High Times Greats: Frank and Moon Zappa

Dad and daughter discuss rock ‘n’ roll ‘n’ each other.
High Times Greats: Frank and Moon Zappa
Moon Zappa and Frank Zappa/ Starfile

In the November, 1982 issue of High Times, John Swenson interviewed Moon Zappa and her father, Frank Zappa, at the height of the “Valley Girl” craze. In honor of Moon’s birthday on September 28, we’re republishing the interview(s) below.

High Times: When I went out to your house in 1979 and I asked Frank about the family and everything, he said, “No, my kids have no interest in music at all.” Did he just not know that you did have interest?

Moon: We’ve always been interested in music; he just didn’t want to inflict that kind of torture on us. I just like going down to the studio and getting a chance to work with my dad. I never see him. It was fun going into the studio because usually I’m on the listening side, listening to what’s coming out of the speakers; but when I went in to do ”Valley Girl” I got to listen to what I was making come out of the speakers, so that was what was really exciting to me. I want to go into acting and he doesn’t want to inflict that kind of torture on me either, but whatever makes me happy… And basically he’s just being real cautious. He wants us to be sheltered from the assholes. He doesn’t want us to realize at such an early age that there are assholes out there—but unfortunately we all come into contact with assholes. I know more than ever there are lots of assholes out there and it’s sad, but I had to realize it now because he was trying to shelter me from it. But what can you do, you know? That’s the way it is. He’s just being a dad.

High Times: Yeah, right. Did you have any idea that “Valley Girl” would be as popular as it is?

Moon: Sure I did. I thought it would be a hit. But I thought Frank would be doing the interview with Time. It’s just so silly that one little song off of one album gets my father air play when he’s been doing it for years and suddenly it’s a phenomenon. Wrong. It’s just so silly that people are blind to what’s really going on out there. What they hear on the radio is what they’re gonna buy, and if they don’t hear Frank’s stuff on the radio then they don’t know about it and they’re not gonna buy it and they’re afraid to spend the money and buy something that isn’t what everybody is listening to. That’s just the way everything is.

High Times: When did you first realize who he was?

Moon: The day I was born!

High Times: As a famous figure rather than as “dad.”

Moon: Well, I guess it must have been ever since I was little. You see, I was always around grown-ups. And as far as my friends go, they’d say, “Well, what does your dad do for a living?” I was afraid to tell them because I really didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t say that my dad was a dentist or a lawyer. I couldn’t say that he’s a composer and a rock star. I can’t just categorize it, with friends, but since I was always around grown-ups they’d say, “Gosh, your daddy’s famous.” So I think I always knew.

High Times: When did you first become aware of his music?

Moon: The sad thing was when I was little and my friends had parents that knew who he was, they would come to me and say, “Your dad writes songs with bad words,” and that was just devastatingly horrible for me because I was thinking what was so bad about fuck. I’ve been telling perverts to fuck off for years. My mom always tells a story about how when I was two and sitting in a shopping cart, I used to always wear my underwear on my head. I used to wear ruffled underwear. And I thought they were too wonderful to wear on your tush, so I would wear them on my head, pull my hair out of the leg holes and really have a good time. My mom used to be a model. So I remember—well, I really don’t remember this—but we were in a grocery store and this man came up to me and said, “Hello, little girl,” you know, just trying to meet my mom and I said, “Fuck off, pervert.” But for me to hear this little kid saying my dad writes songs with bad words, I was just furious. So it was always real frightening for me to admit to everybody that I liked his stuff, and to defend it. It was hard for me. So I had to be tough at an early age. And for what, a couple of bad words?

High Times: So your father’s music was actually a social problem for you in school?

Moon: Yes. In terms of the bad words scene. I don’t know where people got this idea of bad words. I can’t believe it still exists. There’s no such thing as bad words, you know. Religion and bad words. Ha.

High Times: What about your teachers? Did they react that way too?

Moon: I used to bring my dad over for show and tell. No, seriously. Every Friday was show-and-tell day. You could bring in your pets if you got permission from the principal, and you could bring in your favorite toy. I always brought in my dad, year after year until the sixth grade. And the teachers would always get real crazy because my dad loves kids and when we’d go into the class, I would get real jealous always, but he’d tickle everybody and I’d be sitting there like this, watching him tickle everybody, and then it was my turn. And the teachers were just ”Quiet, Quiet!” Teachers can’t stand the noise of children. In the sixth grade I brought him to a dance and he danced with everybody and showed everybody how to really dance. I loved that. That sort of foot-tapping sort of stuff. There was just a ring of kids watching my father. It was like square dancing. He danced with everybody. Everyone would come out of the line and say, “Dance with her next, okay?”

