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Zappa: A Biography

3.75  ·  Rating Details  ·  697 Ratings  ·  69 Reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published September 16th 2005 by Grove Press (first published 1993)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,244)
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Adam Patterson
Mar 09, 2009 Adam Patterson rated it liked it
There was a time when I had a complete reverence to anything Z put forth. Years later, I'm safely on the other side of my demystification process, and happier, healthier for it. There are still the dozen or so Essential Frank Zappa recordings, the ones I'll stand by till death, but really, the guy has finally hovered down among the more mortal types that co-occupy my conscious pantheon.

Miles does a pointed job at really nailing Z as a human subject, and I greatly appreciate this perspective, alb
Lukasz Pruski
Mar 29, 2015 Lukasz Pruski rated it it was amazing
Frank Zappa is the musical idol of my youth. I listened to Zappa's album "Freak Out!" almost 50 years ago, in 1966 or 1967, fascinated by what I considered the avant-garde freshness of the music, political references, and great sense of humor. Obviously, being a teenager, I dearly loved the scatological and obscene references. Later, when I tried to grow up, came my fascination with Mr. Zappa's strong stance for freedom of speech and against consumerism. As far as music is concerned I was very m ...more
Dec 03, 2014 Stenwjohnson rated it it was ok
UK writer Barry Miles has a made a career writing solid biographies and histories on counterculture topics, mainly key figures of the Beat movement. Frank Zappa, the subject of a 2003 biography, is a less likely candidate for the Miles treatment than he might appear: A wildly creative middle-class overachiever who shunned drugs and lacked self-destructive demons, his darkly satirical albums ridiculed hippie culture as well as the conservative “silent majority” of the 1960s. Zappa was a genius wo ...more
Brian S. Wise
A fairly well written book; I was put off by Zappa's tendency toward douchy behavior, as well as his phony "artist's sensibility." He was a cutthroat businessman who operated under the self-delusion of doing what he did in the name of his art. There is nothing more insufferable than a performer, with an exaggerated sense of importance, no one has the heart to say "No" to. Reading Zappa's direct quotes is tiring; even Barry Miles, the author, makes a practice of correcting Zappa's various exagger ...more
George Gratto
Jul 18, 2012 George Gratto rated it really liked it
Turned the pages with zircon-encrusted tweezers.
Feb 12, 2013 Fallopia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to know more about Frank
I first heard Brown Shoes Don't Make It on the Dr. Demento Show in the 70s; I was thirteen and impressionable, so I latched onto the line "only thirteen and she knows how to nasty." It remains my favorite song in the world to this day. Frank may not have received a lot of airplay—on his first album, Freak Out!, one song is called Nullis Pretii (No Commercial Potential)—but in the 70s I was able to hear some choice songs of his, including The Muffin Man and Joe's Garage .

