Grove Press, New York
464 pp, hardcover, 23,5 x 16 cm
This book was first printed in November 2004 and re-printed 2005 in softcover with revisons and corrections. In USA the book is titled Zappa: A Biography, in UK Frank Zappa: The Biography. The book is translated into German, Italian and Dutch (Zappa De biografie, ISBN 90-6005-556-X, softcover, 2005).
Bitesize: Studious and engaging biography of one of music's most revered figures:
Biographies of dead personalities rest shakily between two wobbly stools – mostly. Stool one is hagiography of the most odious aggrandizing type, cosily back slapping its chosen subject into some kind after-deathly fantasy and raising whatever bar their reputations rested on to undeserved heights. These make me want to 'bowk-up', as the once mighty Viz once said.
Stool two is salacious character assassination. Dredging up the worst foibles and indiscretions, drug addictions, wife/husband beatings and whatever nasty childhood neuroses the biographer can find before announcing that their chosen subject was really just another version of Pol Pot.
But hey, I'm waffling a load of old pony. Barry Miles and his biography of Frank Zappa are under scrutiny. A fine book all round it has to be said, if not without the usual minor quibbles but neither of the two terrible types just described.
Let's get one thing out of the way – Frank Zappa is unquestionably one of the most critically revered, if musically wayward artists of the last 35 years. Like him or loathe him, you can't ignore him. His status as socio-political cultural commentator and muso-satirical genius (ahem) is undisputed. And prolific? Christ, how many albums? He is, ok I'll say it, a phenomenon.
Anyway, Barry Miles is one thorough kind of guy. Read his trawl though the 1960s, Hippy, for an example of his attention to detail, the word I believe you are looking for is 'exhaustive'. Here the minutiae of Zappa's childhood and adolescence are dissected to such a degree that you are virtually a third of the way through the book before he releases Freak Out – his 1966 album that set the whole Zappa/Mothers industry off and wailing. Too much Barry. As anyone with any knowledge of Zappa knows, there are LOTS of albums to discuss and pour over before we get to his sad and untimely death from cancer in 1999. Zappa was a man who worked tirelessly all his life from the 1960s dropout shit holes of Los Angeles to the legendary Muffin Research Kitchen, where he was still working practically on his deathbed. So, am I being curmudgeonly? Probably, I wanted to have Miles discuss Frank's music in as much depth as his early days. Relatively scant coverage is given to his constant battle with censorship, PMRC and the right-wing flatheads (still bright eyed and bushy tailed and living in a town near you) and his role in the Czech Velvet Revolution.
But for all that, everything that is important is touched on and you can only say so much about an individual that packed such a mammoth amount of activity into his life. Ultimately we find that Zappa was honest, creative, funny but also argumentative, belligerent and unforgiving. Obsessed with Doo Wop, a guitar virtuoso and able to survive on a diet of cigarettes and chilli for most of his life. For the completist there is also a handy discography with track listings so you can sniff out various albums that may have slipped off your radar and make sure you know where to find the seminal Why Does it Hurt When I Pee or Too Ugly for Show Business. There are few better books on Zappa and certainly none as well researched and lovingly written. Enjoy.
Kelly Fisher Lowe (The Words And Music Of Frank Zappa, p 240):
Miles is a long-time journalist and fan; he has published two other works on Zappa, including Frank Zappa: A Visual Documentary (London: Omnibus Press, 1993) and Frank Zappa: In His Own Words (London: Omnibus Press, 1993), and interviewed Zappa a number of times throughout his life. That said, the second half of the book becomes an increasingly acid attack on Zappa the person. Miles, who seems to admire Zappa's music, becomes increasingly disgusted with Zappa's personal life. ... Although the book is useful to scholars, (Miles's numerous interviews with Zappa are alone worth the effort) one must be careful to separate Miles's agenda from the scholarship.
PenguinInBondage (Zappa forums):
There are actually many points in Mr. Miles' book that I find myself rolling my eyes. He's very hard on FZ throughout the book and never seems to forgive Frank for breaking up the original MOI lineup (among other things). Some of his viewpoints though have gotten me to change some of my opinions so it's still definitely worth the read.
Zappa Wiki Jawaka
Amazon Customer Reviews
CNN.com - Inside the head of Frank Zappa
The New York Times review
First Chapter @ The New York Times
Zappa forums - "Zappa" by Barry Miles
Zappa forums - Barry Miles Book
Zappa forums - New Zappa Biography
Zappateers forums - Which are the best books on Zappa and his music?
Rogner & Bernhard, Berlin
528 pp, hardcover, 23 x 16 cm
German translation of Zappa: A Biography by Michael Kellner.
Zweitausendeins, Frankfurt am Main
528 pp, paperback, 19 x 12,5 cm
Second German edition, this time as Zweitausendeins paperback no. 28.
Source: Václav Pěnkava
La vita e la musica di un uomo Absolutely Free
Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore, Milano
592 pp, paperback, 19 x 12,5 cm