High Times: That’s an amazingly different perspective than so many people have on his public persona. So many people think of him as this foreboding guy.

Moon: Also, the thing that really bothered me when I was younger, older kids would say, “Your dad’s into drugs. Are you gonna get into that stuff?” And it was like that kind of bullshit. And I didn’t know if he was or not when I was little, and I would sort of look at them and run and hide. It was really scary for me. I’ve always been sheltered from that kind of stuff.

High Times: Obviously, he doesn’t do drugs at all.

Moon: No.

High Times: Did you think that he did?

Moon: I think at one point I must have. I don’t remember how it came up, but I eventually did get around to talking to my parents. I don’t have parent-daughter conversations—we just discuss our problems together—but I think I did confront them at one time about drugs and everything and I just remember that, you know: “Do what you want. It’s your life.” I’ve always been antidrug. I think the reason that I’m so antidrug is I don’t care what other people do, I’ll just sit back and watch. None of my good friends do drugs and I’ll tell you why. It’s because I find that generally I’m a pretty funny person when I want to be. I like to make people laugh. I like people to have a good time. And I find that when I talk to people who use drugs, they don’t get the joke the first time, and if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s explaining myself and having to repeat things. I’m very quick tempered and I have no patience, and so if you’re on drugs and can’t get my joke the first time…

High Times: I’ll repeat that for those of you who are on drugs… How did you actually become involved in recording with your father?

Moon: I really don’t remember. I think I must have asked. Because I’ve always sung. I’ve been singing since I was little. Everyone tells me how I made up songs in the car about leotards, crowns and I was a princess and all this. And when I was nine I really wanted to get into acting and I got my first real crown with rhinestones and everything for my birthday. I was ready for everything. And I think I said something to my father about being on his album. I don’t really know. I think my mother encouraged me. She said, “Go ask your dad. See if he wants to use you on one of his albums.” But I thought, do I really get to talk into a microphone. It’s gonna be hooked up. You know, I used to play with all the used microphones that were just lying around and we’d just sing into them.

High Times: You mean when he wasn’t around?

Moon: Oh, no, he was around. We’d sing songs for him. And he’d just sit and watch. A nice normal thing to do. If my dad was a dermatologist, not only would he be clearing up my acne, I know I’d be playing with his dried ice when I was nine, let’s say.

High Times: So, do you remember how it exactly went down?

Moon: No, but on You Are What You Is I did “Drafted Again.” He just said come on down to the studio and make some noises for us. I remember I had a friend there and we just sat there and made gun noises and just shouted and screamed. Then he came out there and conducted us. He’d go boom, like this, and somebody would bang a drum or a cymbal and then he’d go like this and we’d go iiiihhhh and we just had a good time. He made it fun for us. And then with “Valley Girl,” I wanted to do something else. I was saying to my mother I wish Frank would ask me whether I can do some because I think I can do it, and she said go ask him and say something. So I went into the studio and I was so upset the first time I went in because I wanted to ask Frank if I could do something, and he said, “Yeah, whaddya want?” And I said, “Ummmm,” and he said, “Go get me some coffee.” I was so upset. So the next night I gave it a try. I think my mom must have said something because I told her what happened. And like a week later, I don’t remember the exact date, he said come on down.

High Times: So you’ve done this routine before?

Moon: Yeah. I’ve been to some parties with schoolmates and I go to school in the Valley, and the monologue came off the top of my head—whatever I felt like talking about. Frank just said, Well, now just talk about… go into a little more detail, tell me what it’s like sticking your hand into grains of sand. Just talk about what drops off, you know.

High Times: He directed you.

Moon: Yeah, just giving me some helpful hints.

High Times: Was that then done more or less line by line?

Moon: No. I did it tape by tape. Well, he played the track with the chorus on it and then he said, okay, on this track talk about whatever else I wanted to talk about, and basically we did five solid tracks. And he used whichever parts worked best. Because basically I just repeated myself.

High Times: But there’s an amazingly rhythmic sense to it.

