As you may have noticed, Andrew Greenaway (aka Idiotbastard) just had his book “Zappa The Hard Way” published. The book, which will have its official release at this year’s edition of Zappanale, tells the tale of FZ’s (in)famous ’88 tour, while attempting to shed some light on its unfortunate premature collapse. We’ve been talking about the book over email recently, and so I thought I’d share our conversation here…
KUR: How did the idea of writing this book come about?
AG: It wasn’t actually my idea. Like you, I spend a fair bit of time noodling ‘round the net looking for Zappa related news stories for my website. I saw that Wymer Publishing had a book on Frank’s 1988 tour ‘in the pipeline’, and wrote to them saying ‘great – when is it coming out?’ Now, Wymer is run by a guy called Jerry Bloom who told me he loved that particular tour and was planning on writing the book himself. But then he clocked my website, saw the people I’d interviewed, and said, ‘I’m sure you’d do a much better job’. So he asked me if I’d like to write it. What do you say to that?
Amazingly, I had to think about it: at that time, I was working ridiculously long hours in my office job in Whitehall, and had very little spare time (which I invariably wasted noodling ‘round the net…) But as luck would have it, my situation changed dramatically: I was able to take early retirement and I now work ‘normal’ hours, just gobbing distance from home. So I wrote to Scott, Ed and Mike, telling them I was thinking about writing this book and their responses convinced me that I really should take it on.
Before I typed a word, though, I also wrote to Gail to tell her I was doing it – not for her approval, but just because I thought it the decent thing to do. She’s still to respond, but I signed up to write the book – which really was a dream come true – and for the last year and half, that’s what I’ve been doing.
KUR: I reckon the ’88 band is one of your favourite line-ups?
AG: Quite possibly, though 1979 with Vinnie and Arthur is definitely up there. Frank’s guitar solos were nowhere near his best in 88, but the overall power of that 12 piece band is undeniable. And things like ‘Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk’ prove that he was still capable of writing great songs in the 80s.
KUR: What’s your own personal take on the ’88 tour – how and why do you think it collapsed?
AG: Read the book! Actually, there’s not too much of my own analysis in this book – as Scott said to me at the outset, “There’s already tons of pseudo-academicness all over the fucking place,” – who needs another one of them books, eh? Mine strives more to entertain.
But I will say: its way too simplistic to blame it on the mutinous nine. It was a combination of many things: new management, Frank’s health, a young punk ordering old jazzmen about…for those who insist on blaming it on one individual, Scott’s not your man. And neither are Ed or Chad. And without wishing to take sides, there’s a quote in the Thomas Wictor book from Scott that really struck me about no one ever trying to understand his point of view. My book hopefully addresses that.
KUR: Which people did you talk to?
AG: The main contributors were Scott and Ed – who were especially candid and fun. And I interviewed a very obliging Ike Willis at Zappanale last year. Mike too was very forthcoming, and allowed me to utilise his tour diaries. Albert Wing was very co-operative…in fact, I ended up with new quotes from all of the surviving band members – save for Bruce Fowler (too busy?) and Chad Wackerman (too traumatic? Seems he doesn’t want to go back there, though he’s happy to talk to me about anything else!) – plus Howard Kaylan, Tom Fowler, Fabio Treves, Harry Andronis, Lorraine Belcher…and I’ve incorporated loads of ‘old’ interviews with Frank and others (including the ones I conducted previously) to give the book an almost fly on the wall type feel. So it’s very much the whole band telling their story of the tour.
KUR: How hard was it to contact them and getting them to talk to you?
AG: The Internet is a wonderful thing, and I found it amazingly easy to contact most people and get them to speak – aside from Bruce and Chad. I guess running the website helped grease the way. I also tried – unsuccessfully – to find out why Ray White ‘disappeared’, but I think I’ve captured enough meaty goodness to satisfy the most hardcore of FZ fans. Having said that, I know that some fans can be pretty hostile and opinionated (just check the official Zappa Forum), so I’m bracing myself; it would be foolish to expect an easy ride. This is not the definitive account of the tour – I don’t think that will ever be written. But it’s probably the closest we’ll ever get. I think Charles Ulrich’s ‘Project Object’ book – when he finally finishes it! – will be the last word in Zappa books. But I like mine a lot, and I’m confident many others will too.
KUR: Writing the book itself – how hard was that? Tell us about your writing process.
