Literature / The Real Frank Zappa Book

The Real Frank Zappa Book is Frank Zappa's autobiography, published in 1989. Originally journalist Peter Occhiogrosso was invited to transcribe Zappa's actual words to paper, but when Zappa read the first draft he felt it was way too serious and dry. So he changed the entire style of the book in something that was more in line with his reputation for funny, sarcastic and bizarre entertainment. The end result is an amusing and insightful book that combines both autobiographical information, transcripts of song lyrics and letters, a transcript of the court case against Zappa by the Royal Albert Hall because of obscenity, touring anecdotes, and Zappa's personal opinions about various topics, including music, politics, education, religion, censorship, family and his own career.

Chapters
  1. "Introduction: Book? What Book?"
  2. "How Weird Am I, Anyway?"
  3. "There Goes the Neighborhood"
  4. "An Alternative to College"
  5. "Are We Having a Good Time Yet?"
  6. "The Log Cabin"
  7. "Send In the Clowns"
  8. "Drool, Britannia"
  9. "All About Music"
  10. "A Chapter for My Dad"
  11. "The One You've Been Waiting For"
  12. "Sticks & Stones"
  13. "America Drinks and Goes Marching"
  14. "All About Schmucks"
  15. "Marriage (as a Dada Concept)"
  16. "Porn Wars"
  17. "Church and State"
  18. "Practical Conservatism"
  19. "Failure"
  20. "The Last Word"

The Real Frank Zappa Book provides examples of the following tropes:

