|Uri Balashov Interview by Vladimir Sovetov|
I was introduced to Uri Balashov, a Moscow artist, the designer of an unforgettable package of a Frank Zappa's album "Civilization, Phaze III" by really great photographer Igor Vereschagin in winter 2001. Uri had no e-mail then, so Igor, as a good old-days telegraph boy, passed files from me to Uri and vise versa. The correspondence was enlightening but an interview I really was after didn't look like taking shape. So we decided to meet.
Definitely Frank was in favor of the affair, because it was May 14 two thousand one, and the Mother day for real still shined from California skies on the other side of the Earth, when I stood near a window of Uri's Novi Arbat office and contemplated roofs of the Moscow below.
Uri, amazingly nice, thoughtful, with resolutely shaved head covered by incredible multi-colored yarmulke, the similar only to the one I once seen on the head of Thelonious Monk, as pictured on the cover of some record, showed me his town.
- Look, - he told, trying with his artist palm to organize the familiar space before us, - here is the backyard of my youth, and there is my apartment block, and this just my school... Well, believe it or not, but when we all, I mean artists here, yet worked in basements I've said that the artist must work high above. I mean on the top floor.
After it we signed some memorabilia for each other and Igor shot a pictures.
Then we drunk tea and listened to Everything Is Healing Nicely, which I've dubbed as a special gift for Uri.
Then I told him about recently published Moon Unit's novel.
- Don't you know, Uri, the father in her version is an artist, the author of a long series of canvases with enormous reproductive orifice on them. Yes, not a writer, not an actor, but an artist.
In fact, I just wanted to tell something pleasant to the nice and friendly person. Well, you see, for his close relatives Zappa being no one else but some kind of a sculptor or a painter. Good. But the effect of my words was absolutely unpredictable. Uri stood silently for a moment thinking it over and after a minute said:
- Gosh... You know, I, myself, once had a series of pictures exactly like this. Called them vulvanismuses... Yes... And had a lot of troubles with my own daughter too...
We looked on each other.
- Conceptual Continuity, - I muttered at last. There was no reaction on the secret word from Uri, he just offered new cup of tea.
- What about listening to EIHN once again, - he said, - this music is so good.
I had no objections.
After it appeared a whole group of Uri's friends from Mongolia and couple of hours we enjoyed various types of Tchingiz Khan's steppe songs permutations. Uri played with a incredible selfabsorption on absolutely bizarre piece of music instrument, something definitely resembling petrified trunk of some prehistoric animal.
Then he went off to get some cookies and onion flavored bread. Tea gurgled once again and homemade cigarettes were offered. For the conversation on favorite composer Uri prepared long and carefully. Like a cosmonaut to a flight.
God blessed May Fourteenth became May Fifteenth, when at last we sat and tape started rolling on.
* * *
Vladimir Sovetov: Uri, I believe, you were second Russian after Nickolay Slonimsky, who happened not to make business with Frank Zappa, but something creative, nice and eternal. When you were introduced to Frank? And how did you land in Los Angeles just at the right place and in the right time?
Uri Balashov: Well, just to be honest, I must note that Stas Namin was another one who happened to make something creative, nice and eternal with Frank Zappa. As a witness of they long conversations I remember a lot of great ideas discussed like rebuilding of Manezh House in St.Petersburg, lunching some satellites for communication break through in Russia and even starting the Cold Nuclear Synthesis Laboratory with Russian scientists in LA.
And after all it was Stas Namin's Musical Center or SNC that invited Frank to visit Russia. I was an employee of SNC back then, at the same time the artist and the head of the department of the new initiatives organized support. In 1989 group of SNC's personnel, including Stas and me, went to USA for the first time. In LA Stas took us all to Frank's home at Woodrow Wilson Dr. We were met with real cordiality and sincerity. Great meal, nice tour around the house, a lot of friendly handshakes. Just great. Yes. But to tell you the truth I was so amazed by everything seen and heard on this short trip, you know, States, East, West, everything, that haven't seen some special meaning in this particular event. Everything was fantastic and visit to Zappa too.
