The text & audio of Frank's testimony is now up on

Testimony of Frank Zappa during Senate Hearings on the PMRC

Senator Hawkins. Thank you.

The Chairman. Thank you very much for being here. I know that for all of you
it was not the most pleasant of
experiences to read some of the lyrics in public. But it was very helpful
and we appreciate your attendance.

John Denver is on the witness list. He has had to leave the hearing room for
another engagement. He plans to be back. So ~~~
the next witness will be Mr. Frank Zappa.

Mr. Zappa, thank you very much for being with us. Please proceed.


Mr. Zappa. My name is Frank Zappa. This is my attorney Larry Stein from Los
Angeles. Can you hear me?

The Chairman. If you could speak very directly and clearly into the
microphone, I would appreciate it.

Mr. Zappa. My name is Frank Zappa. This is my attorney Larry Stein. The
statement that I prepared, that I sent you 100 copies of, is five pages
long, so I have shortened it down and am going to read a condensed version
of it. Certain things have happened. I have been listening to the event in
the other room and have heard conflicting reports as to whether or not
people in this committee want legislation. I under- stand that Mr. Hollings
does from his comments. Is that correct?

The CHAIRMAN. I think you had better concentrate on your testimony, rather
than asking questions.

Mr. ZAPPA. The reason I need to ask it, because I have to change something
in my testimony if there is not a
clear-cut version of whether or not legislation is what is being discussed

The Chairman. Do the best you can, because I do not think anybody here can
characterize Senator Hollings'

Mr. ZAPPA. I will carry on with the issue, then.

Senator Exon. Mr. Chairman, I might help him out just a little bit. I might
make a statement. This is one Senator
that might be interested in legislation and/or regulation to some extent,
recognizing the problems with the right
of free expression.

I have previously expressed views that I do not believe I should be telling
other people what they have to listen
to. I really believe that the suggestion made by the original panel was some
kind of an arrangement for
voluntarily policing this in the music industry as the correct way to go.

If it will help you out in your testimony, I might join Senator Hollings or
others in some kind of legislation
and/or regulation, unless the free enterprise system, both the producers and
you as the performers, see fit to
clean up your act.

Mr. ZAPPA. OK, thank you.

The First thing I would like to do, because I know there is some foreign
press involved here and they might not
understand what the issue is about, one of the things the issue is about is
the First Amendment to the
Constitution, and it is short and I would like to read it so they will
understand. It says:

 Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or
prohibiting the free exercise
 thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press or the right of
the people peaceably to
 assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

That is for reference.

These are my personal observations and opinions. I speak on behalf of no
group or professional organization.

The PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to
deliver any real benefits to children,
infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises
to keep the courts busy for years
dealing with the interpretational and enforcemental problems inherent in the
proposal's design.

It is my understanding that in law First Amendment issues are decided with a
preference for the least
restrictive alternative. In this context, the PMRC demands are the
equivalent of treating dandruff by

No one has forced Mrs. Baker or Mrs. Gore to bring Prince or Sheena Easton
into their homes. Thanks to the
Constitution, they are free to buy other forms of music for their children.
Apparently, they insist on purchasing
the works of contemporary recording artists in order to support a personal
illusion of aerobic sophistication.
Ladies, please be advised: The $8.98 purchase price does not entitle you to
a kiss on the foot from the composer or performer in exchange for a spin on
the family Victrola.

Taken as a whole, the complete list of PMRC demands reads like an
instruction manual for some sinister kind of toilet training program to
house-break all composers and performers because of the lyrics of a few.
Ladies, how dare you?

The ladies' shame must be shared by the bosses at the major labels who,
through the RIAA, chose to bargain
away the rights of composers, performers, and retailers in order to pass
H.R. 2911, The Blank Tape Tax, a
private tax levied by an industry on consumers for the benefit of a select
group within that industry.

Is this a consumer issue? You 'bet it is. The major record labels need to
have H.R. 2911 whiz through a few
committees before anybody smells a rat. One of them is chaired by Senator
Thurmond. Is it a coincidence that
Mrs. Thurmond is affiliated with the PMRC?

