The Real Frank Zappa Book
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According to many you'll either hate Frank Zappa's music or love it. Well, as a fan for more than thirty years and being very familiar with the vast spectrum that is his output I love a great deal but not all of his music and although I can't say that I hate any of it, the word love is certainly not my universal response. Now what about the man himself, it's difficult to be clear having never met him personally so I've tried to gain some insight from reading about him. And let's not forget this probably applies to the majority of biographies about anyone. On the other hand autobiographers apparently know their subject quite well. Hmm!?
On the whole I'm glad I have my own copy of The Real Frank Zappa Book. My main problem with the book is that it is not all about him. Now I know you can gain a great deal of insight about a person if you listen attentively while they rant about their favourite dislikes - in particular political dislikes - but it's not the most enjoyable way to get to know someone.
It's very easy to divide the book into two sections. As a book by Frank Zappa about Frank Zappa I really enjoyed the first 14 chapters where I laughed and cried about the more immediate aspects of his life. Chapter 15 onwards is essentially a political treatise and although I am very interested in reading his opinion, I neither laughed nor cried I just became depressed about what no doubt depressed him and led him to spend a great deal of his waking time over night when he felt he couldn't hear the "scurrying" outside. Now, you might say, those rants are just as illuminating about the man as more personal anecdotes but I don't think it required that much to get the point across in the context of a book that is ostensibly about him.
It would be nice to have a book of his memoirs and a book of his political persona as separate entities. Before anyone accuses me of spoiling the discovery of these things for themselves I'm writing this review in response to the experience of buying a fairly weighty book by the man himself, then very much enjoying the overall vein of the first 14 chapters and finally not ever getting that feeling back for the remainder of the book. I wish I had known that in advance - naive perhaps. If they were separate I would read them both with different expectations and appreciate them for distinct reasons. The first half spans his moods the second half is pretty much monomoodic.
In the first half he seems fairly honest about himself. He admits to foibles that many a person with the same foibles wouldn't admit to even quietly in passing let alone in print. He gives interesting background that clarifies his aims in composing in general and the music business in particular. I could read this part many times and wish there was much more writing by him in this vain - I got the feeling that he was leaving quite a bit out and I don't mean as an intentional omission, he probably just didn't have the time. Let's put it to a vote. Which Zappa Album would you sacrifice in order to have more personal memoirs? Personally - none of them - even the ones I'm not 100% sure about, he was after all primarily a composer and not a writer. Hopefully good biographers will fill in the gaps at a future date. The second half requires a stronger disposition and I need to be in a pretty unshakeable mood to confront the ugly reality he saw in the world around him. Yes he could be quite witty about it but it's still depressing and his own frustration with it all is very apparent.
Over all I would say you should buy this book if you have more than a passing interest in Frank Zappa.