Thursday, February 21, 2008

98. Cal Schenkel Interview -- 2/3/99

My February 3, 1999 interview with Cal Schenkel.

Cal Schenkel Interview

02/03/99

The tape started as Calvin was talking about how he met Zappa.

CS: I used to see him all the time hanging out at Canter's and Fred C. Dobb's...But then, I ran into him a couple of times in the oddest ways. One time, I went with a friend to someone's house... Frank was sitting there in the living room. I knew who he was, 'cause I'd seen him around town. I hadn't met him or anything. I just saw him and said, hi, whatever; and then another time...I was hitch-hiking down Sunset Boulevard and I got a ride with a car full of chicks and they said, "we're going to a session, do you want to come along?" I said, "sure, why not?" I didn't even know what they were talking about! It sounded like fun, and why not go along with a carload of chicks? We wound up at one of the Freak Out sessions, I think it was "Help, I'm a Rock"--or "Son of Monster Magnet"--I'm not sure...

LS: It was late at night?

CS: It was late at night. There were lots of people there and they were screaming and chanting and Vito and Carl Franzoni and, you know, the whole Hollywood freak scene--all these people were there...

LS: Sounds like "Monster Magnet," but I guess it could have been...

CS: I don't know--I couldn't tell you...from either or both...

LS: And did you make some vocal contributions?

CS: I don't think so--I don't remember much of anything about it, except just kind of enjoying the atmosphere of the whole thing, you know--then--okay, I guess around May or June, early June, '66, right? I'm in Berkeley, and I'm walking down the street, and I see Freak Out in a record store. Hey! That's that album! That Frank Zappa guy, that's that album with that weird music he was doing that I was at, you know? I didn't buy it 'cause I didn't have any money! But when I got back to Pennsylvania that summer, I knew it was out, so I bought it; I played it for my friends--they all loved it--and one of the friends was Sandy Hurvitz (Essra Mohawk), who I met the previous year when I started at PCA [Philadelphia College of Art]. The following spring [1967] when the Mothers came to NY and started playing at the Garrick, after listening to Essra sing and play the piano, Frank asked her to join the band. She was a member of The Mothers for several months, and when Frank decided to start his own art department, she told him about me--showed him my portfolio, and he asked to meet me.

LS: Had you gone to...was this the "Pigs and Repugnant" show?

CS: Yes. I went up and I met him and we hit it off--mainly I think, because he didn't smoke pot!

LS: You two were the only ones in New York! You had to be! You were the only ones anywhere at that point!

CS: Yeah. Which is one of the main reasons I started working for him.

LS: So she said you were an artist, was Frank talking about looking for something?

CS: Well see, essentially he was doing everything himself at that point--although he did have other people doing some things, like photography--but he was working on some ads, he had done ads for the gigs in L.A., and for other things...

LS: [shows Absolutely Free] Well this is all his design.

CS: Yes, that's his design. Absolutely Free he did himself. He did the artwork on the front. And the first thing I did was some ads for Absolutely Free--that, and ads for the gigs at the Garrick, and then I did some posters for it in front, I painted "Pigs and Repugnant" with spray paint on some brown paper and put it in the window. And then I melted plastic for the light show at the Garrick.

LS: See, this reminds me of your style...

CS: A little bit, yeah, a little. If you look at some of the stuff he had done earlier--he designed greeting cards, kinda early 60's, look, you know? Similar to that...

LS: I understand he kept those in a scrapbook?

CS: Yeah, did he ever print any of that stuff?

LS: I don't know. So this [AF] had come out, and you were promoting it?

CS: Absolutely Free had come out, and my first real job was to do ads for that and for Big Leg Emma and Why Dont'cha Do Me Right, the singles that they had released. That was my first gig, to do those ads, and it was interesting because I got to really just do weird stuff, you know? Have you ever seen any of those ads?

LS: I'm not sure if I did. I remember the ad for the show itself...did you do the ad for the Pigs and Repugnant show itself? I remember the ads for that, because I think it's in one of the Old Masters booklets...

CS: Okay. I don't remember without looking at it.

LS: So, then, you came along and here we go: you're gonna do this one [shows WOIIFTM]. What I'm really curious about is the meeting of Frank's ideas--I mean, this project was pre-planned to an extent that, let's say, Hot Rats wasn't, you know what I mean? Musically--pre-planned, the whole concept, the whole...

CS: Yeah, but...

LS: It came out fast, I imagine?

CS: Well, also, you know, I mean, Frank's--I mean, when you say "pre-planned" you also have to realize that everything was always evolving, changing--from one day to the next it was something different; and, originally, at the time I started this--and I don't want to make the assumption as to knowing exactly what's what here, because my memory's vague about a lot of it--but, when I started on this, there was an album called Our Man in Nirvana that Frank was working on. And this was an outgrowth or an evolution of that to some extent--now, to what extent, I can't say.

LS: Yeah. There were two things. The Lenny Bruce aspect of it was...

CS: Yeah. Frank talks about it...if you have the Jazz and Pop interview--you've probably read that...at some point, that project ended and this began, but there was material that he was working on that evolved into this. Where one ends and the other begins, I don't know. But there is certainly a point where there's some mix of the two ideas...

