Book Review – The Real Frank Zappa Book by Frank Zappa

The Real Frank Zappa Book Cover Art

Well worn and well read

Ah, Frank Zappa, my musical hero. I had been listening to Frank for years when I discovered this book way back in the late 90s (ugh…). His music changed everything for me and reading The Real Frank Zappa Book was just another chance to delve deeper into his mad mind and discover just what it was that made him so unique.

Although Peter Occhiogrosso provides his services as the actual writer – he transcribed recordings of Frank telling these stories and edited them into a book format – the material is all Frank. One of the reasons my copy is so well worn is that it reads as if Frank himself is talking to you and sometimes that’s just what you need to get through the day. Yes, a little bit of old “Uncle Frank” unleashing his fantastic wit and making you laugh out loud, scratch your head with thought, and sit and reminisce about all that great history. A lot like listening to his music really…

One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is the telling of Frank’s childhood, which, as it’s told in his own words with his own sharp memory, is the first time we really get a glimpse of how Frank came to be. There are early stories of his days being sick all the time in Maryland, moving to Florida to get better, moving back to Baltimore to get sick again, and finally moving off to California and setting his musical history in motion. There are hilarious tidbits of his early teenage years and his times in high school forming rocking teenage combos and other assorted fun. Heck, there is even a bit about meeting Captain Beefheart and some of the good time  madness they would create as childhood friends. Priceless material!

As the book moves on we move somewhat quickly through Frank’s history, both personally and musically. From stories of the early Mothers of Invention in the 1960s to the short lived 1988 tour, tales of life on the road in a rock band to meeting his second wife, we are treated to a side of Frank that sometimes gets lost in biographies told from an author that was living on the outside. Here, with the stories generating straight from the source, we get a firsthand account of everything in Frank’s life that made him who he is, all told with good natured humor and classic Zappa rhetoric.

Several important aspects of Frank’s career are covered in great detail including a large portion of the transcript from Frank’s breach of contract trial where he sued the Royal British Crown. Although we, and apparently Frank, can look back on it and laugh now, it probably didn’t seem so funny at the time, especially judging from Frank’s deadpan and intelligent answers to the Crown’s questioning. There is also a large portion of the book devoted to Frank’s testimony before Congress in 1985 in regards to music censorship – Frank’s entire statement is transcribed and included for your reading pleasure.

Although the music related stories are plentiful, I would have liked to have seen more detailed accounts of recording sessions for particular albums or a little more introspective thoughts on band members or particular bands in general. Knowing Frank isn’t the most nostalgic guy I’m not surprised, but still, it would have been nice. The stories that are included however, are well told and at least give us some insight into all those wonderful years of music and life on the road. This is “Uncle Frank” and “Uncle Frank” is only going to tell you so much.

The Real Frank Zappa Book is a great read that I have been throwing around for years. Its easy going reading style makes it great for just picking up and flipping to any page for pure enjoyment. We are treated to a huge cast of characters that passed in and out of Frank’s life and reading about his earlier years as a child, teenager, and young man just staring out in the world of music is pure joy. It reads much like a fireside chat with an old friend and never ceases to make you laugh out loud. If you know anyone that even remotely likes Zappa, this would make an excellent gift. And if you are a Zappa fan reading this you owe it to yourself to find a copy and start enjoying Frank on an even deeper level than before.

It’s funny, it’s smart, and it’s awesome. Enforced Frank Zappa recreation, live on stage…in a book.

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