Last of The Freaks: The Carl Franzoni
(As Told To John Trubee by Carl Franzoni)
Intro by John Trubee
In 1973 I bought the
'Freak Out!' double LP by the Mothers of Invention at a little record shop on
Palmer Square in my hometown, Princeton, New Jersey. Its first song, 'Hungry
Freaks, Daddy', was written for someone named Carl Orestes Franzoni who,
according to Zappa's liner notes, "is freaky down to his toe nails (sic).
Someday he will live next door to you and your lawn will die".
The song's lyrics decried America's culture of mindless conformity and consumerism with such lines as:
"Mister America walk on by your schools that do not teach
Mister America walk on by the minds that won't be reached
Mister America try to hide the emptiness that's you inside
When once you find the way you lied
And all the corny tricks you tried
Will not forestall the rising tide of HUNGRY FREAKS, DADDY..."
"...Mister America try to hide
The product of your savage pride
The useful minds that it denied
The day you shrugged and stepped aside
You saw their clothes and then you cried
'Those HUNGRY FREAKS, DADDY!'..."
This song became the anthem of my alienated and disenfranchised youth and I carried its lyrics around in my head for years thereafter.
Across the continent and nearly three decades later I wandered across he campus at Santa Rosa Junior College in Santa Rosa, California at an open house in May, 2001. I headed into the student lounge to check out an art exhibit and I noticed a strange-looking older man sitting on a sofa. He wore short pants, a leather vest, a leather hat festooned with various buttons, tattoos covering his exposed arms and other exposed flesh, assorted wrist bracelets, beaded necklaces, and a presence which screamed that he had seen and done much in his life. One aging earth mother hippie-type women was introducing him to another woman there, saying "..and have you met my friend Carl Franzoni?"
My ears pricked up at the mention of that name. A little while later I walked over and introduced myself to Mr. Franzoni and it turned out that he was indeed the one for whom 'Hungry Freaks, Daddy' was written. I was privileged to get better acquainted with Carl after that. He's 68 and today lives in Santa Rosa and has lived a colorful life—a young hood from Cincinnati, Ohio who reformed, relocated to San Francisco in the late 50's, then gravitated to Los Angeles and, along with Vito Pauluka, was a dancer/scenester/catalyst in the explosion of music, psychedelia, and mayhem on Sunset Strip in the mid 1960's. Carl Franzoni toured as a
dancer with the Byrds and the Mothers of Invention in the formative years of those bands.
I interviewed him at his artifact-strewn apartment on a rainy Saturday night in early January, 2002 for four hours. He regaled me with stories of his bad boy early years in Ohio, his many ex-wives (including '70's porn star ay Parker) and his flight to Canada to escape trumped-up cocaine charges.
The following excerpts concentrate on his Sunset Strip years in the 60's.
Carl: "...and then after I was (in LA) a year and a half, two years, I met Vito. I was in Ben Frank's (coffee shop on Sunset Blvd.) with my business partner Joe, we were having lunch, and across from me in another booth were these three good looking young girls and one of them kept staring at me. As we were leaving the place I walked over to her booth and I said 'I noticed you've been looking at me' and she said 'Yeah, you're cute' and I said 'You're pretty cute yourself--how do I continue this?' --So she gave me an address--she said 'I paint at this studio. If you come there and the door is locked, knock on the door or use a key on
the door and someone will come and open the door.'
I did it--I went down there
with my business partner--this is '63--I go there and it's a dress shop. Dresses
and sculptures are in the windows--this is at Beverly and Laurel...so anyway
somebody lets us in, we go down through the shop and go down some stairs, and
you go down the stairs and this place is all lit up with fluorescent lights and
it's painted like a Mayan tomb, Mayan things painted on the walls...it's a
school for clay models. One whole wall on the left was filled with political
satire--words about particular things--capital punishment, something called 'the
marriage'--newspapers in the United States (peopled with) guys working for
So right in front of where this girl's working are these statues up high...and this woman is there painting and she's back to back with a guy who's painting, too, and he's an Englishman who's a hairdresser. So she's painting an intricate painting that's very beautiful, I'm interested in fucking her--the one I met in Ben Frank's--she's small, Italian, we're born on the same day, same year--Mary M. She was a school teacher and because her students loved her so much she couldn't be a school teacher 'cause she was a lesbian and she was afraid of getting busted. But she had a 'whore' concept in her whole life."
John: "Now, if she was a lesbian, what would she be doing checking you out at Ben Frank's?"
