Yes, right, you heard it right, this is The Real Peter Occhiogrosso Internet Interview, and still you don't know who the hell is he?-)) Heh. He's the guy whose name written right under Frank's own on the cover of The Real Frank Zappa Book so he's kind of Zappa's autobiography co-writer.
Also, he's a real person with an e-mail address, so it wasn't too hard to work him in making it into the movie. Enjoy! But never try to get yo' peter sucked in ... Siberia!-)))
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VS: How did you come to you to interview Frank for Once A Catholic. Were you a fan of Frank's music already? Or he was just a well known "Once a Catholic"?
PO: I was a fan of Frank's early albums, but had lost track of him around the time I was writing the book (1985-86), and had become more interested in jazz. But I was looking for "unusual" Cathoilcs, both practicing Catholics and ex-Catholics, like George Carlin, reporter/novelist Jimmy Breslin, novelists Mary Gordon and Robert Stone (whose latest is "Damascus Gate"), former presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, and others, all of whom are also interviewed in my book.
I had heard that Frank grew up Catholic as an Italian American (like me). I thought he might have some funny things to say about religion in general because of his dislike of televangelists. I wasn't disappointed. This was around the time he was starting to attack the PMRC, headed by Al Gore's wife Tipper, which was attempting to censor rock lyrics.
VS: Was it hard to contact Frank to ask for an interview? What was your first impression of him?
PO: I had worked as Music Editor of Soho News in Manhattan for eight years so I knew all the music publicists. It wasn't hard to get ahold of him. We met in a hotel in Manhattan where he was staying during a concert tour. My first impression was that he smoked a lot, but other than that he seemed awfully normal-looking, wore a jacket and tie and was very cordial.
VS: By the way, have you ever heard Frank's so called Divan suite from Flo'n'Eddie era. It was Zappa's funny but very obscene version of Genesis.
PO: Sorry, I haven't ever had the pleasure. When I later helped Frank write his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book, I spent three weeks with him in L.A., and he had me listen to most of his tapes and watch a lot of his videotaped interviews, but he never mentioned the Divan Suite.
VS: Well, it's a story of a void with the lone floating sofa in the middle of it, I hope you remember the front cover of One Size Fits All album. "This sofa is all right ,- said the Big G ,- Except what it needs is a floor". And so the world was created, the event which according to FZ Big G celebrated by the orgy with Und Squat, das magische Schwein. It was standard number of ill fated 1971, and never reappeared again, and never was included as a full suite in any of Frank's official concert collections. Why? Don't you think, that deep, very deep in his heart Frank wasn't that much of atheist as he tried all his life to appear? I mean he still had some fear in his soul.
PO: I've often wondered about Frank's inner spiritual feelings. Although he hated organized religion, he did not attack belief in God per se. Since my book is out of print, I'll scan in here a quote from it in which Frank talks about his religious feelings:
"Sure, I had religious feelings, but that's not something that you quantize by whether or not Jesus, or a replica or representative thereof, is whispering in your ear. I don't think that necessarily has anything to do with spiritual feelings. It's like when you listen to music: you either get it or you don't. A real religious feeling transcends the brand of the religion. It doesn't make any difference if it's Hebrew or Moslem or any of the little splinter Christian things. You got it or you don't have it, and no amount of banging you over the heed is going to instill it in you. You can't inflict that on somebody. That's the thing you can really learn to bate about the dogma, because it IS like, "Repeat after me." And then you have to ask yourself, Why am I repeating after YOU? Who in the fuck are YOU? Why are you so terrific? You dress like Halloween, but other than that, what are you telling me? Why are you improving my spiritual health here? Because I've already got it, I don't need you.
"You can practice spirituality and lead a good life without going through the dogmatic machinery of any kind of religion. I think that many people have found that for themselves--one of the statistics is that there are 40 million unchurched in the United States today. That does not mean that they're atheists or that they're hateful people; it just means simply that they do not subscribe to any particular brand of rigamarole. Nor do they invest in it. I would consider myself to be religious but unchurched. I intend to remain that way, and I'm going to continue to raise my children that way...." (pp.334- 335)
VS: Well, now let's talk about The Real Thing. I mean Book. Was it your idea to lure Frank in writing autobiography sort of book, or he called you to help him put it right?
PO: I was actually contacted by a friend of mine, Paul Slansky, who worked with me at the Soho News and who had been approached by Frank's publisher (Anne Patty at Poseidon Press) to work with Frank. Paul thought I would be better for the job, and kindly recommended me. Since I had already interviewed Frank for Once A Catholic and was a Music Editor, they agreed to hire me.
