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Zappa: A Biography

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  622 ratings  ·  63 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 1,073)
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Adam Patterson
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
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
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
George Gratto
Turned the pages with zircon-encrusted tweezers.
Feb 12, 2013 Fallopia rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
Lukasz Pruski
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
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.
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
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 4 of 5 stars
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Jay Clement
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.
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.
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 5 of 5 stars
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
David Melbie
Dec 09, 2010 David Melbie rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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
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.
Apr 19, 2008 Tom rated it 3 of 5 stars
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 Inventi ...more
Oct 14, 2012 Robert rated it 4 of 5 stars
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.
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.
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.
What a great book. This book does a fine job of telling a balanced story of Zappa's life without becoming side-tracked by the more sensational aspects of it. It's well researched and very fair to Zappa's life and legacy. I especially appreciated Miles' more in-depth treatment of Zappa as a composer and his relation to composers like Verese and Boulez. Must read for Zappa fans and/or convicts.
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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
More about Barry Miles...
Hippie Charles Bukowski The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs and Corso in Paris, 1957-1963 Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats William Burroughs: El Hombre Invisible

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