Interview by John Wisniewski

In 1967, 21-year-old Pauline Butcher was working for a London secretarial agency when one evening a call came through from a Mr Frank Zappa asking for a typist to come to his hotel room. The assignment would change her life forever.

After this chance encounter, at Frank’s request, Pauline moved with him, his family and his band the Mothers of Invention to a log cabin in the Hollywood Hills. There, the ‘straight’ young girl from Twickenham spent her days in the company of a succession of famous names, including Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Captain Beefheart and Tiny Tim. Often working nights and sleeping days, for three years Pauline served as Zappa’s secretary, running his fan club, the United Mutations and organising rehearsals, live appearances and recording sessions for the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously), an all-female rock act supported and produced by Zappa.

Freak Out! is the captivating story of a naive young girl thrust into the mad world of a musical legend. A vivid depiction of the late sixties rock ’n’ roll scene and the stark realities behind Hollywood’s perceived glamor, this memoir is also the most revealing and intimate portrait of Frank Zappa ever written.


John Wisniewski: When did you meet Frank Zappa, Pauline?  What were your first impressions of him?

Pauline Butcher-Bird:  I met Frank Zappa in London in August 1967. He was there two weeks before the first tour of the Mothers of Invention to Europe.

I thought it was going to work for a businessman and when he opened the hotel door I thought I’d gone to the wrong room. He was wearing pink trousers and orange t shirt and his hair was wild and down below his shoulders. I was completely bowled over by him because when I told him that Brown Shoes Don’t Make It was an immoral song and 13 year old girls should not be hearing it, he engaged with me in debate for nearly half an hour and in 1967 this was astonishing. No men took any notice of secretaries. And he had such a quiet, commanding voice. He listened to every word I said, and paid attention. There was no fidgeting, looking out the window or elsewhere, he focused directly on me when I spoke as if everything I said was of importance. It was riveting and I was knocked out and hooked from that day on.

John Wisniewski: What was his daily life like?

Pauline Butcher-Bird: You will have to read my book. It will take too much space to describe what his daily life was like. I have 200 pages on the subject!

John Wisniewski: when did you decide to write your book on Zappa?

Pauline Butcher-Bird:  I decided to write my book when our son went to university. I had always wanted to be a writer and I realised I no longer had any excuses not to do so as my husband is always travelling. I tried for six years to get a play on the BBC Radio and finally one of the producers said, ‘write something that no one else can write’ and the only story that no one else could write is my experiences working and living in Frank Zappa’s house. It started off as a play but transitioned into a book. I wrote it while I was living in Singapore over three years. It was published very quickly in 2011. I hope to have a cheaper re-structured version out next year.

John Wisniewski: what do British audiences feel about zappa and his music?

Pauline Butcher-Bird: Frank Zappa’s name is still a draw here. Even when Gail died they gave her a full page in a couple of the newspapers. His music is rarely played however. Occasionally they play videos on the alternative TV channels. There was a concert of 200 Motels in Paris a few weeks ago and Zappanale runs every year in Germany. Fans are dwindling but the media seem to like him.

John Wisniewski: what will your next book be about?

Pauline Butcher-Bird: I am presently writing a play about Frank and Gail set in London over 2 weeks in 1972.

John Wisniewski: did you get to meet other rock stars of the time who visited Zappa, Pauline. Could you tell us about this?

Pauline Butcher-Bird: I have a whole chapter on Mick Jagger’s three visits to the house and one visit to the studio while they were mixing their album, Beggar’s Opera. It’s too long to write it here.

John Wisniewski: did you get to meet other rock stars of the time who visited Zappa, Pauline. Could you tell us about this?

Pauline Butcher-Bird: I did get to meet other rock stars but I was not interested in them. I describe a food fight in the kitchen between Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck and two of the GTOs, and visits by Captain Beefheart, and a couple of Pink Floyd, and so on, but other rock stars are not a big part of my book. It is mostly about Frank Zappa and the people in the house who lived there.

John Wisniewski: What has the reception been for the Zappa book so far?

The reception has been reasonable. It is no longer available in book shops but is in some libraries, and is on amazon. I have sold less than 8,000 copies in seven years so it’s not a large number. Either Zappa fans don’t know about it or they are not big readers of books. Reviews on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com are very good.

Order your copy of FREAK OUT!  My Life With Frank Zappa on AMAZON.

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