There are biographies and autobiographies that are about what a person did and how they achieved their particular brand of expertise, success, or celebrity, and then there are the ones that are about who that person really is.
The Real Frank Zappa Book is one such autobiography. You read this book and you don’t understand all of the important dates or instances of this or that which led to the Frank Zappa you know, but you do understand who he is. This isn’t as much of a history book as it is a philosophy book, it’s Frank’s philosophy, and he doesn’t pull any punches.
Why did he do this? “One of the reasons for doing this is the proliferation of stupid books (in several languages) which purport to be About Me. I thought there ought to be at least ONE, somewhere, that had real stuff in it. Please be advised that this book does not pretend to be some sort of ‘complete’ oral history. It is presented for consumption as entertainment only.”
On the back cover, The New York Post is quoted with “This book belongs in every home.” And it’s hard to argue that point. More than three decades after its publishing, The Real Frank Zappa Book takes on topics and issues, as well as, concepts and principles that are more relevant now than when he was putting pen to paper near the end of 1988.
Now, I am aware that Frank Zappa, by himself, or with the Mothers of Invention, is not everyone’s cup of tea, musically. But this book seems to have a larger potential audience. Because as a human, Zappa is much more intelligent and intellectual than his critics gave him credit for. And while sometimes, his smart lyrics may seem smug, at no time did it feel like his book was talking down to anyone.
He’s not using big words, he’s just telling you this story and sharing with you his views. This is how this book came to be, most of it was Peter Occhiogrosso transcribing from conversations he had with Frank Zappa, which might be the reason this book feels like a conversation. So kudos to you Peter.
So I said this book isn’t a historical roadmap of his career, and I said that it has a wider potential audience than his music, so what exactly is this book, and what makes it so real?
He talks about the music industry and growing up, but he also talks at length and with conviction about the “Porn Wars” and “Church and State” he laments “Practical Conservatism” which might have been a sliver of a percentage of people three decades ago, but might as well be a full myth now. He writes “A Chapter for My Dad” in the same book that he writes about “Marriage (as a Dada Concept), as well as his thoughts on child-rearing.
I often say that those who are smart enough to solve governmental affairs are also smart enough to stay out of politics. Frank Zappa is one of the prime examples of that argument. When you read this book, you get the feeling that had he wanted to he could have conquered politics. The last few chapters are very well-thought-out arguments that in today’s society would be chopped up for clickbait by the left and the right equally.
And perhaps that is why you should read this book. Not because you like his music, or you happen to think you might agree with his politics. But because there aren’t many true originals that exist these days, and this is a glimpse into one we’ve lost. Once something works it is copied and mutated beyond comprehension within hours, perhaps even minutes, but Frank Zappa was a true original. And according to this book in his own words, he was ahead of his time.
Three quotes from the book that are perhaps more relevant as I write this in 2021 than they were in 1988 when he was drafting this are; death by nostalgia, dishonesty, and stupidity.
Read these and see if you can find a way to apply them to the here and now, it won’t take you long and it won’t be that hard;
- (It isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice–there are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia. When you compute the length of time between The Event and The Nostalgia For The Event, the span seems to be about a year less in each cycle. Eventually within the next quarter of a century, the nostalgia cycles will be so close together that people will not be able to take a step without being nostalgic for the one they just took. At that point, everything stops. Death by Nostalgia.)
- I would say that today, dishonesty is the rule, and honesty the exception. It could be, statistically, that more people are honest than dishonest, but the few that really control things are not honest, and that tips the balance.
I don’t think we have an honest president. I don’t think that he is surrounded by honest people. I don’t believe that most of the people in Congress or in the Senate are honest. I don’t think that most people who head up businesses are honest. We have let them get away with it because we’re not honest enough to face up to the fact that we are ‘owned and operated‘ by a bunch of really bad people.
- Why, then, do so many Americans, while professing to adore Freedom and Democracy, support–even demand–that actions be taken by their own government which bear a striking resemblance to Old-Style Evil Empire Communism? (Censorship? Disinformation? The Public Library Spy-Squealer Program?) Are we really that unspeakably stupid?
Again, Frank Zappa was a true original, and because this book is really his essence more than just a list of dates and accomplishments The Real Frank Zappa Book is worth your time, period, full stop.