This chapter takes place in September 1985. Ninety percent of Kandy Stroud, John Lofton and Frank Zappa’s dialogue was culled verbatim from a variety of media appearances in 1985 and 1986, when there was a national discussion about labeling/censoring offensive music lyrics. The fictional four way debate in this chapter is an amalgamation of Frank’s debate with Kandy on Nightmatch on August 25, 1985, his debate with John Lofton on CNN’s Crossfire March 28, 1986, and my imagination.
A Fruit Basket From The Utility Muffin Research Kitchen
The Hullabaloola festival madness went on for several days before gradually dwindling to a reluctant close. Desmond and Pierre and I woke up one morning and Easytown looked like a smoking crater of subatomic destruction. There were bottles and cans and glasses and wrappers and debris everywhere. I brought one glass to the sink then promptly called a cleaning service.
Desmond and Pierre and I cleared a place on the verandah and sat down to morning tea while awaiting the cleaning crew. I had amassed a fresh batch of songs for a new album, and I was ready to start rehearsal and recording, but upon my return Pierre informed me that Jonesy had left the country with Lizaveta, his wife. She was a concert pianist who had been booked for a small tour of European halls and Jonesy was traveling with her for a few weeks.
As I sat there pondering what I’d do in the meantime, Desmond spied something from the corner of his eye. He got up and crossed the lawn to the front door, where he picked up a basket and brought it back to us. It was lovely and huge, and stuffed with muffins and fresh fruit. There was a card, which Desmond read aloud: “Welcome to Laurel Canyon. We would love to have you by for tea any time at your leisure. Please just phone ahead. Frank and Gail Zappa.”
The phone number was at the bottom of the card. I snatched it from Desmond and headed toward the door. “Where are you going?” he asked.
“To call the Zappas,” I replied. “What do you think?”
“Don’t you want to wait at least five minutes?” he suggested. “To at least give the slight semblance of being fashionable? Those muffins are still warm.”
“Why wait? Wait for what? This is FRANK ZAPPA we’re talking about!” I said with great emphasis and reverence. “I can count my living musical peers on one hand, and he’s the thumb. I’ve wondered often about this day, and have had actual dreams of this day, so if this turns out to be the day I do indeed meet Frank, why would I shorten it to be coy? The invitation reads ‘any time’ and this moment is ‘any time’ so I am going to call him. Do you want to come along or would you rather hang around here and watch the cleaners work?”
I spoke with Gail and five minutes later Desmond and I were walking up the hill to the Zappa house. Desmond was nonchalant, and actually singing some tune while drumming in the air. Meanwhile I had jitters like I was going to pick up a date. “How can you be so casual?” I asked Desmond. “The language lacks superlatives to attribute to Frank. He’s a legend, a titan, one of a kind; a singular, rare musical mind who, even while he lives can be argued as deserving the title ‘composer of the century.’”
“He’s alright,” Desmond responded. “He’s definitely got some good tunes.”
“’Definitely got some good tunes?’” I echoed, with a disapproving shake of the head. Desmond resumed slapping the air and we approached the house in silence. Gail answered the door and let us into their welcoming home. She had prepared a pot of tea while awaiting us, which she poured after we were seated. I began by shamelessly and effusively praising Frank; to my both great relief and subsequent elation he made clear that the admiration was mutual. We talked about music for awhile, and I met their four children—Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva—as each happened to pass through the room where we sat.
“I’ve seen you on television a couple times in the past week taking on the censorship group,” I remarked at one point.
“The deranged housewives of Washington DC,” Frank responded. “PMS wasn’t long enough so they formed the PMRC, the Parents Music Resource Center. Or as we at UMRK affectionately call them: Pre Menstrual Retards for Censorship. How much do you know?”
“Fill us in,” I replied.
He explained: “The PMRC was only recently founded for the sole purpose of pressuring the music industry to voluntarily implement a ratings system: code word censorship. The organization is also known as the Washington Wives and is comprised of the spouses of Senator Gore and Treasury Secretary Baker, and those of several other Washington power elite; we just call them the ‘deranged dumbasses of DC.’ The DDD are going to do for ignorance what the KKK does for race. I have the PMRC fund raising letter and they are a tax deductible organization with a tax free ID, yet when I called the PMRC office and asked the question: who else belongs to the PMRC? their answer was: ‘we don’t have any members, we only have founders.’
“Their shameless grab for the spotlight is pitiful, but also dangerous. This matter is supposed to go to a congressional fact finding committee on Thursday. The chairman of the committee is Senator Danforth, and his wife is in the PMRC. Senators Gore, Packwood and Thurmond are on the committee and their wives are PMRC. What conclusions do you suppose they might reach?”
“Conclusions already determined by their wives,” I speculated.
Frank continued: “This is another baby step in the Christian Right’s goal of taking over the United States the same way the Ayatollah took over Iran. Since the grand fell swoop they pray for has yet to drop, they have to resort to imposing their morality by implementing it incrementally, and this is one baby step, one little building block toward the fascist theocracy that is their grand dream. The real fact is this: every authoritarian regime likes to get this little hook going for them. You tell people, sex equals sin. And now, I’m going to save you from sex, and that will save you from sin and then you get to go to heaven. And we did it for you, so send in your check today. That’s what this stuff is. If you see a phone number scrolling across the screen or see a man in a brown suit smiling too much that’s always a dangerous sign. Jesus got very angry when he found people doing business in the temple. And that’s what you’ve got. Let’s take a man—oh, let’s just call him Pat Robertson—who can afford his own television station, and thinks that if he calls his business a religion he will not be taxed, the IRS will not look at his books while he exerts political influence and uses his tax free revenue streams to buy more television equipment and he becomes his own little government, which he pathetically tries to convince people is a government in the name of Jesus, which is evil in the name of God, which as I understand it is impossible.
“While on the surface these hearings are harmless enough, these people must be confronted and stopped right now before they get their foot in the door. Any little success, however seemingly insignificant, will only embolden them in their future endeavors to undermine the constitution by prodding the congress into enacting legislation that opens the door to the type of censorship that you would have in the Soviet Union. Pravda rock, baby!”
