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Pauline Bird and Frank Zappa
Me and Frank
Writer Pauline Bird lives in Reading. She looks back fondly on her time working closely with musical mystery Frank Zappa in the 1960s.
This is the first time she has spoken about the period from 1968 to 1972, when Frank was with his original band the Mothers of Invention. She was a very "straight" young girl, working for a secretarial agency. She knew nothing about all the "strange pop bands" of the time.
On his first European tour, Frank needed someone to transcribe the lyrics of his second album Absolutely Free for a hip newspaper. Pauline was on call and didn't know what to expect - she was shocked by his writing 'immoral' songs for impressionable teenage girls.
Frank took her to see Cream at the Bag of Nails in 1967, and she laughs when recalling how she asked Eric Clapton what instrument he played. It was this naivety that appealed to Frank, and resulted in him asking her to help him write a political article for Life Magazine.
Pauline with The Mothers
She moved out to The Log Cabin in the hills above the Hollywood sign, and spent the first week of her time there attempting to rectify the terrible state the previous residents had left it in. One of the Freaks who had lived there, Wildman Fisher, turned up one day with a gun and threatened to shoot Frank, after which Frank had to reassert some order.
"At one point there were 12 of us living there, always people coming and going. Captain Beefheart would jam all day with Frank, Eric Clapton... Frank collected people, all through his life, you see. I'd work from ten at night to three in the morning, then get up at two - that's how it was." She also ran the fan club, the United Mutations, as well as helping to run the house generally.
One of Pauline's ever-evolving responsibilities was to look after the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously), a band who at the time were dancing with Frank in the live show. Frank didn't allow drugs in the house and was very unhappy if anyone was high. So when she recommended to Cinderella of the GTOs that she took her smelling salts, it took a lot of persuading the furious Frank that she honestly believed they were smelling salts. "That's how green I was... this prim and proper English secretary!". Pauline helped them record their album Permanent Damage, which has since become a cult 60s rarity.
Despite being one of the most unusual and elusive artists of the period, Frank was a very straight-living person. "My straightness appealed to him. I went to a party and they were smoking marijuana. When I got back to the house, Frank was furious. He said, you don't want to hang out with those people, I'm going to get my friend to take you to Disneyworld. This bloke turned up, he was as straight as anything. That's what Frank thought I ought to be doing. But I was changing, in amongst this madness."
One of the people Pauline met who indirectly had a lasting effect on her life was Cynthia Plastercaster, who took plaster casts of pop star's penises - another of Frank's collected people. He brought her over with a view to publishing her diaries. Pauline's job was to type them up and edit them. "Nobody else would ever dream of letting someone who'd never done any writing do that. I spent two months doing that and it wasn't ever published because there was too much libel in it. There wasn't a single pop star who wasn't in it, practically. She was a real 101% groupie.... That was what made him attractive, he had so much belief in me."
In 1972, illness forced her to come back to England, and life steered her away from ever going back. Now, her son is at university and she is no longer teaching psychology at Reading College. She is now writing for the theatre and radio.
"It was like an education. I came back understanding that these Freaks were people. I was a pure blue Tory, but my mind was broadened by the whole experience, I was a different person... When he encouraged me to write the diaires, that's when I realised that writing is for me. He set me off. "
last updated: 20/05/2008 at 14:13
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