Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Real Frank Zappa Book by Frank Zappa and Peter Occhiogrosso

 I first heard Zappa when my sister brought home the Mothers of Invention's We're Only In It For the Money and was fairly well freaked out'n'fascinated. Then in my teens a good friend was a Zappa fanatic and we used to go see him whenever we could in Chicago, which was fairly often. I didn't really pay attention to him after the 70's, but always respected the man and his works. I have been revisiting him somewhat due to my more recent obsession with Captain Beefheart and this bio randomly came across my attention so I decided to check it out.

Turns out it's an autobiography in which Peter would prompt Frank and record his answers and compile them in a reasonably coherent form. This is actually pretty entertaining, actually, as you feel like Frank is simply talking with you. He goes on tangents and fiddles with chronology but Peter keeps the storyline pretty much under control.

As a pre-rock'n'roll teen, Zappa was enamored by Rhythm'n'Blues but one day discovered a record by avant composer Varese entitled "Ionisation" and this changed his concepts of what music could be. He never lost his R'n'B roots, though, and through them he formed various groups and became friends with another local loon, the afore-mentioned Captain. Eventually, he graduated, went through various odd jobs and by chance ended up owning a home made recording studio where he would work out his own compositions.

At some point he sat in and took over a group which became the Mothers and, due to record company insistance, the Mothers of Invention. Surprisingly, this collection of oddballs got signed to a major label and was able to release a double album as their debut! I love to hear anyone's recollections of my adopted home town of LA/Hollywood in the 60's and Zappa, naturally, has his own unique take on it. Funnily, although he has always disparaged hippies in general, he was obviously proud of LA and thought that it was more individualistic than other cities, such as San Francisco.

From there, the rest of the book is not a biography at all but simply Frank’s “philosophy of the world”. Fair enough, it's his book and he's always intelligent and highly opinionated and while I don't always agree with him, he's not boring! But, boy, when he goes on about how stupid America is, I can't even imagine what he would think in this time of the Trump cult! Of course, there is a chapter on the PMRC - remember them? This bit of censorship from Tipper Gore (among other things, of course) quite possibly cost Al the presidency.

I really enjoyed the beginning of the book where Frank does give a bit of info about his life and while I mostly (not completely) agree with his philosophy of life, his proselytizing throughout the later part of the book does get somewhat tiresome - I would have preferred more concentration on his music. But I sure would have liked to have seen the TV show that he talks about pitching - sort of a musical version of the Daily Show, sorta/kinda! Too bad that didn't happen!

In any case, fans have probably already seen this book since it was released over 30 years (!!) ago, but it's a good read overall.