I’ve had a crush on Moon Zappa ever since I saw her in National Lampoon’s European Vacation as a teen, and dreamed of the day I could bond with her over a bowl of ice-cream (that’s a reference to the film btw, not just random creepiness). I was also a big fan of an album her brothers (Dweezil and Ahmet) recorded called Confessions of a Deprived Youth, and one of my favourite tracks on there (“Vanity“) also features Moon and Diva doing a rap! Anyhoo, for the benefit of any other fans out there, I dug up an old magazine article I’d clipped about them, back in the day. I’ve no idea when it actually appeared, since I only have the page itself in my folder… but at least I can credit the interviewer and photographer, right?
Moon Unit Zappa, comedian, actor, artist and novelist, and her sister, Diva, musician. Interviews by Danny Scott. Photographs by Eva Vermandel (for The Sunday Times).
Moon Unit Zappa, 33, is the eldest child of the rock legend Frank Zappa. She worked with her late father on many of his albums and provided vocals for one of his biggest hits, “Valley Girl”, when she was 14. Moon lives in Los Angeles, on the street where she grew up, and has appeared on the West Coast as a stand-up comedian. She also paints, sculpts and is an accomplished actress whose credits include CHiPs, Clueless, Roseanne and Murder One. Her debut novel, America the Beautiful, was published recently. She has two brothers. Dweezil, 31, and Ahmet, 26, and a sister, Diva, 21. Diva appeared alongside all her siblings in the 1997 film Anarchy TV, and released her debut single, “When the Ball Drops” – featuring AI Gore’s wife, Tipper, on drums – last year. She is currently working on an album.
MOON UNIT: If Diva and I were closer in age, I think there would be a lot more competition between us. She’s 12 years younger than me, and I’m very protective of her. She probably thinks I’m trying to mother her all the time, but I’m just trying to give her some good advice. I’m trying to filter our some of life’s crazy stuff. By the time I was 18, I had witnessed so many strange things and known so many strange people that I ended up taking myself off to the nearest therapist. I didn’t know who else to turn to. In therapy, they talk about neuroses as any stage of development that hasn’t been completed. I noticed several stages that I didn’t seem to have completed. My parents were giving me lots of information to try and accelerate certain parts of my life, but I wasn’t being given basic stuff – like a bit of care and attention. I was surrounded by my dad’s complex music and very complex discussions about sex and politics, but I couldn’t get anyone to do simple things like make breakfast for me or tell me they were proud of me. I was supposed to work out everything for myself. It was a house of freedom, but it was also a house of chaos. I just couldn’t deal with my dad’s music when I was a kid. I actually found it really embarrassing. He was singing songs like “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” Ugh! It was disgusting. I think all that openness just sent me deeper and deeper into myself and made me more repressed. Today, I still have trouble saying words like “pee-pee” or “horny”.
When I was 14, I worked with my dad on one of his biggest songs, “Valley Girl”, but even that didn’t bring me out of my shell. I had really bad skin at the time and I certainly didn’t want to see my face all over the newspapers – all I could see was one giant talking pimple. It was all too early for me. It made me feel like I was living in a zoo. Having a name like Moon Unit just seemed to attract even more attention. I think the names were largely my dad’s idea. He was about to go on tour when my mom was having me, and she asked him: “What shall we call the baby?” He said: “Let’s call it Moon or Motorhead.” At one point. I just refused to answer to the name Moon Unit – I decided to call myself Beauty Heart instead. I didn’t feel that Moon was a weird name or anything, I just felt that it didn’t suit the kind of person I was. In many ways Diva was lucky, because she always had me and my brothers to act as buffers between her and this very adult world we were living in.
Thinking back, I can remember being very excited when I heard I was going to have a baby sister. Up until then my life seemed to consist of me, my two brothers and a bunch of crazy loons. The night Diva was born was actually very scary. My mom went into labour a bit unexpectedly and she had to be taken away by ambulance. I can still see the trail of blood from the bedroom to the bathroom. Mom was very ill after the birth too, and we had a nurse in to take care of her. I was supposed to help look after Diva, but I was just a kid myself. One night, I was watching her sleep and I gave her a really good, hard pinch. Oh God, I feel terrible about it now. She got me back, though, by being a complete brat for about 16 years. She’s a Leo. Very blunt and direct. She would ask me things like, “Hey, Moon, when do you think your acne will clear up?”, even when I was with my friends. Come to think of it, my brothers were just as bad. Who’s allowed to do that kind of stuff except a member of your family? I often wonder about how Diva’s going to turn out. She grew up in the same household as me, so how did those things affect her?
I’ve definitely noticed that she finds it easier to make friends with men than I do. And she doesn’t put up with the same kind of sh** from boyfriends that I did in the past. I remember one time I was making out with this guy at his place, and he just disappeared. I didn’t know where he was, so I started to get my things together and noticed a fresh period stain on the bed – and it wasn’t mine. I was so pathetic that all I did was call my mom and ask her how I should deal with this situation.