Carl: "Well, she was bi-sexual...in the school the girls loved her so much that she was next to going after them so she had to leave. But she had a 'whore' concept, too--y'know, pay her. She wanted you to pay her something--so I never bought into her...
...Now Vito had classes there three nights a weeks in this modeling of clay and his wife had this dress shop upstairs. She became, in the 60's, THE person of elegant things for freaks to wear. They all bought their clothes from her and when we went out dancing you would see these bright colored people. Women all wore see-through, no panties, no bras--and that was it. She just wore a dress--you could just look right through her—and that was it--(with) high heels or whatever.
My attire was tights and tops--stuff like that--flowing things. I spent a long time checking Vito and his people out. It took me at least 6 months to just go on a dance floor and even to go out with them. We would go to Ben Frank's--there were huge booths, you had 15 people fitting into one booth--after Vito would have a class we would go out and go to the restaurant. But we started going out to nightclubs and dancing and then go to Ben Frank's. Our 'movement' became really big. I remember coming in there at night after 11 o'clock and movie stars would be sitting at the counter--Caesar Romero, Sal Mineo.
So you get a booth, right? And then 5 or 6 booths behind it would have the others that couldn't get in here--they would be sitting around us. There came a time when Ben Frank's management said 'Listen, we can't have you coming in here anymore because you're bringing in so many people in this place we can't handle it. We're hiring as many people as we can but we still can't handle it.'
So when they said that I said to Vito 'Alright. We gotta case some other places out to go. Where else could we go?' So somebody mentioned a place called Cantor's on Fairfax was going out of business. Nobody was going there. So one night when they turned us out of Ben Frank's—there was a line way into the parking lot--I said 'Let's go to Cantors'. We went down there. I'd say about 35 people walked into Cantor's. The place was almost empty--and from then on, that's were it was. Ben Frank's was secondary, we'd visit there once in a while--see, what would happen is when we'd vacate a place it would go back to normal, and sometimes
subnormal. So Ben Frank's was 'good-bye' and Cantor's was 'hello'. What Cantor's had was what Ben Frank's didn't have, they had a second room. If you walked into Cantor's today, there's a deli here, a bakery here, and then you get funneled into the main room which is very lit up and then if you went up a ramp there's another room comparable to that room.
We don't have any bands yet--we're dancing to a band about every 2 weeks or so called the Gauchos from Fresno--a top 40 band and it wailed its ass off."
John: "At what club?"
Carl: "See, right across the street (Sunset Blvd.) from Ben Frank's was a building--Lenny Bruce played in this club--it was a strip club upstairs, then downstairs was another club. It became The Trip. The other club I don't remember its name but that where we used to dance to the Gauchos. The one that Lenny's people vacated became a rock 'n' roll club. It didn't last very long. Then they opened The Trip downstairs.
Someone came to Vito and said 'Listen we know about this band (the Byrds), it's a really good rock 'n' roll band and they need a place to rehearse. Are you interested in letting them rehearse in your studio?' And he said 'Yeah, I let people come in the daytime when there's nobody around and they can rehearse.' So these guys were a little bit different and they said 'We like to rehearse in the evening.' The first time they were supposed to do their rehearsal they never showed up. Vito said 'If you guys pass my muster I got a gig for you.' So they didn't show up.
So we had a friend who was a very fierce-looking guy. His name was Sam Hanna and he was an actor--he was actually a school teacher. He played in horror movies and scared the shit out of everybody. He had the face of an Arab--big nose, bushy eyebrows, swarthy-looking. He used to come into Vito's apartment, he'd run up the stairs and run through the door and do a tumble and he would say 'Here I am!' So we talked about the Byrds and what they had done and Sam Hanna took somebody and went over to their apartment. They had a cold water flat on the edge of Beverly Hills and west Hollywood. Sam went up to these guys and said 'Listen, you guys aren't very professional, you don't show up when someone wants to give you a fuckin' job. You're a bunch of fuckin' idiots!'
So McGuinn, I don't think he was there, but he heard about it. So he decided, well, let's go. The only thing that had happened to them before that was they had taken a station wagon and had gone up to San Francisco and they had played a gig in a club. After the gig they put all their stuff in the station wagon, they parked it somewhere, and somebody took everything--even the tires. Ripped off all their equipment. That was pre-us."
John: "At that time had the Byrds had records out yet?"
Carl: "No. They were trying to get it together. And in the end they fought so much--in the end they used professionals. Don't ever think they were the Byrds because they used professionals."
John: "You mean like Hal Blaine on the drums?"
