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by Barry Miles

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Ten years after his death, Frank Zappa continues to influence popular culture. With almost one hundred recordings still in print, Zappa remains a classic American icon. Scores of bands have been influenced by (and have shamelessly imitated) his music, and a talented roster of musicians passed through Zappa’s bands. Now comes the definitive biography of Zappa


Ten years after his death, Frank Zappa continues to influence popular culture. With almost one hundred recordings still in print, Zappa remains a classic American icon. Scores of bands have been influenced by (and have shamelessly imitated) his music, and a talented roster of musicians passed through Zappa’s bands. Now comes the definitive biography of Zappa by Barry Miles, best-selling author of Hippie and Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now, who knew Zappa personally and was present at the recording of some of his most important albums. Miles follows Zappa from his sickly Italian-American childhood in the 1940s (his father worked for the military and was used to test the effectiveness of new biological warfare agents) to his youthful pursuit of what was a lifelong dream: becoming a classical composer. Zappa brings together the many different personalities of this music legend together for the first time: the self-taught musician and composer who gained fame with the “rock” band the Mothers of Invention; the political antagonist who mocked presidents while being invited by Vaclav Havel to represent Czechoslovakia’s cultural interests in the United States, and Zappa the family man who was married to the same woman for over thirty years.

Editorial Reviews

Camille Paglia
Barry Miles's new biography, Zappa, argues that he was a major artist in the line of Courbet and Duchamp. Despite sometimes tendentious overstatements, the book does indeed establish that Zappa, through his genre-shattering experiments, technical virtuosity and staggering productivity, deserves to be considered a central figure of late-20th-century American culture.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Pop culture biographer Miles (Paul McCartney; Ginsberg; etc.) paints an engrossing portrait of the troubled musical genius who died of prostate cancer in 1993 at age 52. Zappa endured a peripatetic youth and an early brush with the law that fueled his trademark anti-authoritarian strain; his musical brilliance eventually transformed him from class clown into one of rock's major icons, with such landmark records as We're Only in It for the Money and Joe's Garage. Miles skillfully weaves together the major beats and minor notes of Zappa's remarkable life, no small feat given the musician's many contradictions: he was a hard-rocking star, but also a meticulous, studious composer influenced by Var se and Stravinsky; he despised drug use and the trappings of stardom, but he loved groupies (he partook of their favors freely, eventually marrying one and fathering three children). A virtuoso, a perfectionist and a shrewd businessman, Zappa alienated, sued or otherwise offended nearly everyone in his life at some point; he especially loved tormenting his audience. Miles hits the ups and downs of Zappa's life like a skilled composer in his own right, and he captures the contentious eras (from the late 1950s on) in which Zappa's genius emerged. The result is a penetrating look both at Zappa and at the social and political milieu in which popular rock music stepped to the fore. Agent, Andrew Wylie. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
More than a decade after his death, rock guitarist, classical composer, political activist, and controversial songwriter Frank Zappa still influences popular culture. Miles has written a thorough study of Zappa's life and work. While not quite as fluid as his previous Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now or Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats, it delivers a well-rounded portrait of Zappa and a critical evaluation of his rock, jazz, and classical compositions, recordings, and live performances. Miles knew Zappa and was present at some of the musician's recording sessions; however, he also documents his study with numerous print sources. Along with Richard Kostelanetz's The Frank Zappa Companion, this looks to be one of the most important books on the enigmatic Zappa. Recommended for larger public libraries and highly recommended for academic libraries with larger music collections.-James E. Perone, Mount Union Coll., Alliance, OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A new biography of the grungy "genius" of rock 'n' roll returns over and over again to a few themes, all carefully documented and likely to upset the faithful. A gregarious loner who grew up during the 1950s in the character-free towns littering the southern California desert, Frank Zappa displayed early on the odd mix of interests that would show up later in his work: doo-wop music, Hispanic pachuco culture, toilet humor, atonal avant-garde composers, and a love/hate relationship with trash culture. Pop-culture historian Miles (Jack Kerouac, 1998, etc.) is at his best when ably chronicling Zappa's early years, especially the 1960s, when he spread his freak flag via The Mothers of Invention (which he later disbanded, having come to see his bandmates as employees instead of collaborators) and such massively outsized compositions as Freak Out! An omnivorous music lover, Zappa boasted a legion of influences, which was reflected in his prodigious output; by the '70s, at least in this account, he seems to be releasing a double or triple album on every other page. This gives Miles plenty of material to sift through for references to things in Zappa's life, connections to other songs, and so on. Unfortunately, as the author himself often points out, for all his universally recognized musical talent, Zappa had a simply awful sense of humor, not to mention a viciously misanthropic outlook, and was always self-destructively undercutting his compositions with pointlessly smutty lyrics, "continually rubbing his audience's face in the dirt." Miles is far from an all-inclusive biographer, displaying as little interest in Zappa's personal life as the artist did himself and preferring instead to go intolengthy detail about his legendarily monastic editing and recording sessions. A portrait does emerge here, and it's a frighteningly soulless one: against it, Miles's occasional reminders of Zappa's musical genius seem more like afterthoughts than genuine analysis. Far from the last word on Zappa, but an interesting shot from the sidelines. Agent: Andrew Wylie/The Wylie Agency

