Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pauline Butcher (author of Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa) interview, part 2


Although I have several favorite Frank Zappa albums (after all, he is my favorite artist/composer of all time), if I had to pick just one, I'd go with We're Only In It For The Money (WOIIFTM). What, if anything, do you remember about the making of that album?

WOIIFTM was written and recorded in the fall of 1967 and released in March of 1968. I didn't start working for Frank until May of 1968, so I had no connection with the making of this album at all.

What was your initial reaction to WOIIFTM?

I was in Washington DC when the album came out. My very Republican sisters thought that he looked revolting and wanted me to have nothing to do with such an apparently drug-crazed hippie. Frank had offered me the job by this time and I was waiting for him to work out the legalities because I was English and I didn't have a green card (which, in the end, became my being put on the books as a songwriter and my salary registered as royalties for the song). I didn't buy the record and I didn't hear it until later. I liked and still like all of it because the songs have messages and political slants.

Do you happen to recall if any of The Beatles had any opinions of WOIIFTM, particularly the fact that WOIIFTM's intended album cover (which became part of the insert artwork) was a very blatant rip-off of the album cover for The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band?

When Frank was in London in August of 1967 to promote The Mothers' first tour, he telephoned Paul McCartney to tell him of his intended spoof of the cover of Sgt. Pepper. McCartney was hesitant and said that he would have to ask his manager. Frank was scornful and commented later that he didn’t ask his manager what to do, he told his manager what to do, as the manager worked for him, not the other way around. Presumably, McCartney’s manager gave his approval.

How much involvement did Frank and/or The Mothers have in the songwriting for The GTOs' Permanent Damage album?

The Mothers had no involvement in the writing of the lyrics on Permanent Damage and minimal contribution to the music. Lowell George wrote and produced "Circular Circulation" and "I Have a Paintbrush in My Hand to Colour a Triangle". Davy Jones worked on "Ooo Man", Jeff Beck pepped up a couple of tracks with guitar riffs and Rod Stewart brought Mercy’s song "Shock Treatment" to life with his own wailing vocals.

What is your current relationship with the most well known member of The GTOs, Miss Pamela a.k.a. Pamela Miller a.k.a. Pamela Des Barres?

I wrote to Pamela with abundant praise when her first two books came out and we exchanged emails for a while. I sent her a copy of my book but have had no word from her save for a "lurved your book darlink" comment on Facebook.

What was your initial reaction to Frank's most popular musical discovery, Alice Cooper?

Alice Cooper and Christine Frka (Moon Zappa’s nanny and, later, a GTO) woke me up at 7 AM one morning because Frank had asked Alice to come over at 7 o’clock for an audition. They wanted me to go and wake Frank up but I refused as he had not long gone to bed. It turned out that the rehearsal was meant for 7 pm. In any event, Frank got up at around lunch time and the boys had set up in the garage where they played and Frank agreed to record them (as much to please Christine, I think, as anything else). I did not meet Alice again or have any other communication with him.

Frank and The Mothers put out albums at an extraordinarily high frequency during your tenure working for him from 1968 to 1972. Would you happen to have any insight as to why Frank felt the need to do this?

Lumpy Gravy was produced in 1966 (although not released until December of 1968) and Cruisin’ with Ruben & The Jets was also made before May of 1968 when I started working for Frank, so they constitute part of the earlier group (Freak Out, Absolutely Free and WOIIFTM).

Here is an excerpt from my book which occurred on May 14, 1968 and relates to Ruben & The Jets:

"As we splintered through the house, each going our separate ways - Gail to crash with Moon upstairs, some to the kitchen or my office, others to the basement - Frank called me into the living room. Would I like to hear the final mix of Cruisin’ with Ruben and the Jets? Delighted that Frank had singled me out for a special review, I settled sedately on the sofa next to Frank, who sat cross-legged on the floor. I had quickly learned from my visit to his apartment in New York that when Frank invited you to listen to music, you must not speak.

As the album played, I found that each track sounded the same and kept hoping the next one would be different, an instrumental maybe, the kind of instrumental that, as far as I knew, only Frank could write, the part of his music that I liked the most - but I waited in vain. I let my head tip back against the sofa as the album droned on, dull and boring and I wondered what I would say to be positive. Then, at last, a track came along that I liked – ‘Anything’, a beautiful love song.

When the tape ended, Frank bent intently over the machine and pressed re-wind. Above its whirr, I felt his silence waiting for my verdict.

I blurted out, ‘I’m surprised they are all slow numbers.’

Now he looked at me, a flash of pain in his eyes. When I’d rehearsed those words in my head, I’m surprised they’re all slow numbers, they’d sounded innocuous, harmless, but he heard them as criticism of his months and months of hard work. In a rush and trying to rectify things, I said, ‘I really liked “Anything”. I think I liked that the best.’

He said quietly, ‘That’s the only song I didn’t write. Ray Collins wrote it.’

If there was such a thing as instant petrifaction, at that moment I should have turned to stone. He placed the tape carefully in its box and the box in its correct and tidy place. He brushed a rag of black hair from his face, gathered up his cigarettes and mug of coffee and said in a flat monotone, ‘I’m going to bed.’

As he trod his way across that vast room to the staircase at the far end, I wanted to call after him, utter some reassuring or flattering words, but it was too late. Rejection wafted back from his heavy steps and I felt gloomy and lost. He would find solace, I knew, with Gail. She would smother him with incontrovertible praise. ‘It’s brilliant. There’s nothing like it.’ It would have been so easy for me to do the same, to have waxed lyrical. What would it have cost me to lie?"

From 1968 to 1971, Frank produced and released Uncle Meat, Burnt Weeny Sandwich, Weasels Ripped My Flesh, Hot Rats (Frank’s solo album), Chunga’s Revenge, Fillmore East, 200 Motels, and Just Another Band from LA, so it was indeed, as you suggest, a very prolific period. I don’t think that Frank felt the need to put out so many albums, it’s just that work was all he did. He got up in the morning, went to his piano and desk and wrote music until he went to bed. He rarely went out except to play concerts and so the material accumulated, he recorded it and compiled it into records. That’s what he did.

What, if any, are some of your favorite of Frank's albums/songs and why?

My least favourites are the Flo & Eddie period. Otherwise, I have compiled the tracks I like which include "Watermelon in Easter Hay", "Black Napkins" and "Zoot Allures". I exclude all the "rude" and contentious songs like "Catholic Girls" and "Jewish Princess". Often, I resort to live concerts on YouTube, particularly the Ike Wilis, Steve Vai and Tommy Mars periods.

What is your current opinion of Los Angeles/Hollywood and Southern California in general? Just so you know, I've lived in Southern California (Orange County mostly) for over 35 years and I don't like it much.

I returned to Hollywood in 2007 and drove around all the landmarks in my book: the log cabin site on Laurel Canyon, Frank and Gail’s house on Woodrow Wilson Drive, my own house on the same street, The Whisky A-Go-Go, Ben Frank’s, Troubadore, Barney’s Beanery, Canter’s Deli, etc. I particularly found the Hollywood Hills beautiful with their leafy lanes. When I visited Gail, we travelled over the hillside to a restaurant in the Valley. Gail said that she never goes into Hollywood as it is always gridlocked.

Are you planning on writing any more books? If so, please discuss. If not, why not?

I am not planning on writing any more books. I would like to adapt my present book, Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa, into a stage play and am, at present, giving thought to this.



Thx a lot for this interview !

Music Is The Best


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