“And on behalf of rock stars everywhere, we applaud and thank you for speaking out and defending us,” I said.
We’re talking about words,” Frank continued. “They’ve got this catchy term they’ve been using, Porno Rock. It sounds terrific, the media is gobbling it up and sensationalizing it, and has gotten great mileage from it, but in the end Porno Rock is merely another harmless, weightless syllabic configuration. This thing started off about words, and in the end is about nothing more than words, which in the end are nothing.”
“And given that every word in the English language has between two and twenty meanings, I don’t even see how a ratings system is feasible,” I added. “Who’s to decide which meaning of any particular word was the intended one and therefore offensive?”
“It’s impossible if you’re faithful to the first amendment, and this whole thing is the deranged DC housewives craving attention and exploiting an issue for their fifteen minutes of fame,” Frank stated. “It’s a publicity stunt.”
“If it’s a publicity stunt, then why feed into it?” I asked.
“Because it’s a publicity stunt,” he repeated with his trademark wry smile. “A smart businessman is on the constant lookout for new markets to expose and explore.”
Desmond had been sitting quietly, but was starting to fidget. Frank discerned this and said: “Would you like to see the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen?”
I was ecstatic at the thought, but coolly concealed my joy and followed him through the house to his recording studio. It was a place of extraordinary beauty, a portico in heaven—truly a magician’s den. We stepped from the house into the sound booth, with a forty eight channel mixing board and headphones and microphones aplenty. Frank loaded some tape and started recording then brought us onto the floor of the studio. There were numerous guitars on stands and amplifiers and foot pedals and sound effects and strange musical instruments and noisemakers everywhere. Frank directed Desmond to a drum set, and told him to arrange it however he liked. In the corner beside the drum kit was a random assortment of percussion instruments and loose drums. Desmond assembled a set, I found a guitar to my liking, Frank plugged himself in, then said: “Is there anything in particular that you would like to play?”
“Actually, there is,” I made bold to reply. “I wrote a bunch of songs for a new album while on our European tour this summer, and I’m stuck waiting for Jonesy to return from Europe before I can really finish them. I’d love to dick around with one or two of those.”
“Let’s do it,” Frank said. “Whatchu got?”
I thought it over briefly, then said: “Here’s one that’s sure to bunch PMRC panties. It’s called, “Honkin’ On Bobo.”
I explained the chord structure to Frank, who picked it up as quickly as I could demo it. Desmond fit a beat right in and I started singing the innuendo of a chorus: “She’s up and down like a yo yo, nothing is a no no, she’s gaga at the go go when she’s honkin’ on Bobo…honkin’ on Bobo.” Frank and Desmond both started laughing, and giggling myself I continued singing:
“He beats until it’s up, he begs till she goes down,
She drinks from his cup and treats him like a clown,
Then finds a new clown to take her downtown
When her horny cuckold is not around.
She’s up and down like a yo yo,
Nothing is a no no,
She’s gaga at the go go
When she’s honkin’ on Bobo…
Honkin’ on Bobo…
Honkin’ on Bobo….”
Frank loved the tune and wanted to record it immediately while it was fresh in the air. He had ideas for what became the famous xylophone part, as well as a perfectly simple synthesized string arrangement. We quickly had it worked it out and rehearsed and were ready to record but that Desmond was off kilter. His playing was lethargic, and sluggish, and he kept lagging. He was shaky, irritable, and complained of dizziness and nausea, but when we suggested he take a break he insisted on trying to play through it. I stared at him curiously, but couldn’t figure it out. I had never seen him play so poorly before, and with such a great song waiting to go in the can it was all the more intensely frustrating. He was clearly distracted, and his mind elsewhere. Frank and I were trying to suggest ideas how he might recover his focus, and we had just started playing “Honkin’ On Bobo” again from the top when a beautiful strawberry blonde woman with a flower in her hair entered the control room and started watching. The moment she caught Desmond’s eye his beat picked up and he played the rest of the song perfectly. We were all three greatly relieved by his sudden turnaround.
The woman opened the microphone in the control room and said: “Sounds great, guys. Gail wants to know if Deak and Desmond would like to stay for dinner.”
“Gentlemen,” Frank said, “please meet Pamela Des Barres, formerly Pamela Miller who also goes by Miss Pamela. She is a longtime family friend and one of the original groupies.”
Desmond and I quickly accepted the dinner invitation. Pamela then waved to Frank and departed the control room. “That was perfect, Desmond,” Frank said, hurrying to the recording console. “If you can replicate it one time I’m going to roll tape.”
Desmond started drumming, and again was dragging. We were at a collective loss to understand his erratic play, then he suddenly announced: “I know exactly what it is! Ask Miss Pamela to come back for a minute.”
Desmond continued to struggle with the drum part while Frank went and fetched Pamela. They returned, and while she stood and watched from the control room Desmond perked right up and played perfectly. When he was done, he explained himself. “I play better with chicks around. I’m sharper and more energetic; I always have been. Ask her to stay for five minutes and I’ll record my part in one take. Watch.”
Pamela made herself comfortable and Desmond flew through the song flawlessly. Then he put down his sticks and went and chatted up Pamela while Frank and I put the finishing touches on “Honkin’ On Bobo.”
As Frank and I were mixing it down, Desmond came over and said: “Dude, this chick’s black book is a who’s who of rock and roll royalty!”
“I told you,” Frank said. “She’s one of the original groupies. She was a member of the GTOs. Look them up if you don’t know who they are. She was Jimmy Page’s LA girlfriend for a while.”
“And still friends to this very day,” Pamela proudly added.
“I don’t suppose you have an appropriate B side for ‘Bobo’ in that batch of songs you brought back from Europe,” Frank said.
“Actually, I’ve already been thinking about that,” I said, “and I think I’ve got the perfect tune, a silly ditty called “Weenie Waggin,’”
“He’s been playing it for a few days, it’s really good,” Desmond attested. “It’s so stupid beyond stupid that it’s hilarious.”
I quickly explained the chords to Frank, then started playing it. Then I sang:
“The sun is high, it’s time for lunch and I’ve got my weenie waggin’,
The bun is there to fill and munch and my weenie is a waggin’,
The fun is there in tons and bunches where you see my weenie waggin’.
