Freak Out! is the captivating story of a naive young English girl thrust into the mad world of a music legend. Always on the outside looking in, Pauline describes rock’n’roll royalty in late sixties Laurel Canyon including Mick Jagger, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Captain Beefheart, Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck and others. Working nights and sleeping days, Pauline served as Zappa’s secretary from 1968 to 1972 running his fan club, the United Mutations, organised rehearsals for The Mothers of Invention as well as the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously) an all-girl rock group produced by Zappa. Based on her weekly letters home to England and her later study of psychology, Pauline peppers the memoir with extraordinary detail and offers the most revealing and intimate portrait of Frank Zappa ever written.
Living in the house with Frank, I’d learned many new things. He could delight in ribald tales of travels with the band, but complain with the coldest cynicism about their performance. He welcomed people into the house and then groused when they hung around. He could be a sympathetic listener, or a mocking tease that ripped at your beliefs and enjoyed the flap. He voiced libertarianism but ruled his band with an iron hand. He feted the disenfranchised and outcasts, yet coveted a capitalist’s lifestyle for himself. He scorned the American people for their ignorance while criticising The Establishment for treating them like children. He stood in judgement on almost everyone in the outside world – and yet, and yet, I knew no other man more unassuming, humble or compassionate.
The next morning, while I eyed the living room hoping for a moment to catch Frank, PamZ stomped into my room keen to demonstrate that her relationship with Gail was much more intimate than mine. It was eight-thirty in the morning. For six hours, worrying about my future and unable to sleep, I’d typed non-stop, screeds of letters home, some of them more than twenty pages of single-space, a cathartic attempt to make sense of my perilous situation. PamZ dropped into the wing chair and announced with her heavy, low drawl, ‘You know what’s going down now?’
‘No?’ I murmured, still typing.
‘The bitch is gonna leave him.’
My fingers stopped mid-word. ‘She told you that?’
‘Yeah, and a whole lot more. Gail tells me everything.’ She shrugged. ‘I don’t need to spell it out, Pauline. You’ve seen it.’
‘Well, not enough to leave.’
‘She says Frank has respect for everyone else in the house except her. And when you get right down to it, he fucking does.’
‘I’m surprised. Gail didn’t say a word to me.’
‘What can I say?’ she said examining the split ends of her hair, turning them over with focused attention.
Could it be true? Certainly Frank did not behave towards Gail as if he was in love, but as she had already told me, ‘Frank doesn’t do love.’ And they assuredly had plenty of off-days, barely exchanging words, and when they did, Frank was offhand, dismissive, very often irritated. Gail never reacted. Well, she did sometimes. Only two days earlier, she’d taken off to the beach with Christine, Moon and Janet, her friend. It was an unusual move for Gail, and Frank had scowled all day. But so what if they had marital rifts, what business was it of mine? PamZ’s bitching and back-biting was giving me a headache. I was fully aware that I too could be a victim of her lascivious tongue when she gossiped behind my back, and so I let her stew into a vapour on that particular issue.
I’d finished my letter and stretched my arms above my head. Only then did I realise how stiff my body had become. I got up and went through to the bathroom to clean my teeth. PamZ followed and leaned against the doorpost. ‘There’s more,’ she said casually. ‘United Mutations will be moved to the new house. Gail and I will be running it.’
That stopped me in my tracks. Several hundred fan letters arrived every week and I’d made a real effort to keep up-to-date. If Gail and PamZ’s idle hands got to them, a backlog would build up again as surely as Moon’s dirty nappies littered the floor. Without the fan club and with Frank showing no inclination to write his political book, what would be left of my job? Again, Gail had said nothing during our two days of bonhomie.
PamZ eyed me through lowered lids while I tried to rearrange my face in placid lines to hide my rising panic. Clearly, I needed to talk to Frank. I needed to hear directly from him how he saw my future. I spread the toothpaste along the brush and began vigorously brushing.
‘Where did you slide off to yesterday?’
‘Gail asked me to go pick up their new car.’
‘Well that makes sense since you’re usually fighting like wild cats.’
‘I know. If she interferes in my job one more time I think I’ll hit her.
‘It’s strange. She couldn’t have been sweeter,’ I said spitting into the bowl and rinsing my mouth.
‘Well, before you get all rosy-eyed, perhaps you should know that Gail is planning on getting you fired.’
I dropped the brush and caught at the sink for support. ‘P-a-a-m! Stop it.’
‘Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.’
I squeezed past her, not wanting to be in the same room with a girl who seemed to gain so much pleasure from bringing bad news.
‘You know, Pam’ I said, turning to face her superior expression, ‘sometimes I would prefer it if you would not tell me everything that you and Gail discuss.’
‘Why not, Pauline? I’m your friend. I really dig you.’
I yanked at my bedcovers, straightening, smoothing. Were PamZ’s revelations true or could this be another of her treacherous games? Canny as Gail could be, I found it hard to believe that even she, who had been so warm and friendly in the last two days, could at the same time have been scheming my demise. And, anyway, how much influence did Gail have with Frank? Did she have the power to turn him against me?
At that moment, there was a knock on the door. It was Gail and I gave her a glazed stare.
‘We’re off to look at a house,’ she purred, rattling her keys. ‘Want to wish us luck?’
What she really meant was, What are you two up to?
‘Make it a good one,’ PamZ drawled as Gail gave a little wave and closed the door.
‘How much did she hear?’ I whispered.
