Over the last 6 months, I have been getting more and more addicted to the music of Frank Zappa. It would stand to chance then, that when I saw the book The Real Frank Zappa Book on a bookshelf in a local book store, I had to pick it up and leaf through it. As I leafed through it, it became pretty obvious that this is a book that I needed to sit down and read in depth.
The Real Frank Zappa Book is written by Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso and is, essentially, Franks autobiography in his words. He talks about growing up, his introduction to music, his first band, and his struggles with getting his music played by orchestras. Here’s the way Frank describes the book in the introduction:
I don’t want to write a book, but I’m going to do it anyway, because Peter Occhiogrosso is going to help me. He is a writer. He likes books — he even reads them. I think it is good that books still exist, but they make me sleepy.
The way we’re going to do it is, Peter will come to California and spend a few weeks recording answers to ‘facinating questions‘, then the tapes will be transcribed. Peter will edit them, put them on floppy discs, send them back to me, I will edit them again and that result will be sent to Ann Patty at Poseidon Press and she will make it come out to be a ‘A BOOK.‘
The style of this snippet above is a pretty good picture of the writing style of the book. It is a humorous and informative and covers all spans of Franks life from his childhood growing up in Maryland and Florida, where he was a pretty sickly child, to his first exposure to music in high school, through his attempts later in life to get his music recorded by orchestras.
The book not only gives you background on Franks life, but really gives you access to the unique outlook Frank had on life and music. Frank talks about the early days of recording, his outlook on musicians (“Very few people choose to play the bass … electric bassists are often failed guitar players, demoted to this duty after a band meeting in a garage when they were thirteen.”), and why guitarists have to do the “big solo” (he calls it “squirting”, which is, in Franks words, “end[ing] your solo by going up the scale, then grab that last note and repeat it as fast as you can.”).
Other subjects covered in the book:
- The PMRC hearings in the 80’s, covered in the chapter “Porn Wars”
- Failure (“Success is rare – thats why people get so cranked up about it.”)
One of the great pieces of the book is when Frank talks about progress. As a matter of fact, he says that he’s been quoted as saying that “Progress is not possible without deviation [from the norm]”. I liked this quote so much that I have it hanging on the door of my office. Its one of many little nuggets you get out of reading this book.
This intimate look at Frank Zappa gave me the motivation to really start listening to the work he produced during his life (and there is a lot of it) and I have to say, I’m loving it. Franks work was different. His compositional ability, coupled with his use of humor and drive to be unique make his albums an absolute pleasure to listen to. The music is different, entertaining, and timeless.
Over the last few months I’ve bought no less than ten of his albums – and each one gives a different look into the mind of a genius. Each album documents a stage in his musical evolution. This book gives the reader a glimpse of Frank from a different angle, in his own words. I would highly recommend that you give it a read. You may not be a fan of his music, but theres no denying what an interesting guy Frank Zappa was. I’m sure this book only covers the tip of the iceberg, but theres enough here to keep you entertained and fascinated.
Alright, I’m going to stop rambling now and start listening to Have I Offended Someone?, my latest purchase from the iTunes Music Store.