And when we’re done I have a hunch you’ll love my weenie waggin’.
If you need to eat, come by my weenie wagon, I’m happy to feed you.
I said, if you come to eat, I’ll eat till you come, and I’m always happy to feed you.
All your favorite toppings come a-hipping and a-hopping,
And I’m hoping you’ll be coming when my weenie’s waggin’…
Coming to my weenie wagon….
I’m hoping you’ll be snacking on my weenie waggin’…
Snacking at my weenie wagon.
You’d be braggin’ too with a foot long weenie waggin’!
I said, you’d be bragging too with a foot long weenie wagon!”
It took just a couple hours, but by the time we’d recorded the basic tracks of “Honkin’ on Bobo” and “Weenie Waggin’,” Frank and I had already decided to release the pair of songs as a single. He had magazines and old posters and a variety of sources of weird imagery around the house, and we quickly made the brilliant collage that became the iconic cover art of the single—the clown with the Cheshire grin squeezing his own bulbous nose with his left hand while his right grips the handle of a hot dog cart. We named the band, Dick Wipper and the Wick Dippers, and after finishing the cover design we did the final mixes and had a master tape ready to press.
That took several hours, and Frank and I were so busy that we hardly noticed when Desmond disappeared. He had spent the afternoon with Pamela and Gail, and we all met up again at dinner, following which we left Frank and Gail to spend the evening with their family. Pamela walked us to the door and said to Desmond: “I’ll talk to you soon, you sexy Sexadactyl. Great to meet you too, Deak.”
It was early evening when we walked back to Easytown. I was as pumped up about the new single as Desmond was about Miss Pamela. “Dude, what a cool chick. She was one of the very first groupies. She’s from Reseda and has been chasing musicians in Los Angeles since she was a teenager. She’s been friends with Frank and Gail since the sixties, and she was in the GTOs. That was Girls Together Outrageously, an all groupie band that Frank sponsored and produced. They recorded one album in 1969—she played me a couple songs while you and Frank were working, they were great! She has a husband now but she knew everyone back in the day—she met all four Beatles on four separate occasions—and her conquests include Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page and Keith Moon. We’re going into business together.”
“Flesh peddling?” I facetiously suggested.
“In a manner of speaking,” he replied. “We’re going to resurrect the Pink Pussycat College of Striptease, or something similar.”
“Wasn’t that a burlesque club?” I asked.
“The Pink Pussycat, yes,” he replied, “but the attached college was an institution of higher learning.”
“You want to start a college for strippers?” I responded.
“A finishing school for groupies,” he corrected. “Miss Pamela is one of the greatest and most accomplished, and therefore the perfect headmistress.”
“Head mistress?” I repeated. “That’s actually very funny.”
“Thank you, I thought so,” he agreed. “Once I teach Miss Pamela all the nuances of my taste in women I’ll have her hand picking and polishing and preparing the girls for me, and producing a never ending supply of recruits for Sexy’s army so that I never again have to suffer withdrawals at an untimely moment like just happened in Frank’s muffin lab this afternoon.”
“I’m pretty sure the people who owned the Pink Pussycat opened another place in the same location,” I replied.
“Then we’ll call it the Pretty Kitty and my groupies will be called Sexy’s Pretty Kitties.”
“Ha, ha! I like it!” I declared. “I want my own pretty kitty.”
“You have the pick of the first litter,” he determined.
“I pick the whole first litter,” I cockily answered.
“Are you sure?” he replied. “I’m thinking we’ll refer to a graduating class as a litter, and I’m envisioning classes of twenty five or thirty girls. Can you hang with that?”
We laughed and when we were back at Easytown Desmond showered and went out for the night on his lifelong quest for babes. He invited me along but I declined, choosing instead to stay in and diddle around with the new songs I was working up. I spent a few hours on that before abandoning the piano about midnight. I turned on the radio to find that one of the local stations was in the middle of playing Led Zeppelin A to Z all night. It was my first night alone in Easytown for months, so I cranked up speakers throughout the mansion and spent several hours running and sliding down the halls in my stocking feet, and jumping and dancing up and down the staircase. I would strap on a Strat and play along with Jimmy Page for a few songs, and then put it down and return to frolicking in time with the music. Led Zeppelin is greatness, and hearing them blasted for hours throughout the night revived my dream of playing with any or all of the remaining members—John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. I had reached out to the band and their manager, Peter Grant, on my own and through Larry, a couple of times over the years, expressing my interest in meeting them, but we never received any response, and over time I gave up on the idea.
Frank and Desmond and I knew we had an instant hit with the “Honkin’ on Bobo”/”Weenie Waggin’” single, the question was when to drop it. Frank was scheduled to appear before Congress on September nineteenth, so we decided to time release of the record, so lusciously laced with lascivious innuendo, to maximize any possible impact on that occasion. That was still a couple weeks away, so we decided to record a few more bawdy songs and try to flesh the two songs into a full album.
That was the inspiration behind the Dick Wipper and the Wick Dippers debut album, Whip Her Snapper. While on the album sleeve the three members of the band are listed as: Steady Freddy, Ready Freddy, and Heady Freddy, it was Desmond who provided all the drums and percussion, and Frank and I played everything else—from the accordion to the zither—while also sharing vocals. We gave little thought to the any album concept and continuity—only that the songs were salacious and provocative without employing explicit language. We simply arranged them on the album in the order that we recorded them, and so “Honkin’ on Bobo” and “Weenie Waggin’” were the first two tracks. They were followed by “Stick Up,” a song subject to various confusing interpretations, which confusion we intentionally confounded with a trick of the tongue. On the album sleeve the lyric is printed: Freeze! On your knees, this is a stick up! But what I actually sing is: Freeze! On your knees, this is a dick up! Pick up where you left off and finish what you started. Handle…the bag…over….
“Pipe Dream” merely describes the parts of a bagpipes and the playing thereof—if you choose to read it that way.
I’m sitting with my bag and blowpipe in my lap…
A blowpipe with a valve…a mouthpiece…and a humping pin….
I squeeze out her reedy, plaintive wails,
And ease in between her tassel and tail….
“Chilldo” parodied new age music and was specifically composed to encourage relaxation.