VS: Was it hard to work with Frank?
PO: Was it hard work? Depends if you don't mind inhaling another man's cigarette smoke for hours at a time. Frank was a decent guy with a few quirks -- endless cigarettes and black coffee consumed into the early morning hours. We worked from Midnight until 6 A.M. every day for three weeks because he was busy rehearsing his band for a tour from late afternoon till midnight.
He was very good with his kids, a pretty regular dad, and the proof is they all seemed to like him, even when he told Ahmet he couldn't go out to the movies with his friends one night when I was there, because he had school the next day.
VS: Really? Just regular dad. Hmmm. Upon reading the autobiography it usually come to me that he wasn't the father who had time for and enjoying too much just fooling around with his offsprings. Wrong impression or just one of pop-idol publicity disguises?
PO: I think Frank wore a number of disguises for various reasons. I think he was a very decent guy when it came to family and kids -- a pretty standard Italian-American family man. After all, you have to remember that he claims he virtualluy never did drugs and that he threatened to fire anyone in his band who did use drugs. Just because his music was far out, those of us who grew up in the 1960s and listened to his records while stoned out of our minds on pot and acid just couldn't imagine that he was not stoned when he made those records, but he insists that is the truth. Another disguise? I don't think so. I think he liked to drink wine, cognac and coffee, but drugs might have made him feel too out of control. Remember the line from Flaubert that I used as an epigraph to his book (I don't know if he realized why, but he went along with it so i suspect it tickled him on some level): "Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work."
VS: And Gail was she a part of book writing process. A lot of people thinks that she isn't an easy person to deal with. Is it really so? Are you still in contact?
PO: I'm sorry to say that I lost contact with Gail. Frank and I spoke by phone a number of times after the book was published, and even after he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He confided in me how, if you are a public figure and it is known that you have a disease like cancer, people come out of the woodwork to offer you newfangled remedies. One such was tarantula venom, which a fan sent him. He found it disgusting and couldn't use it. But after his death, I wrote to Gail expressing my sympathy, but never heard back from her. I'm sure she had her hands full dealing with her kids and the estate and all of Frank's recordings.
It's important to add that, from what I observed, Frank's kids ADORED him. Moon and Dweezil were both around. They had their own careers and enough money to go out on their own, but they CHOSE TO LIVE AT HOME. At their age, that says something about how much they loved their Dad. He told me that he always offered his kids the chance to reason with him. If they wanted to do something or go somewhere and he was against it he'd tell them that if they had good logical reasons, he would let them. I don't know, of course, if they ever won any of those "logical" arguments!
VS: By the way, I've read in Michael Gray book Mother! that shortly after original english edition was published Zappa commisioned the Russian translation of it. Was it so or it's just another of Michael's numerous errors?
PO: I've never been able to get a satisfactory accounting from my publisher regarding foreign sales and any royalties due me. I know the book was translated into Italian, Japanese, Dutch and other languages. I hadn't heard about Russian.
VS: Let's talk some more about those creative three weeks you worked with Frank in his home. You said he played a lot of music for you. Have you noticed some records that Frank was especially proud of? Some obvious favorite?
PO: Of everything in his collection of his own work, without doubt, Frank was most proud of his sheet music for orchestral works that had never been performed. He pulled several sheafs of music out of small closet where he kept all his scores and showred them to me with a combination of pride and befuddlement (confusion) that they had never been accepted by the "straight" world.
My opinion is that Frank was caught somewhere between the anything- goes mentality of rock 'n' roll, where he made all his money, and the academic world of modern classical music, which tends to be so conformist and petty. As a result, he created an absurdist world of his own, complete with impossible-to-play and hard-to-listen-to concert music that would challenge the best ensembles Kurt Nagano could put together.
Those scores, by the way, were bound in leather in two-foot-high books . Frank told me that he had spent between two and three hundred thousand dollars to have the music copied.
VS: And have you ever seen those nasty books "(in several language) which purport to be about" FZ in his home? Did he show them to you?
PO: Do you mean the "other" Frank Zappa books? Why, yes, he gave some to me to look at so I would know what I was up against. Would you like me to name names?
Frank singled out two books for special abuse. "ZAPPA: A BIOGRAPHY" by Julian Colbeck (London: Virgin, 1987), and "VIVA! ZAPPA by Dominique Chevalier (New York: St. Martin's Press,1986). When I asked Frank what he most disliked about them, he just said they were filled with so many inaccuracies he didn't want to go into detail.