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Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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5.88(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.27(d)

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Zappa 2.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Attention all fans: Zappa fails to present Frank's true essence. Instead of exploring the mentality of the musical mastermind, Miles writes a 397-page opinion about Frank Zappa. In the beginning of the book, Miles states the history of Frank, along with many other characters in the book. An abundance of facts about Frank's whereabouts do not substitute for his true perspective. The biography lacks Frank Zappa's character due to Miles' disapproval of his provocative nature. Limitless creativity, personal freedom and music created depth in Frank Zappa as a person and as a musician. He refused to believe in pop culture or follow trends. His absolute disconnection from the expectations and norms of society created tension with some critics. Barry Miles condemns Zappa for his blunt opinions rather than celebrate the weirdness and openness of a man as advanced as Frank. Miles found witnesses to confirm his opinion of Zappa are true; former musicians and even his daughter Moon Unit attempt to negatively influence the reader's opinion. Frank Zappa toured in Europe with trumpet player Sal Marquez, who was denied a per diem. Miles comments on the event, claiming he has a "hard-nosed capitalist lurking in Zappa's first generation-immigrant mentality" (Miles 237). If Miles doesn't approve of Zappa's morality and sense of humor, why write a book about his life? There are positive attributes to this biography; Miles extensively researched the happenings of Frank Zappa, his family, current musicians and coworkers. He compiles a list of all Frank's musical and theatrical endeavors along with a thorough bibliography. His major flaw distracts readers from Zappa's actual life. Miles is unable to withdraw his own personal bias from the text about another's state of mind. There is no interest in reading an extensive judgment about another person; this manipulates reality. Avoid the exaggerated criticism of Frank's frank nature and read the real deal, Zappa's own books The Real Frank Zappa Book and Them or Us. His humor is not dulled or ridiculed and a true sense of Zappa can be felt. Biographies fail to reveal the reality of the lives of their subject, and Zappa is no exception. Frank Zappa is praised as a talented musician, but criticized for his extreme devotion, work ethic, sense of humor, family life, and human interaction in general. Frank Zappa explains his opinion the best in Packard Goose, "F*** all them writers with a pen in their hand. I will be more specific so they might understand. They can all kiss my a** because it's so grand. They'd best just stay away." Perhaps this is why Zappa was written ten years after Frank's death.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Frank Zappa--musical genius, husband, father, businessman, and cultural icon--led a fascinating life dedicated to music. This bio of Frank gives a detailed and penetrating look into FZ's formative years. Although the author chooses to allow his personal disapproval of some aspects of Frank's life to shine glaringly through, the book still presents a very interesting view of how Zappa was able to maintain his independence and artistic integrity despite the manipulations of the media and the record companies. Whether a Zappa fan or someone unfamiliar with his work, the book is, indeed, fascinating because of Frank's candor, dedication, and single-minded drive to create, record, perform, and sell his music, much of which was done in times of absolute hostility to originality, free speech, and complexity in the field of music. I recommend the book because it is a compelling complement to FZ's autobiography published years before. There are some great pictures, but there should have been many more. While the book does shed light on most of the core phases of Zappa's life and music (from early childhood and teen years through the Mothers of Invention years, all the way up to his most unfortunate and untimely death), it falls short of giving much inside information about the amazing musicians Frank has worked with after the Mothers (e.g., it is silent on the treachery and greed of Vinnie C. and Jeff B).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anyone with prior awareness of Frank Zappa and his work is bound to be disappointed by this largely uninformative, frequently erroneous and sadly uncomprehending study of a man whose sharp observations and keen sense of satire seem to have gone straight over its author's politically-correct head. It contains little in the way of new material (relying instead on extensive quotes from already published interviews) and displays a breathtaking carelessness with spellings of names and basic facts (you would think a biography would at least make the effort to get the date of its subject's death correct!), a sloppy approach that -- if nothing else -- gives the lie to the rampant speculation and unfounded accusations that pepper the book. Unless you have need of a new doorstop, you'd be advised to give this dull and yet irritatingly opinionated tome a miss.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book as a birthday gift for my father, an avid Frank Zappa fan. His comments: I finished reading the book today you gave me and it was the best birthday gift I have had in a long time. When I reached the end of the book , which was essentially the last days and death of FZ I was moved to shed tears and feel sorrow. FZ was believe it or not a big influence in my life, not just the wacky crazy part of him, but the part of him that exposed in a way all the bologna we must endure in these days and times. His cynicism open my eyes to things most people never think about or take into consideration, that there are many things that are just shoved down your throat and you are expected to endure it all without question. That we must be independent and promote thinking for your self and come to your own conclusions about everything that is. He also was a genius when it came to things pertaining to inventiveness and innovation when it came to music and he was influenced by those considered to be the masters of their careers. This book has answered many questions that have been on my mind about the life and times of this man and what drove him to be him. He was an icon for me from the age of about 17 to the present times. So this was a perfect gift for me and thanks again so much. Love Dad