Baby, what you need is not a pill, no no….
Baby what you need is a hot chilldo!’
‘I’ll Scream Your Name On The Mount!’ is a not so subtle musical soliloquy to a rare love that is equal parts self sacrifice, empathy and lust.
If you’re hungry I am edible, if thirsty drink my fount,
I promise it won’t be regrettable and I’ll scream your name on the mount!
The lyrics for “I Remember Your Mouth” are probably the most overt on the album.
I remember your mouth,
Blowing kisses, blowing fire,
Blowing on me and blowing my desire.
I remember your mouth
In my dark dreams telling lies,
I remember your mouth saying goodbye.
I remember your mouth, giving by receiving,
And I remember your mouth when it said you were leaving.
I remember your mouth….
I remember your mouth…..
For all intents and purposes, “Whip” is Frank and I having a friendly guitar solo duel, our riffs being spurred and punctuated by the random cracking of whips. “Whip” seamlessly segues into “Her Snapper”—the two are in fact the halves that form the one greater song that is the title track.
She’s got her snapper in her lap
And you can tap her in her flap
Fill her gap, snap her trap
And zap her snapper.
Everybody rise and clap for her snapper (just don’t catch the clap)
Clap for her snapper (just don’t catch the clap)
“Having a Ball,” “Aural Sex” and “Margarita On My Rocks” rounded out side two.
It took about a week to record the twelve songs that comprised the Whip Her Snapper album. The cover art was a beautiful woman in a bikini at the beach lying in the surf half submerged. Instead of the bottom piece of a bikini she had a fish—a snapper, specifically—incorporated into her nether demesnes. The fish did not look cold and lifeless, however, but had a cartoonishly content countenance. While not generally visible to the naked eye, closer inspection of the cover through a strong magnification lens reveals the twelve tiny men under water gorging themselves on the nebulous underbelly of the fish.
As the nineteenth of September approached Frank continued making the media rounds, and appeared almost daily on a television and/or radio show to stand for free speech against the onslaught of self appointed and government sanctioned moral authorities. We recorded Whip Her Snapper over a few days in early September, and on one of those mornings when I arrived to work at the UMRK, I said to Frank: “I saw you on Nightline last night. Great stuff, although when you asked if the women of the PMRC were a cult, you could have said ‘coven.’”
“Maybe you can do that yourself,” he replied. “The media seems to like my appearances too, they keep inviting me back. I just got a call this morning from a local show called LA Nights, inviting me to participate in a panel discussion. There will be a moderator and four people on the stage, two ostensibly representing the conservative point of view, and two the liberal. The conservatives are going to be Kandy Stroud and John Lofton, both of whom I have already encountered on my recent trek through the media’s brothels. They asked me if I had a suggestion or preference for my partner in the debate, so why don’t you come on and ask Kandy yourself if the PMRC is just a front providing nonprofit tax exempt status for a coven?”
“Awesome! I’m in,” I replied. “When do we tape?”
The following evening we met at the television studio. Kandy was a writer and television correspondent, a prim blonde whose hair was sprayed so stiff that it looked like a half shell encrusting the back of her head. John was a columnist, a chunky pudge with a very bald head draped by a very bad comb over. We were all introduced just minutes before the taping, and after giving my hand a wimpy shake, John sternly said aside to me: “I’ve heard that filth you call music and if I had my way it would be erased from existence.”
“Very nice to meet you too,” I replied. He scowled and turned away.
There was an audience of about one hundred people there. We took the stage and after we settled into our chairs, I quietly said to Frank: “What I am thinking is this: you’ve been on this circuit lately and tearing these people up very efficiently without me around, so I’m going to defer and let you do most of the talking. I’m going to pretend I may have Tourette’s Syndrome, and run interference for you by throwing them off track derailing their trains of thought. You’ll see.”
Frank and John were seated beside each other on the stage, with me to Frank’s left and Kandy to John’s right. The moderator was a local television personality named Bob Badcock, and after he introduced all four of us to the television audience, he made a brief statement that set the debate into motion. “The rub of the issue is this: do we want the government to ban the sale of music the government finds objectionable? Or should it be identified with warning labels? And who should be the government’s censor? Who should spend all day listening to music and determining what is wholesome and what is harmful? What is clean and what is filth? And how should we decide who decides, and according to what criteria, and which records should be labeled what? This is a many layered issue begging many questions. Now Mr. Zappa, I’ll start with you. Just to clarify your position: you believe that there is no filth, no pornography, no obscenity that should be freely sold and distributed and freely broadcast across the radio and airwaves of this country?”
“Music is not pornography,” Frank replied. “What we are talking about here is words, and I don’t believe that there is any word that needs to be suppressed. There is no empirical evidence that words inspire harm and no sound scientific rationale that certain words should be not be heard. They can’t hurt you any more than they can transport you to the north pole. They are just words, not sticks and stones; only words. What is a word going to do? Have you ever heard of a word that could make you go to hell? Or is going to turn you into a maniac? They are just words.”
“How can you say they are just words?” John retorted. “Words have connotations and words have consequences.”
“They are just words,” Frank repeated. “And how are you going to implement a reasonable ratings system when virtually every word in English has multiple meanings? To have a cow can mean to own one, and to have a cow can mean giving birth to one, however impossible that is.”
“And homophones compound the problems homonyms create!” I blurted. “To halve a cow would be to cut one in two.”
Everyone stared at me for interrupting, then Frank finished his thought. “Who is going to listen to and analyze every word of every song and decide whether the singer is possessing, birthing or chopping up their cow in the context of the lyrics? That cow example is as ridiculous as this issue is. Why are people afraid of words?”
John was antsy, like a caged bull being spurred. “Why do you underestimate the power of words, Mr. Zappa?” he demanded of Frank. He had a rigid voice attuned to a constant whine. “Words have connotations, words have consequences, words have impact on people. The first line in the fight against this garbage is the family, but good grief Frank, can’t we call on our government to help us in this fight? Are you an anarchist? Is it government’s role to do nothing about this? What is the function of government, Frank? Isn’t it to promote general welfare and to protect families?”