LS: Can you help me out with the time line of how this idea [the cover] came about?

CS: Well, If you look at when Sgt. Pepper came out...

LS: It was the summer of '67?

CS: I think it was still spring--because I remember--it was right after I met Frank, right after Absolutely Free came out, I was living in Philadelphia and commuting to NY, I was still going to school, and I remember when it came out and everywhere you went--that's all you heard, constantly, was Sgt. Pepper. So it was like just this incredible phenomenon, and Frank immediately grasped that and wanted to do something with it, you know, so, that's really I think what's...and he was listening to it too.

LS: At what point did he contract for this--this is your first cover?

CS: I was working for him. And the assignment was, okay, this is what we're going to do now. But I had started working on Our Man in Nirvana, and like I say, I don't remember where that ended and this began exactly...the first point that I remember this actually being a project--was a drawing where Frank took Sgt. Pepper and put tissue paper over it and drew on top of it what he wanted as satirizing this element, that element. There were some that made it, some that didn't, obviously...

LS: Somewhere on the net, I think I saw it on the net, there's a guide to who all these people are...do you remember that?

CS: Yeah, well, I've done several versions of them, and the last one I did was in MOJO, which is the one--there was a guy that had something on the net, that he took from that, but he re-did it. They published...you know, I probably have it with me, I could show it to you, but one of the things in there was the big spread where I drew a little drawing of who everybody was...but half of it's fake...half of it's fake! I mean, who's who...I goofed on the whole thing, because there's no way to know who half of those people are!

LS: I notice that Frank gives you credit here, you're holding the eggs, lower-right front cover--this is also you here, right? (points to Captain Beefheart)

CS: No. This is me playing the accordion...that's Captain Beefheart.

LS: I thought it was you with the same shirt. And there's Lee Harvey Oswald. Isn't Stockhausen in here somewhere?--I remember reading that he had put Stockhausen in there...[nb: I was confused: Stockhausen is on Sgt. Pepper's!]

CS: I don't think so. I don't think so. 'Cause I don't know where I ever woulda found a picture of Stockhausen...this is Frank's father here..this is Gail's father--the football player. There's a lot of people that are from Frank's yearbook--he just gave me his yearbook to cut up for it--like this guy with the snake--and a bunch of other people--and the list I just made up--I even made up some names or I put in names of fans. Hendrix was there.

LS: Yeah, I was gonna ask you--have you read what Watson says about this, by any chance...

CS: I've read some the things he's said about the covers...

LS: I don't want to quote Watson without the book--it's right here, I could dig it up [this is it: p. 120: "Jimi Hendrix holds a cut-out of a small girl (Herb Cohen's daughter Lisa), satirizing racist paranoia about black sexuality threatening family values."]

CS: The thing that I think about when I look at that is how badly she's stripped in!

LS: How badly what?

CS: How badly her image is stripped in here--they fucked it up...

LS: Oh, you mean on this? [the original LP cover]

CS: Yeah. It's really poorly done.

LS: Yeah. Well, that's another issue entirely I have to ask you about. I happen to cherish my records for two reasons: I think the sound is usually better and I like fetishing your covers--and you cannot fetish a CD cover--it's just not the same thing!

CS: I mean, on the original it's poorly done. The strip job, that was done at the last minute actually--where she was--I think Herb said, "let's put Lisa in there..."

LS: ...Herb Cohen's daughter, the one who says, "what would you do daddy?"

CS: ...just put her picture in there--it was like at the very last minute, so they just "ckkk"--cut it in...and it's like...but this isn't bad [the CD 95 reissue], it could be worse. It's not the album, but it's pretty decent...

LS: Oh, it's incredible. What I wanted to find out was how soon did you suspect that you were going to have legal problems, and can you go into that a little bit?

CS: No one thought about it except MGM. I can't talk about what Frank's dealings were with them--but my take on the whole thing is that the legal issue was mostly just MGM being pissy about everything and not even wanting to even take a chance on there possibly being trouble; because as far as I know the Beatles didn't really have a problem with it...

LS: It's always the lawyers. I understand, yeah...

CS: I think it mostly was--you know, what I knew was that, oh, MGM says, oh, you gotta put bars over everybody's faces, oh, MGM says you gotta turn it inside out...

LS: And that's what the solution ultimately was, right?

CS: Yeah. So I think that was just....

LS: Lawyers' paranoia...

CS: Well, I don't even know if the lawyers--well, the lawyers probably had input, but I think it was just the people that were in the office, saying, well, you know, we don't want to have to work overtime on this, so let's just do it this way...

LS: But so originally the plan was to do it exactly as the Beatles had done it, in the other direction?

CS: Yeah.

LS: Well, it is certainly a classic. And, you know, again, with the album you get all these things in much more dramatic form, and of course...the nipple badge [Billy Mundi] is such a classic. And look at 30 years later, we get a "real" moustache on the album!

CS: I didn't have anything to do with that one.

LS: You didn't have anything to do with that one, huh? Okay, so the next one comes out almost simultaneously--at least recorded, not released...but...

CS: I don't know the exact dates, but see, neither of these came out till later, until basically...

LS: [Lew opens Lumpy Gravy CD and the case falls apart...] Tell your friends at Ryko that
they suck!