I cannot say she is a member, because the PMRC has no members. Their
secretary told me on the phone last
Friday that the PMRC has no members, only founders. I asked how many other
District of Columbia wives are
nonmembers of an organization that raises money by mail, has a tax-exempt
status, and seems intent on running
the Constitution of the United States through the family paper-shredder. I
asked her if it was a cult. Finally, she said she could not give me an
answer and that she had to call their lawyer.

While the wife of the Secretary of the Treasury recites "Gonna drive my love
inside you" and Senator Gore's
wife talks about "bondage" and "oral sex at gunpoint" on the CBS Evening
News, people in high places work on a tax bill that is so ridiculous, the
only way to sneak it through is to keep the public's mind on something else:
Porn rock.

Is the basic issue morality? Is it mental health? Is it an issue at all? The
PMRC has created a lot of confusion
with improper comparisons between song lyrics, videos, record packaging,
radio broadcasting, and live performances. These are all different mediums
and the people who work in them have the right to conduct their business
without trade-restraining legislation, whipped up like an instant pudding by
"The wives of Big Brother."

Is it proper that the husband of a PMRC nonmember/founder/ person sits on
any committee considering business pertaining to the blank tape tax or his
wife's lobbying organization? Can any committee thus constituted find facts
in a fair and unbiased manner? This committee has three that we know about:
Senator Danforth, Senator Packwood, and Senator Gore. For some reason, they
seem to feel there is no conflict of interest involved.

Children in the vulnerable age bracket have a natural love for music. If as
a parent you believe they should be
exposed to something more uplifting than "Sugar Walls," support music
appreciation programs in schools. Why
have you not considered your child's need for consumer information? Music
appreciation costs very little
compared to sports expenditures. Your children have a right to know that
something besides pop music exists.

It is unfortunate that the PMRC would rather dispense governmentally
sanitized heavy metal music than something more uplifting. Is this an
indication of PMRC's personal taste or just another manifestation of the low
priority this administration has placed on education for the arts in

The answer. of course, is neither. You cannot distract people from thinking
about an unfair tax by talking about music appreciation. For that you need
sex, and lots of it.

The establishment of a rating system, voluntary or otherwise, opens the door
to an endless parade of moral
quality control programs based on things certain Christians do not like.
What if the next bunch of Washington
wives demands a large yellow "J" on all material written or performed by
Jews, in order to save helpless
children from exposure to concealed Zionist doctrine?

Record ratings are frequently compared to film ratings. Apart from the
quantitative difference, there is another that is more important: People who
act in films are hired to pretend. No matter how the film is rated, it will
hurt them personally.

Since many musicians write and perform their own material and stand by it as
their art, whether you like it or
not, an imposed rating will stigmatize them as individuals. How long before
composers and performers are told to wear a festive little PMRC arm band
with their scarlet letter on it?

Bad facts make bad law, and people who write bad laws are in my opinion more
dangerous than songwriters who celebrate sexuality. Freedom of speech,
freedom of religious thought, and the right to due process for
composers, performers and retailers are imperiled if the PMRC and the major
labels consummate this nasty

Are we expected to give up article 1 so the big guys can collect an extra
dollar on every blank tape and 10 to 25 percent on tape recorders? What is
going on here? Do we get to vote on this tax? I think that this whole matter
has gotten completely blown out of proportion, and I agree with Senator Exon
that there is a very dubious
reason for having this event. I also agree with Senator Exon that you should
not be wasting time on stuff like
this, because from the beginning I have sensed that it is somebody's hobby

Now, I have done a number of interviews on television. People keep saying,
can you not take a few steps in their direction, can you not sympathize, can
you not empathize? I do more than that at this point. I have got an idea
for a way to stop all this stuff and a way to give parents what they really
want, which is information, accurate
information as to what is inside the album, without providing a stigma for
the musicians who have played on the
album or the people who sing it or the people who wrote it. And I think that
if you 'listen carefully to this idea
that it might just get by all of the constitutional problems and everything

As far as I am concerned, I have no objection to having all of the lyrics
placed on the album routinely, all the
time. But there is a little problem. Record companies do not own the right
automatically to take these lyrics,
because they are owned by a publishing company.