Diva would have been out of there like a shot. And she would have kicked his ass on the way. Me and my brother Dweezil were the ones who announced that my dad had cancer. It felt like we were letting the whole world down. He seemed to touch so many lives. Even now, people come up to me and just unload this huge amount of love. They can’t tell my dad how much he meant to them, so they want to tell me. My dad was never very good at receiving affection. I know that he loved us terribly, but I think he found it all a bit overwhelming to be so loved by his family. One of the nice things I remember about when he became ill was being able to shower him with love for a change. He was so weak that he was forced to sit still and accept our affection. Diva bonded a lot easier with my dad. In fact, I was very envious of the time she spent with him. Once he was ill, he became very precious about time. I thought it would actually slow him down, but it just intensified his quest to say all the things that he wanted to say. Because Diva liked The Simpsons, she got to spend a whole halfhour with him every week watching it. I didn’t like The Simpsons, so I only used to get about 10 minutes. Of course, I was worried about how his illness was going to affect Diva, but I didn’t try and hide it from her. I suppose – very selfishly – I wanted somebody to go through the pain and the sadness with me. But I don’t think it’s wrong to feel sad. Emotion is like a thunderstorm – you should it pass right through you. It makes you more tender and juicy. It makes you more human.
DIVA: I know I’ve got a lot to live up to with a family like mine. Everyone seems to have such a brilliant talent that you feel you have to come up with something that’s so different and cool to be able to qualify for the Zappa seal of approval. I’m probably very lucky in that not many people – apart from the real die-hard Zappa fans – know anything about me, I’ve not really had to grow up in the public eye, like my brothers and Moon did. I’ve actually been given a bit of space to concentrate on my acting and my album. I’m not what you’d call a real singer, though. In fact, I think all the musical talent was used up on my brothers. But I have my own distinctive flavour of bad music! Moon is incredibly talented. I was so proud when I read her book. I don’t like to use a word like “jealous”, but I suppose I am jealous of how amazing she is. I think to myself: “Maybe one day I can be like her.” I’m just waiting for my own thing to explode. I don’t know when it’ll happen, but it will. I’ll make it happen. If I learnt one thing from my dad, it’s that you have to do things your own way; you can’t sit around waiting for someone to make it work for you – you’ve got to stand up for yourself.
As a kid, I certainly felt that I had to try the hardest, because as far as Moon and my brothers were concerned I was the baby of the family. I used to hate it when they would go out to some club and they’d say: “You can’t come, ’cause you’re just a baby.” I couldn’t understand why they would never include me. But I guess I didn’t help matters by being such a little snot. I don’t know why I was so horrible, I just remember being a real handful around the house. But, hey, I took my fair share of beatings too. Isn’t that what older siblings are there for? I remember having a mud fight with Ahmet and I was throwing, like, these tiny pieces of mud at him. So he decided to dig a hole in the garden and bury me. I had to sit there until he told me I could come out. Moon was terrible, too, because she always knew how to make me cry. We went shopping for CDs once and she was pretending she didn’t have enough money to pay for them and she might have to steal them. Suddenly she turned round, screaming at me: “Run, Diva, the manager’s coming.” I just ran into the street, sobbing uncontrollably. She thought that was so funny.
Even though we fought, I always knew Moon and my brothers were there for me. I always felt very protected. And once I’d worked out that I didn’t have to be such a dumb-ass all the time, we became very close, especially me and Moon. These days, we actually hang out together. Two years ago, that just wouldn’t have happened. She hated having to spend time with me – that meant she had to look after her baby sister. Now I’ve finally been allowed to join her little club and we discuss things like friends rather than squabbling sisters. The first time it happened, I was like: “Wow, what’s happening here?”
I know Moon got embarrassed by my dad’s music – songs like “Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk” – but I love it. l thought it was hysterical. When my friends came over, I would ask them to put on “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” Those songs still make me smile. You have to have a sense of humour to listen to my dad, you can’t take it too seriously. In many ways I think he was just a big kid, really; that’s probably why I got on so well with him. My relatIonship with my dad was very different to Moon’s. We bonded over stupid things, like cartoons and junk food. I often used to here him in the kitchen at 2 am and go down to have a huge plate of chilli with him. He’d ask me to go get cigarettes for him and teach me how to make really strong espressos or how to tie a tie.
I guess I was too young to really understand what was happening once he became ill. I knew something was wrong with him – that much was staring me in the face. And I remember feeling really bad if I ever left the house when he was around. We used to watch The Simpsons together – that was our thing – but sometimes I just needed to get away from it all and go to a friend’s home. I know I was pretty young, but I still hate myself for running away like that. I guess I could only take so much. I don’t think l ever really understood the whole idea of my dad being, y’know, a “celebrity’. Even now, it’s very difficult for me to rationalise what he meant to people. He was just my dad.
Note: As far as I know, Diva never did release an album… but Moon’s novel is still widely available!