Frank Zappa Talk Show?
by Billy Ingram
Frank Zappa appeared on The Dick Cavett Show in 1983 in conjunction with his latest album, ‘The London Symphony Orchestra.’
This disc featured, oddly enough but with Zappa you could never be sure he wasn’t taking the piss out of you, tracks performed by the London Symphony Orchestra who had a go at four of Zappa's compositions — "Sad Jane", "Pedro's Dowry", "Envelopes", and "Mo 'n Herb's Vacation.” These sessions were recorded in January of 1983. This was Zappa's third album to employ a full blown orchestra, 1967's Lumpy Gravy and 1979's Orchestral Favorites. It was released on Zappa’s label, Barking Pumpkin Records.
In this interview he also talked about his pitch to NBC in 1968 to host his own talk show.
Dick Cavett: Your latest album, the London symphony orchestra performing here to four unrecorded Frank Zappa works. How do you get the London symphony orchestra to do your stuff?
Frank Zappa: You pay them.
Cavett: Yeah, but isn't this a really prestigious organization.
Zappa: Of course. So you pay them a lot of money. Yeah.
Cavett: You flew to London to do this, do you mind if I read something from the liner notes… This is the first recorded performance of these works. As with every performance of new music, errors will occur. Every effort has been made to remove these but without a much larger budget for rehearsal and recording time, the possibility of perfection in a premier situation, such as this is somewhat remote. Now, what does, what does that mean exactly?
Zappa: That means that anytime somebody writes a piece of music that nobody's ever seen before, and you hand that music to a musician, unless they have sufficient time to rehearse it and get all the details worked out. The chances of it. Absolutely perfect performance are not good. Mm-hmm and given the amount of money that I had to spend to produce an album of orchestra music, and the fact that, uh, I had a fixed amount of time because of their schedule to do this, that it would be humanly impossible to play works of this complexity absolutely perfect.
Cavett: Try now, uh, how close did you get?
Zappa: I would say that, uh, considering the amount of editing that was done to remove bad notes played by various people that we're up to about 75% on this record.
Cavett: Well, that's a pretty good deal. Isn't it? It's not too bad. Now, did you feel driven by integrity to put this on here? Or is this common procedure?
Zappa: No, that's that was just… I have a personal relationship with my fans where I don't mess around. Yeah. And I wanted to let them know that if they listen to this and expected that, that was exactly the way it was supposed to be. It's not… yeah, it can be played better but only in a situation where somebody spends more time to
Cavett: Rehearse it. Is it possible that, at some point, you would go back with a bigger budget and more rehearsal time and do it again? Or is this it?
Zappa: You have to understand how I get my budgets. I get them from fans, spending money for buying records. Yeah. If a certain amount of money comes in, then I'll turn that money around. Then I'll do another project. I spent everything I could spend to do that. So it's doubtful that I will be making another record of those works. Another orchestra may record it, but I can't afford to.
Zappa did record again with the the London Symphony Orchestra for his 48th album.
Dick Cavett then asked the musician if he had aspirations to host his own talk show. The answer was surprising.
Zappa: Around 1968, I tried to do that. I set out to convince people in television (NBC) that I should talk to people on TV. And I gave a list of the kinds of people that, you know, when I made my proposal to the TV people, I would say I would have these kind of people on.
Cavett: What kind were they?
Zappa: Oh, I don't remember who it was, but they didn't like the list that was for sure.
Cavett: Really? No now, but, but just take a second here and think again, maybe this is putting you on the spot but who would you, if you had a show really, would you be interested in letting America take a better look at?
Zappa: Well, what I would've done at that time would be to take people who were in politics and put them on, next to each other on a couple of chairs with people from rock and roll or from the arts, or, you know, just people that you wouldn't normally expect to confront each other and let 'em hack it out. Yeah. It was always kind of a, not necessarily a dream, but an interest of mine.
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Frank Zappa to Dick Cavett: “This really fits in as brown lipstick in the corporate suite. I think that nobody really looks good with brown lipstick on, so why do these guys in the corporate suite keep wearing it? And how does it get there? This is one of the problems facing us today.”
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