AG: Well, I’ve been writing stuff all my life – from silly verse to the crap on my website. And my last ‘proper’ job entailed editing some very important documents. So the idea of doing this didn’t faze me at all – especially as the subject matter was something so close to my heart. So having agreed to take it on, Jerry asked me to write a synopsis and lay out how I thought the book might look. Much of that initial work now forms a huge chunk of the opening chapter, which I’m particularly happy with.
Then, using Mike’s diaries, Den Simms’ ‘Project Documentation’, and Pat Buzby’s online ‘1988 Tour Project’ as a guide – well, a lot more than that – I started asking the band questions and writing the thing chronologically, concert by concert. There were times when I couldn’t believe how well it all fitted into place, given the amount of time that had elapsed since the tour.
KUR: Did you have to have this book “cleared” by the ZFT? Were lawyers involved?
AG: No. As I said, I didn’t write to Gail to seek her consent; that wasn’t necessary. But at the outset, Jerry was worried about the possible legal issues that might arise. On receipt of my final transcript, however, he was relieved at how relatively uncontentious it was. This is not to say that it’s in any way bland or boring – far from it. It’s just that all of the quotes are properly credited, and I have pretty much just acted as a reporter. Anyone who follows my website will know that I don’t promote illegal recordings or abuse copyright. But it’s also pretty clear which side of the fence I’m on on most things Zappa. And the book is of course Zappa Family approved – Candy wrote the Foreword, and thinks it’s wonderful!
KUR: Do you expect to make any money out of this book?
AG: I certainly didn’t take the job on to make a ton of money – like the two CDs I’ve put together for Cordelia, this was very much a labour of love. And over the past twenty odd years, I’ve been bringing news and reviews to Zappa fans simply for the love of it. But having ‘wasted’ so much time on this book, my wife would probably kill me if I had nothing to show for it at the end! So yes, I will get a small fraction of any profits the book makes.
KUR: Currently on sale/pre-order is a “deluxe” and “premium” version of your book – at rather steep prices I must say (£45/£95 respectively). Why not offer a “base” pocket version at a good price first, and offer the hardcover version from there? How much of a say did you have in this?
AG: I would like to emphasise that Wymer asked me to write the book for them. They came up with the ideas regarding the first editions – which sound pretty nifty to me, as collectors’ items. I’m sure some will baulk at the asking price, but how many of us have spent that sort of money down the pub in one night and now have nothing to show for it but a few less brain cells?
The special editions are a one-off – all 500 of ’em! – put together very much with the book’s launch at Zappanale in mind. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. And then we’ll have a more conventional paperback edition. I have worked very closely with Wymer on this, but at the end of the day they’re the ones who are putting their money upfront and have the final say as regards prices and formats.
Having given this grubby little oik a once in a lifetime opportunity, who am I to question their professional judgement? Limited editions might seem costly to start with, but I bet some of these will be selling on eBay in a couple of year’s time for a whole lot more. And I’d rather that than seeing them in the bargain bins, that’s for sure.
KUR: Any new books/projects in the pipeline?
AG: At the same time as writing this book, I have also been ‘ghost writing’ a book for the man who Sky Sports’ Magazine recently ranked second only to Kim Jong-Il in its list of ‘The 20 Most Outrageous Owners’. It’s the autobiography of a man who owned three English Third Division Football clubs at one time. That should be out in time for Christmas and, though it has nothing to do with Frank, given my involvement, it inevitably includes small traces of his aura.
Also, I am one of the many contributors to a book due out later this year called ‘1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die: And 10,001 You Must Download’. I was initially approached to write a few hundred words on Frank’s ‘Valley Girl’, and was then asked to write about some other peoples’ songs. I’m not sure how many of my entries will be included, but that’s due out in October.
After the runaway success of my ‘20 Extraordinary Renditions’ and ‘21 Burnt Weeny Sandwiches’ albums, Cordelia Records has graciously agreed to put out my next CD project: this time I’m not asking bands to cover Zappa songs, but the ones he covered on the ‘Broadway The Hard Way’ tour. And here’s the twist: the artists have got to make them more Zappa-sounding. So, how many people would like to hear ‘Ring Of Fire’ – arranged for sped-up clarinet and marimba, with some quotations from Stravinsky – even if Johnny’s not gonna sing it? The working title for that one is ‘On Broadway: Covers Of Invention’.
As for future writing projects, I’d like first refusal on penning the script should anyone come along and acquire the film rights to ‘Zappa The Hard Way’!