CS: Yeah they know--they've had a lot of trouble with those...but the new ones don't--the new ones are better sometimes...

LS: This is new.

CS: No, no, I mean the later ones--like if you have Cheap Thrills, I think it's on the new one, it's got a real thick spindle...

LS: Oh, yeah, okay. Cheap Thrills is good. I was gonna ask about all the CD backings--[I'm talking about whatever you call the image imprinted behind the CD itself--I think Cal refers to this as the "CD tray"]

CS: [showing the Lumpy Gravy tray] That's at Apostolic. I just dug up stuff...

LS: Is this your photograph?

CS: Yeah, I took that shot.

LS: It's great to have that. Did I pass any up? Are there any more--oh yeah, there was one on Freak Out that I wanted to ask you about it...

CS: They were going to do a box set of this with a bunch of photos [WOIIFTM]...

LS: Oh yeah, that's nice [looking at Freak Out and Absolutely Free trays]

CS: Yeah, I didn't do the photo...

LS: And this is on all the new 105's--they're doing that, right?

CS: Yeah. Well, the ones that I did--the others ones I didn't have much to do with--but the ones that I did--this was from an ad [looking at the crossed out pencil on the inside spine of Freak Out]--yeah, that's what I scribbled in there--this was from an ad for the album, I guess--yeah, for that album...

LS: Okay. Okay, I was wondering if you did this just new for the CD, because it's so quirky the way it's just cut...

CS: ...no, that was from the ads. Yeah, I just chopped a piece out of the ad, but the photo actually appears in other places and other ways, and there's a copy of that photo in the Mystery Disc, which I'm sure you've seen, or a similar photo from the same session...

LS: [looking at inside cover of Lumpy Gravy] And once again, this is really different...

CS: Yeah, I tried to do something a little different.

LS: Do you remember what you did in the chorus here?

CS: Okay, two things I can remember--there might be some others--but the two I can remember--"that's very distraughtening"--that's me and Gail...

LS: That's you?

CS: Yeah, that's me and Gail. And "round things are boring"--that's me. And that's at the end, "round things are boring."

LS: And are you smoking a cigarette at that point--"round things are boring"?

CS: Yeah. "Round things are boring."

LS: Do you remember what Watson says?

CS: No, tell me what he says. It is totally bogus.

LS: Oh sure, but I didn't realize it was you.

CS: Well, I don't think he knew it was me either, but I think I remember reading that. Nobody knows it's me, except for maybe a couple of people...

LS: Well, affz now does, how's that? We're gonna tell everybody...I can find this in a second...

CS: I think more interesting though, is the "very distraughtening" comment with Gail. I think that might be the only place that Gail appears on that, too.

LS: On Lumpy Gravy?

CS: Yeah. Can you put that on? That little piece? I don't know where that is...

LS: Sure. Now, there's an index here. The record has two tracks to it, Side One and Side Two...and he put the index in here...and as a matter of fact, it's Track 1, "very distraughtening"--[we listen to the beginning of Side Two....] Do you have any idea what Gail just said?

CS: Play it again, I can tell you. “I don’t get any...we’re out of these...”

LS: [back to Watson, from p. 96]: “’Cause round things are...are boring. ~ This is followed by a
longish silence--then the speaker exhales, perhaps blowing a ring of smoke. The album concludes with the instrumental version of Take Your Clothes Off...” then he wraps it up later on with this smoke thing--what does he say...

CS: So that’s the last verbal comment on the album?

LS: Yeah, the last words on the album--“’cause round things are boring.” And then he wraps it up here with the smoke--so many mistakes in this book--but, it’s a good undertaking--oh yeah, here it is. This is actually interesting: [p. 103]

“After a beautifully placed evocation of the washing-machine/dark-light debate (the phrase ‘envelops the bath-tub’) there is an astonishing stretch of composition [LS: truly magnificent music...]. A line played on a horn, followed by rattling strings and percussion: the drums pound in, introducing interplay with the winds and strings somewhere between Stravinsky’s A Solider’s Tale and a Gunther Schuller/Eric Dolphy third-stream collaboration. The piece climaxes with dramatic solo violin playing a few restricted notes, against which winds and percussion abrupt. Then the voice says: ‘Cause round things are...are boring [Silence...exhalation],’ leading into the
sublimely vacuous surf-rock arrangement of ‘Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance’ that ends the record.”

Duh-duh-duh-duh...what does he say...oh yeah, he talks about

“...a self-cancelling consciousness of the uselessness of art (round things are boring--equivalent to Zappa’s ‘throw the record away’)”

You know, the Joe’s Garage thing at the end, Little Green Rosetta, just, you know, if you’re a Fourth World country, you know, just burn the record for fuel...

CS: I would say that what I meant by it and what Frank meant by using it are two different
things, probably--I would think. I’m not sure I could tell you what...

LS: I was gonna say--do you remember what you meant by it?

CS: Well, you know, it’s difficult to totally explain, but at the time--I was--I think that what I was saying--I had this--I don’t know that I could even begin to explain it (laughs)....something metaphysical...something to do with wave forms and reality.