So, just as all the rest of the PMRC proposals would cost money, this would
cost money too, because the record
companies would need--they should not be forced to bear the cost, the extra
expenditure to the publisher, to
print those lyrics.

If you consider that the public needs to be warned about the contents of the
records, what better way than to
let them see exactly what the songs say? That way you do not have to put any
kind of subjective rating on the
record. You do not have to call it R, X, D/ A, anything. You can read it for

But in order for it to work properly, the lyrics should be on a uniform kind
of a sheet. Maybe even the
Government could print those sheets. Maybe it should even be paid for by the
Government, if the Government is
interested in making sure that people have consumer information in this

And you also have to realize that if a person buys the record and takes it
out of the store, once it is out of the
store you can't return it if you read the lyrics at home and decide that
little Johnny is not supposed to have it.

I think that should at least be considered, and the idea of imposing these
ratings on live concerts, on the
albums, asking record companies to reevaluate or drop or violate contracts
that they already have with artists
should be thrown out.

That is all I have to say.

The Chairman. Thank you very much, Mr. Zappa. You understand that the
previous witnesses were not asking
for legislation. And I do not know, I cannot speak for Senator Hollings, but
I think the prevailing view here is
that nobody is asking for legislation.

The question is just focusing on what a lot of people perceive to be a
problem, and you have indicated that you
at least understand that there is another point of view. But there are
people that think that parents should have
some knowledge of what goes into their home.

Mr. ZAPPA. All along my objection has been with the tactics used by these
people in order to achieve the goal.
I just think the tactics have been really bad, and the whole premise of
their proposal- they were badly advised
in terms of record business law, they were badly advised in terms of
practicality. or they would have known that certain things do not work
mechanically with what they suggest.

The CHAIRMAN. Senator Gore.

Senator GORE. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I found your statement very interesting and, although I disagree with some
of the statements that you make and
have made on other occasions, I have been a fan of your music, believe it or
not. I respect you as a true original and a tremendously talented musician.

Your suggestion of printing the lyrics on the album is a very interesting
one. The PMRC at one point said they
would propose either a rating or warning, or printing all the lyrics on the
album. The record companies came
back and said they did not want to do that.

I think a lot of people agree with your suggestion that one easy way to
solve this problem for parents would be
to put the actual words there, so that parents could see them. In fact, the
National Association of Broadcasters made exactly the same request of the
record companies.

I think your suggestion is an intriguing one and might really be a solution
for the problem.

Mr. ZAPPA. You have to understand that it does cost money, because you
cannot expect publishers to
automatically give up that right, which is a right for them. Somebody is
going to have to reimburse the publishers, the record industry.

Without trying to mess up the album jacket art, it should be a sheet of
paper that is slipped inside the
shrink-wrap, so that when you take it out you can still have a complete
album package. So there is going to be
some extra cost for printing it.

But as long as people realize that for this kind of consumer safety you are
going to spend some money and as
long as you can find a way to pay for it, I think that would be the best way
to let people know.

Senator GORE. I do not disagree with that at all. And the separate sheet
would also solve the problem with
cassettes as well, because you do not have the space for words on the
cassette packs.

Mr. ZAPPA. There would have to be a little accordion-fold.

Senator GORE. I have listened to you a number of times on this issue, and I
guess the statement that I want to
get from you is whether or not you feel this concern is legitimate. You feel
very strongly about your position, and I understand that. You are very
articulate and forceful. But occasionally you give the impression that you
think parents are just silly to be concerned at all.

Mr. ZAPPA. No; that is not an accurate impression.

Senator GORE. Well, please clarify it, then.

Mr. ZAPPA. First of all, I think it is the parents' concern; it is not the
Government's concern.

Senator GORE. The PMRC agrees with you on that.

Mr. ZAPPA. Well. that does not come across in the way they have been
speaking. The whole drift that I have
gotten, based upon the media blitz that has attended the PMRC and its rise
to infamy, is that they have a special
plan, and it has smelled like legislation up until now.