But two years later, the next Frank's visit to Russian was for me a kind of the miracle. It was winter. But spirit was very warm. We drunk coffee. Smoked cigarettes. Spoke about everything, about animals, weather, about kids. You know, Frank is a father. Four kids I believe. Yes, four. Ahmet, Dweezil, Moon and Diva. Nice kids.
Next time it was summer in Moscow. Everything is good at summer time. And light is shed correctly on human beings, and on buildings too. Frank liked summer Moscow. Summer is my favorite season too, so as soon as it was possible, and of course with the help of the SNC and Stas Namin, I went to LA again.
VS: Excellent, Uri. Now I think the short sketch on "Meetings with Frank" is ready, so we can try to rearrange it chronologically and extend with vivid and picturesque details. So what we've got? First time you have met with FZ in 1989 in LA. In the winter 1991 Frank came to Moscow himself. And in the summer of the same year once again. Am I right?
UB: Yes, looks correct.
VS: And where he lived then in cold and hungry Gorbachev's Moscow?
UB: I believe in a hotel "Sovetskaia". They had some good suites there even back then, kind of old imperial style, you know, spacious, of course not like all-in-one of America's, but something you can enjoy living in anyway. I think, we dropped in couple of times, me and Stas, but I'm not sure, because I'm usually living in a world of my own, so probably missed some details or connections... Yes, but Zappa, of course, was amazed by so much of unhappiness, the life was really gloomy then, it was 1991 after all... And he looked around and tried to understand what's going on, and can't help but see the plain idiocy in the heart of its all. That's why I think he could make fun of it, as much as we did.
VS: Do you remember the napkins that in a dumb fever of sparing everything they folded in and cut on eight small triangles in public canteens?
UB: Definitely, and one day in a snack bar of the House of Youth Frank seen such artifact by his own eyes. He couldn't believe it. You know, so much of senseless manipulations. Get them, fold, cat one by one, pure manifestation of poverty busily consuming time by evenly dividing something instead of producing.
But what I liked most of all was Frank attitude. You know, not to be too serious no matter what's going on. So he took that plastic cup with bunch of paper triangles protruding from the top and lifted it above his head like a torch. You see, as though impersonating Statue of Liberty. It was really funny.
VS: Yes, no doubt. But what interested Frank here in a time when Scorpions sniffed Moscow's "wind of changes"?
UB: Well, we, I mean Namin and his Center, tried to show him all of more or less important acts of the Moscow underground of the time. And I took part in all activity, because as I already said, I was employed by Stas as the head of the department of the new initiatives organized support. In fact the name of the job was my own invention, I just didn't know the simple word facilitation then.
VS: And were there some contacts with Russian performers of serious music, was Frank interested in any project involving his music and the most disciplined on Earth Russian classic music players?
UB: Probably. It looked like he was interested in everything. Was ready to meet everyone, and Stas was the very man who could help him. I mean he knows anyone, so if Frank wanted to see something or someone Stas was always able to arrange it in a moment. And Frank met a lot of people here in Moscow and in St.Petersburg too. But I believe he really enjoyed himself in my studio. I'm sure of it.
VS: This one that he called Bauhaus?
UB: Yes, there was a room in Stas Namin Center that was my studio, and all musicians that came to visit Center dropped in. You know it was kind of break for them. The 'happy hours' to sip tea and speak Martian. I'm sure Zappa liked being there, the very air of non-stop happening, weird activity, bizarre buzzing...
VS: Well, Uri in fact sounds amazing. Frank Zappa the absolute workaholic, normally busy 25 hours a day, and all of sudden fled to half-barbarian Russia just for doing nothing, "drinking tea and speaking Martian". Unbelievable.
UB: Of course, it was just a break for him. He was busy here as usually. Traveled to Petersburg to discuss with Russian electronic gurus some communication satellites projects, met some scientists involved in Cold Nuclear Synthesis researches. Yes, I think they are all still there, one may find them and ask about Frank's plans and ideas. A lot of people were involved in fact, but we, on our part, we just tried to show him as much as possible artistic stuff here, musical, dramatic, we get him to see a lot of performance and he videotaped them. I remember him very well busy with microphones and recording gadgets on stage, and he was really afraid then these crazy actors in a performing frenzy started to sprinkle all around them with some liquids. Well, it was a really expensive stuff, Frank's equipment, something to really worry about.