This bio written by Ba
Steven Spector
Aug 18, 2013 Steven Spector rated it really liked it
A thorough biography of a brilliant musician who was an even better self-marketer. Although steeped in r n b Zappa looked hard for his niche "Let me be weird and funny live and in-studio," he said, "even though I'm deadly serious about almost everything. Let me cultivate the audience that I'm ultimately laughing at, and let me bring in brilliant (and hungry) musicians only to work them to death and ultimately dispose of them." Frank was different all right. Different like a fox! And you always h ...more
Tony Brewer
Mar 16, 2016 Tony Brewer rated it liked it
The details and clarification of some myths rate this book 3 stars, but as a Miles biography it's barely a 2. I've read many of Barry's books and currently working my way through his exhaustive Burroughs biography, and I have to say Zappa got short-changed. Miles' opinions are just that, sandwiched between endless rehashed anecdotes. I was shocked to learn no one was interviewed for this project! All the research is decades old, and reads like it. I was hoping for a more nuanced approach and con ...more
Hans Canters
Aug 05, 2015 Hans Canters rated it liked it
Goed boek, hier en daar wat van de hak op de tak maar een prima introductie van een man waarvan ik alleen de muziek ken en zeer bewonder. (hoewel veel van zijn composities voor mij volkomen onverteerbaar zijn). Het boek schetst een beeld van een muzikaal genie, zeer geëngageerd en activistisch onder veel meer op het gebied van vrijheid van meningsuiting, tegen de vertrutting van de samenleving, de macht van de rechts-fundamentalistische reli-lobby. Scherp en intelligent trekt hij ten strijde teg ...more
Jul 28, 2009 Lucius rated it it was ok
Great stories, excellent for a true fanatic, just for the timeline and backstories.
Commentary revealed the writer to be what so many critics are: assholes who can't create themselves, yet still feel justified to a half-informed opinion. What a clown Barry Miles is.
Jan 27, 2016 Cocaine rated it really liked it
Any decent biography by any decent biographer has to walk that thin line that steers masterfully between sycophancy and acid disclosure. Barry Miles fulfils this role with a natural flair. He obviously admired Zappa even if at times found him exacerbating, sometimes downright unpleasant. The depth of his research is exhaustive and all though I knew most of what is written here he still manages to uncover things I had not learnt before. Zappa was everything I thought he was and one or two things ...more
Mar 27, 2015 Robin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, music
I'd rate the first part of this book with 4 stars, and think that serious Zappa fans will enjoy the second part more than I did. Miles examines Zappa's life and character development chronologically, starting with his unpopularity in school, passion for doo-wop and R&B, and father (employed in quasi-military industry) controlling all family decisions including frequent relocation. His early adulthood path to musical fame was difficult, and I felt inspired by reading how he turned unfortunate ...more
Jul 13, 2012 Mark rated it it was ok
Worth the read. I think Frank Zappa was possessed with genius in the true sense of the phrase. In other words, there was a part of his at times amazing artistic output that was not deliberately manufactured by him but that came from elsewhere and had a hold of him. He would have no doubt hated that kind of thinking. Barry Miles is not possessed by anything like that at all, but instead does a yeomen's job of putting together a well researched bio that rarely transcends classy book report level. ...more
Nov 06, 2008 Fabio rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
Frank Zappa to me is like a big planet - once you've landed on it is difficult to leave because of the gravity, and it takes you years to explore it all. (Well actually there's also an asteroid named "Zappafrank"!)
In his musical carrier he produced more that 60 albums touching most if not all musical styles, including psychedelic rock, pop, country, funk, fusion, progressive, disco, jazz, metal, "modern" contemporary music and more, and it also was an incredibly talented guitar player.

Barry Mil
Jun 11, 2009 Alberto rated it liked it
This book does a good job in presenting Zappa from a much more objective viewpoint than Zappa himself when he wrote The Real Frank Zappa Book (his autobiography, which I haven't read, constantly referenced to in Miles' book). It seems to me that there are two versions of Zappa's public persona, his own (intellectually superior to the rest of the world, musical genius, freedom of speech beacon) and everybody else's (misanthrope, male chauvinist, workaholic, control freak). I'm not saying that the ...more
Jun 25, 2009 Chaz rated it really liked it
Barry Miles provides a very comprehensive and well-written account of Zappa's extensive discography along with some fun music trivia and humor threaded in. This is a great starting place for Zappa fans who are interested to see how truly complex some of his compositions are (or which albums are essential).
I found myself somewhat in awe by the prodigious amount of work this man and his walrus stash produced. Previously to reading this book, I was aware of his many nonsensical, sardonic songs e
Michael Neno
Jan 05, 2014 Michael Neno rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biographies
This book is a fascinating read, regardless of what you think about the music or the man. I learned much, especially about the subversive subculture of the late '50s and early '60s. Miles' book also sent me on the way to listening to Zappa's music for the first time (I found I enjoy his earliest work the best).

Zappa was a sharp example of a person blessed with much talent and intelligence while at the same time frequently and adamantly obnoxious, crude, misanthropic, sexist and many other negati
Roldan Navarrete
May 28, 2012 Roldan Navarrete rated it it was amazing
Zappa: A Biography by Barry Miles follows and tells the story of musician Frank Zappa's life and times. From his illness-ridden childhood days bouncing from military base to military base, to his eventual success in rock music (a ways from his aspirations of becoming a classical music composer). Barry Miles does an excellent job of telling Zappa's story without any bias, despite his close relationship with Frank, and with concise, factual evidence.

My personal favorite sections of the autobiograp
Mariana Coles
Jun 09, 2012 Mariana Coles rated it really liked it
Miles does an excellent job informing the reader about Zappa's numerous artistic works, even those that remained unfinished. The work is well-researched and has engaging prose. Miles relates Zappa's personal history well, but I think he could have described the political climate a bit more.

