Monday, January 28, 2008

Book Review: "The Real Frank Zappa Book" by Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso

Not only have I had a very interesting adulthood, but I was also lucky to have a very interesting childhood. Sure there were the typical good times and bad times, and there were things I wish I would have done different (like learn to play guitar). But all that aside, My dad taught me to really appreciate music. All sorts of music. In the 70s he would play Frank Zappa alongside Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Ry Cooder, Commander Cody and others and when the 80s hit we became fans of the Talking Heads, Devo and others.

As I grew older I came to further develop this appreciation by learning to love classical music, real hard core blues and more. It all goes back to Frank Zappa. Seriously. Many folks who hear the name Frank Zappa only think of such songs as "Yellow Snow," "Dinah Moe Hum" or even "Valley Girl." Not to mention the unmentionable titles that described various female body parts. For those folks that think of Frank Zappa as only a "potty-mouthed" hippy've got it wrong....WAY WRONG. His greatest works are typically instrumental songs like "Peaches en Regalia," or relatively harmless songs like "Inca Roads." This book describes the best features of Zappa that were constantly overlooked.

Frank Zappa passed away in 1993. (As a side here, in college a friend of mine Jim Damm and I hosted a 6 hour tribute to Zappa on the college radio station, WIDB in Carbondale, IL the night after his death.) He was just in the process of seriously announcing his candidacy for U.S. president, but he found out, too late, that he had prostate cancer and passed away before this could be more than a mention on some talk show. This book was published in 1988. In early 1990, Zappa visited Czechoslovakia at the request of President Václav Havel, a lifelong fan, and was asked by Havel to serve as consultant for the government on trade, cultural matters and tourism. Zappa enthusiastically agreed and began meeting with corporate officials interested in investing in Czechoslovakia. Within a few weeks, however, the US administration put pressure on the Czech government to withdraw the appointment. Havel made Zappa an unofficial cultural attaché instead. So this book doesn't cover the political career of Frank Zappa, but it does have several chapters that show he was getting started.

One of the very unique aspects of this book is that it is the ONLY book about Frank Zappa written by Frank Zappa. On the back cover there is a quote from the New York Post that says, "This book belongs in Every Home." I would have to agree with that. Not for the informative look at his early career, but for the views and opinions on politics, censorship and over-organized religion.

The breakdown of the book by chapters looks like this:

The first 7 chapters cover his career and how he came to do what he did with music and performance art, with some great anecdotes about being on the road with The Mothers of Invention. Chapter seven had me rolling with laughter. This Chapter was about the indecency hearing Great Britain held concerning his Orchestral performance for what would be the movie "200 Motels" starring Theodore Bikel, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon and, of course, The Mothers. Apparantly a stage hand had filed a complaint about some of Zappa's lyrics. Which I should note here, his lyrics were all about absurdism. So this chapter takes the court record and reprints it. The funny part is the setup of all the old Brittania Judges (old men in white wigs) reading and trying to determine the lyrics of many of Zappa's songs and Zappa explaining to the best of his ability, I'm assuming while trying to not crack up laughing.

The next chapter of the book is a very in depth look at music. Including scoring compositions for orchestras and the many headaches involved. At this point Zappa explains the personalities of musicians and how they relate to the instrument they play.

The last part of the book is spent on politics, including the famous PMRC hearings in the 80s on Capitol Hill. Frank shares his knowledge of why the wives of senators wanted legislation on music and why certain senators' wives were the ones wanting said legislation. He ventures to say that Tipper Gore was funding what looks like would be a run for presidency for her husband...and this book was 1988?

If you want some fun rock and roll info with some great political discussion and debate thrown in....this is the book for you. I'll tell you Zappa is not what you think...even if you think you know him.

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