LS: Okay. Well, I’m really fascinated with this particular thing [Lumpy Gravy], because the connection with the dialog here and with what’s going on here in his mind is obviously still present 30 years later, because of this connection with CPIII...and one of the greatest things in CPIII to me is the statement--I think it’s Louie the Turkey--or, not Louie, John {it was Spider, you dummy, Lewis} I think says it--one of them says it, that “we’re 4,632 octaves below the big note.” {I was close--4,928}...I mean, that’s just great to me--that’s just an amazing thing to
think about--I just love CPIII--people are constantly complaining about the dialog...

CS: I haven’t listened to it enough, to really, to be honest.

LS: Well, some of it is the same dialog ...so that’s amazing to me--you know, the fourth album and the 69th album, being so tied together like that--30 years apart--it’s just mind-blowing...but again, oh, I know what I wanted to ask you--this is the first cover where you apply these old-fashioned little--I don’t know what you call them--technical, sort of--these specs that you did in Joe’s Garage...you really developed...

CS: I didn’t do Joe’s Garage.

LS: Oh, you didn’t do Joe’s Garage? Well, then...

CS: That was John Williams doing my thing. :) But he did a good job.

LS: But pretty soon, you start this. When do you start this?

CS: I do it in Ruben and the Jets...

LS: That’s right. Thank you. I knew it was coming soon. [shows CD of vinyl mix] See, this is a vinyl--this doesn’t have the original artwork for Ruben...

CS: Oh, that’s the old mix?

LS: That’s my vinyl mix that a friend made me.

CS: Oh, okay. Do you have the other one?

LS: Yeah, I have the cover here [goes for The Old Masters box]...you know, it’s funny you said that, I just thought Joe’s Garage, and I immediately think of those little things...

CS: I like Joe’s Garage--it’s really well done. [looking at inside cover of Ruben] Yeah, this is where I really got into it...

LS: Can you tell me a little about how that idea came to be?

CS: Uh-huh. Well, let me go back to this first...[back to looking at Lumpy Gravy]...this part here, this stuff here, which you can see here--this is the same spread as the vinyl...

LS: I have the vinyl, too...

CS: Oh yeah, let’s look at the vinyl. Now this was originally going to be green and black and they printed a bunch of them and I wonder if any still exist...

LS: Uh, you’re saying green and black, the cover?

CS: No, the inside. Black on green. They printed samples. Some of them exist somewhere--this is photos I took in London...

LS: At Albert Hall?

CS: Well, actually at a restaurant where we were eating, like during the rehearsals for the Albert Hall, in London, and I just put this together into this thing. This is my phys-ed t-shirt in high school--Upper Moreland High School--that Frank was wearing--and I just, just put it in a little collage like that--but, I don’t know where this came from--it’s just something in relation to the...

LS: It seems like a progenitor of...

CS: And this is Ralf. This is like the same...

LS: There he is! The guy on your website!

CS: And this is me with the mannequin that actually became--uh, where’s We’re Only In It For The Money?--became, Ian Underwood, on the inside--on the cover there...

LS: Oh.

CS: This is this mannequin right here. Oh, it doesn’t look like that--hmmm, maybe it is. I think it is. If it’s not, it’s one of them--We bought a bunch of mannequins, you know--they’re these dummies; but I think that’s the one it was. I have a couple of photos at home...

LS: Now wait a minute, where is Ian? Oh, there he is...

CS: Yeah, here he is here, but this is just supposed to represent...


<break>



CS: Frank went back to L.A. a couple of times--one time was to do the Monkees' movie...

LS: Right, Head...

CS: ...I think he was going to do the TV show too. It was a miserable winter in New York, and he said, let's go back to California. Everybody was thrilled to go--me included--and we went back to California, I think it was in May--moved into the Log Cabin--you've probably heard about the Log Cabin...and that's when I worked on this [Ruben & The Jets]--that was the first thing I did when I got back there...

LS: And everybody's living in the cabin?

CS: Well, no--not The Mothers. Frank lived there with Gail, and I lived there in the tree house...

LS: And Christine?

CS: Christine was already living there, when we moved in, because there were a bunch--Carl
Franzoni, I think, lived there before we moved in--a bunch of the GTO's, and Sandra, who's
[my daughter] Raven's mother...do you have the GTO's album?

LS: I don't have it, no. I don't have it. I did once upon a time, and now it's a collectors item and I can't find it anywhere...[2008: I finally got it a few years ago!]

CS: So, we moved into the Log Cabin, and I took over the tree-house which I made my studio and living quarters. We were there for about four months and it was an incredible time--that's when I did this cover--I was working on this cover one night; nobody was home, and I went and answered the door and it was Grace Slick and Paul Kantner, and they said, "say hi to Frank"--and I said, nobody's home, I'm working on his album cover, come in if you want...

LS: Cool. Did they check it out?

CS: No I think they just left...but every night there was somebody there. One night Mick
Jagger and Marianne Faithful were over, and Captain Beefheart, and the Mothers, and they
were all jamming in the basement, another time Clapton was there, hanging out in the kitchen, and Jeff Beck... One night I remember I was sitting in the living room, there was this big grand piano, and there was a knock on the door, and it was Pink Floyd! The whole band...