Miles conveys that Zappa is a strong-willed artist with a particular vision who is often understood as somewhat of a douche. This assessment is one Miles seems to agree with (and I do too) because he values h
Cory Howell
Aug 09, 2012 Cory Howell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I did find this bio of Frank Zappa fascinating, even though I was put off by the multitude of typos and errors (names of musicians, songs, etc. were often wrong). I had read The Real Frank Zappa Book several times, and it was interesting to get more of an objective viewpoint. Sadly, it does seem that Zappa was not as cool as I always thought he was. I was disappointed to read about his dalliances with so many groupies throughout his married life. I have no reason to believe that Miles was mistak ...more
Corrie Campbell
Mar 13, 2013 Corrie Campbell rated it liked it
Shelves: auto-biography
Barry Miles gets trashed by other reviewers and some of the critiques are justified especially when you don't get Zappa's date of death correct. Nonetheless, Miles attempts to write a well-rounded biography that discusses warts and all. Some of it is disillusioning hearing the negatives about Frank, but it was always the things that you already suspected; such as Zappa being an absent father, a control freak or not wanting to pay his musicians. This book was better than Frank's own "The Real Fra ...more
Jerry Rocha
Sep 13, 2015 Jerry Rocha rated it really liked it
There are many great moments from Zappa's life highlighted in the book. Some great stories too. What I don't understand is how the author just goes ahead and assumes Zappa was the bad guy in every conflict he had. Maybe he was. I hope not though.
Feb 15, 2016 Dave rated it did not like it
Sure, Frank was a hard guy to get to know. Yes, he was mostly a pain in the ass as an employer. But he was a genius and he's gone. Why trample on the guy's grave? Electric Don Quixote is a much less biased 3rd person bio.
Jay Clement
Apr 17, 2015 Jay Clement rated it really liked it
Very interesting read. I had no idea of the reach of Zappa and his music among a wide span of other entertainers and musicians. He was a perfectionist and became a respected classical composer. Hard to live with, but touched with genius.
Apr 03, 2014 Jason rated it it was ok
i am a big fan of music biographies in general and zappa in particular, but i found miles writing style very boring. just not a very interesting book.
Dec 25, 2012 Evan rated it it was ok
I'm not a big Zappa fan, and the bio didn't make me want to become one. It did, however, move me to recall the following priceless moment: As a freshman in college, I lived across the hall from two club rugby players, both the kind of smart, thoughtful guys who kept their smart, thoughtful interests as concealed as possible from their drinking buddies. Early in the school year, they acquired a giant poster of Frank Zappa standing in the middle of some kind of forest, wearing only a Speedo, and p ...more
Apr 11, 2008 Dan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Zappa fans, music fans in general
Extreme amounts of detail are included in this uber-comprehensive biography. An awesome read for anyone familiar with the span of Zappa's career as it provides a great deal of context to each of his releases. It's fun to listen to the music that corresponds to each era as you read about it.

The author doesn't hesitate to inject his opinion into the biography, which surprisingly isn't the least bit annoying or distracting.

After reading this, it's impossible not to have a huge respect for Zappa's m
Pretty fun book to read when I was an edgy teenager, but in hindsight I think Frank Zappa is kind of terrible and boring.
David Melbie
Dec 09, 2010 David Melbie rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: project/object freaks!
Recommended to David by: Big fan!! Since 1969!
I like Miles's style and this was a quick read for me (super fan!). Poorly edited, I might add, but then I read so many books that contain errors, it is hardly worth mentioning. . . Miles's Introduction focuses on FZ's pre-fame bust at 'Studio Z' and sets the tone of the rest of FZ's life:

". . . rubbing it [pornography] in the face of respectable society, making America see itself as it really was: phony, mendacious, shallow and ugly."

My other favorite sentence from the Afterword:

"He was a fello
Sep 11, 2012 Lee rated it really liked it
I have read a couple other biographies by Miles , like WIlliam Burroughs and The Beat Hotel and have enjoyed them both. He begins this biography with a story of, that most Zappa fans know, that Frank got busted for making a porn-movie. While it is usually scoffed off as a minor incident Miles makes it a pivitol experience for Zappa as an artist. He describes in detail Zappa's upbringing, and his long trip through music-making. I read it a while ago but still pick it up and read sections; it also ...more
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Author of several books and biographies, most pertaining to musicians and the sixties.

Miles has written biographies of Paul McCartney, The Beatles, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Frank Zappa, Charles Bukowski and Allen Ginsberg, in addition to books on John Lennon, The Beatles and The Clash.

He is occasionally inaccurately credited as "Miles Mabbett" due to his co-authoring a book with Andy Mabb
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“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.” 7 likes
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