VS: Did he bring in recording engineers from States?
UB: No, he did everything himself, but may be someone from Stas recording folks helped him too. He had some portable tape recorder with him, can't remember the manufacturer, and recorded everything. And also tried to give advises to musicians in studio. I remember one such case when we visited the studio where Nikolay Kopernik group rehearsed, and Frank took guitar from Uri Orlov and showed him a lick, something of his own invention he just want to give them as a present. And Uri Orlov, he was so in a vogue of the day, so new-wave, he was really upset, really don't know what to do with blues lick of Zappa.
VS: But do you remember something particular that Frank liked here?
UB: Surely, he was actualy impressed by The North. It was the time of the band debut by the way.
VS: Good. But let's go back to 1989. By the way, I believe Stas Namin visited Frank himself in USA for the first time much earlier. I think there was a photo in '87 Moskovskii Komsomoletz newspaper, Stas Namin is a Frank Zappa's guest. Frank is sitting, Stas stands beside him, both with guitars.
UB: Yes, I remember something like it too.
VS: And he took you there in 1989. What it was to be Frank's guest. Was White Zinfandel served?
UB: Yep, we drunk white wine. A lot of it was around, but no one to abuse, a glass or two, just for a fun. But there were a lot of soft-drinks too, lemonade, Coca-Cola, everything for any test. And a wonderful choice of nuts. Really endless boxes of different nuts, and me, myself, the true nuts lover, I felt like in Heaven. But the rest of it looks like a typical Italian cuisine for me.
VS: By the way, in her novel Moon wrote that her mother makes dinner only once a year, on Christmas day.
UB: Well, I don't think she's the necessarily the one who done the cooking. I had an impression that there are a lot of hands in home, friends, relatives. But anyway, the food wasn't the main attraction. Something that was in the air of the household was of much more importance. The dining room itself was great with very big window and incredible night sky behind it. I think it was an extension to the original construction. The house itself looks to me like a sum of multiple extensions, one for Moon, one for Dweezil, for this, for that, here, there, on the roof, everywhere and the staircase in the backyard and swimming pool too. Once there was a plans to let me decorate it, unfortunately because of the illness Frank lost interest to the idea.
VS: What a pity, anyway let's continue. In 1992 in a wake of some new Stas Namin musical project you came to L.A. again.
UB: Yes, I get there in March 1992. And couple of months after it there was a birthday party at Zappas and I was invited.
VS: Couple of months, so it must be May, Ahmet was born May, 15 1974.
UB: That's right! I think it was his birthday. It wasn't more than two months after my arrival, because it was the time I worked on the cover design of Gorky Park first American LP. We lived all together then. Nice community, just couple of Russians in a beautiful district where everything was new.
VS: So you were invited along with Gorky Park musicians? I believe Frank tried to help them to win USA audience.
UB: Well, yes, in some way, I think. But as I said the boys were there for some time already and asked me to come just after their American LP have been recorded.
VS: Was any FZ's own music played on Ahmet's birthday?
UB: Sure! Zappa invited everyone to his famous 'top secret' studio. And we listened to his last works, CPIII including. And after the party Frank took me aside and said that he want me to do a cover art for this record. I also remember that he added that this record is a final result of his thirty years long experiments with music. The title was Civilization Phaze III. And I worked on it couple of months.
VS: I see. By the way, did you know then that Frank was a very good artist himself. He won prizes as a boy for his posters and did in fact the cover art of the Mother's first records himself. Did you feel in him brother in arms?
UB: Yes, definitely! At Frank's home I've seen T-shirts with his drawings and logos. I always liked Zappa's design ideas. Visual jokes, album covers. And claymation animation movie too. I think he wasn't just a good painter, he was a really great artist. And his own home, by the way, just another proof of it.
VS: Home? Yes. No doubt. But claymation movie mastermind was Bruce Bickford, not Zappa. I think Uri, you like Frank so much that are ready to give him credits for all nice stuff around him.
UB: Well, no. I never said that it was done by Zappa himself. Look, the most important thing, it was done for Frank. I mean there are a lot of artists around, and everyone can do something, but it was Zappa who choose. Something very special, something that fit, you know. That's why I'm sure, it is an integral part of his artistic universe. His own creation.