LS: That's great! Watson goes into some of those stories, and I've read some accounts of that. Let me just break it off here to ask a little philosophical question here which is really foremost on my mind: when you sit down to do a cover, how little or how much direction would you get from Frank?

CS: Well, see there's no answer to that, because it varied. For instance, Uncle Meat--I did that entirely on my own [the cover].

LS: Let's take this for example [Ruben]...

CS: Now this was kind of a mix, because the concept of the dog noses and the comic heroes really comes from my love of comic books, which I was into that before I met Frank, and I was a big fan of Carl Barks, who is the Disney duck guy, are you familiar with him?

LS: Right.

CS: And then it was like, it was really an inner...a conversation between Frank and me because it started, like I said, even before we even thought of this cover, it started with the idea of using the dog noses in context with The Mothers, and then it evolved into this cover, as an illustration--so it's actually an evolution of things...

LS: You never did actually get 'em on stage with those noses?

CS: No. But I did cast Frank's nose, I started making the mold for the rubber snout, but we never really got, you know--it would have been great--that would have been fantastic! This is my favorite character [pointing to 4th dog from left, with bow-tie], this is...

LS: ...I like the hair...

CS: ...I modeled him after Jimmy Carl Black.

LS: Okay, I was gonna ask who's who here, but I...

CS: Well, there is no real who's who, but this is kinda like Jimmy Carl Black, and obviously this is Frank...

LS: I was gonna say, this might be Don? [blond guy]...

CS: ...no this is actually Dick Barber. I mean, it looks to me more like Dick Barber, and this [sax player] looks like Ian, a little bit. But no one else really means anything...(laughs)...and then I--the issue with this stuff [diagrams inside] is--when we were living in the Log Cabin--there was at the top of the hill--you know those shots where Frank's on a tractor thing?

LS: Yeah, yeah...

CS: ...they were taken at the top of the hill there--I went up there one day, and they were--it was like an area where they were developing, they were building roads and stuff with all this machinery, and I just came across this manual, some mechanical thing, and it had great illustrations, and I said, I'll use this. That's where I found all this stuff--these car parts...

LS: This is obviously why I thought Joe's Garage was yours because it's so similar...

CS: Yeah, well he--I think that he took...it was kind of a conversation between us--'cause I worked with John Williams on some other stuff...

LS: Let me just ask you about this. [pointing to the cutaway on bottom] See, this is really fully developed in One Size Fits All beautifully--as a whole stratum there--we'll get to that in a minute--but it's sort of a sharp breaking away of this reality into this other reality...

CS: Right. I like doing the cutaway view--

LS: ...very effective...

CS: ...of what's going on inside. [pointing to tinker toy-like connected things in the cutaway...] This goes back to when I was a kid and I sat on the Easter Bunny's lap, and I looked up at this huge rabbit head, and inside was like this weird construction...holding together the mask, and you could see it all--oh my god!

LS: Oh, that's amazing!

CS: The tinker toy effect. It relates really a lot to my concept of reality and just like looking inside things and breaking down reality and what's it made of--which Frank probably, you know...with the Big Note--but I'm looking at it from a visual...

LS: Well, now see, that's exactly what I'm trying to get at here--is how those two coincide--and you've obviously had a vision that's very similar in that way. For instance, you know, this cutaway here--it's so sharply defined from the photograph, which is sort of washy--but then you put this little switch on his chest...that's just so great! It's like a double bar, you know what a double bar is in music--when the music comes to a stop?

CS: Um, I don't...

LS: A double bar is just two lines, you know, and it means "end"--and, Frank is so fond of writing music that just has a sudden double bar where you wouldn't expect it [Lew sings and laughs] ...like in Weasels, when he cuts off the jam [with laughter], and goes right into Weasels Ripped My Flesh--and that sort of dichotomy between one sort of level and another--I see that connection, at least I feel it...

CS: ...well see, for me, I don't even think about it, I just do it. The ideas probably come through because of my philosophy, my...

LS: And whose idea was this? [pointing to back cover of Ruben]

CS: That was Frank's.

LS: Okay, and then this [pointing to Uncle Meat booklet]--this is, you say, just totally independent--he didn't...

CS: No, no, no--not the book. I'm talking about the cover of the album. The book is...the cover of the album I did while they were in Europe--they needed an album cover immediately and they were kind of, you know, out of touch--because at that time it wasn't so easy to keep in touch with--you know, in Europe. And I played with some ideas, and I sent some stuff, and I wasn't quite into it, and all of a sudden I got this [snaps fingers]--it just snapped immediately--and what happened was, I had moved into this studio--this was after the Log Cabin, I had moved out of the Log Cabin--Frank moved up the hill to the house he wound up in--and I moved into Eagle Rock, and then I moved my studio into this space on Melrose which had previously been a dentist's office. The dentist had retired--he was an old guy--and so the place was vacated in a hurry, and he left behind all this junk--old beat-up dental books from the '20s, you know...

LS: X-rays?

CS: X-rays and teeth, and plaster teeth, and boxes with dental fragments and shit in it--and this [pointing to inside cover of Uncle Meat] was like in an old 20's book about x-rays...an x-ray machine...so that's where it came from, I said, I'll use this, and it worked out, and Frank loved it...and I just did it and he liked it, so there was no direction from him...