  • The Alcoholic:
    • One chapter is called "America Drinks & Goes Home" about America's fascination with beer commercials and the macho behaviour that goes along with it.
    • Zappa also tells an anecdote about the time he met a very drunk John Wayne.
  • Autobiography: It's an autobiography, but at the same time everything is told in a sarcastical tone and Zappa spends more pages telling his personal opinions about subjects than revealing much about his private life. Former Mother member Don Preston and author Barry Miles have also doubted some of the stuff Zappa presents as ''facts''. People who want to read more about Zappa's life would be better off reading an actual biography.
  • Bowdlerize: Zappa tells an anecdote from high school where he doesn't tell the name of the woman involved in it, but writes this instead:
    [name left out] - because I happen to be a nice guy.
  • Call-Back and Continuity Nod: Two chapters are named after tracks from Zappa's albums, namely "America Drinks and Goes Marching", titled after "America Drinks And Goes Home" from Absolutely Free and "Porn Wars" from Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention.
  • Classical Music Is Boring: Zappa often expressed the notion that to him most classical music before the 20th century was boring. In this book he goes into more detail and explains that most classical music from previous centuries was written to please some king, duke or abbott who forced composers to make everything sound according to their wishes. In that regard it's not much different from mainstream pop music nowadays, only with record producers forbidding artists to make songs that clash with their conventional tastes. Despite these claims recent research has proven that Zappa did often listen to pre-20th century composers like Johann Sebastian Bach, Henry Purcell, Richard Wagner,... too and was more knowledgeable about their music than he showed to the outside world.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander:
    • The chapter "How Weird Am I, Anyway?" has Zappa debunking his reputation for being eccentric. He downright states:
    I never set out to be weird. It were always others who called me that.
    • Zappa also tells several anecdotes about some weird people he met throughout the years, including Ronny and Kenny Williams who collected urine and nose boogers and were immortalized in "Let's Make The Water Turn Black" in We're Only in It for the Money. Crazy Jerry was a man who played piano by using a mirror "because it made the distance between the keys look smaller and it was a lot easier to learn that way." He also wore metal hat because he was afraid "people would read his mind", enjoyed getting jolts from electric meters and was once seen hanging by his knees from a tree branch - like a bat- right ouside Zappa and Gail's bedroom window. Another strange person was Wild Bill the Mannequin Fucker, whose name is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Laurel Fishman was a Loony Fan who once showed Zappa a a perfectly spherical ball of her own shit in a mason jar and spanked musician Steve Vai with a hair brush note , inspiring the song "Stevie's Spanking" from "Them Or Us" (1984). And then there were the Plasters Casters Of Chicago, who made plaster casts of penises of famous rock artists.
    Do we really want to know how Michael Jackson makes his music? No. We want to understand why he needs the bones of Elephant Man — and, until he tells us, it doesn't make too much difference whether or not he really is bad.
  • Corrupt Church: The chapter "Church and State" is devoted to organized religion, televangelists and the Moral Majority. Zappa also tells an anecdote about when he and a friend visited the Church of the Sub Genius and transcribes a typical telecast by money grabbing televangelist Robert Tilton.
  • Dare to Be Badass:
    If you wind up with a boring, miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on TV telling you how to do your shit, then YOU DESERVE IT.
  • Dead Pan Snarker: Zappa's writing style.
  • Epic Fail: The chapter "Failure" deals with all the projects that Zappa spent time on, but never ammounted to anything.
  • Epigraph: He points out that:
    [t]he epigraphs at the heads of chapters (publishers love those little things) were researched and inserted by Peter (Occhiogrosso, the co-author) — I mention this because I wouldn't want anybody to think I sat around reading Flaubert, Twitchell and Shakespeare all day." Zappa's reaction to an epigraph quoting Flaubert is "How 'bout that epigraph, huh? Peter, you're cracking me up already.
  • Face on the Cover: There are various types of book covers, but they all feature Zappa on it.
  • Groupie Brigade: "The One You've Been Waiting For" tells several intrigueing anecdotes about groupies and band members.
  • In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: Zappa recounts anecdotes where he met various celebrities, like Mick Jagger (who pulled out a splinter from Zappa's toe in the years he lived in a log cabin) and John Wayne (who was drunk and offensive to Zappa during a stage show). Zappa also wrote a letter to Ronald Reagan about music censorship, which is printed in its entirety in the book, but he never received a reply.
  • In the Original Klingon: Zappa relates his Sicilian father's theory that everything was invented by Sicilians, up to and including The Roman Empire.
  • Irony: Right from the start Zappa informs the reader that he actually didn't want to write an autobiography, but:
    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.
  • Listeners Are Morons:
    The more your musical experience, the easier it is to define for yourself what you like and what you don't like. American radio listeners, raised on a diet of _____ (fill in the blank), have experienced a musical universe so small they cannot begin to know what they like.
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: Just like in his lyrics Zappa criticizes American politics and society frequently in the book.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Zappa recalls a man called ''Wild Bill the Mannequin Fucker'' who had an entire family of mannequin dolls whom he enjoyed having sex with and even invited people to come over and join in the "fun".
  • Nostalgia Filter: He had no need for nostalgia and devoted a whole chapter in his autobiography The Real Frank Zappa Book about how people's tendencies to look over their shoulders and be Two Decades Behind caused progress to be slowed down.
  • Pun-Based Title: The chapter "Drool, Britannia", a pun on the song "Rule Britannia".
  • Reality Is Unrealistic:
    The songs I write about women are not gratuitous attacks on them, but statements of fact. The song "Jewish Princess" caused the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai B'rith to complain bitterly and demand an apology. I did not apologize then and refuse to do so now because, unlike the unicorn, such creatures do exist and deserve to be 'commemorated' with their own special opus.
  • Schmuck Bait: One chapter is entitled: All About Schmucks.
  • Self-Deprecation:
    As much as I would like to walk out there and 'be myself,' the fact is that the 'self' that I am- when I am just 'being myself'- would be utterly boring and unwatchable on a stage.
    • Zappa about the bad reception of Hot Rats back in 1969:
    The very idea! An all-instrumental album, except for one vocal cut — and that had to feature Captain Beefheart! He's no singer! Why are you wasting America's precious time with this, you asshole!
  • Take That!: Targets who get several pages devoted to them are the American government, Ronald Reagan, Minister of Health C. Everett Koop, beer culture, televangelists, music censorship, organized religion, consumerism, MTV, the division between high art and low art, the Moral Majority and schmucks.
  • Take That, Critics!: He devoted a few pages explaining the inaneness of most critics and argued that somebody may like an album, even if someone gave it a bad review. Zappa himself was a good example, because he discovered his main musical inspiration Edgard Varèse thanks to a horrible review in a magazine and felt he had to check it out, just because of that.
  • Time Marches On: Some of Zappa's lectures on politics remain fresh, some of his other opinions are very dated. In some of the chapters he advocates the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa, for instance, and he criticizes the Reagan administration.
  • Urban Legends: Right from the first chapter Zappa takes time to debunk some urban legends about his persona. No, he is not the son of Mr. Green Genes from Captain Kangaroo, just because the album Hot Rats (1969) happened to have a track titled that way. Similarly he never ate shit on stage during a concert. (That would be GG Allin.)
    I was in a London club called the Speak Easy in 1967 or '68. A member of a group called the Flock, recording for Columbia at the time, came over to me and said: "You're fantastic. When I heard about you eating that shit on stage, I thought, 'That guy is way, way out there.'" I said, "I never ate shit on stage," He looked really depressed —like I had just broken his heart. For the records, 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."

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