There are too many things that look like hidden agendas involved with this.
And I am a parent. I have got four
children. Two of them are here. I want them to grow up in a country where
they can think what they want to
think, be what they want to be, and not what somebody's wife or somebody in
Government makes them be.

I do not want to have that and I do not think you do either.

Senator GORE. OK. But now you are back on the issue of Government
involvement. Let me say briefly on this
point that the PMRC says repeatedly no legislation, no regulation, no
Government action. It certainly sounded
clear to me.

And as far as a hidden agenda, I do not see one, hear one, or know of one.

Mr. ZAPPA OK, let me tell you why I have drawn these conclusions. First of
all, they may say, we are not
interested in legislation. But there are others who are, and because of
their project bad things have happened in this country in the industry.

I believe there is actually some liability. Look at this. You have a
situation where, even if you go for the lyric
printed thing in the record, because of the tendency among Americans to be
copycats- one guy commits a murder, you get a copycat murder-now you've got
copycat censors.

You get a very bad situation in San Antonio, TX, right now where they are
trying to pass PMRC-type individual
ratings and attach them to live concerts, with the mayor down there trying
to make a national reputation by
putting San Antonio on the map as the first city in the United States to
have these regulations, against the
suggestion of the city attorney, who says, I do not think this is

But you know, there is this fervor to get in and do even more and even more.

And the other thing, the PMRC starts off talking about lyrics, but when they
take it over into other realms they
start talking about the videos. In fact, you misspoke yourself at the
beginning in your introduction when you
were talking about the music does this, the music does that. There is a
distinct difference between those notes
and chords and the baseline [sic - error in Congressional report] and the
rhythm that support the words and the

I do not know whether you really are talking about controlling the type of

The CHAIRMAN. The lyrics.

Mr. ZAPPA So specifically we are talking about lyrics. It began with lyrics.
But even looking at the PMRC fundraising letter, in the last paragraph at
the bottom of the page it starts looking like it is branching into other
areas, when it says: "We realize that this material has pervaded other
aspects of society." And it is like what,
you are going to fix it all for me?

Senator GORE. No. I think the PMRC's acknowledging some of the statements by
some of their critics who say:
Well, why single out the music industry. Do I understand that you do believe
that there is a legitimate concern here?

Mr. ZAPPA But the legitimate concern is a matter of taste for the individual
parent and how much sexual
information that parent wants to give their child, at what age, at what
time, in what quantity, OK. And I think
that, because there is a tendency in the United States to hide sex, which I
think is an unhealthy thing to do. and many parents do not give their
children good sexual education, in spite of the fact that little books for
kids are
available, and other parents demand that sexual education be taken out of
school, it makes the child vulnerable, because if you do not have something
rational to compare it to when you see or hear about something that is
aberrated you do not perceive it as an aberration.

Senator GORE. OK, I have run out of time. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The CHAIRMAN. Senator Rockefeller.

Senator ROCKEFELLER. No questions, Mr. Chairman.

The CHAIRMAN. Senator Gorton.

Senator GORTON. Mr. Zappa, I am astounded at the courtesy and soft-voiced
nature of the comments of my
friend, the Senator from Tennessee. I can only say that I found your
statement to be boorish, incredibly and
insensitively insulting to the people that were here previously; that you
could manage to give the first amendment of the Constitution of the United
States a bad name, if I felt that you had the slightest understanding of it,
which I do not.

You do not have the slightest understanding of the difference between
Government action and private action,
and you have certainly destroyed any case you might otherwise have had with
this Senator.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. ZAPPA. Is this private action?

The CHAIRMAN. Senator Exon. Senator EXON. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.
Mr. Zappa, let me say that I was surprised that Senator Gore knew and liked
your music. I must confess that I have never heard any of your music, to my

Mr. ZAPPA I would be more than happy to recite my lyrics to you.

Senator EXON. Can we forgo that?

Senator GORE. You have probably never heard of the Mothers of Invention.

Senator EXON. I have heard of Glen Miller and Mitch Miller. Did you ever
perform with them?

