Ed Palermo: We're Only In It For The Music
AAJ: Do you think Zappa would be chuckling to himself to know that the US Army are playing his music. It's kind of ironic, no?
EP: I think about that all the time. Sometimes I wonder what Frank's wife would say; I wonder if she would try to stop a concert like that. Even though I'm a proud liberal we do need our armed services and the people in the armed services do a very important job. I'm not too crazy a lot of the time about what the people in the White House have them do, but I have deep, deep respect for the people in the army.
Liesl actually went to Iraq with several people from the band as a show of support for the troops, because those troops are in a very, very bad way, and now they're coming back with post traumatic stress disorders and stuff like that. I don't feel I have to apologize to anyone for doing this music with the Army band. Would Frank be chuckling? I don't know man [laughs]. Another question people ask me is if Frank would like what we do with this music. I don't know, but I'd like to think he would.
AAJ: I'm sure he'd love it. I feel he'd appreciate the recognition of the seriousness, the complexity of his music, the beauty of his art.
EP: I really thank you for saying that. I'd like to think so too. But I don't lose any sleep over it though.
AAJ: Zappa wanted to be a serious composer but do you think he had a certain degree of insecurity, and that maybe all the zaniness in his music was a kind of mask which he partially hid behind? Do you think maybe he didn't have the full confidence to only do serious composition?
EP: That's an interesting viewpoint; I've never heard anyone with that particular diagnosis. You may be right but I would say, judging by reading his book and stuff, that more than anything he loved composing and that he would probably have spent most of his time writing and conducting if he had the chance, but usually those projects cost him money, and in his book he says that.
He was totally self-taught, which is amazing considering how well he knew the vocabulary of people like Schoenberg, Webern and Varese. Considering how he was able to orchestrate that stuff ad how to write that amazing music I can see how he wouldn't have any trepidation at all.
However, I can tell you I am basically self taught too, and if I was Zappa and I would go up against people who had gone through conservatories and got PHDs in composition and who have won Pulitzer prizes for composition, if it was me, I would be as nervous as hell. I'd have so little confidence, but I don't think that was Zappa's thing; I believe Zappa had the utmost confidence and rightfully so because his music was amazing.
AAJ: Did you read the Barry Miles book on Zappa? [Frank Zappa: The Biography (Atlantic Books, 2005)]
EP: Yes I did. I thought it was fascinating. The only thing he wrote that I totally disagree with was that Zappa wasn't an intellectual. I think Zappa was a highly intellectual guy.
AAJ: Coming back to Eddy Loves Frank, you have an arrangement of "America the Beautiful" which, once past the vocals, is one of the most beautiful parts of the album. It's the sort of song that Zappa, were he alive today, would parody as a kind of finger in the eye of the American government. Tell us a little about this song.
EP: It's interesting that you bring that up because in his '88 tour, his last tour, he did do "America the Beautiful," and he did it more as a Ray Charles gospel-type thing. The hardcore Zappa fans immediately think that I'm doing Frank's version, which I don't do at all. My version has nothing to do with Zappa at all.
I can tell you where that arrangement came from; I wrote it right after 9/11. The band was playing at The Bottom Line less than a mile from Ground Zero and there were times right after 9/11 when we would do our shows and at the same time there would be people digging up bodiesthe police, the fire department and so on. These people were risking their lives and they also made me think of my father who's a WW II hero with a Silver Star. I started thinking about real heroes and how much in awe of all these people I am. That's who I wrote that arrangement for.
That arrangement is totally unlike Zappa because I am totally wearing my heart on my sleeve. Zappa hardly ever did that; Zappa's emotion was a different type of emotion. This is more like what my own original music is like.
Musically speaking I can tell you that I based the chord changes on one of my favorite Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young songs. It's from Déjà vu (Atlantic Records, 1970), and it's the next to last song, a medley of three songs, "Whiskey Boot Hill," "Down, Down, Down" and "Country Girl," and that to me is a desert island song. I just messed around with the chord changes and that's how I came up with the arrangement, and the chords on the organ solo and the guitar solo are totally influenced by that Neil Young song.
AAJ: How important a musical figure do you think Zappa is?
EP: It's not an easy question; I would say that his music played by other people will kind of always be on the fringe. Even when Zappa was alive he had a very hard time getting on the radio anyway. Even on Classic Rock stations they never play Zappa. Are you talking about jazz or classical or what?