“Do you think you’re protecting someone by banning certain words?” Frank answered with a question. “How is a censor going to make our lives happier and more fulfilling?”
“We’re not talking about censorship,” John insisted.
“We are talking about censorship but you just don’t want to call it that is because you don’t want people to know the truth. It’s the same Republican stonewall crap that you’ve been doing all along. This is censorship. If it smells like a Republican, it’s a Republican.”
“This is not a liberal or conservative issue, this is a family matter, and a very important one,” John rejoined. “Words connote ideas. Are you for songs that portray incest as just another type of sex, and perhaps preferable? Are you for that? Huh? Are you, Zappa? Are you?”
Frank and John scowled derisively at each other while Kandy said: “The average teenager listens to several hours of rock music a day—more than ten thousand hours throughout their adolescence. They look to rock stars as role models, they sing their songs, and imitate their behavior and their fashion. And what they are learning today is that casual sex, masturbation, and explicit pornography is acceptable, and some even consider violent rape and incest desirable. It’s time for the music industry to uphold its social responsibilities and start policing itself.”
I suddenly blurted: “So what you are saying is that it’s okay to sing snatches of songs but not to sing songs about snatches?” Everyone turned to me. Frank and Bob were chuckling; John and Kandy were mortified, their mouths agape. “Forgive me,” I said apologetically. “Lately I’ve been prone to sudden outbursts, and I’m currently being tested for late onset Tourette’s Syndrome.”
Frank seized the conversation. “Would you ban the mention of any incestuous activities? You’d better take a look at the Bible and see what’s in there; what happens after Sodom and Gomorrah. Since your proposed censorship has to be state approved and has to have that kind of aroma that makes it look and smell like something really Christian, it might help you to know what the Bible actually says. It’s loaded with incestuous relationships…and offspring.”
“I hardly think a smut peddler such as you is qualified to discuss the Bible,” John said with a sneer.
“Would you trust a televangelist first?” Frank asked. “Because most of them are phonies who abuse the name of Jesus to generate revenue streams, and while they’re doing that they’ve got us on track to become a fascist theocracy.”
“A fascist theocracy?” John scoffed. “That’s ridiculous.”
“We are becoming a fascist theocracy,” Frank repeated, “and everything that’s happened under the Reagan administration is steering us right down that pipe.”
“We’re not talking about your nonsensical merging of religious and political theory, we’re talking about advocacy here,” John said. “Do you support records that promote incest as just another kind of sex? Do you agree with that, Mr. Zappa? Do you? Huh? Do you, Zappa? Do you?”
“No, I don’t agree with it, I have no interest in incest,” Frank answered. “I didn’t realize that incest was such a terrible problem in the United States that we suddenly need a government intervention to cure incest in America by keeping words off of records.”
“Incest never used to be a problem in this country, did it, Mr. Zappa? That’s come about in the last twenty years or so,” John piped, sneering up at Frank. “That’s about how long you’ve been making your filthy records, isn’t it? Twenty years, isn’t that right, Zappa? Just as long as you’ve been producing that filth you call music!”
Frank looked back at John in bewilderment.
Then Kandy offered an opinion: “Sex is healthy but it’s not an animal act. Today’s rock stars are teaching that love equals sex and sex equals love, that love is purely recreational, it’s a thing that is fun, there are no commitments, no responsibilities and no consequences. That is the message being preached to our children during the years in which they form their value systems and their morals. There is nothing wrong with sex, but there is something wrong with preaching incest, masturbation and a casual attitude toward sex to teenagers.”
“What’s wrong with masturbation?” Frank asked. “If they’re talking about masturbation, point one: it’s not illegal, and people do it from the cradle to the grave. If it’s not illegal to do it, why should it be illegal to sing about it? I think masturbation is really good, and I think more people in America should do it. First it would help your teenage pregnancy rate and secondly everyone would be more relaxed. But you, Ms. Stroud, have a masturbation fixation.” He motioned toward her while facing the audience. “She is seized upon the idea of masturbation, and believes that if we stop it our children will be safer.”
“Frank’s band and mine both have female musicians,” I blurted. “Are you saying we could sing songs about them banging their drums but not songs about them banging their drummers?”
Frank, Bob and the audience started laughing as Kandy looked back at me in shock. The tension onstage between Frank and John was palpable, and what had been simmering between them began to seethe. Bob the moderator was actually enjoying their animosity, and encouraged it. “Mr. Zappa,” he said, “you’re a musician, you’re a producer, you’re a big man in show business. As a matter of taste, and art, do you think it is a good idea to write lyrics about incest? Do you think that makes any sense? Doesn’t anyone in the music business find that as offensive as others of us do?”
“I do not speak for the music industry, nor would they wish me to,” Frank responded. “I am a conservative and I do not approve of most of what is being manufactured for entertainment, but I do not feel that it is my place or anyone else’s place to keep a type of entertainment than people desire from them. Some women like violent sex and I think they have a right to hear songs about it if they so desire. No, I’m not offended by the message of the music, what offends me is the music itself, so generally godawful, and purveyed by an industry that presumes that I the buyer am so gullible and stupid that they can exchange insipid drivel for my dollars and dimes. I am forced to sell my work in this mediocre marketplace of their making, and I resent them for drenching that marketplace with drek, but anyone has a right to sing about anything, and a right to say what they want, just as we all have the right to not buy it.”
John was increasingly agitated. He was markedly shorter than Frank, and even when he sat up indignantly in his chair he was still at eye level with Frank’s famous nose. “Where does that right come from? Where does the right to advocate incest come from?”
“Still with the incest?” Frank asked. “What songs advocate incest?”
“There are songs that advocate incest,” John replied.
“Tell me them, I haven’t heard them,” Frank asked.
“I don’t think you’re being candid with us. You know what those songs are,” John condescendingly replied. “You ought to get out more. Now you said there’s a right to do this? Where does this right come from? Your group was called the Mothers of the Invention.”
“The Mothers of Invention,” Frank corrected. “You ought to get out more.”
“You’re a very inventive guy,” John continued. “You make up a lot of stuff, like what was in the mind of the founding fathers. Would you look in the camera and tell them—“
“Which camera?” Frank interrupted.
“Are you directing the show now?” Frank asked.