VS: What about books in general? Frank many times declared that he isn't a reader. But another of his numerous non-authorized biographers, Nigey Lennon, in her own book contended that he read a great deal. For example, she said that he knows most Kafka things by heart. And FZ's vocabulary and very articulate way of expressing himself make one believe that Nigey is closer to the truth than Frank is. What do you think about it?
PO: Anything I could say would be little better than an educated guess. Frank complained that he didn't like to read or write words, but that he didn't mind working on a computer, so that's how we exchanged copies of the text-in-progress. he seemed to have a fairly detailed knowledge of composers but said very little about writers, Kafka included. Then again, I spent only a few weeks with him and a few telephone calls after that, so I couldn't know everything about him. You knew what Frank wanted you to know.
VS: Do you like the illustrations of Brother West? I mean, Frank in his round-faced, short-nosed version doesn't look like Zappa to me.
PO: I'm not quite sure what Zappa saw in Mr. West. To me, he comes off as a second-rate R. Crumb or Gilbert Shelton. Do you remember Shelton? He was a Crumb contemporary who created the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, whose favorite maxim was "Good dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope." Now THAT was real psychedelic cartoon art!
VS: You also said that Frank liked wine and cognac. Why do you believe so?
PO: I think he was pretty much a regular guy underneath all the brilliance and the absurdist humor that comes from not being accepted by your peers when you're a kid. So he liked an occasional drink to relax -- especially after all that black coffee! Coming from an Italian tradition, the drinking of wine is not unusual.
VS: Was there some kind of the party to celebrate the realise of "The Real Frank Zappa Book"?
PO: If there was, they forgot to invite me.
VS: As a side note, I guess just because you worked at night at Frank's home did it happen to you to feel a little like a hero of FZ song "Dangerous Kitchen"?
PO: Not at all, but you remind me of an amusing story. One night before we went to work, we were hanging out in the kitchen, and Gail was relating some story about some food that went bad in the refirgerator. The kids were milling around and Frank was trying to find some peanut butter and jelly to make a sandwich, and nothing seemed to be going right. Frank turned to me and said, "That's why I call it the Dangerous Kitchen." I know the story lacks details, but I got the feeling in that moment that a lot of Frank's songs came from close obervation of the small absurdities of life.
VS: OK, Peter. Now what about you yourself? I mean Once A Catholic" and "The Real Frank Zappa Book" weren't the only books you wrote or co-wrote. Am I right? And what are you doing now?
PO: My books over the past decade have dealt with Music or Religion. My very first book was called "INSIDE SPINAL TAP (New York: Arbor House, 1985), and was done with the cooperation of Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, and Chris Guest, who played Spinal Tap in the movie "THIS IS SPINAL TAP." I conceived it in the form of a rock fan book, collecting articles from past publications (which I invented) that had interviewed and writtenh about Spinal Tap on their way up. That book was republished in London by Little, Brown in 1992, when Tap regrouped, released a second album and a concert video.
Since then, I've also written books with Larry King and cabaret singer Michael Feinstein. "Once A Catholic" was followed by several books on spiritual life. The next was "THROUGH THE LABYRINTH" a series of profiles of people who had had spiritual transformations, and "THE JOY OF SECTS," a guide to the world's great religious traditions. Since then I have co-authored books with Caroline Myss and Ron Roth.
VS: Also, I heard that you are involved in a very Zappaesque kind of independent author's cottage industry. Is it true that you sell some of your books yourself in kind of private mail-order style? How does it work as a way of life for creative person?
PO: Right you are, Vlad the Impaler! Your viewers (or whatever you call on-line lurkers) can purchase my book INSIDE SPINAL TAP by sending a money order for $25 American to Peter Occhiogrosso, 18 Northwoods Drive, Woodstock, NY 12498. The book has never-before- seen full color photographs of the band, plus lots of other original material and was done with the assistance of Spinal Tap. You can learn more about it and read some excerpts on the Spinal Tap Website: http://thetransom.com/chip/tap/products.htm
As far as a way of life for creative people, it sucks.
VS: Thank you, Peter, thank you very much. And now the last question. Who is Ko-Ko?
PO: How the fuck should I know?
PO: I didn't mean to be so flip about Ko-Ko, but Frank's spirit took possession of me. There is Ko-Ko the Klown, who was a character in the Betty Boop cartoons, which were also quite psychedelic and which West's work seems to reflect. Thefre is also a famous Charlie Parker song called "Koko," but I'm afraid Frank wasn't into real jazz, only jazz from hell....
* * * Ko-Ko Postscriptum:-))) * * *