VS: I see. Gail Zappa voiced very similar opinion some time ago and it seems that a lot of old Frank associates weren't happy with such approach, especially painters. But, may be we can safely say after Bulgakov that copyright question just spoiled Americans a little bit. Anyway, let's go back to Frank's sudden offer to produce cover design for his last record. What's happened next? How did you work on it. I mean listened to the music, read the libretto, did quick sketches, and got back to Frank for approval. Or may be you both set together side by side and just did it?
UB: No. I did it myself from the scratch. No sketches were done at the beginning by Frank or anyone else. Zappa just told me some general things about the main idea of the whole project. Next time I came to show him how I see it and be absolutely sure that I got it right. And on the second visit I brought him the final sheets and been paid for it. That's all.
VS: So at the beginning was nothing more but brief introduction. And what exactly Frank said to you about the project?
UB: Well, Frank said that it's very special record in his life, the very last. He said that his disease is incurable. In fact I know that he is seriously ill, but really hoped that US medicine can cope with this type of cancer. But unfortunately it hadn't worked in Frank case. So he felt it and would like to see some sort of grave mound as a basic image on the cover. I thought it over and decided that I may try to put some soothing kind variation of this theme. I mean, that may be subconsciously some therapeutic role was also assigned to me by this job. That's why I decided to make some sort of cheer up, you know, the reminder, very obvious for anyone with some mystical experience, that even after a physical death there are a lot of adventures ahead for your soul, and the symbol of it is Egyptians.
VS: Aha? So it is an explanation for all this Babylonian-Assyrian stuff on the back cover that doesn't go along well with present day dwellers of the grand piano, really busy with an idea of 'putting a motor in themself'?
UB: Yes, it was modeled after frescoes in Egyptian pyramids with scenes of pharao family having some royal fun like, you know, Nile's alligators hunt. Everyone here have microphones and electric wires are everywhere, and everybody listen how and where it sounds. The wires winded in loops and coils which are an essential part of the Egyptian system of symbols and should remined about eternity and infinity. Zappa himself is a pharao and like in a mirror, here and there at once, passing his endless wire from one universe to another, the wire on which everything is suspended...
VS: And what about these all-American flaminogoes? Why there are here. Thing-Fish flash-back? Or just great, subconscious vibration of Frank's Conceptual Continuity note?
UB: No. Definitely, no Thing-Fish connection. I just tried to put there some object that will remined about the main theme. I mean it's a grand piano, after all, the musical instrument, but artistically transformed so I want to put in something appropriate, something really belonging to the world of music. So these flaminogoes, they are just violin bridges, you see, these pieces of wood supporting strings. The sign of music and of course closely associated with Egypt, Nile and stuff like it. It was later, when everything was finished that Gail asked me, how come that I know so well this little funny American-Italian habit of putting the rose flaminogoes on their lawns.
VS: Great! But let's go back to the story line of CPIII. The main characters of the story along with people hiding inside the great piano are pigs and ponies, the real rulers of the world, the oppressors and dancing maniacs, so how it happen that there are no traces of these animals on your pictures? Did you read the libretto? Frank gave it to you?
UB: No. And while listening to the record I didn't try to follow the story myself, the music itself was much more important to me I must admit. But Zappa told me that the main idea of the piece was the idea of people living inside a great piano.
VS: What's the meaning of gloomy metal bugs?
UB: These bugs are dung-beetles, but made to look like a juke boxes
VS: Really? Looks like sort of spaceships to me.
UB: But they are spaceships too, just shaped like bugs. They cruise around this Everest and monitor the activity down there on the long ago abandoned land.
VS: Any association with Joe's Garage and Central Scrutinizer?
UB: No, the most important thing is the mountain top, in fact, it is an exact copy of Everest, the highest mountain on Earth, highest point of Frank' creative activity, his greatest achievement. And, by the way, these ladders and staircases all around the mountain are another ancient symbol, well known to all from Christians to Buddhists. The symbol of the progress and growth. But here they don't lead to the top, all these ladders and staircases around the grand piano, because the angles are negative. So it's impossible to reach all these classical, pseudo-classical domiciles clustered on the terraced sides of this piano, even from the top of it, because fire is inside, and it's visible...
