Invention

Book Review: “Frank & Co” (Mr. Mother of Invention Speaks His Mind)

By Ed Symkus

Frank Zappa didn’t like being interviewed, but he really liked talking.

Frank & Co – Conversations with Frank Zappa 1977-1993 by Co de Kloet. Preface by Dweezil Zappa. Jawbone Books, 317 pages, $24.95 (paper)

I discovered Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in the summer of 1966, when the Pinball! called me from a display wall at Krey’s Disc Shop, strongly suggesting I buy it. So, I did, and two hours later, after one listen, I was a full-fledged fan. The same thing happened to Co de Kloet, the saxophonist, composer, radio producer and author of Frank & Co. who, as a young Dutchman, listened to his father’s copy Pinball! and, he wrote, “My musical perception was completely changed forever.”

Zappa was already Co’s idol when, at age 14, he first saw the Mothers perform, at a 1973 concert in Amsterdam. He took over the group three years later and continued to see all of Zappa’s performances in Holland until his last in 1988. But it was in 1977, when Co was 18, almost out of high school, that a right time, right place, right mood scenario led to his first conversation with Zappa.

Because his father was a Dutch radio producer and knew people who worked at Warner-Elektra-Atlantic, to whom Zappa was later signed, Co had the chance to speak with his idol. Although at this point in his career, Zappa wasn’t exactly keen on doing interviews (he would later say of the process, “people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t speak, to prepare articles for people who cannot read”), there was something about this young boy that caused him to relax and open up. Well-informed questions — about songs, albums, musicians, and live performances — led to thoughtful answers.

Constructed chronologically, in Q&A format, the interviews that over the years as Zappa and Co became friends evolved into casual chats, are intertwined with Co’s stories of what was happening in his own career. as well as with perceptions of how Zappa had been transitioning from pop music to jazz, then to classical and more experimental sounds.

Among the topics covered and explained – sometimes briefly, sometimes at length – are the intense audition process that Zappa’s musicians had to endure; why he preferred to play shows without intermission; the business dealings that frustrated the ever-money-conscious Zappa; and his hatred of musicians who lip-synch on stage: he called them frauds and called their concerts “freeze-dried shows”. He is scholarly, but edgier and angrier when addressing censorship, voting rights, America acting as global police during the Gulf War, and Christian extremists, specifically mentioning a minister from Indiana who “claimed that if you played the Mr. Ed theme song backwards, it said “Satan is the source”.

But the conversation keeps coming back to music, which Co and Zappa are passionate about. A few impromptu conversations show Zappa to be somewhat short and irritable; others present it with good humour; still others give him the opportunity to comment on, for example, unjustly forgotten artists such as the Turbans and the Channels, or that fans would probably appreciate his own music more if they familiarized themselves first. with “Bulgarian folk music, Tibetan music, music by Edgard Varèse, and music by Anton Webern.

While it’s obvious that Co and Zappa, despite their age and cultural differences, were comfortable with each other, a few of their conversations tend to ramble, and there are too many places in the book where tighter editing would have helped the flow.

For example:

Co: “Does [record] will be released?

Zappa: “Not this year.”

Co: “Not this year?”

Zappa: “No.”

There are also repeated instances of “Mm-hmms” coming from both, which should have been removed.

And while the inclusion of interviews with Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (their alter egos Flo and Eddie were mothers at one point), original mothers drummer Jimmy Carl Black and Pamela Zarubica (fans know her as by Suzy Creamcheese) provide fascinating insight into Zappa, his music and the era, Co’s lengthy book-ending interview with Zappa’s cohort Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, seems a little stuck.

It is important to know that Frank & Co. is not a biography. Rather, it’s a collection of verbal snapshots of Frank Zappa, a man who, it turns out, was reluctant to talk about his guitar prowess or his massive influence on the music world. It is aimed directly at Zappa fans. If you are one, you must read it.


Ed Symkus is a Boston native and a graduate of Emerson College. He has been to Woodstock, is a fan of Harry Crews, Sax Rohmer and John Wyndham, and has visited the Outer Hebrides, Lofoten Islands, Anglesey, Mykonos, the Azores, Catalina, Kangaroo Island and the Isle of Capri with his wife. Lisa.