Mr. ZAPPA As a matter of fact, I took music lessons in grade school from
Mitch Miller's brother.

Senator EXON. That is the first sign of hope we have had in this hearing.
Let us try and get down to a fundamental question here that I would like to
ask you, Mr. Zappa. Do you believe that parents have the right and the
obligation to mold the psychological development of their children?

Mr. ZAPPA Yes, I think they have that right, and I also think they have that

Senator EXON. Do you see any extreme difficulty in carrying out those
obligations for a parent by material
falling into the hands of their children over which they have little or no

Mr. ZAPPA Well, one of the things that has been brought up before is talking
about very young children getting
access to the material that they have been showing here today. And what I
have said to that in the past is a
teenager may go into a record store unescorted with $8.98 in his pocket, but
very young children do not.

If they go into a record store, the $8.98 is in mom or dad's pocket, and
they can always say, Johnny, buy a
book. They can say, Johnny, buy instrumental music; there is some nice
classical music for you here; why do you not listen to that.

The parent can ask or guide the child in another direction, away from Sheena
Easton, Prince, or whoever else
you have been complaining about. There is always that possibility.

Senator EXON. As I understand it from your testimony--and once again, I want
to emphasize that I see
nothing wrong whatsoever; in fact, I salute the ladies for bringing this to
the attention of the public as best they see fit. I think you could tell
from my testimony that I tend to agree with them.

I want to be very careful that we do not overstep our bounds and try
and--and I emphasize once again--tell
somebody else what they should see. I am primarily worried about children.

It seems to me from your statement that you have no obligation--or no
objection whatsoever to printing lyrics, if that would be legally possible,
or from a standpoint of having the room to do that, on records or tapes. Is
not what you said?

Mr. ZAPPA I think it would be advisable for two reasons. One, it gives
people one of the things that they have
been asking for. It gives them that type of consumer protection because, if
you can read the English language
and you can see the lyrics on the back, you have no excuse for complaining
if you take the record out of the

And also, I think that the record industry has been damaged and it has been
given a very bad rap by this whole
situation because it has been indicated, or people have attempted to
indicate, that there is so much of this kind
of material that people object to in the industry, that that is what the
industry is.

It is not bad at all. Some of the albums that have been selected for abuse
here are obscure. Some of them are
already several years old. And I think that a lot of deep digging was done
in order to come up with the song
about anal vapors or whatever it was that they were talking about before.

Senator EXON. If I understand you, you would be in support of printing the
lyrics, but you are adamantly
opposed to any kind of a rating system?

Mr. ZAPPA I am opposed to the rating system because, as I said, if you put a
rating on the record it goes
directly to the character of the person who made the record, whereas if you
rate a film, a guy who is in the film has been hired as an actor. He is
pretending. You rate the film, whatever it is, it does not hurt him. But
whether you like what is on the record or not, the guy who made it, that is
his art and to stigmatize him is

Senator EXON. Well, likewise, if you are primarily concerned about the
artists, is it not true that for many
many years, we have had ratings of movies with indications as to the sexual
content of movies and that has been, as near as I can tell, a voluntary
action on the part of the actors in the movies and the producers of the
and the distributors?

That seems to have worked reasonably well. What is wrong with that?

Mr. ZAPPA Well, first of all, it replaced something that was far more
restrictive, which was the Hayes Office.
And as far as that being voluntary, there are people who wish they did not
have to rate their films. They still
object to rating their films, but the reason the ratings go on is because if
they are not rated they will not get
distributed or shown in theaters. So there is a little bit of pressure
involved, but still there is no stigma.

Senator EXON. The Government does not require that. The point I am trying to
make is--and while I think
these hearings should not have been held if we are not considering
legislation or regulations at this time, I
emphasized earlier that they might follow.

I simply want to say to you that I suspect that, unless the industry "cleans
up their act"--and I use that in quotes again--there is likely to be
legislation. And it seems to me that it would not be too far removed from
reality or too offensive to anyone if you could follow the general
guidelines, right, wrong, or indifferent, that are now in place with regard
to the movie industry.