VS: Uri, have you discussed with Frank all these conceptions and symbols embedded in front-cover piano-mountain and back-cover Egyptians? Was it Zappa' ideas or you just surprised him with your own vision of the theme?
UB: Well, of course, we have some discussions, I'm not sure about Egyptians, probably I mentioned them once, but, yes, the back-cover is basically my own creation. As for the front-cover it was definitely discussed, and it was on our second meeting than the idea of mountain with great piano on the top came to us and was accepted. So, surely, Frank knew more or less what I'm going to do for the front cover.
By the way, here is one interesting detail. Right here on the fence, if you look on it through magnifying glass you can read the words Viva Zappa written on it. And another secret near, there is a man, I put a man there, his name is Kevin Toller, great guy from San Diego who really helped me when I was working on this picture. Yes, when I decided to paint the great piano on the top of the mountain, he drove me in his car around so I could pick some visual materials from piano manufacturers in a different musical stores. He also let me use his computer at his home and fed me and even supplied some pot, and it took a whole week this job, and all the time he seen that I had all I need to do it, so there is no question, I really promised to immortalize his efforts some way.
VS: Very nice of you, Uri. And while this question is still on my mind, what about your English then? I mean, how did you understand this hell of language in 1992 and especially American machine-gun way of using it?
UB: Well, not so much to be honest. Something I was able to get but a lot of stuff slipped. In fact most of the time I felt like I'm living in a cartoon movie world, you know, as though all of them around me were just characters from Duckmen.
VS: Duckmen? Nice coincidence, did you know that almost at the same time the creator of Duckmen Hungarian Gabor Csupo worked on the cover design of another Frank record The Lost Episodes album. Have you ever met him?
UB: No, unfortunately not. And I really liked Duckmen, but for some reasons believed that it was creation of Dweezil and Ahmet.
VS: No, it was Csupo, the mastermind of the toon and another toon hero Matt Greoning convinced Dweezil to became Ajax. And when finally Frank himself wrote a music theme for the movie Gabor was a happiest man on Earth.
UB: I can imagine.
VS: So can I. But comparing your work and Csupo's I was always amazed how much CPIII's aesthetic is different from TLE's approach. You see, if the last looks like absolutely typical Zappas a la Calvin Schenkel thingie then your seems to be more appropriate to the record of some deeply rooted in gloomy British stone age band like King Crimson or Pink Floyd. There are no even tiniest trace of the great America daily Kitch that was always a base for Frank's visual Dadaism. Why? Have you any explanation for it? Of course it wasn't a funny time for Frank but it was the same for Csupo.
UB: Well, no. In fact I am as much amazed as you. Really. I don't know why Frank chose it the moment he seen it. There was time to try another way. But he liked it at first glance. And his wife too.
VS: Gail? Heh? Really? She discussed the idea with you two?
UB: No, she didn't. She just didn't mind to pay for it. You see, it was she after all, who gave you check. When everything was done Frank just asked her, how does she like it, and she said, yes, very, very beautiful stuff, something like it... And when Frank pointed to the mountain and asked what about this great piano on the top, and she answered, oh, yes, great, I haven't seen it at first... It was in Frank studio, she just checked in... There were also these two high brow guys that always fooled around with this monster computer of Frank.
VS: Yvega? Neskin? Chrislu?
UB: Yes, probably. I can't remember the names. There are so much people at Frank's household, kids, hands, engineers, friends, the explosion of names...
VS: Surely. And the voices of many of them can be heard on the second part of CPIII. I remember, how after spotting your name on the package I was a little bit disappointed, that you, the Russian-speaking designer was there, but wasn't invited under piano. You know Germans whispered there, Turks, Frenchman, even Italians, but alas no one Russian syllables. I guess when you first time showed there with Stas it was one year earlier, and you yourself on your second visit was exactly one year late. What a pity!
UB: Really? I was under impression that all these voices were recorded in 60s. Turks and others. But, anyway, this Frank's work is a monument of music evolution. May be from one century to another. So I was late by any means. Very typical situation for us Russians, I must say.
VS: May be, you are right, Uri. Who impressed you most of all from Zappas household?