“That’s right,” John smugly replied. “And you certainly need some direction, Mr. Zappa,”
“Do you want to spank me here?” Frank sarcastically asked. “What are you trying to do here?”
“Oh, you’re into that, too!” John commented. “No, I’m not into spanking.”
“I love it when you froth like that,” Frank jibed. “I thought Bob was going to be the one frothing today, I’m glad you’re the one doing it.”
“Wrong again, Frank,” John replied, squirming uncomfortably. “Wrong again.”
“Let me get a napkin for you when you drool,” Frank offered.
“Thank you very much,” John answered. “Now, would you look in the camera and tell them with a straight face that the founding fathers had in mind the kind of garbage that you sing and write when they drafted the first amendment. Do you really believe that they gave us the first amendment to defend songs that glorify Satanism and incest and suicide? Do you really believe that?”
“Absolutely,” Frank loudly replied.
“You’re an idiot then!” John remarked.
“Well I’ll tell you what,” Frank answered. “Kiss my ass, pal! How do you like that?” Frank raised up slightly, like a tower; Lofton cowered.
A shocked murmur spread off the stage and through the crowd.
Then Kandy held up a 45 record and said: “This is the number one song in the country right now. It’s a lewd song called “Honkin’ on Bobo” by a lascivious band named Dick Wipper and the Wick Dippers.” Frank and I smirked and chuckled. She read from a page: “And listen to these lyrics. ‘She’s up and down like a yo yo, nothing is a no no, she’s gaga at the gogo when she’s honkin’ on bobo.’ That is filth and vulgarity, and music that condones uninhibited sexual activity at dance halls and night clubs is not healthy nurture for our children.”
“I’ve heard that song,” Frank said. “I thought it was about a cross eyed clown’s harmless nose.”
“And this B side, ‘Weenie Waggin,’” she continued.
“Who’s to differentiate between a hot dog cart and a titillated penis?” Frank innocently asked. “And did you get clearance from the publisher before reading those lyrics on the air? You do know that you are legally obligated to do so before reading them on the air like you just did.”
Kandy turned red and went silent. John tried to create a diversion from her embarrassment by holding up his copy of the record and pointing out: “It’s not wagon, W-A-G-O-N, it’s waggin’, spelled W-A-G-G-I-N’.”
“Spelled one way is okay, but another is anathema?” I blurted. “Either way it sounds the same when you listen to the music!”
“You would defend songs about depraved women going gaga and gagging on hot dogs, wouldn’t you, Zappa?” John sniped at Frank. “You defend this garbage being sold, don’t you, Zappa? Don’t you?”
“Yes, I do,” Frank answered.
“Well then you’re part of the problem,” John rejoined.
“Don’t you think it’s a good idea to say to some of these people to cool it?” Bob suggested to Frank.
“Your name Bob Badcock is filled with sexual innuendo,” I observed, “and if John and Kandy had their way we’d have to place a warning label on a song about you.”
Everyone laughed, then Frank answered: “No, I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell anyone to cool it. That’s not my job.”
“What is your job, Mr. Zappa?” John demanded. “You once wrote a song called ‘We’re Only In It For The Money.’”
“That’s not a song, it’s the name of an album,” Frank snidely replied. “You ought to get out more.”
“How much money have you made peddling this stuff, Mr. Zappa?” John asked.
“Millions of dollars,” Frank proudly replied, looking down his nose at John. “Millions of dollars, Mr. Lofton.”
Frank’s answer clearly sparked envy in John, who was silent a moment before saying: “One of the things that interests me is the seemingly totally different worlds that you and I live in, Mr. Zappa. I have here where you are quoted as saying that in America we tend to hide sex. That is the most ridiculous statement I have ever heard. Sex is everywhere in America—on tv, radio, videos and advertisements. How can you say that we as a nation hide sex when we both know sex is everywhere. What do you say about that, Mr. Zappa? Huh? What do you say about that?”
“We do hide sex in America,” Frank replied. “It’s called repression, and you and Kandy engage in it. Let’s be reasonable. Sex is good, it is a natural function. There is no reason to think that a person shouldn’t know about how his own body works at the earliest possible age. Just because you know about intercourse and masturbation doesn’t mean you have to go out and do it at five years old. It doesn’t hurt to know. Why keep people ignorant? The more you know the happier you’re gonna be. Don’t be afraid of words that make you think about sex. You’re not gonna die from it, you’re not gonna go to hell for it. But you two instead choose to keep your children ignorant, so that when they’re confronted with something you were probably too uptight to explain, they know nothing because they are ignorant because you have raised them to be, and that’s how they will remain.”
“Each statement you make is more ridiculous than the one before,” John observed of Frank.
“Love is pure, love is gentle, love is kind,” Kandy said, in an attempt to wax poetic. “Love is not crude, love is not lewd, and love is not some pervert singing about a girl going up and down like a yo yo and gagging on a bobo. That is not the way that children should learn about love.”
“Love is also not sex,” Frank explained. “And sex is an activity that has nothing to do with love. I can see why some of this stuff rubs you the wrong way, because you have a problem with sex. The lyrics that you’re talking about contain some words that seem to trigger a peculiar response. The concerned parents should take a look at their own responsibility to provide their children accurate sexual information of a basic nature, so if a child knows what is normal he’ll be able to listen to something like that and say, ‘that’s aberrated. It’s not for me, I don’t like it, it’s too weird.’ But if you don’t tell him anything and take all sex out of media consumed by young people you’re going to create a bad mental health situation. That is called repression, that is what you both practice with your own children and advocate to other parents, that is dangerous and fertilizes unhealthy ignorance. Ignorance is weakness; knowledge is power, and what you think is healthy for your children is in truth damaging them.”
“Meanwhile you exploit it for your millions of dollars!” John huffed. “Dirty songs for dirty money.”
Bob stepped in and moderated. “John, you don’t have to buy this music with dirty words.”
“Well, I guess my concern extends beyond my own family, beyond my own children,” John said. “I’m concerned about the whole society, the whole country, other people’s children, other people’s families!”
