It’s sad to see the two sons of Frank Zappa engaging in a bitter public battle over money and birthright. The New York Times detailed the feud in April, sparking an open letter from Ahmet to his older brother, and an angry response [both links fixed; the brothers deleted their posts] from Dweezil. Frank must be spinning in his unmarked grave in Westwood, although his estate planning and marital choice could have been more rigorous.
I interviewed the brothers in July 1993, at Joe’s Garage, the Zappas’ recording studio underneath the Burbank Airport flight path in North Hollywood. Under the moniker of “Z,” the brothers had just recorded an album called Shampoohorn, which I vaguely recall was pretty good, although it didn’t have any commercial success. (Z also included bassist Scott Thunes and guitarist Mike Keneally). I must dust it off one of these days.
Dweezil, 23 at the time of the interview, was already a guitar virtuoso; Ahmet, 19, was happy to be along for the ride. Dweezil was serious and shy; Ahmet was an extroverted jokester. Frank was still alive; he succumbed to prostate cancer just over four months later, aged 52.
This is the story, which was written for an alternative music magazine called Strobe, which I helped fund in exchange for the meaningless title of associate publisher (and I also did a version for Reuters):
Anyway I dug up the transcript, and here are some edited highlights. I should supply some context. It was a fairly raucous interview, and we were all so much younger and sillier then.
HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE AND CONTRAST YOUR PERSONALITIES?
AHMET: He has ‘loser’ stamped on his forehead, while I walk around with sheer godliness, when I’m walking in the street, people throw rocks and garbage. But if you look beyond that I’m such a swell guy whereas Dweezil, he can only do interviews. After that he can’t speak because he’s afraid of it.
WHO HAS THE BETTER LUCK WITH WOMEN?
AHMET: What are you talking about? What are women? Are those the things you can beat up?
DWEEZIL: We have different perspectives on the reason to be involved with women.
AHMET: He doesn’t go out so he doesn’t ever get to meet anybody.
DWEEZIL: I’m antisocial.
AHMET: He’s consequently lonely 24 hours a day.
DWEEZIL: No, I have many other things to do with my life than get involved with people for no apparent reason. I’m very picky when it comes to getting involved with females. They have to be very specific. Each person I’ve ever been out with is totally different, mind you. There has to be something unique and interesting.
AHMET: It’s like a stamp of quality basically, a seal of approval.
DWEEZIL: It’s just because I can’t be bothered to waste my time with something that is not going to be totally interesting. I’ll do other things until there’s somebody that’s worth checking out. I rarely go out and do anything, and if I do end up getting involved with someone it’s by some elaborate scheme that I create. I’m a total hypocrite because certain things apply certain days and certain things don’t apply here. They just change back and forth. I’ve had a couple (of relationships) that were over a year but that was a long time ago. I haven’t had much luck in sustaining a relationship most recently because I’ve been really busy, and I’ve chosen to get involved with people who don’t even live in the same cities, so I rarely see them. I pretty much stick to recording right now.
AHMET: I really don’t have a specific lifestyle. The only thing I like to do when I am working — which is a brand new thing for me now, so I don’t know whether I can adjust other than the fact that I’m home now and seem to fit right back into my normal lazy habits. All I ever do is go and have dinner and go to the movies, and occasionally go dancing or something like that.
DWEEZIL: I have no reason to leave my house just yet. My car is 5 years old and just went and did 30,000 miles the other day. In L.A. you put that amount of mileage on it in a year. I can be in the studio 15-20 hours a day every day and I would be happy. I have a lot of things going on in my head, basically, and I need to get them on tape or do whatever the hell I want. I’m fortunate enough to be able to do that because if I didn’t have a chance to record this stuff when I want to record, I’d probably be really annoyed. I can’t sleep [when he has so many songs going around in his head].
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR WORK ETHIC?
AHMET: Work ethic? If I can wake up like at 8 o’clock then I feel pretty darn good about myself and I can think about maybe accomplishing something. But invariably (that’s) like a leap year basically. That’s how often it happens.
WHAT IS YOUR AVERAGE DAY?
DWEEZIL (TO AHMET): “You wake up when you wake up, man. You get as much sleep as you need.” He doesn’t have a schedule to adhere to, so he does whatever he pleases.
AHMET: I don’t really have a set thing that I want to do, so I don’t really have a schedule. But I would like to. The only thing that I’ve started to do now, which I’m sure will take up lots of my time, I’ve been going through commando training, just learning self-defense and things like that. I have no one to defend myself against, but I think it’s necessary. It gets my aggression out.
DWEEZIL: For me I try to accomplish things on a daily or weekly basis. I don’t like to waste time because who the fuck knows what the world’s going to be like?
ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
DWEEZIL: There are so few people who do their job properly in this world. Nobody has any pride in what they do anymore, it’s all such a fucking lazy work ethic on so many people’s part, and the entertainment industry is just pathetic because no one wants to stick their neck out for the little guy. No one knows if this will do well, but they’ll ride around on the coattails of someone bigger. It’s so rare that someone is given an opportunity. That’s the problem that we have is we’re on an independent label and have to do everything for ourselves. A lot of people know our last name. They know something about us, or a little bit about who we are or whatever, but they don’t know our music and they don’t get a chance to hear our music because nobody plays us on the radio, because we don’t play those fucking games where it’s the nightmare corruption of American radio or worldwide radio.
Ultimately we’re doing stuff that we hope will entertain people. We don’t have an attitude of ‘We’re the greatest songwriters in the world and dig how pretentious we are,’ because that’s the most hateful thing I can imagine.
AHMET: We fucking hate people like that. They should be stomped out.
DWEEZIL: We just want to be able to earn a living doing something that we like to do, because life should be enjoyed, y’know? It’s a fucking nightmare if you can’t do what you want to do. You’ve just got to work really hard to make people pay attention.
DWEEZIL: The main thing is that if we like something and he [Frank] doesn’t like it, we are not going to change it. He comes from a different opinion.
WHY DO YOU SEEM SO NORMAL?
AHMET: There was no reason to rebel against anything.
DWEEZIL: We all have a sense of who we are and what we want to be individually. There are a lot of dysfunctional families out there, we just happened to get lucky and not have one.
We basically disassociate ourselves from any big group or crowd of people. If there’s some one particular thing that’s really widely recognized or popularized by a certain opinion, it’s guaranteed that in our house we absolutely despise that. Everything that is ultra-popular cannot even be tolerated in our house. We find interesting things in stuff that other people overlook. We operate on a different frequency than other families.
FRANK’S BEST ADVICE?
AHMET: Don’t stick the knife into the toaster.
DWEEZIL: As far as music goes, write music that you like.
AHMET: Don’t be a jerk unless you get paid lots of money to be a jerk.
NOTE: Unrelated to the above interview, my gossipy rock bio Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles is available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 1993, 2016 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING.