LORRAINE BELCHER CHAMBERLAIN

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I first interviewed Lorraine in 2010 – a few months before she married American underground cartoonist, S. Clay Wilson. Sadly, Wilson passed away last year, but Lorraine is keeping his memory alive via regular blogs at www.sclaywilson.com. He was the third and final love of her life – FZ being the first. Having remained in touch with ‘Pete’ for the past 12 years, I thought it was about time I pinged a few more questions at her about her time with Frank.

While you lived with the Zappas, did you ever see Frank buy Gail a present - on her birthday or at Xmas?
I never saw Frank bestow any gifts on Gail. He once sent Smothers (Frank’s bodyguard...a dignified, BigBlackBaldWALL of a gentle man) downstairs in the Waldorf to buy three vibrators in descending sizes, though. The smallest one was the size of my baby finger – called ‘BeautyPop’ – written in Comic Font. Frank amused himself by inserting it inside me before we headed downtown to CBGB’s, in a limo. I was mortified, once seated in such close proximity to the respectful Smothers – and everyone else – certain they could hear it buzzing away in its secret hiding place. I hastened to the bathroom the minute we arrived and removed it.
    The following morning, I laughed when I spotted them on top the TV like the Holy Trinity, turned on low – humming as they progressed imperceptibly towards the edge.
    As we were leaving, Frank said, “Take them, please. My gift!” I stood there and briefly considered it – then straightened the line-up neatly, as one would a place setting, and said. “Oh let’s leave ‘em for the maid. My tip!”
    I wonder how long it took for anyone to notice them?

Oh my goodness! That’s a stonker of a first answer!
Ha! You just can’t take me anywhere!

Okay, tell me about meeting Barry Miles at the house.
I was living with Frank & Gail & Moon in 1969. (I know…bizarre.) Biographer Barry Miles visited numerous times that July, to interview Frank. He’d descend to the basement for a couple of hours, then seek me out for a friendly chat before leaving. He knew me only as Pete, never questioned it, nor asked my last name. We had great fun together, talking about everything except who I was and what the hell I was doing there! His pal from London, a nebbishy guy also named Barry, a DJ, accompanied him sometimes, and we’d entertain ourselves up by the pool, or visit Janet (Moon’s Nanny) in the guest cottage. There was abundant laughter in those weeks, and soon the two Barrys invited me to join them on a road trip they planned to take across America in a Rolls Royce, to Woodstock NY for ‘some music festival’. It sounded like great fun, and I was considering it till Frank privately said, “I don’t want you to go.” Disappointed, they tried once more to convince me before leaving town, but I declined with no real explanation. I saw DJ Barry in London a couple of years later, when he invited me on a pub  and club crawl around town with a few of his friends. I’d lost touch with the handsome Miles, and learned Barry tragically died not long after I’d seen him.
    In 2004, (living with the late Zap cartoonist S. Clay Wilson in San Francisco) Wilson gave me Miles’ Zappa biography for Xmas. Thrilled, I looked for my name in the glossary, and found the passages about the ‘bust’ at Studio Z, in Cucamonga, and a brief description of our early relationship. Not a WORD about meeting me while living with Frank and Gail, years later!
    I soon discovered Barry Miles was still alive, and was mutual friends with people both Wilson and I knew. I emailed him with profound excitement, eager to tell him about the MISSING PART in his fabulous biography. The part where I returned to Frank in the middle of his marriage, became friends with Gail and fell madly in love with Moon…and visited them for five years after I moved out (after staying for a year) until I finally DID join him on the road, and Gail was VERY mad….(We didn’t speak for 25 years until I saw her at a Zappa film festival at the Castro around 2002 and she THREW her arms around me, shouting “PETE! Where have you been?”) Wait….what?
    And that Frank and I had a close relationship and resumed our love affair in NYC from 1972 – whenever I was single…till he became too sick to travel...and then died.
    It’s too bad Miles’ book took so many years to come out! And that our paths never crossed in all that time. I could’ve told him that the girl he met in Frank’s house named ‘Pete’ was that infamous girl named Lorraine Belcher….the ‘buxom, red-haired companion’ that nobody could ever find, to interview.
    I stayed quiet, trying to stay out of photos with him so Gail wouldn’t get upset with Frank again. The OLDY TIMES, before cell phones and social media!
    It truly is a small, very weird world.

Where you still there when Frank was in a wheelchair after the incident at the Rainbow?
When Frank was thrown off the stage in London, I didn’t see him for over a year.
    He was unable to fly back to LA for awhile and was disabled for a long time once he got home.
    Finally he started preparing for his instrumental concert without the Mothers, at the Hollywood Bowl. About ten days before the show, he sent for me to come down from Seattle to rehearsals and then to the performance.
    I was stunned to see him using crutches, conducting rehearsals in a cramped storefront in a strip mall, with a back door leading out to an alley.
    Frank was positioned next to a load-bearing post, with a chair behind him, music stand in front of him and aluminium crutches clasped around his forearms. He was focused and a bit stern….the bassoonist struggling with sheet music so complex and heavily-laden with notes the pages were nearly black.
    At one point he dropped his baton. It went skittering away from him and everybody froze. No one lunged to pick it up. The room went silent.
    Exasperated, Frank sat on the spindly chair, rattling his crutches, and laid way off to the side, jabbing at the baton with a crutch, trying to scoot it close enough to pick up. A precarious position at best, but he managed to retrieve it and struggle to his feet. You could hear them finally take a breath…or was I the only one doing that?
    During a break I said, “When are you going back on tour? It’s the only way you’re ever really going to walk again.” He wasn’t dedicated to doing serious exercising…his legs were still weak.
    That night was beautiful at the Bowl, with stars in the sky and each musician seated at rounded, glowing orchestra stands. I sat in a boxed off area, up in the centre of the audience, with all the Mothers. Glorious!
    Suddenly, Frank emerged from stage left and strode to the centre WITHOUT CRUTCHES! He raised his baton and began. He never turned around, made faces, nor amusing remarks. The programme was spectacular.
    During intermission, I skipped over to the bathroom. Inside, some young women were complaining in the mirror, saying, “Let’s GO, let’s get out of here.” I asked them why they were leaving: “He won’t even TURN AROUND,” one said. “We can’t even see his FACE, and he’s not talking or anything.”
    At the end of the concert, Frank turned around and bowed to the audience as the applause surged. Then he strode offstage.
    When I reached him, he was still standing, surrounded by people, holding himself up on crutches again. He looked exhausted.
    I put my arms around him, wishing I could lift him up, and he jerked his head back and smirked. “Thanks, Pete!” he grinned.
    “Some young female Mothers fans left early,” I said. “You’re going to have to wear a mask of your own face on the back of your head. Either that or turnaround once in awhile.”
   
It wasn’t long before he was back out on tour again.
    Perhaps he just needed an extra little push.

You mentioned Janet Ferguson Hof – so she around while you lived with the Zappa’s?
Yes, Janet was Moon’s nanny the whole time I was there. She lived in an adorable guest cottage about 50ft from the back door, nestled under and shaded by palm trees and giant banana leaf plants. A tropical little wonderland.
    I loved her. She and Miss Lucy were hilarious together!
    Once, in a brightly lit elevator, going up to a recording studio, I noticed she looked ghostly …like white powder was even on her eyelashes.
    I said something about it, and in her deep, whiskey voice and NY deadpan delivery, she almost smiled and said. “Yeah. Sometimes I like to look pale…like I’m about sick to DEATH.”
   
I’m laughing now, remembering her eccentric attitude, in the midst of the city that made TANNING mandatory.

Did you ever meet Cynthia PlasterCaster?
Yes. I didn’t realise Cynthia died recently. I’ll never forget when her mom was coming to visit her in LA, and she brought all her ‘statuettes’ over to Frank’s house – to hide them from her mom!
    Gail put them away for safekeeping, and she returned two weeks later when the coast was clear. I only saw part of the collection, when she came bouncing into the house with a boxful, took two out and twirled them around like batons. WOW!
    Sorry to hear she’s passed.

You introduced your new husband to FZ backstage at Halloween 1976. How did that go?
The Mothers were playing Madison Square Garden. I’d been with John Chamberlain for about a year. 20 years older than me, this handsome old reprobate chose to dress like a homeless bum, wearing a houndstooth jacket, an ugly sweater vest, wrinkled shirt and old wide-wale cords. He was drunk. And LATE. They’d finished, and some people were milling around in the wide, cinder block hallway where even elephants walked when Ringling Circus was in town. There were some long folding tables by the wall outside the green room, and when I brought Frank back there to meet him, John had somehow managed to get up on a table and pass out with his mouth hanging open.
    Was he snoring? Drooling? I’m not sure, but he might as well have been!
    I was mortified.
    Frank stood there, pressing on the centre of my back and said, “I’m sorry.”
   
I said, “Well…he will be, too….tomorrow.”
But they did meet other times, and Chamberlain was fine. He was just nervous about that first meeting with the former boyfriend/rock star and ducked into a bar on the way. For a couple of HOURS.
    Oh dear….first impressions.

Tell me about some of Frank’s band members that you met.
We all went to CBGB’s once – Frank had never been – and I introduced Terry Bozzio to The Ramones at the bar. I didn’t know them well, but they knew my late son, drummer Jesse Chamberlain of the Necessaries. Terry came back to the table a gushing fan!
    Terry and I used to have some laughs!

Was Dale Bozzio around then? She talks about Frank in her memoir like he was a kindly uncle.
No, I never met Dale Bozzio!

Okay. I always found FZ’s relationship with Ruth Underwood curious. Some say she was in love with him and, assuming so, he clearly played on this – like in the Roxy movie, when he gooses her. But she ended up with one of his road crew. What’s your take?
I adored Ruth from our first meeting. She was warm and humble. A serious, talented musician, she was never stuffy, and could concentrate with laser focus in the midst of onstage chaos without getting frazzled. When I saw her percussion setup, covering a third of the stage, I saw a classical symphony musician playing Frank’s complex charts in a little halter top and tight jeans. Ruth commanded attention by playing well, regardless of her considerably generous physical attributes. She was GLORIOUS!
    “And on marimba, kettle drum, bells, etc. Ladies & gentlemen we have RUTH and her TWO FRIENDS!” Frank introduced her like a circus barker, in his Master of Ceremonies voice.
    Ruth would then bow, head down, her blushing face hidden by that ocean of curly hair.
    He teased her mercilessly, then laughed wickedly with a lascivious chuckle.
    I didn’t have the impression she was in love with Frank, but perhaps she had the grace to conceal it in my presence. I’ll never know.
    Frank loved to gossip. When Ruth married Ian Underwood, the wind instrument maestro of the band, he regaled me with their wedding night hijinks.
    “When they got to their hotel room, Ian serenaded his bride by playing a saxophone between her legs!” he said. The desk clerk called their room with a noise complaint when Ruth’s vocal expressions of ecstasy rivalled that of the horn, and they were reprimanded for disturbing the other guests.
    I always wondered just who in the world had reported them.

I recently got to send Ruth some questions: she’s notoriously private, but I learned that she bought a copy of my Frank Talk book of interviews – and then answered most of my questions! But sadly she then decided to keep it all to herself for her long awaited memoir. I am chuffed that she even knows I exist, to be honest.
    Anyway...you told me that Alex Winter wanted to record an interview with you for the Zappa movie?
Andrew, I shoulda called you to convince me! They came to San Francisco to interview me, but Wilson was just out of the ICU and I just couldn’t. I feel terrible about it. One of them waited in town for five days and kept calling. Bad timing. It was just before they needed to do the final edit. Phooey!
    Now, I still haven’t watched the movie. People are always asking why I’m not in it. It’ll drive me nuts not to’ve told the stories and be the Missing Person in this film.