LS: ...It's very different from what you had done previously, in many ways.

CS: Yeah. But I wanted to do this...well, actually, Burnt Weeny Sandwich is similar--but you're thinking of it in...

LS: ...chronological order?

CS: ...reverse chronological order, because actually I did Burnt Weeny Sandwich artwork before I did this artwork.

LS: Oh, well okay, then we're out of order here, right?

CS: Well, we're in order chronologically with the release...

LS: Right. This is #6 and this is #9...

CS: ...yeah, I did that before...I did that when we were still in New York. I'll talk about that...but just in reference, I was doing assemblage before--in fact, I was doing assemblage before I met Frank.

LS: What does this say, "poots"?

CS: Where? No, that's "points." It's something from the diagram. But an interesting note on this cover is on the back. This number...

LS: ...yeah, I know what that is--the year of the Black Plague...

CS: ...but it's not. That's not what it means!

LS: ...oh, what does it...oh, okay--Watson! We got him! He's sure of it!

CS: ...it's a very interesting coincidence. I mean, in the full scheme of things, that might mean something, too. But in terms of my use of it, it's total coincidence. It was just an image I took out of a dental book. A series of skulls--they were all numbered, and this was just the one I happened to choose...

LS: ...unbelievable!

CS: ...so it's totally a coincidence that that number is meaningful, but it's interesting that it is!

LS: Ben Watson has people all over the world believing you planned that, see?

CS: ...It's an interesting coincidence.

LS: And so I guess one of the Gardners didn't get their picture...

CS: Oh, well see here's what happened here, now--I put this together--I drew everybody's name--I wanted it to look funky and weird, and then Ray quit, so I crossed him off. And then Bunk Gardner joined the group...not Bunk, Buzz Gardner joined, Bunk's brother...

LS: Can I interrupt you...do you mind telling me about Ray--why Ray quit?

CS: Yeah, but let me finish this first. This is interesting, because I added Buzz--had no photos, so I drew a little box, wrote--drew this on the artwork, this is all on the artwork--and then it went to the printer--and then Lowell George joined, and we added this--but this was added mechanically, and you can actually see it, if you look closely you can see how it's slightly different, it's flatter looking, 'cause it was added on the film, it wasn't on the artwork. This is the way things were constantly changing, evolving.

LS: So, okay, now this--what about this story? Is this Frank's? This is all Frank's?

CS: Oh yeah, that's all Frank's. Now, the book is different, because the book...once they came back from Europe, I did the book, and for the book he did dictate to me what he wanted--he said he wanted--well, I had already played with idea of the concept of the car in New York...he wanted the car with the Uncle Meat in giant letters...

LS: ...was there an actual movie happening?

CS: ...he had the idea for it, but it wasn't started yet at this point--[except for live stuff] I don't think he had started anything at this point. I really don't. But it was like all kind of coming together to the point where he was going to present it--and this was like his idea of presenting it somehow...

LS: You're in Uncle Meat, the movie...

CS: Oh yeah. You have that?

LS: Yeah.

CS: I hope you haven't watched it too much.

LS: Oh, I watch it all the time. You know, it's not the movie that he was making back then?

CS: It's just like--he would dictate to me--well he wanted this storyboard of this scene, because he was going to do this whole thing...with the paranoia about the government. The rest was just kind of collaged together--and I did that, just clipping it together...

LS: [pointing at notation] For me, this was one of the most important moments of my Zappahood, because at that point, you know, you can use your ears--finally, I have some actual written music by the Master--and I'll never forget playing this on the piano for the first time and being so thrilled to have the music to this--but [pointing at big 2-page photo] this is great...

CS: ...yeah, now this is funny because...

LS: ...this is not on the CD either, this one, is it?

CS: Yes it is. Well, it's on the 95 reissue...

LS: Oh, I don't have the...I have the old crap...

CS: No the reissue has all the new stuff, all this stuff in it, plus...

LS: They're making me buy it!

CS: ...I was working with Andee Cohen Nathanson, a photographer--he did the Hot Rats cover photo...at this point, we were doing albums for MGM, some albums that fortunately have never seen the light of day since their first release, I had a little darkroom and we were playing with darkroom effects...

LS: [pointing to Don Preston with puffed-out cheek] And this looks like the same shot from 200 Motels...

CS: Yeah. Well, that's an image--not from 200 Motels--but it's an image of him doing that thing...

LS: He's got the expression...

CS: Yeah, he's got the expression...

LS: [imitating Don] Aaahh, I can't tawwwkkk right now...

CS: There are...I used one of these images which is Frank in the car and the band in--I think--is it in Burnt Weeny? Do you have the reissue of Burnt Weeny? No, I mean the CD. You know, in the tray? One of them has one of those. Yeah, that's the one. [pointing to Burnt Weeny tray] See, this is the...if you look closely...

LS: I just bought this last week--I haven't even looked at it.

CS: Okay. This photograph is from the same session where Jimmy Carl Black, Frank--see his face sticking out here--the car, here? See Frank's face, and the car?

LS: Oh yeah. Now I do. There it is! Okay, oh I see...