PamZ shrugged and passed through the bathroom and into her room. Now that she’d got me all hot and bothered, it seemed she’d lost interest in talking about Gail.
Everyone in the house was agog that Mick Jagger, the biggest superstar of the moment, squatted in our basement, but no one wished to appear ‘un-cool’ or sycophantic, so surreptitiously they drifted in and out. Frank, in his usual manner, made no protest, but Mick and Marianne glanced at the flow of intruders in confused wonder.
Later on, Frank and Gail, Mick and Marianne retired to the kitchen, where they finished off the full bottle of scotch they’d brought with them and generously offered it around. When I walked in, Mick Jagger had already hit his stride, barking on about the ineptitude of Harold Wilson’s government. ‘They said they would never devalue. Said it repeatedly, then what did they do? Devalue!’ He shrugged. ‘Politicians! Can’t trust any of ’em.’
This was more like it and, wanting to hear more, I pulled out a wooden chair. Christine busied herself wiping the already clean windowsills, Mercy, Christine’s friend, slouched against the stove while Ian hoisted himself onto the counter.
Marianne did a pirouette on the torn lino before flopping into Mick’s lap and announcing, ‘Now the country’s really going down the drain.’
Frank and Gail, not the least bit embarrassed about the dilapidated state of their kitchen, sent sidelong glances to each other, somewhat bemused.
‘The difference is,’ Mick went on, ‘the English take it lying down. Not like the bloody French. They want civil war.’ He grinned again. He seemed to find most of what he said amusing.
‘It’s always been that way,’ Marianne said. ‘I favour the Germans. They support women’s rights.’
Throughout their visit, Marianne interspersed with Mick. Like a double act, he spoke, she spoke, he spoke, she spoke, excited and passionate, vocal and opinionated about things everyone at the log cabin ignored: the music scene, fashion, art. They reminded me of what I missed from England, the lively chatter and dynamic arguments about issues of the day. Impressively, Mick demonstrated a firm grasp of European history, a knowledge far greater than Frank’s who covered up with droll remarks.
Mick touched on the arrest at Heathrow Airport of Martin Luther King’s assassin James Earl Ray the previous month, a subject that no one at the log cabin had mentioned or shown the slightest interest in and even now met with total silence. ‘I mean you’ve got your assassinations and your university riots. What have we got? The Welsh Nationalists! You can go and join them. What a joke.’
‘The Welsh Nationalists,’ Marianne cooed in her froggy voice.
‘So what do you think, Frank?’ Mick said, holding his arms tightly round Marianne and speaking over her shoulder. ‘I mean, do you think we should be out there riling up the police, demanding a revolution?’
Just like Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger deferred to Frank, and I didn’t know why. Was it simply the power of his music and lyrics?
‘Revolution is this year’s flower power,’ Frank said sourly. ‘I disagree with revolution.’
‘Yeah, well, you’ll never get a revolution in England, no mistake. We don’t have it in us. We’re just too bloody passive.’
‘Well, wait just a minute. I was reading a newspaper in London,’ Frank interrupted, ‘nearly every page had stories of violence.’
‘That’s true, but, compare the barricades in Paris and Prague with our pathetic turnout. It was a joke, really. If the police hadn’t turned up, it would have gone off like a teddy bear’s picnic.’
‘Why did you march?’ Frank asked.
‘Well, everyone was calling me up and I felt I wanted to do something, so – it seemed like a good idea – at the time.’
Marianne said, ‘The police should never have used horses. They were scary.’
‘Did you march too?’ Frank asked.
‘Darling, I can’t stand crowds. No. It was all over the TV.’
‘We should have had ten thousand people on horses,’ Mick added, ‘A cavalry charge by the protestors. That’s what it should have been.’
By this time, Mick’s words had begun to slur and Marianne kept getting up and posing, then throwing herself back into Mick’s lap.
Frank said, ‘You really think walking around the street with a peace sign is going to get us out of Vietnam?’
‘It might. Things are moving in Washington.’
‘You know when they’ll bring the troops home?’ Frank told him with authority. ‘When it’s no longer economically feasible to continue, it’ll have nothing to do with how many people hate the war. If people want change, I think they should use the ballot box. I think the ballot box is the best way to make things happen.’
‘Yeah, well,’ Mick said, tipping his chair back too far. He let go of Marianne to grab the worktop behind him while the motion threw her off balance and she slid from his lap, grabbing at air, until all that was left of her was two pairs of wedge-sandals with straps running up her ankles poking over the top of the table. Both of them convulsed into giggles as Mick bent down and tried to pull her up off the floor, their heads and noses snorting together.
I found their laughter infectious and giggled too but Frank stared his slightly cross-eyed look while Gail, who had not uttered a word throughout, shifted in her chair. Frank said, ‘Why don’t you come back another time when you’re a little less inebriated?’ He spoke quietly but with emphasis on ‘inebriated’ and made his displeasure clear.
Marianne’s face, streaming with tears of mirth, peeped above the table as she tried to heave herself up, ‘I’d like that. I’d like to come back,’ then disappeared again.
They just could not stop laughing, peal on peal of merriment. Mick got to his feet and tried for some dignity, pulling Marianne up with both hands to get her upright, though they were still coughing and spluttering. It was a bit of a sorry departure after such a good beginning, but they danced out happy as larks, unaware they’d been dismissed.
Copyright© Pauline Butcher. All rights reserved.