Oh, you definitely need to see the movie: Ruth had the crew in tears when she filmed her interview.
    Okay. When I met Ahmet, he said he hasn’t realised what a cock-smith his dad was. And Moon has said she believes he fathered a further four children with three different women. What do you think?
I’ve never been a competitive nor possessive person. I’m not jealous, a nag, or particularly inquisitive. I don’t ask where you’re going nor when you’ll be back.
    I don’t read anybody else’s mail, postcards, or look in your medicine cabinet. I wouldn’t dream of looking at anyone’s emails, texts, or snoop in their phone. It’s not from an excess of principles – though I DO feel that’s wrong – and I don’t feel especially PROUD for having these boundaries. In fact, many men have been exasperated by it, wondering if I even CARE, wanting me to establish some rules and expectations, like most women do. I care about what you’re doing with ME, in my presence. I only care about who you talk to if you want to tell me about it – because I love it when we talk together. Not because I’m investigating! I’m snoopy about my friends’ lives but not actively SNOOPING on my partner. I want to tell you everything! So I love it when you do it, too.
    Of course I care! I just don’t think others are my property – nor my child. Of course there’s having MANNERS…and not making someone WORRY. I’m not just some animal, roaming around at will, hoping to bump in to my mate by coincidence. I communicate. I just don’t ASSUME nor OWN another functioning human being with things to do. I’m glad to be called, invited, looked after, updated, missed, included, informed and enjoyed.
    I reciprocate willingly.
    Frank found my attitude a little astonishing, after his life with Kay. I was probably more like a wild animal than a domesticated house pet…my own freedom was a natural state of being. I’m not a clingy person…
    That’s why I’d be surprised if Frank had four secret children around the world he failed to ever once mention. Or make known provisions for, even MEET in his last year of life. He loved talking about the first four, so why not the others? I wouldn’t judge...unless he wasn’t contributing to their welfare, if needed, or denying they exist out of shame. If he was careless, and didn’t CARE, then he SHOULD be scolded. Told to grow UP. But not excommunicated.
    He might have been protecting his kids with Gail. I don’t think they’d be too pleased. They longed to be closer to him as it was. Sharing him with four others might not be ideal before or after his passing.
    I’m surprised Ahmet refers to him as a ‘cock-smith’ – an abhorrent term. Or was that your word?

No, that’s Ahmet’s expression.
It smacks of toxic masculinity. Frank was from another era, when groupies were Goddesses. He didn’t live long enough to modernise into the 21st century – and certainly not the #MeToo era. He was a budding sex addict – not a rapist, nor a manipulative prick. Women offered themselves to him as a rock star. He wasn’t so sure of himself before fame, but neither was he some creepy loner. He was ALWAYS a smart, funny, charming eccentric.
    A soft spoken gentleman. Many women are attracted to that. I certainly am.
    I hope the four are a myth. I don’t wish an absentee father on anyone.
    If he hid them from me, I accept it even if a bit sad. As open as we were with each other, I don’t presume to have known everything.
    He had many relationships in his life – a few of them were some FABULOUS dames.
    I hope he told SOMEONE. And – whoever that is – will reveal the truth to the Fab Four, should they ever ask.
    I just hope it wasn’t Gail. She took love withheld, secrets, madness and a triumphant bitterness to the grave with her.
    If it’s still unconfirmed now, that means she didn’t even leave a note – excluding them even in death!

When I first interviewed you, you said the only other ‘dame’ Frank ever talked about was the girl from Australia. That is Jenny Brown, who recently penned liner notes for some of the official Zappa releases. When I quizzed Ahmet about this, he said he hadn’t been involved, but that seems a curious thing for the Zappa Trust to do, don’t you think?
    Jenny Brown writing the liner notes?
    Yes. Totally weird.
    Unless Gail arranged it years ago.
    She might have done that ‘friend’ thing with Jenny.
    She did that with women who were a perceived threat, then might’ve stayed friends with her for years after Frank died.
    I bet Pamela Des Barres might know.

