Pauline Butcher (author of Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa) Interview

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Prior to becoming Frank Zappa’s secretary in 1968, were you a fan of his work? Why or why not?

No, I was not a fan of his work because I had never heard of him and did not know who he was.

Discuss your involvement with The GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously), one of Frank’s discoveries and the very first all female rock band.

When Frank formed The GTOs in June 1968, my role was to be their chaperone and minder. I worked with them through their rehearsals, escorted them wherever they went (interviews, TV studios, etc.) and in the recording studio. I paid them their salary of $35 every week. They ran rings around me in as much as I did not know they were taking hard drugs in rehearsals and they generally treated me on good days as fun but on bad days as the worst school nurse.

What was the initial reaction to The GTOs by the public at large?

There was no public reaction to The GTOs as their record died on release. They received some applause to their one live performance at the Shrine Expo Hall with the Mothers of Invention. They tried to dance in Anaheim with the Mothers before they were officially signed up with Frank but their lack of coverage of the top parts of their bodies cause the organisers of the concert to form a human cordon around them and prevent them from going on stage.

I may be dead wrong on this but from what Frank wrote in his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book, I get the impression that he wasn’t too keen on your home country of England. Rainbow Theater and Royal Albert Hall incidents aside, do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?

In the beginning, Frank seemed to have had a soft spot for anything English as he was greatly admired there, as given by his keenness to film 200 Motels there. However, as you suggested, the various negative events that occurred did tend to sour his opinion.

What is the current status of your professional and personal relationships with both the Zappa family members and the Zappa Family Trust?

Gail became a close friend – or so I thought. We exchanged letters constantly until 1988, then she suddenly stopped writing and I don’t know why. I saw her in Hollywood in 2007 when we had dinner together in the Valley and she graciously showed me around their home, which I didn’t recognise as it was so changed after Frank built his studio there. She gave me her email address when we parted and asked me to write, which I did, but she never replied.

What are your opinions of Frank’s son Dweezil’s Zappa Plays Zappa band?

I have never seen Dweezil’s Zappa Plays Zappa band as I live in Singapore now.

Discuss your book Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa.

The book describes the dual stories of Pauline Butcher, a young girl suddenly thrust into the middle of Hollywood’s rock’n’roll madness, and Frank Zappa, who offers Pauline a job to live and work with him in his log cabin in Laurel Canyon. It not only gives
the most detailed insight into Frank Zappa ever written, it also charts Pauline’s journey from a prim girl through to independence and a wish to fly on her own.

What were the circumstances that led you to become a psychology instructor in 1980?

I left working for Frank Zappa in order to pursue a degree course at Cambridge University in England. While there, I met Peter Bird, whom I married directly afterwards and we moved to Scotland where Peter taught economics at Stirling University and our son was born. Seven years later, we returned to England and once our son went to school, I took up teaching A-level psychology (pre-university level).

Did you prefer working in education to working in administration or vice versa? And why?

I loved teaching and I hope that I inspired enough students to continue with their education into university.

In what ways, if any, were you affected by feminism and the feminist movement?

I was deeply affected by the feminist movement, which came to my attention in 1970 when Women’s Liberation gained coverage in national newspapers after marching in the streets. I have a chapter in my book about it and I discussed it with Frank Zappa, who was not impressed. Indeed, it was inspirational in re-igniting my wish to go to university, something that I’d missed in England when I was 16 when my parents took me to America for a year.

What are your views on feminism and the feminist movement today?

I don’t have particular views about feminism except to say that I hope it’s basic philosophy (love me less, respect me more, equal pay for equal work, etc.) continues. It’s future lies in women’s hands and an understanding, I think, that it’s extremely difficult to have it all and get away with it. Something has to give. Women who work and raise children do so at a cost either to themselves or the children or her husband. Those who succeed usually have some fourth party in the equation, i.e. a minder.

Feel free to shamelessly plug any of your other endeavors here.

Although my book is entitled Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa, and has been marketed towards male Zappa fans, my wish and aim is to reach women readers who will identify with my journey from a young, prim girl thrust into the rock’n’roll world of 1968 into a fully-grown woman four years later, ready to take on the world.

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