Mr. ZAPPA Well, I would object to that. I think first of all, I believe it
was you who asked the question of Mrs.
Gore whether there was any other indication on the album as to the contents.
And I would say that a buzzsaw
blade between a guy's legs on the album cover is a good indication that it
is not for little Johnny.

Senator EXON. I do not believe I asked her that question, but the point you
made is a good one, because if
that should not go to little minds I think there should be at least some
minimal activity or attempt on the part of
the producers and distributors, and indeed possibly the performers, to see
that that does not get to that little

Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.

The CHAIRMAN. Senator Hollings.

Senator HOLLINGS. Mr. Zappa, I apologize for coming back in late, but I am
just hearing the latter part of
it. I hear that you say that perhaps we could print the words, and I think
that is a good suggestion, but it is
unfair to have albums rated. Now, it is not considered unfair in the movie
industry, and I want you to elaborate. I do not want to belabor you, but why
is it unfair? I mean, it is accurate, is it not?

Mr. ZAPPA Well, I do not know whether it is accurate, because sometimes they
have trouble deciding how a
film gets to be an X or an R or whatever. And you have two problems. One is
the quantity of material, 325 films
per year versus 25,000 4-minute songs per year, OK.

You also have a problem that an album is a compilation of different types of
cuts. If one song on the album is
sexually explicit and all the rest of it sounds like Pat Boone, what do you
get on the album? How are you going
to rate it?

There are little technical difficulties here, and and you have the problem
of having somebody in the position of
deciding what's good, what's bad, what's talking about the devil, what is
too violent, and the rest of that stuff.

But the point I made before is that when you rate the album you are rating
the individual, because he takes
personal responsibility for the music; and in the movies, the actors who are
performing in the movie, it does not
hurt them.

Senator HOLLINGS. Well, very good. I think the actual printing of the
content itself is perhaps even better
than the rating. Let everyone else decide.

Mr. ZAPPA I think you should leave it up to the parents, because not all
parents want to keep their children
totally ignorant.

Senator HOLLINGS. Well, you and I would differ on what is ignorance and
education, I can see that. But if
it was there, they could see what they were buying and I think that is a
step in the right direction.

As Senator Exon has pointed out, the primary movers in this particular
regard are not looking for legislation or
regulations, which is our function. To be perfectly candid with you, I would
look for regulations or some kind of legislation, if it could be
constitutionally accomplished, unless of course we have these initiatives
from the
industry itself.

I think your suggestion is a good one. If you print those words, that would
go a long way toward satisfying
everyone's objections.

Mr. ZAPPA All we have to do is find out how it is going to be paid for.

Senator HOLLINGS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The CHAIRMAN. Senator Hawkins.

Senator HAWKINS. Mr. Zappa, you say you have four children?

Mr. ZAPPA Yes, four children.

Senator HAWKINS. Have you ever purchased toys for those children?

Mr. ZAPPA No; my wife does.

Senator HAWKINS. Well, I might tell you that if you were to go in a toy
store--which is very educational for
fathers, by the way; it is not a maternal responsibility to buy toys for
children--that you may look on the box and the box says, this is suitable
for 5 to 7 years of age, or 8 to 15, or 15 and above, to give you some
guidance for a toy for a child.

Do you object to that?

Mr. ZAPPA In a way I do, because that means that somebody in an office
someplace is making a decision about
how smart my child is.

Senator HAWKINS. I would be interested to see what toys your kids ever had.

Mr. ZAPPA Why would you be interested?

Senator HAWKINS. Just as a point of interest.

Mr. ZAPPA Well, come on over to the house. I will show them to you.

Senator HAWKINS. I might do that.

Do you make a profit from sales of rock records?

Mr. ZAPPA. Yes.

Senator HAWKINS. So you do make a profit from the sales of rock records?

Mr. ZAPPA Yes.

Senator HAWKINS. Thank you. I think that statement tells the story to this
committee. Thank you.

The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Zappa, thank you very much for your testimony.

Mr. ZAPPA Thank you.~~~

Frank Zappa's Statement to the U.S. Senate

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