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Published: 2007/09/23
by John Zinkand

Zappa: A Book Review

I picked up Zappa by Barry Miles when a friend had mentioned he had read the newest biography about Frank Zappa. Im a casual Zappa fan, but am in now way a super fan who knows a majority of Franks vast music catalog. I have a few albums, but more importantly, I have friends who are very into his music – so Ive listened to many hours of Franks music indirectly that way. I also enjoy Zappas forays into the film world and enjoy watching my copy of 200 Motels and Baby Snakes (the live concert footage in Baby Snakes is really great!). I even caught a show during the last tour of Zappa Plays Zappa with Steve Vai, Napoleon Murphy Brock, and Terry Bozzio. Im still on the fence, however, about throwing down yet another $60.00 to see the current Zappa Plays Zappa tour with Ray White. Like I said, I like Frank Zappa, but Im not a super fan. I just find his music, films, and persona very interesting.
Zappa by Barry Miles is a worthwhile read for any level of Zappa curiosity. Its especially interesting to read a third partys account of Zappas life after having read Zappas autobiography The Real Frank Zappa Book. Zappas autobiography is interesting for an entirely different set of reasons. Its interesting to read someone telling the story of their life, but of course sometimes things are skewed to their point of view. Zappa also omits important things from his life he doesnt want to touch on in his book (due to his personal distaste of aforementioned things or his general disinterest at being introspective). He even gets dates, times, and places wrong much of the time. So from an opposing view alone, Barry Miles book is great in that it clears up some of the misinformation and inaccuracies that are lurking in Zappas autobiography.
Miles starts from the beginning and gives a very factual recount of Zappas nomadic youth. He paints a good picture of his recently immigrated family and their travels around the country searching for an allusive home base (led by father Francis). The constant uprooting was to influence Zappa for the rest of his life. Miles goes into details and clears up some childhood myths and inaccuracies from Zappas autobiography. He goes into depth as far as Franks upbringing, his siblings, and his musical education and development.
Miles impartial approach reveals details that Frank would not reveal about himself, and in that regard Zappa is very refreshing. He is also able to tell the story of Zappas life from a subjective point of view, and does not candy coat any of Zappas negative personality traits such as being a control freak, somewhat litigious, and even a little cheap. He lays it all out, but he does not do so in a way that is vindictive or attacks Zappa. Zappa was a strange, gifted, and extremely intelligent man, and that is the main gist of the book. The book is chock full of interesting anecdotes and factoids about Frank Zappa. There are direct quotes from Frank, but also direct quotes from important figures in his life like band mates, former teachers, and former business partners. Its interesting to hear others perspectives on Frank Zappa. Also, Barry Miles is able to deliver an unmatched intimacy of Zappas life to the reader since he knew Frank personally.
For those interested in the life and music of Frank Zappa, Barry Miles Zappa is a must read. But even if you dont really know much at all about Zappa, I would recommend this book. Zappas life and prolific career is full of twists and turns that would be interesting to people even if theyve never heard the name Frank Zappa before. How did Zappa help give Alice Cooper his start in the music business? How good is sex with Janis Joplin? What does Frank Zappa have to do with Jimi Hendrixs penis?? Read Zappa by Barry Miles. You just cant make stuff like this up.

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