I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.
The Real Frank Zappa Book - Frank Zappa, co-written by Peter Occhiogrosso, 1989
I gather from hints in this text that Zappa himself was not a reader. He spent his time being a perfectionist composer and musician and tour planner, leaving to his wife the business details (which she did for his estate and legacy until her death last month, at age 70).
So it’s probably on Zappa that this anecdotal autobiography is organized in a way that would appeal to a non-reader. That is, the initial chapters are organized by time, then later chapters by theme. This makes this 300-page book surprisingly easy to skim.
Zappa in his own words provides numerous surprises.
For one, I did not know that health problems plagued him for almost his entire life. He was a sickly kid. In 1971 he was attacked on stage and suffered such injury that he was in a wheelchair for a long time. In 1993 he died of a prostate cancer that had gone undiagnosed for about a decade. After a two-year fight, a few weeks shy of his 53rd birthday, he died too young and was buried in LA in unmarked grave. He didn’t really give a damn what people thought of him, even denying people the possibility of paying homage by leaving flowers. But then when we think about what Jim Morrison’s grave looks like, we can’t blame Zappa in any way.
Also, I took as true those terrible stories about him that people told each on the mid Seventies. But in this book he asserts, “For the record, folks; I never took a shit on stage and the closest I ever came to eating shit anywhere was at a Holiday Inn buffet in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1973.”
His misanthropy was not confined to music. Nor much of a reader, he wasn’t much of a talker either. He claims his family had to drag him to the dinner table for Christmas and Thanksgiving feasts, since he just didn’t like sitting around over food and gabbing. Like lots of perfectionists, he disliked stupid people: “Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.”
His opinions on music are uncompromising. He tells anecdotes about rock heroes like Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix. The stories are deliberately banal, undercutting slyly the whole rock hero thing.
The last couple of chapters feature his opinions on religion and politics. He was conservative in that he didn’t want to pay taxes to support large government programs, but he thought the Reagan administration was stuffed with fascist theocrats. He had no sympathy for the concept of endless war.
Published in 1989, this book feels dated, obviously, and feels very pre-internet. Sorry, this is hard to explain - but you can tell the book was designed with no computer. But upon finishing it, the reader feels pretty sure where Zappa would have stood on social media, which has given everybody the chance to parade their stupidity for the whole freakin’ world. One wonders though if he would have had effective uses for autotune.