Moon: That’s what people say. I just keep talking.

High Times: It fits in amazingly well. It sounds very choreographed. But it was all extemporaneous? Obviously you ripped off some of the words to the song that your father had already written.

Moon: Which one?

High Times: “Valley Girl.”

Moon: Oh, yeah, he’d say talk about going to the clothing store. Right, that’s what he would do. I had the chorus.

High Times: Oh, the thing about getting the toenail stuff. And then you go into describing getting your toenails done.

Moon: And then I go into about bagging your toenails. Tell me about bagging your toenails. Frank made up all the expressions: bag your face. Everybody sang it.

High Times: Frank made that up?

Moon: He just made it up. He said, okay, now, tell me bag your face, try that. And I was saying Mr. Bu Fu, and he said, wait, try Lord God King Bu Fu, and I just threw that one in. And the other phrase is “gag me with a spoon.” My girl friend who goes to an all-girls school made that up with friends and we threw that one in. That’s so funny because there are lots of girls claiming to be Andrea, and when girls are interviewed they’re bound to say, “God, I’ve never heard that one before,” and just going on and on—and then in the next article that you read after that: and “yes, ‘gag me with a spoon’ means…” And they’d give you a list of their glossary, their definitions.

High Times: Do you have a problem with people mistaking that to be about you?

Moon: At first they did. They’d say—especially doing promos—they’d say, “You’re Moon Zappa from the Valley,” and I say, “No,” ’cause I’m not a Valley girl. I’ll say it in Val for you, but not my name in Valley, because that’s not what I am, it’s not what I stand for. I don’t want to be a spokesperson for the Valley. So that’s what people made me do, you see. So what are Valley girls saying? What are they wearing? I don’t know. Ask a Val. I don’t want to be rude. I can give them hints of what I’ve seen, but I don’t want to make it seem like, “and yes, a person from the Valley does this, and what’s new and what’s old in the Valley.” That bothers me.

High Times: How do you get around that?

Moon: I don’t get around it. I just tell them out front that I’m not a Valley girl. I speak English.

High Times: Does that bother you? Because this is a point that your father has had to deal with all these years, being misinterpreted and stuff.

Moon: It doesn’t bother me so much that people think that I’m a Val, just so long as I get a chance to explain to them that I’m not. I’m very flattered and just want people to know that’s just a character that I do. I’m doing different stuff. I do different characters’ voices. I do all that kind of stuff, and Hanna-Barbera cheapie, cheapoid cartoons, that no one really wants to watch but you just hear the voices over and over again. And you know it’s the same guy doing the same voices over and over again. Well, I can do a bunch of different voices.

High Times: Are you gonna do any more stuff?

Moon: I don’t know. I write songs with Dweezil sometimes. We wrote an absolute phallic song about snogging in the pigeon puss. And Nelson’s column in England, there’s a column and brilliant song, brilliant lyric. I think we should turn it into a poem. We should put it out as an incredible poem. It was written with this guy we met in England, named Dominick. He was seventeen and one of the most hysterical persons I’ve ever met. Considering the fact that he was English. And my father hates England and the French. But anyway, we wrote this brilliant, disgusting song about this couple we saw snogging in the pigeon puss, kissing-snogging. And I do write. I used to write poetry. I like writing.

High Times: You really don’t think of yourself as a singer.

Moon: Well, whatever actually makes people laugh, because I really like to let people know that I can entertain. ”Terrific hostess here.” But that involves singing and having my voice crack and whatever else. Sure, if it’s gonna make you laugh, I’ll do it.

Frank Zappa

High Times: When I spoke to you in 1979, I think I recall you saying that your kids weren’t interested in music at all. What happened?

Zappa: It’s a recent disease.

High Times: When did it happen?

Zappa: Well, like a year ago, Dweezil just said he wanted to play guitar. He just picked it up and taught himself. I mean, he practices five hours a day, every day. On weekends all day long. He gets up and practices before he goes to school.

High Times: How does that compare with your background?

Zappa: I didn’t do that. I didn’t have time. I had other things to do. I mean, let’s face it, he has a really luxurious setup in which to develop himself. He’s got a studio where he can plug in an amplifier and blast away at all hours of the day and night. He’s got all the equipment he needs. He’s got a brand-new guitar and good stuff to learn on, so there’s nothing in the way. He can make a lot of progress. I didn’t have that. I had a real shitty guitar that was so hard to play that I hated to play it. I didn’t even own an amplifier till I was out of the house and was about twenty-one years old. So, if I was gonna play guitar, I had to play on this arch top cowboy guitar.