Very likely. I have tried to interview her, but I suspect Gail may have warned her off after I met Pamela at Zappanale: GZ didn’t like me.
I was in touch with Miss Pamela recently. I love her! I’m dying to take her writing class. I’m dying to go down there and have an ice tea in her back yard. I’m dying to buy some of her costume jewellery. I’m dying to gossip with her and not tell ANYBODY ELSE what we said!
[laughs]
    She is truly a fabulous dame who finishes what she starts. She landed a plum role on the Best CBS soap, opposite Michael Nouri, and after nine months SHE QUIT, saying she was “Going back to Cali”. I admired her for that. She was REALLY GOOD in that role. But she’s a California girl, and went back home. She coulda ended up in all those Meg Ryan movies, instead of Meg Ryan. She’s such a character!

And a great writer too.
Oh yes! I LOVE her writing.

Okay, finally: Moon’s memoir is due to be published next year, which should be an eye opener. Have you had any contact with her?
I was in touch with Moon by sending pictures of deer on Facebook, for her daughter, who is wild about deer – and so am I!
    She always ‘liked’ them without realising who I was.
    When Gail died, I wrote her a tender note, and explained I was ‘Pete’. I sent her some baby pictures of her napping with her cat, Pena, and pictures playing in the pool. Some of Dweezil at about nine months, then the black handprint she made for me at about age 4, with a scrawled ‘P E T E’ at the top and her ‘M O O N’ signed at the bottom. We started writing frequently after that, and I told her how much I always loved her. Then, about when I saw Gail here at the Castro and she promised to bring her back with her two days later. She didn’t.
    A year later I was in LA and stopped by the house to surprise Gail. An assistant came down to the gate, saying no one was home. I’d written notes in advance, and gave them to her. One to Gail, one to Moon. Moon never got it, of course. Nor did she find all my letters to Frank and always my little notes to HER, over all those years from 1971 till he died. She saw none of them.
    She came here about 6-7 years ago to a gig, and arranged for me to come!
    I had someone to stay with Wilson so I could go, till I realized it was WEDNESDAY, not Thursday, and I couldn’t leave him! And she was on her way! Devastating!
    So she flew back to LA late the same night, and we texted from the club all the way out to the airport. I was in heaven after such a disappointment.
    We were in touch less the last two years as Wilson was declining. I rarely communicated with ANYONE, really. I sent her a note the day after he died, and she replied with a brief condolence. Then she went off messenger so, somehow, after several years of being so close it’s just suddenly gone POOF! But she was living while Wilson was busy dying.
    I’m excited to read her memoir, of course. She’s such a gifted writer!
    But I grieve the absence of her random sweet surprises. Last summer I splurged and bought the tea leaf ring she designed, from her Instagram page...it’s engraved ‘Moon’ on the inside. I wear it all the time it’s so lovely…just these leaves wrapping around my finger.
    I wish her well. The last time I saw her she was six...running down the alley as fast as she could…then launched into my arms while I hugged her and we spun around and around.
    The sweetest girl in the world. I do so love and admire the human she’s become.
    Oh…have you heard her SING? Seriously. I’d buy her album!
    There’s something about her voice that’s just such an unaffected, soulful tone.
    I’m just blathering now... “Tell that old lady in the front to SIT DOWN and SHUT UP!”
    Oh, sorry...that’s ME!

[Laughs] That’s great, Pete. Thanks so much for your time: let’s do this again in another few years!

Interview conducted on Tuesday 23rd August 2022. My first two interviews with Lorraine can be found here and here.

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Photo of Lorraine – in a shower stall at the Felt Forum, Madison Square Garden – taken by FZ on Halloween 1974.

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