're so successful that it doesn't hurt them to make any comments. It's tough enough to be a composer without having people take potshots at ya -- I know how that feels. But I do not care for much modern, quote unquote avant-garde composition.

BD: You're more inclined to take Frank's side than Don's view.

NL: Yeah.

BD: So you would say Frank's a great composer, not the way Don limits him.

NL: People have asked me that, what's his legacy, and is he going to survive into the 29th Century, and that's a tough call anyway you look at it. But --

LR: He's not Bartok.

NL: No, he's not Bartok. There's only one Bartok.

BD: Now when he says that, what does he mean? That he's not great?

NL: He means that he's not up there with Bartok, that's what he means.

BD: That's his favorite, though.

NL (to Lionel Rolfe): Is Bartok your favorite?

LR: In the 20th Century.

NL: Well, Frank comes out of a whole other thing.

BD: I think he developed it. Because Bartok brought speech into music, and things like that. Now Frank always emphasized the Sprechstimme, like those blues guys -- he had a point to make. I think he was trying to define it, he wanted to develop past it.

NL: OK, you know what, that's just what made him a terrific guitarist and I think that's also what made it hard for people to follow him. The talking guitar. He had conversations, and you could hear him, you could tell what kind of mood he was in that night by the way he played that solo, by just listening to the way he squeezed out the notes. And people aren't really up for that -- a lot of rock 'n' roll guitar is empty virtuosity. There's not that thought, there's not that speech process behind it.

BD: Well, that's why I think Zappa was an amazing thinker in music, because he actually took Bartok's ideas, related them cross-culturally, and created a music that would speak to our verbal time with electric media coming back.

NL: It didn't require you to be a rocket scientist to comprehend the complex things he was putting across. He put them in very, very simple terms.

BD: He actually did popularize. Like I used to say, he's a high school teacher, where the kids can say, hey, he's showing us something.

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