“This is an issue that will break families apart as they argue over the record rating system,” Frank drolly stated. “A ratings system which, by the way, would prove counter effective in that the most dangerous music will become the most desirable, and will be conveniently marked as such with special labels.”
“Now what about videos?” John asked Frank. “There’s a video out now about a schoolteacher undressing for a student. What do you think of that?”
“I think it’s amusing,” Frank replied.
“Amusing?” John repeated. “You think a grade school class that’s hot for teacher in a sexual way is amusing?”
“Why shouldn’t it be amusing?” Frank replied.
“You don’t look amused. You don’t look too happy,” John observed. “You’re not smiling.”
“Why should I smile?” Frank asked. “I’m sitting here with you.”
“Well you can fake it, Frank,” John answered. “Fake it. Fake it and tell me why that’s amusing.”
“That is amusing to the people who like the song and the concept of the music starts, here comes the teacher, you expect the teacher to be sour—kind of like you and your sour puss,” Frank said to John with a taunting tone that challenged John’s defiance.
“You look like you’ve eaten sour puss!” I blurted out to John, then turned and looked at Kandy. There was laughter, and when it died out I added: “So let’s get this straight: it would be okay for me to write a song about John called ‘Sour Puss,’ but not okay to write a song about Kandy called ‘Sour Puss?’”
“Now you see, that is disgusting and entirely unnecessary,” Kandy chided me, “even if you are suffering with Tourette’s. Such crass nonsense only further clouds an already confusing issue.”
“And why are you singling out and picking on rock music?” Frank asked Kandy. “Why don’t you insist on labeling country music? They sing plenty about alcohol and sex. And how do you propose to handle such works as Carmina Burana, the libretto of which contains graphic sex? Should we excise those parts of the opera, or rewrite them? And how would you handle rating every record that’s ever been made dating back to the beginning of time?”
“Country music is not mainstream,” she explained, justifying herself. “I love Carmina Burana and I wouldn’t want it to be censored. And as to every record ever made that is obviously impossible, but we have to start somewhere.”
“Which brings us right back where we started,” Frank stated. “This is about words. This argument is basically about the seven dirty words the FCC complains about. That’s what it is, and I don’t see any reason to keep people from hearing those syllables put together. Those are not magic words, that’s not abracadabra you’re going to turn into something when you hear them. Once you’ve successfully censored some words, will you continue in your quest to the root of the problem, which is the alphabet? Without certain letters certain words could not be formed, and we would have this new, approved Christian alphabet. You wouldn’t even be able to spell Jesus Christ with this new alphabet. And then they would go to the numbers we all use when adjusting our little bank books and so forth, and they would say: ‘There are four numbers here that are suggestive. One that looks like a hole, and there’s another one that’s sticking straight up. They have got to go. And those two that fit together, one that looks like it’s upside down against the other which we can’t say, they have got to go.”
“So let me get this straight,” I blurted. “It would be okay to sing about my band’s members, but not okay to sing about my band’s members’ members?”
John’s face was a deep shade of hostile red. “I’ve got some words for you,” he said to Frank. “I don’t like you. Not one bit. You’re a pompous smut monger who arrogantly flaunts his dirty millions. It is you and your like who ruin this country from within while giving us a bad name abroad.” He jumped up from his chair and clenched his fists. “Do you want to take this out back or settle it right here?”
Without flinching Frank grinned and said: “You really are frothing. I didn’t suspect you were rabid too. Go on out back and I’ll be right out to settle this imaginary score between us. You look like a turd with a toupee.”
I cracked up laughing, then said: “Now there’s a song.”
My booming laugh was contagious, and quickly infected the whole studio. The audience was both amused and breathlessly curious to see how the confrontation would escalate.
John’s red face exploded. “A turd with a toupee? That’s it Zappa! Forget out back—get up and we’ll settle this right here!”
Frank placed his hands on the arms of his chair and started to rise when Bob Badcock intervened and forced John away. Frank finished rising to his feet, faced the audience and bowed. They roared their approval with more laughter and applause while John could be heard screaming incoherently as he was being escorted from the building.
“Honkin’ on Bobo” was an instant smash, and debuted at number one on the charts that third week of September. We had managed to get the Whip Her Snapper album mastered, printed, on the airwaves and in stores on September thirteenth, and the group and its bawdy songs were an overnight national sensation, dominating the radio and MTV’s video rotation by September nineteenth, the day Frank was scheduled to address congress. Desmond and I accompanied Frank to Washington DC, and while Frank was readying to speak with our nation’s politicians, Desmond and I prepared the Silver Gee club for a show.
One week earlier, while “Honkin’ On Bobo” was first taking the nation by storm, I called a couple local DC clubs on short notice to book a Dick Wipper and the Wick Dippers show. I guaranteed a sellout with the club’s cut in advance, and the Silver Gee gave us their room. Desmond and I spent the morning at the Silver Gee overseeing the set up and sound check, then went and watched Frank on Capitol Hill.
He began by reading from a statement he had provided to the committee in advance. He likened the PMRC’s efforts to treating dandruff with decapitation. He then described a connection between Senator Thurman, a bill containing a tax on blank cassettes currently being considered, and Senator Thurman’s wife’s affiliation with the PMRC. He also made a similar observation about senators Danforth, Packwood and Gore. He called for increased funding and wider teaching of music appreciation. He reminded the lawmakers that in law, with matters pertaining to the first amendment, you are supposed to look for the least restrictive option, and in this case the least restrictive option was to realize that rock and roll is not written or performed for people with conservative taste, and that there’s no reason why the morals or the tastes of a DC superstar should be a model to impinge on the rights of people who are not children.
He then proposed routinely publishing all song lyrics on the outside of the package, but warned of the financial complications of sorting out who of the record companies, the publishing companies and the artists would bear the brunt of the cost of doing so.
Then Senator Al Gore said to Frank: “I found your statement very interesting, and let me say although I disagree with some of the statements you make and have made on other occasions, I have been a fan of your music believe it or not, and I respect you as a true original and a tremendously talented musician.”
Frank and Senator Gore then engaged in a friendly discussion of printing the lyrics on the outside of the package as a possible solution.
