For Those Of You Who Might Not Know
In 2020, to celebrate 20 years of bringing you Zappa and related news via my Idiot Bastard website, I wrote an essay a month providing answers to some of those questions no one ever asks me. Yes, I gave 12 FUQs (Frequently Unasked Questions)! Most of these – slightly updated and modified, together with a few other articles (including one about Frank’s brief stint as a beat poet), can now be found in my Zappa FUQs e-book, exclusively available from my online shop.
And now, here’s a new one for 2023.
#17: I Don’t Wanna Get Drafted (Again)
In early 1980, with his new home studio still not quite up and running, FZ wrote and recorded I Don’t Wanna Get Drafted. The song was heavily promoted on his 1980 World Tour via regular inclusion in set-lists (sadly not at the Mudd Club or in Munich), merchandise (t-shirts, button badges) and the physical product being made available through special distribution deals agreed along the way.
Once the tour was over and the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen was open for business, he re-recorded an up-tempo version for his next album.
Here’s the story of the piece, as told by those involved.
Tommy Mars: We were having a dinner break and Frank was talking about World War Two. It was like history class. I remember Ike Willis' eyes were wide open and he said, “You really mean that, Frank? This shit really happened?” “Yeah, asshole – read a history book once in a while!”
Arthur Barrow: At the time there was speculation that the government might reinstate the military draft...
TM...and it just infuriated Frank.
Frank Zappa: I disagree with the draft because it makes people do something they don't want to do. The service should offer legitimate incentives, not just money. To pay, feed, house, clothe and train reluctant recruits is stupid.
TM: Frank had found a lick he liked and was just doing it incessantly. You felt the band was pregnant. It was a situation where you didn't know if the baby was going to come out. Then all of a sudden, he said, “Put down the burritos, I think we got a new tune boys.” And he started writing the lyrics right out. The baby was delivered!
AB: He wrote it quickly, and came up with a spiffy arrangement with me playing keyboards instead of bass. He thought with the timeliness of the subject matter he could have a hit single on his hands and decided we should go into a studio and record it right away. So off we went to Ocean Way Studios in Hollywood to record a single version of the new song.
Dale Bozzio: Frank invited me to record on the track. I was living with Terry, so I went wherever Terry went. I was not working but Frank had me on the payroll. Frank asked, “You want to sing today?” “Yeah, Frank,” I said. He told me to go into the vocal booth and sing the chorus. He sang me the section, “I don't wanna get drafted. Wars are really ugly. They're dirty and they're cold. I don't want nobody to shoot me in the foxhole." He sang it to me in a falsetto voice and he got high pitched when he sang the word ‘foxhole’. I was laughing because he sang it so high. I went into the vocal booth and sang the part. Frank said, "Okay that was good, but can you sing it up an octave?" I was just a kid and I had no idea what he was talking about. Frank looked at me and asked, "Do you know what an octave is?" I had to admit I didn't know. There was dead silence. In my head, I was freaking out knowing I caused Frank to do the ice pick in the forehead thing. He told me, "It's alright. Go home tonight and learn what an octave is. Then you come back tomorrow and sing that up an octave. Okay?" Okay. I felt so hurt and crushed. I walked down the hall of the studio and there was Thomas Nordegg, sitting there passing the time. He was leaning on his hand like the famous Rodin sculpture The Thinker. I asked him, "Thomas, what is an octave?" He said, "An octave is DOO then higher DOO! Octave." Problem solved.
FZ: It's a song that people would enjoy hearing while driving in their cars. It definitely says something that's on the minds of young people.
AB: Frank got it released almost immediately.
FZ: An example of record company stupidity occurred when I sent the single to Phonogram. A guy over there received it and he didn't want to put it out, because he used to be in the Army and he didn’t like the lyrics. That one guy decided he didn't want to go on it. A number of violent arguments ensued between by manager and him, and between my manager and the president of the company. Finally, the president of the company heard the record and called back and said he thought it was great and would go on it. We'll see what happens.
AB: Disappointingly, no hit single
FZ: I think the lyrics hit it right on the head: if there's gonna be a war and it's a big one, it'll be a pushbutton one. Marching around in the dirt is stupid.
AB: Just after the recording session, about five weeks before the tour was scheduled to begin, I got word that Vinnie Colaiuta had decided to quit the band. He had been asked to record an album with some other group. It was his dream to do session work, and apparently he thought doing the record was more important to his career than doing another Zappa tour.
David Logeman: Even though I was replacing Vinnie, he didn't want a Vinnie Colaiuta-type player. The fact that I could play jazz and rock was a big deal.
AB: After the tour, Frank was eager to get into his new home recording studio for the first time to record the new songs we had been playing.
Jimmy Carl Black: One night, Denny Walley came by and so did Motorhead. We recorded our parts on Drafted Again. Frank paid me real well, and I think it paid off for him because the album You Are What You Is was a great success musically. You know, that album was originally going to be called Fred Zeppelin, but then John Bonham died, and Frank changed the title.
Ahmet Zappa: The experience itself was really fun. I thought that my dad was feeling what I was doing! I did a few takes. That was really great because Moon went into the studio afterwards and I was listening to her and she was singing in this affected, character voice. And I thought that was kinda cool...it just felt like I'm doing something with my big sister, and we were all doing something with Frank, and we couldn't believe it was on the album.
Mark Pinske: I think Ahmet was about six years old then? I did a 'Johnny Olson' lead vocal track on that one. Frank edited it together to use instead of a guitar solo. He used to laugh at my imitation of Johnny Olson, the announcer for The Price Is Right. I also did some other vocal parts on the record, mainly some falsetto parts.
DL: Frank asked me if I could do military style cadence drumming, which of course I can: I played in tons of marching bands in my youth. I remember Frank telling me why he wrote the song and the political implications supporting his lyrics.
FZ: Today's audience don't know what drafting means. They really don't have any idea what it means for somebody to say because you're a certain age, we can make you go die for nothing. They don't know that. And they don't understand that in 1971, when 18-year-olds got the right to vote and could literally vote the draft away, that was a major change in US policy. A lot of people opposed it. But teenagers' memories of recent history are not all that terrific.
© February 2023 The Idiot Bastard