CS: ...Jimmy Carl Black. It's the same session--and here's Bunk--but I did like a double exposure...

LS: ...this is the first I've ever seen this photograph.

CS: Well probably, you know, not many people even realize--you have to explain to them what this is from...

LS: Yeah, you know, like I said, I've just started to buy this 105 series...

CS: ...well, buy the ones that I did--the other ones they didn't add much to the packaging--but the ones I did, I tried to showcase the art and add something to the tray card when we had room to do it--but I had no control over any of them that I didn't originally do. So they pretty much put what was on the first CD release. [back to Uncle Meat booklet] Then again, this is Frank dictating essentially what to do here--this is Pauline, the secretary.

LS: Uh-huh. Wow! A little Captain Beefheart here.

CS: Now, John Williams did this illustration [Mothers in bed & back cover].

LS: Oh, did he?

CS: Yeah.

LS: And this was the part I was going to say about the movie: "This film is stashed away in my basement while we scheme how to raise $300,000 to finish it and make it spiffy..."

CS: Well, I guess he must have, you know, by the time we did this book--now, maybe when we did the cover it hadn't been started--but by the time we did this book, he probably had started on it... [there was, of course, the live band material]

LS: But the Uncle Meat that you got from Honker is just no relation...

CS: Well, there is a relation, but everything was always changing--and what Frank had in the can at the time--I couldn't tell you, because really what I'm thinking of when I look at that--I'd have to look at the movie with you and tell you, scene by scene, what was from what--but what I remember is that Haskell Wexler came up to the house and shot some weird stuff and we went to the Hollywood Ranch Market and shot some weird stuff--but I thought that all was after Uncle Meat, the album, was done. So, maybe--see, after I did the artwork for Uncle Meat, I quit. I said, fuck, I'm leaving. I'm not getting enough money--I had complained and complained for a long time. I was doing all this--they wanted me to do Alice Cooper, GTO's, all this other stuff--I said, I'm not doing this for a hundred bucks a week!

LS: Trout Mask Replica, that's Ed Caraeff, isn't it?

CS: Yeah, Ed Caraeff took the photo, I art directed it...But I quit, and then Frank had Neon Park do Weasels as a result. I was going to do Weasels--but because I quit...

LS: Now wait a minute...allright--you quit--[looking at Burnt Weeny] This was before Uncle Meat totally then--this collage?

CS: Well...

LS: 'Cause we're out of order...

CS: Well, not actually...

LS: ...you didn't have anything to do with Mothermania?

CS: ...yeah, no I worked on Mothermania...

LS: ...oh did you? It's just the photograph, right?

CS: ...I did Mothermania...I still worked...

LS: ...I don't have anything other than...just the cover...

CS: [looking at CD of the vinyl] Yeah, this is the cover...and then on the inside there's a shot of everybody's mouth... [I started this package and John Williams finished it].

LS: ...right, yeah, I remember. I used to have it...

CS: ...yeah. And on the back is an article from the European tour that they were on when I was working on Uncle Meat. After that I quit, and then, as I said, Neon Park did Weasels; then I came back--I quit then I went back east for a while--I came back to California, and I saw Frank and he said, "oh, I want you to do some work," but after that I was freelance, I was no longer an employee. And then the first job I did was, I guess it would have been Hot Rats.

LS: That's my next question...

CS: ...well what was the next release after Weasels?

LS: Well, you're gettin' ahead of me here--Weasels is after Hot Rats.

CS: Oh is it?

LS: Yeah.

CS: Is it really?

LS: Yeah. I got 'em memorized.

CS: Okay...

LS: Allright, let's start with Uncle Meat is #6. Mothermania is #7. This [Hot Rats] is #8.

CS: Okay, well I did that after I came back. Frank worked out Weasels, even though it was released after Hot Rats...

LS: ...after Burnt Weeny. This is #9 [Burnt Weeny]. This is #10 [Weasels].

CS: Is it really?

LS: Yeah.

CS: Okay, well here's the score on these. Well, you know, wait a minute--maybe I did--okay, maybe I'm mistaken. Maybe I did work on Hot Rats before I left...

LS: ...'cause I wanted to talk about this...

CS: Allright, now it's clearer to me. I laid out the front cover, then I quit. Andee Cohen Nathanson went and shot the photos--I mean, that's really all I did is I just put together some press type deals for the cover, and then I split, and then John Williams put the rest of the package together--John Williams did all of this...

LS: Oh, he did? Oh, okay...

CS: These are my photos. These are photos I took in London and in Europe. And I'll tell you what's what in a minute, but, these photos I took--these are somebody else's photos--and John Williams did all the inside design while I was gone, and then he also did Burnt Weeny Sandwich, utilizing artwork that I had done earlier, you see? That's why, that comes out during that period, and then of course these photos--this is a photo of Albert Hall that I took during--'cause I went to Europe with them on that first tour, as photographer, and that's one of the photos I took--and these are photos from other...

LS: And again--the thought bubble is what I tried to get at...

CS: Yeah, well John Williams kind of took off the thought--and Frank might have told him to do it, and maybe he did it on John, but he was...

LS: ...and we're getting out of order...