Carl: "Yeah. Whoever. And the tracks--those guys did something like 72 takes to get one (track done)."
John: "Because they were perfectionists?"
Carl: "No, because they hated each other. (Producer) Dickson was there and they'd have fights with each other and Dickson would hit them...so the Byrds had just gotten ripped off, they were depressed, living in a cold water flat, they had a couple of groupies that would visit them, they were Beverly Hills kids--most of them were from Beverly Hills. David Crosby was still doing minstrel work, so were the other guys—except Michael was a drummer that was on the beach, Venice beach. They had all worked out of the Troubadour. But they were all depressed guys, they had just lost all their equipment, but the company was gonna buy 'em new stuff, it doesn't matter. All of them were fine musicians, David Crosby used to do solo stuff and I went to a club he worked one night and heard him. You knew they were talented guys; there was no question about their talent. They just didn't like each other. They had so much ego going, so much ego bouncing around those rooms."
John: "Who were they guys with the biggest egos?"
Carl: "It was David Crosby, of course. He wasn't the leader. Jim McGuinn was--I call him Jim because I knew him as Jim. He changed his name to Roger for what reason I don't know."
John: "So it would be McGuinn and Crosby, essentially, fighting all the time?"
Carl: "Well, I think it was all of them, y'know. Gene Clark seemed to me like he could kick ass, too--and he was from a southern state like Tennessee or somewhere like that so he wasn't gonna take any shit."
John: "What did they usually fight about?"
Carl: "Probably about music and the order of music. Now, the name 'Byrds' came up--there were only a few guys, they were at a Thanksgiving dinner and somebody says 'What should we name the group?' and one guy says, 'cause they were at Thanksgiving, the Byrds...So, because they got the word from Sam Hanna that they pulled a boner they showed up within a night or two at Vito's place and they were serenading whoever came through the door and the people that were in his classes. It was kind of filtered music but if you walked through that was heavy duty with those 12-string guitars.
So Vito told them that night 'OK, I got a place in mind that I can rent and we'll do a dance. Now, who's hangin' around that place were some freshmen and sophomores from Farifax High School. They always came to Vito's. By that time I had an apartment upstairs. It was an old theater, it was like on the roof and it was like a penthouse apartment. I painted the place and got new furniture...so when the Byrds came over there Vito gave them a gig. The gig was on Melrose Avenue where all the shit is happening today. Y'know, if you go to LA the street is Melrose--all those clubs and boutiques and restaurants. There was a store in front and you went around in back and you went upstairs and there was like a church scene up there. It was not a real church but somebody had rented it and put in pews. So Vito went up there, checked it out, rented it, we put up posters around, word of mouth--200 people showed up, from those teenagers. The Byrds and another band--I don't know who the other band was. A dollar and a half at the door. Vito made placards all over the walls in that place, he had tacked up 'Stop The War In Vietnam'—now this is '64. Nobody was saying shit like that. Because of us, later on, the Fondas took it up, and Jack Nicholson.
So it was a successful dance, everybody was happy, everybody talked about it. And then the Byrds said, as they're on the stage, 'Tomorrow night we're starting at Ciro's. If any of you can get in the door at Ciro's you're welcome to come." Well, we brought 15 people and we went to the door and they let us in. Walk into this room of Ciro's on Sunset Boulevard--next door today is The Comedy Store--I don't know if we paid at the door, it was a red room, the Byrds weren't on yet, it was a discotheque, a woman playing discotheque music--we got in there, the place was packed. She started playing his black music, soul, nobody got on the dance floor. I said 'what's going on here?'--because everybody in the clubs would get up and dance to whatever in between bands and that's what we did. But for some reason--I didn't have any partner at the time--no woman partner--I just went on the dance floor, and I started dancing. I did maybe one song, then I saw Vito and Sue and a couple of those dancers come out and about that time you could see the Byrds get onstage and by the fourth song--beautiful dance floor, raised dance floor, big, large, very large--the dance floor was PACKED. The Byrds are up there, they're tuning up, didn't tune up very long, and they got down and that place from then on...the thing about it was that it had lighting that was advantageous for the band and the people. They could SEE each other. You're scoping out somebody on the dance floor and because there's so many people on this dance floor dancing you realized who you were dancing next to. Now everyone of the young movie stars at that time--Sonny & Cher, Sue Lyons--were in that room because they had heard about what had happened. The teenagers couldn't get in there because they were too young. But they had heard from the young kids and the word got around that this was a hot band--'get over there!'