UB: I think all. Gail, of course, she is so nice, cheerful, plump and beautiful, a real driving force of all. They are all so talented. The daughter Moon, an interesting artist, she sings, paints, makes dolls. Ahmet, he is a singer, I believe. Studied animation movie art then. And Dweezil he's a musician on his own. By the way, he was our guide in 1989 Universal Studio tour. I bought a great mask there. The dog nose.
VS: The dog nose! And after it you have no choice but admit that conceptual waves of the FZ's universe are definitely omnipresent. Was it really long?
UB: The nose? It was cozy. Really fit for any face. I put it on when we showed up at Frank's mother home.
VS: Have you visited Rose-Mary?
UB: Yes, It was in 1989. I think Frank just wanted to show us, Russians, to his mother. We ate something very delicious there. Pies I believe. And right before it I bought this nose in Universal Studio. Great thing, looked like a real dog's muzzle, and I put it on when we came in. Surely, she was surprised, but I said, nothing special, just Russians came in. Frank liked that joke very much.
VS: No doubt. It was something he could do himself. By the way, have you met Frank's sister or brothers there?
VS: So back to Gail. Small and cute assistant of tall Frank.
UB: I would like to add friendly. Very friendly. And she isn't small at all. She is big. I don't know, may be it's just a wrong impression, because me, myself, I became so thin in States, really small. And Frank he wasn't really tall. I don't know, may be his illness bent him. He was just very skinny at this time. But still brilliant and eloquent. His vocabulary is fantastic, something of Shakespearian scale for me.
VS: Well, yes. I can't help but agree. He knew a great lot of words and much more ways of using them. Something usually attributed to ardent reader of the books. But Frank all his life was very persistent in his wish to appear like someone trully bored by black words on white pages.
UB: But still I think that he read a lot. I don't think I've seen any book around in his home, but it's just an American way of life. I believe they just try not to show it, but they do read and no doubt absolutely everything connected to they business, that's why they so professional. As far as Frank business concerned I'm sure he listened a lot. And I can testify that his record collection was just fantastic.
VS: By the way, speaking of Shakespearian scale. How often Frank used four-letter words at home.
UB: Never. Really. I never heard him saying fuck. But he used a lot of funny, unusual, never-heard-anywhere-else words. May be even invented by him himself.
VS: Oh, yes, of course. And I think it's partly a result of a life long affection for the doo-wop music of his boyhood. You know, 'the sweet words of pismotology' were always on his mind.
UB: And on the matter of love and 'sweet words'. I'm sure the relations between Zappas weren't cloudless all the time, they are so different, but all of them deeply respected Frank. It was obvious. He was an idol of the family. And you know, their common habit of never taking things too seriously is something inherited directly from Frank.
VS: Right. No doubt. And speaking about Moon how do you think she was able to come with these vulvanismuses of you. Is it just fantastic coincidence or may be she could hear about them or see them somehow?
UB: I don't know. I'm sure of one thing, I never told her anything about it. It wasn't Zappas affair after all, it was rather something America itself forces you to do. Then you are there you feel that something absolutely unbelievable required from an artist, some bizarre 'entrechat' is a must for success. So I sat and tried to guess what can I do, stuff that could be equally exciting for me to produce and for public to see. And finally I decided to fool around with Americas frenzy of erotica and tattoo. Really almost all around me seems to be mad about sport and sex. May be it's just California air with so much hot Mexican and Afro-American blood. I don't know. But folks around me looked crazy while me, myself, I'm absolutely indifferent to things like porno for example or not get laid for a month or two. So it was a contrast, the very one you need to be creative. And I started to do it for fun, to entertain me and my friends, and mock a little bit their American follies, I painted hyperrealistic vaginas and put on them a tattoos layer by layer so finally one couldn't easily guess what it was initially. I mean, it was so weird that it could safely hang in any American kitchen, and kids while having their breakfast before going to school could contemplate it without any harm to their souls. But one day becoming adult their would discover the hidden object, but just for a long and healthy laugh.
VS: Uri, do you have a feeling of before and after? I mean, these encounters and finally a brilliant work done for Frank, did they change you one way or another?