High Times: Well, what about Moon? When did she get into the act?

Zappa: Well, she doesn’t want to be a rock ‘n’ roller. She wants to be an actress. And the first time she did anything was on the last album. Dweezil was always shy about doing any vocals. He’s doing some of those funny voices in the background. He likes comedy material and he’s starting to get into my albums now and listening to the weirder stuff. He suddenly developed a taste for it.

Moon originally wanted to play the harp and she came to me when I did that thing with an orchestra in L.A. a bunch of years ago. She came to a rehearsal and saw the harp and fell in love with it, just like any little girl would. And the girl that was playing the harp offered to give her lessons. So we got her a harp and she studied for about a year and then got bored with it and then hung it up. And showed no interest in anything until now. Dweezil never showed any interest in music at all. Period. Now he’s playing guitar and piano.

High Times: Did you say at one point “Go ahead and use all these facilities,” or did you say, “Stay away from that equipment”?

Zappa: No. Basically what we have to do is time-share on this deal because where I write my music is in the back part of the studio. There’s no way I can be in there when he’s practicing. So when he comes home he can practice when I’m not writing or in the studio for something else. The only time I’ll tell him not to is when I have some project going on or something.

High Times: How about Moon? How did you get her involved in recording?

Zappa: She always wanted to be on a record.

High Times: As a singer?

Zappa: Well, she can sing. She sings very well, but the first thing she got a chance to do was the dialogue part on “Jumbo Go Away” on the last album, and she sang the part of “Drafted Again.” Her interest is really with acting.

High Times: That wasn’t supposed to be about her?

Zappa: No. That’s got nothing to do with her. She’s not a Valley girl.

High Times: Right. Ya know, a lot of people seem to think that.

Zappa: Well, people are fucked. It’s got nothing to do with her. She’s about as far from being a Valley girl as you can imagine.

High Times: Is Moon gonna do other stuff with you?

Zappa: Well, we did another session last night. But I don’t know whether or not I’m gonna use it. We did a Valley Girl Aerobic Exercise record through a track you could never exercise with in your life. It’s pretty funny. But I don’t know if I’m gonna release it.

High Times: I heard someone talking about the possibility of a TV series.

Zappa: We’ve been offered everything. TV series, feature films.

High Times: Did you expect anything like this?

Zappa: It’s ridiculous.

High Times: Do you think it’s because of the subject matter?

Zappa: No. It’s because of Moon’s voice. Most people perceive it as her record and it has nothing to do with me. And if her voice wasn’t on it most people wouldn’t have bought it.

High Times: Are you gonna tour with Dweezil?

Zappa: Dweezil has already performed onstage with me four times in Europe. And I got it on videotape. He did the Odeon, Hammersmith, the Holen Stadium in Zurich, the Olympia Hall in Munich and the Stadt Hall in Vienna. And Moon was on the stage with him in Munich because the family was over there for a vacation during one night of the tour and we had our itinerary and he had his and we bumped into him occasionally.

High Times: What’s your wife’s reaction to all this?

Zappa: Well, it’s harder on her than it is on me, because when the thing hit I was on tour in Europe and she had to run them around all over the place to do TV shows continued and interviews and stuff and still drive the car pool, do the shopping and run a house and that’s a lot of work.

High Times: Moon was saying she has groupies now. That must really add to the confusion.

Zappa: Yeah, that irritates me.

High Times: You said you didn’t want to do too much producing because it took too much time away from your projects. Will this take a a lot of time away from you, working with your children?

Zappa: Well, so far the only work that I’ve done with the children was to accompany Moon to New York to do the Letterman show. And this actually comes at a very bad time for me because I’m just getting started on another film project and my mind is into that, but I’m having to sit here and talk about Valley girls and four days of answering the same impertinent questions and it takes a lot of concentration to go through with all of that. Hopefully, after the four days are up I can go back into my cage and get the work done.

High Times: Are you learning anything from all of this?

Zappa: I’m never amazed by stupidity. It never amazes me. In fact, I’m always disappointed that it’s not even dumber than it is. It sort of fulfilled all my great expectations for how stupid things can become. I mean this situation is preposterous. She’s done television shows, she’s done Time-Life, Playboy, I mean everything only because a noise comes out of her mouth that sounds like the people who live in the San Fernando Valley. That’s preposterous.

