Moon Zappa looks back at "Valley Girl" 40 years later

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of Frank Zappa’s SoCal anthem “Valley Girl,” Moon Zappa talks to Yahoo Entertainment about how she ended up collaborating on the song with her famous father when she was just 14-year-old.

Video Transcript

LYNDSEY PARKER: There are so many reasons why I'm excited to do this, Moon. First of all, I'm from the Valley. I am from Tarzana. I was born and raised. So it's been a long time coming. And I want to start at the beginning.

MOON ZAPPA: I think I was 13, and I was pretty frustrated with the way the house was run. My father was touring all the time, sometimes eight months out of the year. So that's a long time to go without seeing the steady parental figure in the house. He never raised his voice. He was so funny. He was so smart, so talented so playful, very improvisational.

So to miss that kind of stability and that grounding was really just not great, to just be stuck with a mom who is really missing him as well, and as the oldest kid, to have to pick up the slack and help care for my younger siblings. And then when he was home, he would sleep during the day and work at night. So then there were restrictions on our own expression and having to be quiet in the house.

And then the world was always revolving around him. So I wrote a note, and I said that it would be great if you would look for an opportunity where we could work together. If that's the only way I'm going to get to spend time with you, then let's work together. You can contact my people.

Then he woke me up on a school night, 2:00 in the morning on a school night. So I went downstairs. And we had a vocal booth in the house. And then he just said just improvise in between the choruses. And so I had done this voice that I call the val speak voice or the surfer dude voice. And it was a voice I had picked up going to school in the Valley.

When I would go to school with these kids, I'd go to the bar and bat mitzvahs. And I'd get to see what I considered normal or stable families were like. And it was exotic to me. And it was just something that made him. Laugh

[MUSIC - FRANK AND MOON ZAPPA, "VALLEY GIRL"] Like totally-- Valley Girl-- Encino is like so bitchen-- Valley Girl-- There's like the Galleria.

We'd go back and forth with some improvisations. We'd use dialogue that I'd heard, or he he'd say use these words. And we made up new lingo to play around with that just made us laugh. And I didn't think anything of it. It was just a bonding time with my dad.

LYNDSEY PARKER: I didn't know a lot of people who said things like "grody to the max" or "gag me with a spoon." Did you make up those things? Or did you hear, like this girl you were talking about, say stuff like that?

MOON ZAPPA: "Grody to the max," I probably overheard. "Gag me with a spoon," no. We made that up. We were just having a laugh about what if those were popular things to say. So in some ways, it's science fiction. I think "bag your face" was partially a nod to the unknown comic at the time who was making the talk show circuits. It was a man who literally did comedy with a brown paper bag over his head. And so I think that was my dad's offering of "bag your face" because we'd laughed about that guy on "The Gong Show."

LYNDSEY PARKER: I'm wondering what inspired some of those specific scenarios. I was listening to them a minute ago. Some of them were a little bit adult. Are these stories you heard around the Oakwood campus or at the Galleria? Or did they just come from your imagination?

MOON ZAPPA: I think that's a product of growing up in a hypersexual home. From the time I was little, I'd always joke and say people were in the nude making candles near my playthings. There was a portrait in the family home of an orgy scene. There were "Zippy the Pinhead" comics laying around and "The Viper" and "We" and "Hustler." And there was a lot of stuff around vibrators.

I had the bedroom next to my parents and heard sex. I knew my dad messed around on my mother. I've got many journals where I've got drawings that are-- it's just it's naked people chained up and having sex. It's stuff that you shouldn't be drawing at age 8, 9, and 10. I just was trying to make my dad laugh. That was my objective.

So for me having it then appear on an album was a kind of exposure and embarrassment and betrayal for me. I wasn't thinking about we're making a product. I was thinking I'm spending time with my father. And so I thought, oh no, these people are going to get their feelings hurt. I thought we were going to get sued. I thought a truant officer was going to come and take me away. Like, it was very stressful for me.

I didn't think about it in terms of, oh, I'm launching my career. I just thought, oh no, who are we going to get in trouble with? I'm just a sensitive person. I just don't like people to get their feelings hurt or be exposed to the stuff if they didn't ask for the exposure too.

So I just-- like I said, I was just worried about this one girl in particular, who I really-- who inspired the song the most for me and then my teacher. Those two, I had worry about their-- yeah, about them getting their feelings hurt or being exposed to attention, unwanted attention, the way I felt I had this unwanted attention on me. It really put me into a state of anxiety. Plus, I was going through puberty, so my skin wasn't great. So the last thing I wanted to do is have any focus on myself.

LYNDSEY PARKER: And then in terms of you were talking about the anxiety you had when this song was unleashed into the world and became this kind of unprecedented success for Frank-- it's his only top 40 hit. It not only is a hit, with you on "Solid Gold," epically lip syncing to it, if you look on YouTube, and you look up "Valley Girl," that's actually like-- because I guess there was no official music video ever made for it. That is the first.

MOON ZAPPA: Yeah, my dream would be to get Paul Thomas Anderson to do a video. Maybe his wife could play a Val now.

LYNDSEY PARKER: But it's nominated for a Grammy. And then it has this whole phenomenon. There's a movie. There's "The Valley Girl's Guide to Life." There's makeup lines, fashion lines, people talking like you. All the anxiety that you already were having must have been so exacerbated when it became this absolute phenomenon that like spawned, basically, an industry.

MOON ZAPPA: My father always wanted to have commercial success. It just so happened, it didn't happen until that song. And then that song came out at a time when he was already scheduled to go on a European tour. And so the American press suddenly was needed to be done-- was left for me to do. And that was extremely stressful as a teenager just trying to get through ninth grade or something.

And so I remember that-- and then a lot of the interviews, they only wanted to interview me. And so then there was this strange dynamic between me and my father, where is it an accident that when I step in, we have a success, or am I part of-- am I just an instrument that he's using as a tool?

LYNDSEY PARKER: Was there any kind of resentment that, like you said, that his hit was something where you were kind of the face of it, or his hit was kind of this, I guess, what some people would call a novelty song?

MOON ZAPPA: I think it bonded my father and I in a way that my mother was resentful of because now I'm in photographs with my father. I'm paired with him. I went on "Letterman" with him, and we did a bunch of talk shows, and we traveled together here and there. And so he and I were the two show biz people in the house. And I was never wanting any of the fame part of it. But I admired my father. So I wanted to be a working artist, like my father.

LYNDSEY PARKER: 40 years later, are you glad that it he did put it out, and it reached this wider audience, and you're still talking about it?

MOON ZAPPA: I mean, it's weird. It's a weird-- I have to say, am I glad? I don't even-- I'm not even thinking, glad, not glad. I'm just thinking it is a weird thing that just keeps going, I guess. I feel happy that I got to spend that time and that it's just fun to just know that opened a door for me to go deeper inside my own creativity.

But if I hurt my teacher's feelings or if I hurt the girl who inspired the song, I sincerely apologize. And I hope it brought you joy and connection and closer to your own creativity, and you can just know that I'm thinking about all still today.

[MUSIC - FRANK AND MOON ZAPPA, "VALLEY GIRL"] So like, I go into this, like, salon place, y'know, and I wanted like to get my toenails done, and the lady like goes oh my God, your toenails are like so grody.