UB: Yes, it was great experience for me, one of the kind that opens new ideas and feelings to you. For example I never thought of playing music myself, but after my Frank's affair, I do and enjoy it very much. By the way, already after Frank passing I had a great day dream, the vision of the sort I have from time to time, but this one was the vision of Frank, a real mystical event, when suddenly I've seen him coming and asking me, just because, I'm in a material world to smoke a cigarette for him and drink a cup of coffee. You know, he liked it so much. I had no Winston then but I grabbed my Drum, and smoked it, and really enjoyed the very idea of doing it for Frank, just to please him.
VS: Did it happen in LA?
UB: No, in San Diego. I lived in absolutely unbelievable place there, on the hill under fantastic sky. Incredible place, that was called by native Indians the Sky, the High Sky, you really see that it's spheric there. And it was the very place where I had a vision of Frank. And after this last our mystical encounter I have a very pleasant feeling, as though, I've suddenly heard a world harmony, one beautiful moment, and right after it I decided to try to play music myself.
VS: Very nice, something that goes along very well with Zappa's cosmogony of One Note. By the way, Uri, have you seen the famous Yellow Shark in Frank's home?
UB: Yes, I'm not sure, but most probably, something like it hanged on the wall. But what I remember very vividly is a studio, it was all deep-green inside, like submarine, and at the door the dog slept all the time. She was so old that dog that no one dared to disturb her. Just can't remember her name right now. It seems that Frank always had dogs. In 1992 it was a pair or huskies, very big and beautiful. I have a picture of them somewhere. I made a lot of photographs, especially on our first visit to Frank. I remember how I made a picture of a Beethoveen's bust at the backyard and right beside it was cheese sculpture of some popular American baseball player. And his nose was knocked out.
VS: What else were on the walls?
UB: A lot of pictures, probably drawings made by Zappa's kids, friends... But any particular thing, any detail isn't as much important as home itself. I mean it's an artifact in its own right. Just fantastic. Can you believe, that once I've got lost, tried to find a way out, came up the stairs, down the stairs, met some folks never seen before, took a wrong directions and suddenly found myself in totally dark room where the only light went thought the green waters of aquariums. Not even a room, just a corner of the hall. Dazzling and beautiful.
VS: Sounds great. And at this magic place Frank wanted to build with a help of crazy Russian physicists Cold Nuclear Synthesis Laboratory! Unbelievable!
UB: Yes, but it's true. I heard and not only once Zappa discussing this idea in Moscow.
VS: The only explanation I had that he was still a young El Cajon chemist in his heart, a kid obsessed with explosive substances. Haven't enough homemade fire works at his boyhood and may be just wanted to enjoy them at last...
UB: Good joke, but I think that without any Nuclear Laboratories Frank's life was one non-stop fire work of ideas, discoveries and inventions...
VS: Of course, and it's so great to know, that couple of sparks in this fountain of fire, so to say, were your. What did you feel then you done it? Just danced on the streets of Hollywood at night?
UB: No, in fact I didn't, I said good-bye to Frank, and went out, and sat right before the garage door waiting for my friend, nice LA guy, Victor Ginsburg to come and pick me, and lit a cigarette, and looked around, and suddenly the simple thought struck me that something great happened in my life, the work is done. And not just a work, but something ordered and just half an hour ago accepted by Frank Zappa himself. What a fantastic luck! Happiness!
* * *
We were silent for some time. The auto-sensing recorder stopped to run. I thought that the interview is made.
- Some more tea? - asked Uri.
- Well, yes, - I said, - the last hard earned one...
The sleepy water really didn't want to boil at this time of Moscow night. On the corner of Uri's table laid a thick white volume, the collection of Vassily Kandinsky's articles on art. I opened it. The title at the top of the page was incredible. "Schoenberg's Pictures". Gee, the very first random page turned to be nothing more and nothing less but Kandinsky's review on the Frank's own idol' book. "Die Bilder" Arnold Schoenberg Mit Bietragen von Alban Berg.
I turned opened book to Uri.
- How did you call it? - asked he with obvious amazement, - Conceptual Continuity, I believe?
- Yes, - I said proudly, - Conceptual Continuity - the universal and indivisible unity of all objects and projects in Frank Zappa's cosmos.
* * *
The original Russian version of this interview here www.blues.ru
|Isn't it fantastic?|