Following that exchange Senator Slade Gordon, a very Caucasian man and whose buck teeth hung like white razors over his lower lip, said: “Mr. Zappa, I am astounded at the courtesy and soft voiced nature of the comments of my friend the senator from Tennessee. I can only say that I find your statement to be boorish, incredibly and insensitively insulting, to the people who were here previously, that you could manage to give the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States a bad name, if I felt that you had the slightest understanding of it, which I do not. You don’t have the slightest understanding of the difference between government action and private action. And you have certainly destroyed any case you might otherwise have had with this senator.”
Frank then interacted with two more senators, one of whom was also very white with even whiter hair, with whom he further discussed printing lyrics on the outer sleeve. He then invited another senator, a rather tightly wrapped uptight old woman, to his home to view his children’s toys, and Frank’s participation in the hearings ended with the gallery in laughter.
Desmond and I had stopped at a printer and hastily made up an invitation, and we handed Frank several. Al Gore then came over to us to say hello. “And I love your music too,” he said to me after Frank introduced us. “I didn’t know you were going to be here.”
“It was an unplanned, last minute thing,” I replied.
“Speaking of unplanned, last minute things,” Frank said, handing Al an invitation. “There’s going to be a show tonight that you won’t want to miss.”
“Are you going to be playing?” Al asked as he glanced down at the invite.
“No,” Frank answered, “but I can vouch that the band is very good, and that the show will be most entertaining.”
“Dick Wipper and the Wick Dippers,” Al read from the invitation. “Isn’t that the group that sings that “Honkin’ On Bobo” song I’ve been hearing everywhere?”
“That is them and they are great,” Frank confirmed.
Al chuckled. “Tipper can’t stop singing that song, and our girls love it too,” he said.
“Come to the show,” Frank encouraged.
“And bring your wife,” I suggested.
“And tell your senator friends,” Frank added, handing him a few more invites.
“And have them bring their wives too,” I suggested.
“It’s going to be tremendous fun and entertainment,” Frank promised. “If you miss it the only thing you’ll remember is the regret.”
“If you say so, I’m there,” Al said, “and I will pass a few of these along to my colleagues.”
Then Al Gore shook our hands, promised he would see us later at the Silver Gee, and departed.
The Silver Gee started filling up early. It was Dick Wipper and the Wick Dippers’ debut performance, and the air was electric with the buzz of anticipation. Frank and Desmond and I played the show as a three piece. To conceal our identities I had procured three Mardi Gras comedy masks, and we donned them before the show and mingled with the crowd. The staff and the doormen had been instructed that we were with the band and we had free reign of the club.
About eight o’clock a stretch limo pulled up before the club and three couples alighted—Senators Gore, Packwood and Danforth, escorting their wives Tipper, Georgie and Sally. Desmond, Frank and I went to the door, and I explained to the doormen that I would be greeting the VIPs. They stepped aside, and when the senators and their wives reached the door, I halted them and said: “I need to see ids please.”
“This is ridiculous,” Al Gore protested. “This is Senator Packwood and this is Senator Danforth; I’m Senator Gore and these are our wives. I can assure you, whoever you are behind that mask, that you have to be old enough to enter a nightclub before you can become senator.”
His wife Tipper was excited however. “I haven’t been carded in years!” she exclaimed, digging in her purse, as the other wives did the same. “I think it’s cute!”
Tipper Gore found her id and handed it over to me with a big smile. I scrutinized it carefully, then responded in a terse voice: “I’m afraid I can’t let you in.”
“”I’m thirty seven years old!” she protested.
“Maybe so,” I coldly replied, “but this ridiculous war against words you’re waging is childish, and a Dick Wipper and the Wick Dipper’s concert is no place for children. Trust me, I’m doing you a favor.” I then looked at Al and said: “Mr. Gore, welcome to the Silver Gee.”
I looked at Georgie Packwood’s id and said: “I’m afraid yours is the same no go. Words will be sung tonight unsuitable for your tender ears. Senator Packwood, welcome to the Silver Gee.”
Senator Packwood moved two steps closer to the entrance and stood beside Al Gore. I then rejected Sally Danforth and welcomed her husband. Then I scolded the ladies, directing myself in particular to Tipper Gore. “You do understand the absurd irony of what you are doing. This afternoon your husband under oath admitted that he loves Frank Zappa’s music and that he considers Mr. Zappa a genius. I don’t know if this had anything to do with the quid pro quo within your marriage, but your husband then assumed his position in the vanguard of the politicians seeking to censor the music he admittedly loves.”
“Label,” she corrected.
“Any success you achieve brings you one step closer to outlawing words, which is censorship,” I answered. “I’m afraid I’m going to force you to practice what you preach, and forbid you entry. Ladies, have a nice evening. Who’s next?”
The three senators were now fully in the entrance, and Al said: “Why don’t you girls take the limo on the town for a couple hours and pick us up after the show. Make a girls night of it.”
“You don’t seriously plan to stay!” Tipper cried.
“I have to,” Al explained, “for the girls. I am responsible to the image that I uphold before them, and if I showed that I was afraid of a musical event because of some silly words that might be spoken, they would lose respect for their father. Besides, you know how they love the ‘Bobo’ song, and it will be great to be able to tell them I went to the show, and maybe I can use my influence to get them some autographs.”
“I like the ‘Bobo’ song too!” Tipper said. “I just don’t think it’s appropriate for children!”
“Ladies, you’re holding up the line,” I stated. I gently nudged them aside, and a sudden crowd surge swelled into the doorway.
“We’ll see you after the show!” Al shouted over the heads that had come between them.
The women stomped back to the limo in a huff, and I returned his post to the bouncer, with the clear instruction that the three senators’ wives were forbidden from entering the show. Frank then gathered Desmond and me and we took the stage and rocked the Silver Gee club for over three hours. The crowd was enthusiastic, fantastic and spastic, and demanded encore upon encore. Our masks remained in place throughout the performance, and only afterward did we discreetly remove them in the dark backstage before blending into the crowd, where we pretended to have just watched the show with everyone else. I was most curious to see what would happen when the senators wives returned, and watched out for the limo, but they never did, and it was well past midnight when I finally gave up on the fireworks I’d been hoping to see, and we returned to our hotel rooms, and then the following day, to Los Angeles.