High Times: But like you say, it’s not something that’s a surprise to you.

Zappa: Not in a country that would buy a Pet Rock and it’s perfect. It’s in phase with reality even.

High Times: What’s the film about?

Zappa: As you know, the lawsuit between me and Warner Bros, and Herb Cohen, the bulk of that has been settled. I still have another suit outstanding in New York State against Warner Bros. But all the stuff with Cohen has been resolved. And I came into ownership of a vast quantity of film that goes back to the dawn of time. Old Mothers of Invention footage, the home movies of what I had when I was in high school, the uncompleted Uncle Meat movie, all the footage from the Roxy here and the European documentaries and one that was shot while they were making 200 Motels. Unbelievable quantity of film. And I started working Uncle Meat again. Plus we’ve had a lot of offers from all these studios to do a Valley Girl feature. So, if I can find somebody to work with on the screenplay and get that organized, then it’s possible that there will be a Valley Girl feature. If not, I’ve got plenty other stuff to do. I’ve got an album that’s got to be done after all this.

High Times: What about the MGM material?

Zappa: There’s a problem right now—no one can find the master tapes of Freak Out. They’re still looking for them. It’s a real complicated situation, but see, the other parties were supposed to turn over these goods to me, and certain things have been turned over and others have not. For instance, so far from Warner Bros, I have not received masters from the last four albums. Nor have I received the original master of Bongo Fury. I don’t think that one has come back yet. We’re also missing GTO’s. And from the MGM stuff, we’re missing Freak Out and Absolutely Free. I’ve got the original master to Lumpy Gravy and Ruben and the Jets and We’re Only in It for the Money, so I can start remastering those things, but I’m trying to figure out the best way to re-release all the stuff, whether to put it all out for Christmas as one enormous death-defying box, or to break it up into eras. One thing we’re definitely gonna do is finish off side four of the Freak Out album if I can find the original master. We’ll have the complete version of “Monster Magnet.” And also in the case of the Fillmore East album, at the time the Mud Shark routine was recorded I was not in possession of this one piece of tape that I have now, but I have an interview with the desk clerk at the hotel in Seattle, Washington, where he talks about the stuff in the beds and all of that. And what I would like to do is reorganize all those albums I have Flo and Eddie on and integrate them with some documentary tape that I have from tours with them so people can really see what that whole era was all about. Because it was totally deranged.

High Times: Wow. That sounds really interesting. Also that you can kind of waste Just Another Band from L.A. and the Fillmore album because they are live. You could do anything you really wanted to do with that stuff and it really wouldn’t destroy its integrity.

Zappa: What I would like to do with it is put like a special box with a vaudeville-like kind of packaging on it, because that’s pretty much the orientation of that band. And include such things like the demo tape we made that was sent to United Artists before we made 200 Motels and there are a couple of cuts that didn’t go into the Chunga’s Revenge album because we didn’t have enough money to spend that time in the studio and the songs never got finished. And there was stuff that was recorded that couldn’t be released at that time because of contractual restraints about re-recording the material. In other words, there is another groupie improvisation or groupie rap that is totally different than the one on the Fillmore album, and it might be a little bit better. Which could be an improvement. And there’s part of the business of the sofa we were doing in German. Part of that whole show was recorded before the four track went out so there are some sections of that that could be done. I also have a bootleg tape that was captured from some guy in Berlin who had set up microphones in front of the stage during the concert. A little fair quality recording. All the roadies went down and punched the guy’s face in and took the tape. And there’s quite a bit of stuff.

High Times: Anything with 200 Motels?

Zappa: I don’t have the rights to that album. That’s UA. But this Dutch documentary that was made while we were filming 200 Motels is fantastic. Because it has all the outtakes from it too. It includes film of scenes that never went into the movie. It has films made at the hotel where the whole cast and crew were staying, including Keith Moon sitting and eating breakfast with his stereo rig set up around his cereal bowl. Interviews with different people in the cast, shots of rehearsals, shots of Ringo standing around with a trench coat on, you know, when he was Larry the Dwarf and things like that.

High Times: You could do a giant history of your work.

Zappa: I could make something out of it. It’s just too good to waste.

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