A Conversation with Patrice Zappa-Porter

By Andrew Jacobs

Patrice “Candy” Zappa-Porter has been playing music since the age of eleven, when her brother Frank would listen to her songs and give her musical advice. For the past three decades, Patrice has been performing blues, jazz, and original material. In the 80s and 90s, her appearances with bands in the Los Angeles area gained her a rabid cult following. In addition to her work with Lennon/Tabacco/Zappa, she is often the featured vocalist with the Ed Palerno Big Band. Her book, My Brother Was a Mother: A Zappa Family Album, was released in spring, 2003.

How much of a challenge (to put it nicely) has it been for you throughout your life to be Frank Zappa’s sister?

P: Well, it’s had its moments!  In high school, and I went to 3 of them, I was a minor celeb myself.  In the 80s, I had a following of my own, in the San Fernando Valley, from my singing in bands I had formed and sitting in with other bands but of course there was that last name thing!  I won’t lie, it has opened doors for me, but most of the time I would not say who I was when asked to sit in with bands.  People would ask me who I was and I  would just give my first name.

In his autobiography, Frank mentioned that some of his songs drew the ire of feminists due to said songs’ lyrics.  What are your thoughts on this?

After the initial laughter and surprise of the lyrics, I figured he had experienced something that would have made him write these lyrics.  For example in “Broken Hearts Are For Assholes”, he states that “ladies, you can be an asshole too” and that is the truth.  No one was exempt from his observations.  Frank was old school in his relationships with women, at least that’s what I think.  One time I was at his house and I had on a t-shirt that said “My Body Belongs To Me, But I Share”.  He said “You’re not one of those girls who rolls around on the floor are you?” and I said “Sure!”  He just groaned. See, little sister not allowed to do that but women he liked could.  Doesn’t matter, Frank loved women and they loved him!

Do you think that what could very understandably be considered sexist lyrical content in some of Frank’s songs was more tongue in cheek than anything else?  Why or why not?

Frank didn’t have time for tongue in cheek, he was upfront about what he said.  As he himself said “I’m not shy about what I say.”  If he observed you acting a fool, you were called on it.

Were you ever personally offended by any of Frank’s songs?  Why or why not?

At first when I heard his music, because at that time, in 1966, I had been listening to the Beatles and the Beach Boys, so when his lyrics came on, I did flinch but after listening to it and understanding what he was talking about, I understood.

What are some of your favorite Frank songs and/or albums and why?

We’re Only In It For The MoneyApostropheJoe’s GarageLumpy Gravy, mostly the early stuff, but the later stuff was excellent too.  Frank was a master of melodies and his were the best in my opinion.  Harmonies, vocals that were superb, a guitar virtuoso, his conducting of orchestras were the finest to be heard.

Discuss growing up in the 1960s and the 1970s when the feminist movement, among many other movements, really came into fruition.

My life in the 60’s consisted of going to school and observing how the girls were treated, which in some ways was  really not good.  There were some strong girls in school that held student offices but you have to remember the 60’s were not that progressive.  Civil rights, assassinations, segregation, the 60s was a rough decade and there weren’t too many opportunities to do what women do today, 50 years later.  In the 70s, I was married and raising children and not that free to pursue what I wanted to do: go to school, write, perform, etc.  Not until I was divorced did I finally come into what I wanted to do.  And that wasn’t until 1982.

To the best of your recollection, what were your initial reactions to feminism?

I wasn’t aware of it too much because I did what I wanted to in the 80s but not to the extent that I am free today, but I was getting there.  I was interested in how women came into their own and were to be respected and treated equally, paid as much as men – although that still might not be the case today.  I kind of took care of myself and my kids so I needed that support from the feminism movement.

Discuss your current views on feminism and the present day feminist movement.

Do you remember the one episode of “I Love Lucy” when she and Ethel wanted to be treated as equals and Ricky and Fred left the restaurant for them to pay for their own dinner and they didn’t have the money?  All they wanted was equal rights and got screwed over for their efforts to have it.  Made to wash dishes.  Women have been washing dishes, so to speak, for hundreds of years because they were held to the barefoot and pregnant theory that women belonged to, in men’s minds.  Women now hold high positions in politics, are doctors, lawyers, high-powered CEO’s.  This would not have even been thought of even 50-60 years ago. And a woman President?!


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