The New York Times
Zappaby Barry Miles
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.
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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.
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).
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.
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