There was a merge there--people were dancing with each other—it didn't matter--you just to get out there and do that thing with these guys that played this fantastic, crazy music. Vito said before he died 'THAT was THE band.' The dance band of the 60's was the Byrds. To me it was a revolution. No white band had ever done that before. If it boiled down to it, the Gauchos were really a better band and gave a better rendition and you could go crazy with their music because I remember going to that club--The Trip was downstairs--and dancing on tables you got so fucking frantic. And what are they playing? They played 'La Bamba' like nobody played 'La Bamba'. I heard it with them before I heard it with RitchieValens.
The Byrds music was comparable--their music for dance was comparable, in a red room...so Vito said to them 'Listen, I want to do a second one in about 2 months. Will you do a second thing for me?' "
John: "At this point they still don't have records out?"
Carl: "They're on the verge of 'Tambourine Man'. Maybe at their second stint there (Ciro's) you see Dylan showing up and he plays with them. So he (Vito) put on the second one and he got busted for it."
John: "In that place like a church?"
Carl: "Yeah, same place. The cops busted them. I had left the building. Within 15 minutes of me leaving the building the police came in there and said 'This is an illegal dance. I'm citing you'--gave him a citation, he had to go to court. He pleaded nolo contendre. The judge gave him a suspended sentence and said 'You will not do a teenage dance again in ollywood.'...but we tried to rent 'Moulin Rouge'--it was at Vine and Sunset Boulvard. There's a place that's been there for years that's a rock'n'roll place. They did 'Queen For Day' (ancient TV show) there and a lot of other things.
So we tried to rent that and the guy accepted Vito's money, 400 bucks, we had some bands in mind--around that time we were starting to dicker with Frank Zappa. Maybe right before Frank Zappa. Well, what happened from Ciro's and this dance at which Vito got busted is the Byrds said to me 'Now that we have an album out we want to go out into the hitherlands and we want to exploit this thing. Do you want to go with us?' So I said 'yeah' so I went to Vito and I told him and Vito said 'I can't go. I got my business and I have to take care of whatever.'
I know it's kinda shaky anyway with them (the Byrds). I knew they weren't gonna hire very many people. They just wanted me to go, and I probably would have ended up on stage with them but they were so high strung and full of themselves that I probably wouldn't have got any work at all. So I said to McGuinn 'I want to take 5 dancers.' Some of these guys liked the dancers that I want to employ and it would be cozy on this bus.
One girl was so adamant, she was underage and she couldn't get on the bus so she followed us in a fucking car everywhere we went."
John: "Jesus, where'd she get the money?"
Carl: "The manager must've given her the gas money, 'cause she ate with us and everything and she danced with us but she couldn't get on the bus."
John: "Where was this tour? All over the United States?"
Carl: "No, this tour started in Denver. We just came from Hollywood into Denver and we're such a big fucking hit in Denver. I don't know where our first gig was--probably somewhere in Minnesota. A big jump going from Denver to maybe Iowa...rock band pulls up at an old shack-looking restaurant by itself inWyoming and here we have hair down to here, they just had started growing their hair--you went in the screen door, walked in, there's greeting cards 'cause this is a tourist stop, they're on the main highway. When you felt the postcards, they were greasy. What happened to those cowboys seeing these people--they went from crying to
cursing 'You fuck, where the fuck did these people come from?'—they never saw anything like it. It's similar to 'Easy Rider'.
John: "What's the difference between freaks and hippies?"
Carl: "Hippies were coined by the media. Nobody stuck that on themselves. We never thought we were hippies. We were freaks and when they said the freaks were gonna dance somewhere hundreds of people showed up. They knew they were gonna have a good time..."
John: "On the road were the Byrds still fighting?"
Carl: "They fought on the bus but they didn't fight as much because they had a gig to do and also a company was starting to form--their product company, their corporation. So whoever were their corporate sponsors had them leave us in Chicago and flew them to Miami Beach. They stayed 2 days, maybe 3, and then they flew back and we continued. We don't know what happened to them except we knew they got 'bought' in Miami. A couple of those guys never had any money in their fuckin' lives--especially Michael Clark--and they just said 'Go onto the
hotel, buy anything you want'--it was that kind of a thing. This was around the time of
'Mr Tambourine Man'. That's how they got people into these audiences that came to see them. Most of the gigs were at dance halls. I'm not talkin' about little tiny dance halls; I'm talkin' about huge fuckin' dance halls."
John: "So they played at dance halls rather than at clubs?"