CS: ...but so, let me explain this cover [Burnt Weeny]. 'Cause I did this cover while we were still in New York--it was during the period when I worked on We're Only In It For Money and Lumpy Gravy--right after I did Lumpy Gravy, actually. And, I did it for an Eric Dolphy album that Frank was going to--Frank sold Alan Douglas--do you know who he is?

LS: Yeah...

CS: ...on the idea--apparently Alan Douglas had a bunch of masters--of various things--one of them was a Richie Havens album, another an Eric Dolphy album--there were others...

LS: Didn't he do posthumous Hendrix albums? Or was that later?

CS: That was later...

LS: Did he do Dolphy's Iron Man?

CS: I don't know...I don't know the details, but I do know that he asked Frank to come up with the packaging and the advertising and the concept for this label that he was going to do, and one of them was a Richie Havens album and one of them was an Eric Dolphy album, and then there were others, and I can't remember what they were. But this was done for the Eric Dolphy cover, and the concept of the Richie Havens was "The Mad Gummer"--I did an illustration for that...

LS: The mad what?

CS: The Mad Gummer

LS: G-U-M-M-E-R?

CS: Yeah. Because he had no teeth.

LS: Baby Take Your Teeth Out

CS: ...yeah, and we also did a series of ads which you might have seen at one point--I had one on my website once--for MOOP. You ever seen any of the MOOP ads? It might even still be there--we could search for it...but they were the weirdest ads, they were like just funny little surrealistic comic strips...and there's a bunch of ads that were running--like, Hit Parader, and just the oddest places--and then we did this cover, and this was one of the covers--but then Alan Douglas bailed on the whole thing...

LS: Wait a minute. He sold what you had delivered to him?

CS: Yeah. I was working for Frank--I did the work for him. Frank delivered this cover, the other cover, a couple of other covers, placed these ads--and then Alan Douglas said, this is too weird, this is not what I want to do, and he bailed on the whole idea--Frank wound up with this artwork that was never used, so he used it for Burnt Weeny while I was gone...and then John Williams did the rest of the package...you know, it took me about an hour, two hours, to do this piece...

LS: It's very organic and uh...

CS: It really came out great... [see the Hieronymus Bosch clippings that were out-takes from WOIIFTM?...and the mannequin hands]

LS: And again, the thought balloons. It removes your level of attachment to the product--it removes it by one level--in other words, here's--what, this is Ian, right? [back cover]

CS: Yeah.

LS: Here's Ian with this...whatever...

CS: It's his shoe...

LS: ...a shoe...

CS: ...the sole of his shoe...

LS: ...and you know, without the balloon, it's a picture of Ian with the sole of a shoe, but see, the balloon--I don't know really if I'm saying it right--but it just, it sort of takes you to another dimension to where, oh, Ian is thinking, "this is a tasty little sucker..."

CS: Yeah, well it adds...

LS: ...fantasy...

CS: ...well, basically to me it adds, it's more dramatic--because it then becomes like a still from a film--you know, it's like the thought balloon or talk balloon actually adds the element of a dialog...

LS: ...right, right. But the level first is here--now Don--his thought balloon--he's thinking...what is he thinking? This whole thought balloon...

CS: ...which is thinking this...

LS: ...exactly...so that's great, I just love that...

CS: That's John Williams.

LS: ...yeah. It's very clever. Now I wanted to ask about this now [Hot Rats]. I used to be a typesetter, so I know how typography, and its importance...

CS: This was just done by hand with press type--most of that is so odd...like if you look at the way the "A" and the "T" are together here...

LS: They're kerned tightly...

CS: They're kerned very strangely--it's not right. And I had them re-do that on the reissue--I don't know if you have the reissue?

LS: I have the 100 series...

CS: ...because they did it, you know, they set it, and it looks odd, because they set it correctly--it's off a little bit...

LS: ...oh it is, you're right! They're bigger rats!

CS: ...see, this was just done by hand with press type...

LS: ...well, I wanted to comment on the type--because this is one of those albums--forget about the music for a minute--but, you know, it just jumps out at you--the type is wonderful, what is this called, Helvetica?

CS: Yeah, that's Helvetica...but look at it and compare it to this one which is done correctly, and look how goofy "rats" looks! So it's just like, oh, there's way too little space in here. I made them fix it on the reissue.

LS: ...the same with the P's in "Zappa" too, they're kerned very tightly here...

CS: ...yeah, they're kerned very strangely, you know. That's because I did it by hand, I did it quickly, I was just doing it visually. But what I really like about that--what we were just talking about--is the fact that it's this obscure little bit of knowledge--the fact that they're different--that most people wouldn't even think about, but it's the trivia that makes it interesting...

END OF TAPE

3 comments:

Ron Moses said...

Wow, I can't wait to listen to this. I did some writing work for Mr. Schenkel a few years back, and he paid me with a truly awesome Zappa's Universe print that adorns my family room to this day. I never got a chance to pick the man's brain so I'm really looking forward to hearing you do so!

Ron Moses said...

Correction... I can't wait to *read* this. Thought it was an audio interview for some reason.

rraallff said...

Lewis--for the record, I want to correct my casual reference above: Andee Cohen Nathanson is the photographer of Hot Rats, not Ed Caraeff. --Calvin