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Zappa: A Biography

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  731 Ratings  ·  71 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 ...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published September 16th 2005 by Grove Press (first published 1993)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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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
...more
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 ...more
Stenwjohnson
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 ...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 ...more
George Gratto
Jul 18, 2012 George Gratto rated it really liked it
Turned the pages with zircon-encrusted tweezers.
Fallopia
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
...more
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 ...more
Lucius
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.
Robin
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
Fabio
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
...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 ...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 ...more
Mark
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
Chaz
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
...more
Alberto
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
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
...more
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
...more
Corrie Campbell
Mar 13, 2013 Corrie Campbell rated it liked it
Shelves: biographies
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 ...more
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 ...more
Dan
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
...more
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
...more
Evan
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 ...more
Lee
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
Cocaine
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
Tom
Apr 19, 2008 Tom rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Grownup kids
Something to read on the plane going back and forth between Sandiego where I live and Baltimore Maryland where I work. Also I have been lately revisting a lot of the music I liked when I was a teenager (I didn't play it around my kids-good thing as they now have great taste in music!). I enjoyed this because it answered a lot of the question I had about Zappa - such as why so much of his music was in the Doo Wop tradition, why he was so obsessed with sex, what happened to the Mother's of ...more
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
...more
Andy
Feb 02, 2014 Andy rated it really liked it
I've been interested in learning more about Frank Zappa lately and was drawn to this book because it took a broader view of the man and his work and didn't delve into fan worship or technical music geekery. Frank Zappa personified the tortured artist and died way too soon. A true satirist, I'm sure his take on George W. Bush and the rise of social media and our celebrity-obsessed "reality" culture would have been brilliant.
Gene
Nov 21, 2013 Gene rated it really liked it
Finished it some time ago, it's a book I've read and re-read probably 5 times. Miles is a good biographer and hits on a number of things Zappa would rather have silence on. Miles is generally admiring of Zappa and tells his story well. I certainly keep coming back to the book every year or so. It is very complimentary to Frank's own, The Real Frank Zappa Book, where it is nothing but Frank on Frank.
Joe
May 25, 2010 Joe rated it it was ok
Frank Zappa was a great musician and composer, but kind of an asshole. This is one of the first biographies I've ever read all the way through. I usually find them kind of dry (name dropping of other famous people the subject met once or twice, mundane details repeated in attempt to show the personality of the subject (e.g. Frank Zappa was a control freak, Frank Zappa liked eating chili and hot dogs)), and this was no exception, but Zappa was such a weirdo that I managed not to get too bored.
Robert
Oct 14, 2012 Robert rated it really liked it
Shelves: bio
A very thorough biography. Mr. Miles doesn't hesitate in bearing all the good-bad-ugly about Zappa. The manner in which he writes tears away at some of the idolatry that has always surrounded FZ. He doesn't hesitate to correct FZ's own autobiography concerning certain facts. I've always been a huge FZ fan and reading some of the less favorable passages wasn't always easy. However, it is best to keep an open mind regarding any biographer's research and how that writer chooses to frame it.
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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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