Carl: "Yeah--you know, like Coney Island would have a capacity of 2,000. In the midwest at this time the way they took care of their kids is they would find a place and build around this place whatever they wanted. You went into these dance halls, huge dance halls, 15 hundred could go in there very easily, tables and chairs, you went to a coke machine and it cost you a dime, food was cheap--and that's they way they treated their children. They treated their children like 'Ok, you got a place out there, you guys go out there and work out, have a good time.' No chaperones; they may have had a couple of older people taking tickets, whatever--but it was like that. That was the midwest--that was Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, 1965."
"The music was good but sometimes on those dance floors we would be dancing--the Byrds never featured us. They didn't even know we were with the Byrds. I think one time they said "We have some dancers over here and you can see them, blah blah blah.' That was ONCE. Thirty days we were out on the fucking road. It was exasperating for me."
John: "Did they ever put you onstage with the band?"
Carl: "No. Never. They're up there, you're by yourself...once in a while I'd be dancing out on a dance floor and somebody would come up and whack me, they'd hit me in the stomach, because the dance at that time was you lined up, the girls on one side and the boys on one side and they did like the line dancing they do in cowboy music. That was rock'n'roll at the time. So when they saw us freaking out it was like 'What the fuck are these people doing?'"
"The women were gorgeous that we had with us and I only had one guy and he was my best friend. We was very tall and he had page boy hair down to here, tall and thin, very stylized looking thing with a collar and he could really dance; he had long arms so he could really throw himself around and his girlfriend who became his wife was a dancer. There was a
redhead that all the guys liked and they were all trying to get in her pants and they probably did...and then there was another girl that came along and she did about a third of the thing and then we had to send her back because she kept on hiding. She would come with the group, come with the band, then I'd look around for her and she was backstage with the Byrds or somewhere--she wasn't out there dancing, she didn't do her job so I told the manager, I said 'Listen, she's not doing her fuckin' job and she's not servicing these guys so send her home.' So he did--he put her on a plane."
"And the girl, the teenager who followed us--and then there was another woman that was riding with the teenager that was a good friend of the band--there were at least five women dancing and me and this guy. We ended up in Chicago. The last day of the tour at a high school somewhere on the outskirts of Chicago, the Byrds PR man Derek Taylor sent
word...on the bus with us we had Barry Feinstein. Barry Feinstein was married to Mary of Peter, Paul, & Mary. He later did 'You Are What You Eat', the movie. He was along to photograph. He's the guy that did the fisheye (photo) on the Byrd's first album. He was a strange looking guy, he was bald-headed, had a broken nose, little pudgy guy with a lot of
money and she was the money. Peter, Paul, & Mary gave him the money to do 'You Are What You Eat' and then dumped it.
John: "What is 'You Are What You Eat'?"
Carl: "It was a movie. If you ever get to see this movie you'll understand what 'freaks' are. It'll let you see the LA freaks, the San Francisco freaks, and the New York freaks. It was like a documentary and it was about the makings of what freaks were about. And it had a philosophy, a very definite philosophy."
John: "What was the philosophy?"
Carl: "That you're free-spirited, artistic; it went intoVito's studio, they did a piece on New York, it followed me most of the time except I didn't go to New York. But it followed me to San Francisco and some of the stuff we did there, and then we went into a place Greta Garbo's Home For Boys & Girls. It wasn't an acid house, it was a speed house. It had rooms and (laughs) there's a vignette he does in the lobby of this hotel and he's talking to some of these kids and they're so loaded they're (munchkin speedfreak blabber), y'know, he does a comp on them, and then they take us up to the roof and Peter did a song about Carl and about 'this is Carl and this is Maggie' and this is San Francisco and the camera pans in on us and the logo for the movie is my tongue. That's where the Rolling Stones got the idea for the tongue. They were gonna buy the movie then come out with the tongue with the idea of 'Why?'. But they
declined to buy it because I talked to the bass player as a small movie showing at someone's house--no the one that's the craziest looking, the one they say is like the Mummy (Keith Richards), he was there and he was checking out the movie and he thought it was a fine movie. We had already had a preview at a preview house on Sunset Boulevard with one movie star after another, Tony Curtis came up and shook my hand, lots of people like that were there. There was a five minute ovation of clapping after the movie was shown.
Steve McQueen refused to shake my hand.
Carl: "Because he's an asshole. Barry tried to introduce me to him and he wouldn't shake my hand...he almost gave me the finger."
John: "Did that film ever make a theatrical release?"
Carl: "It played in third-rate houses, like I remember it opened on Fairfax and Pico."
(to be continued when time permits more transcribing)