Frank Zappa has been a factor in my life for a very long time. To get into Frank Zappa is not always an easy proposition. You get into him for songs you hear on the radio like “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow” or “Montana”, but when you buy an album you find out it’s not all like that. However, it’s then that the universe that is Frank Zappa is revealed.
FURTHER, it’s when you get into the live material, which is abundant on the interwebs, that you really experience Frank Zappa. Some folks just don’t dig live music. Sigh. Too bad, it’s where things really get interesting.
I myself have amassed a collection of over 1200 shows/bootlegs/broadcasts. I know that sounds like a lot, but there is SO much more. Through listening to different eras of Franks live shows you can really get a feel for which albums you may prefer. For instance, the period where Flo and Eddie (former leads singers of The Turtles joined the band) is not my favorite, but I really like the period where Steve Vai was playing with the band. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all good, but it’s kind of like Bob Dylan going from acoustic to electric, or periods of Miles Davis catalog. You can’t play the same material the same way forever. Artists grow and change.
I’ve probably rehashed this for the umpteenth time, so I’ll get to the crux of the biscuit here.
The Real Frank Zappa Book by Frank Zappa (with Peter Occiogrosso)
I saw an interview on YouTube where Frank was hitting the talk show circuit after having written (I’m guessing recorded and then had Peter transfer to text) a book that he said was the only REAL Frank Zappa book because he was involved in it’s creation.
I do have another Frank Zappa book that I have been hanging on to, but I thought this may be a better way to start. I got it from Amazon cheap and it’s a quick but very very interesting read.
It is more of a collection of personal anecdotes arranged in some sense of chronology in his personal history. There are chapters on his childhood, his early interest and experience with music, starting band days and his interest in all kinds of music. This I think is one of the more poignant reveals. Frank Zappa, though most know him as a guitarist with funny and sometimes indelicate humor, he really feels like he is more of a conductor.
In fact I didn’t realize how much he was focused on the symphonic essence of his music. He tried several times to have orchestras perform his work, only to run into roadblocks along the way. Turns out working with the music union, rehearsing your work and then playing it takes a lot of time and money and patience. He has always endeavored to make music that was dense and challenging and often this is misunderstood.
Often Frank’s playing and recording of rock and roll music was a means to the end of having money to fund such orchestral projects.
There is a bit regarding the Montreux show that the Deep Purple song “Smoke On The Water” mentions. That one’s for you Shawn! Also, the terrible accident where a fan ended up pushing Frank off the stage and into the orchestra pit. He was laid up for a long while, but I discovered that one of my favorite albums “Studio Tan” was recorded during this time with one of my all time favorite tracks “The Adventures of Greggery Peccary”.
He has always been a voice for freedom of expression and has often railed against the system. There are several chapters in this book that speak to the plight of bands bending to the will of the corporations and in the end not being true to themselves. In the 80’s Frank was called upon to speak to Congress during the whole PRMC debacle. There is a chapter that reprints that speech. Though you have a vision perhaps (due to his rather goofy nature) of a crazed musician, he is very well spoken and articulate with some great points into the guts of the PMRC. It is well worth the read.
There is also a chapter on his 4 kids and his wife and how they were not the typical nuclear family, but all worked well together.
There are of course stories of groupies and touring and lots of strange goings on, but I think that one of the things I got from this book was Frank’s philosophy of music and what he does and how he’s glad if you dig it, but it’s not for you.
Be aware that not everything in this book is about the music, there are several chapters where Frank takes on the music industry, religion, American sheep (the kind who just do and say what they are told, not the eventual wool sweater kind) and touring (spoiler alert, it’s drudgery). So if you are looking for a straight up biography, this may not deliver all the typical info, but as a book that you can look to that expresses what he really feels (and he doesn’t hold back) you can’t do better than this book.
Having some reference to Frank Zappa and his music does help while reading this, but it’s not an absolute necessity.
To end this post I will point you to a particularly good YouTube video, though it’s just images, of Frank Zappa “Trick Or Guit – Halloween 81” which was culled together by one of my favorite Zappa YouTubers. He is an editing master and this is a long string of Zappa solos from the 6 CD box set release of the Halloween 81 show. It’s amazing. This guy is an editing genius. You would NOT believe that all this music was not played continuously. This is a great showcase of the musicianship of Frank Zappa. If you are looking for a good way to start, and like live music, give this a try.
I’m listening to this again as I write this… I keep drifting off. The man is amazing.
Anyway, I have gushed sufficiently and not for the first and probably not last time.
Go check out some Zappa right now!