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Frank Zappa: the Rolling Stone Interview

July 20, 1968

Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 14 from July 20, 1968. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story. Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.


As little as he may look like the straight world's concept of "musician of the year," and as freaky an image as he and the Mothers of Invention may have, Frank Zappa has done much to influence and guide pop music throughout the world.

 

Besides introducing a sense of musical anarchy long before it was popular (and now being copied by other bands), Zappa was also among the first to produce a rock album as if it were a single piece of music. ("Freak Out" was no "Sgt. Pepper," but it definitely was an inspiration to the Beatles, among others.) Utilizing what he calls "visual aids" and creating a vast complex of musical style and technique (based on everyone from the Penguins to Edgar Varese), Zappa has a firm idea about where pop music is at — however pretentious that appraisal may sound. He also has notions about where our ailing society is at; his satiric lyrics are unparalleled.

Zappa quickly discounts anyone who calls him genius, but it must go unchallenged that he and his ideas are important not only for pop music but for all music, not only for the rock world but for all the world. It is as Spencer Dryden, drummer for the Jefferson Airplane, says: "If we have to have a spokesman for what is going on today, musically and every other way, Frank Zappa gets my vote."

Shorty after Zappa returned to Los Angeles after 18 months in New York, I talked with him about his ideas and plans, and the history of his group. The interview was conducted in the huge living room of the $700-a-month log cabin (really) he is renting in Laurel Canyon, a home reportedly once inhabited by either silent screen sweetheart Bessie Love, or Tom Mix. Although the interruptions are not indicated, the talk bounced along for the better part of a week, between the group's out-of-town gigs and over the sound of the rehearsing Laurel Canyon Ballet Company, a band of uninhibited dancers Zappa has used in concert recently. The photographs were taken in Zappa's back yard. — Jerry Hopkins

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Song Stories

“Madame George”

Van Morrison | 1968

One of the first stream-of-consciousness epics to make it onto a Van Morrison record, his drawn-out farewell to the eccentric "Madame George" lasted nearly 10 minutes, combining ingredients from folk, jazz and classical music. The character that gave the song its title provoked speculation that it was about a drag queen, though Morrison denied this in Rolling Stone. "If you see it as a male or a female or whatever, it's your trip," he remarked. "I see it as a ... a Swiss cheese sandwich. Something like that."

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