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Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa Paperback – October 11, 2011


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Editorial Reviews

Review

'The book describes a formative time in the life of an innovative musical artist, which Zappa most certainly was. But it also captures a particularly intense experience of a very brief, yet enormously influential, period in the evolution of western womanhood.' — The Guardian

'Freak Out! provides an affectionate, revelatory but clear-eyed portrayal of the peculiar dynamic at the heart of the Mother superior's inner sanctum. Zappa’s contradictory nature is deftly delineated ("he stood in judgement on almost everyone in the outside world yet I knew no other man more unassuming, humble or compassionate") and a compelling cast of minor characters drift through the narrative: an elliptical, quixotic Captain Beefheart, the luckless, rudderless Wild Man Fischer, gentlemanly multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood, visionary sleeve artist Cal Schenkel and Pauline’s eventual charges, the unruly and elemental GTOs. A vital purchase for those that love their Mothers. 4*s' Reviewed by Oregano Rathbone — Record Collector

‘Revelatory and keenly perceptive. In 1967, Zappa ordered a typist up to his London hotel room, and when Butcher arrived, they hit it off to such an extent that eventually he offered her a job as his personal secretary. She accepted, moved to Los Angeles, and was promptly thrown into madness that from the distance of time seems irresistible. With a backdrop of the chaotic late 1960s extending into 1972, Butcher battles Zappa's wife Gail, develops interesting friendships with musician Ian Underwood and album artist Cal Schenkel, wrangles the GTOs (an all-girl act produced by Zappa), and meets a variety of eccentrics and rock stars: Tiny Tim, Captain Beefheart, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck, and members of Pink Floyd. Offering deeply personal glimpses of Zappa, Butcher's coming-of-age story is so captivating and vividly told that many will be surprised to discover it's her first book.' — The Austin Chronicle

'Contains lots of inside information about the true state of the grubby log cabin. Pauline's time with the Zappas was very eventful, with an assassination attempt, constant work-related squabbles with Gail (who she says 'has three speeds: slow, very slow, and stop'), and general in-house strife. But she also had many good times, getting to see moments of pure brilliance as well as witness some of Frank's more fanciful projects (the GTOs, Wild Man Fischer, etc.). This is an honest, accurate - and very well written - account of her thoughts and feelings at the time, based as it is on her diaries and letters home. Entertaining and occasionally laugh-out loud funny, too.' — Andrew Greenaway, author of Zappa the Hard Way

'Irrefutably complex, infuriatingly enigmatic Frank Zappa remained a mystery to everyone bar his inner circle. Now someone who was close to the musician throughout the turbulent 60s has broken her silence. Pauline Butcher was a quiet, shy English girl who was refreshingly free of any rock star hang ups... A fascinating insight into the life of Frank Zappa, it also stands as a wonderful fly on the wall account of a whirlwind era in the evolution of rock music. ClashMusic has gained a short extract, which includes a walk on appearance from a certain Mr M. Jagger and Miss M. Faithfull . . .' — ClashMusic

From the Author

In 1968, Frank Zappa urged me to write about life with him at the log cabin in Laurel Canyon where Gail Zappa, their baby daughter, Moon Unit, and eight others, in various ways, also shacked up. Though I made many attempts, it was not until recently when I discovered that my mother had kept in a shoe box the 20-page letters I had written home 40 years earlier, that I found I could write this book.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Plexus Publishing (October 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0859654796
  • ISBN-13: 978-0859654791
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #201,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am a one-time writer of Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa which I wrote in Singapore. I am now living in England and am pleased to announce a radio adaptation of my book has been broadcast on on BBC Radio 4 on May 6th at 2.15pm UK time. (google BBC Radio 4 - schedule - May 6 - scroll down to 2.15pm)The adapter is Matthrew Broughton and the director Kate McAll. Frank Zappa is played by Ronan Summers, young Pauline by Lucy Briggs, and present-day Pauline by Richanda Carey.

I am presently adapting the book into a stage play.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

112 of 112 people found the following review helpful By Arthur Tripp on October 17, 2011
Format: Paperback
Pauline has presented a unique behind-the-scenes look into the daily activities at the old Tom Mix "log cabin" in Laurel Canyon near Hollywood during the heady days when the Mothers of Invention were becoming well known. Over a period of many months, tromping through Zappa's home are all the Mothers, Captain Beefheart, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, John Mayall, and Marianne Faithful; as well as a steady stream of other musicians, artists, freaks, goofballs and hangers-on. She also chronicles the business workings and conflicts of the Zappa management, which is not often discussed.

Naturally her perspective is from a woman's point of view, and she won't disappoint her female readers who are looking for romantic insights, comments on clothing and personality styles, and honest appraisals of herself as well as those around her. Pauline had been the product of a modest but proper English upbringing. To be thrust into a gaggle of bohemian American artists with loose morals and counter-culture lifestyles provoked a fascinating contrast which Pauline explores to the hilt in the book.

Between tours I spent much time at the Log Cabin rehearsing with the band or socializing, so I can vouch for Pauline's accurate reporting. Her recall of details and conversations is astounding, presumably owing in part to the stream of letters she sent home which were kept. I had not known of her aspirations to become a writer, or for that matter some other secrets that she reveals in the book. But now throughout all these years, she has become a very fine writer, and has a first rate published book to show for it.

Art Tripp
Mothers of Invention
Captain Beefheart
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By P. T. Meade on October 26, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Let's face it, when you're a Frank Zappa fan, you're a fan for life. But does the word 'fan' even cover it? A devotee, a disciple, an OCD freak for every fact, bootleg and utterance of the great man himself? So, consequentially, when a new book comes out about 'Uncle Frank', we pounce and we devour, too often spitting it back out at the waiter/writer, with complaints such as 'I smell pretension, Mr Watson?', or 'I think you're just bitter at Frank, Mr Grey'.

In the last few years however, we've witnessed a more interesting crop of FZ-related books popping up on the market - that is, books with a personal angle, that seek to get under the skin of the man who put mustaches back on the map. Think here of Candy Zappa, Nigey Lennon and Lisa Popeil (note: I have not read Lisa's book yet). The problem with those first two books however was that, while tantalizing in the more personal portrait of Frank that they undoubtedly painted, they were just too brief and lacking in detail to really give you the sustained insight you so craved. And that happily is where Pauline ('Parleen') Butcher's book comes in...

Beautifully written, told from a personal point of view and brimming with a million fascinating little anecdotes about FZ, Gail, Pamela Zarubica and a whole host of familiar names, that are bound to make the more stalker-ish of fans curl their toes in delight, this is easily the most insightful and healthy book in the Zappa-related canon. (I say 'healthy' because it feels like it was written by someone who is primarily telling her own story, rather than exploiting Frank's for financial gain, and hence is doing it for all the right reasons - and it shows in the personal nature and soul-searching honesty of it all).
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By John De Ridder on October 15, 2011
Format: Paperback
Like Pauline, I knew little about the music scene in the late sixties and even less about Frank Zappa. I now know he was very talented and a legend at the time. People like Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and others beat a path to his log cabin in Laurel Canyon where Pauline spent several years with Zappa and his motley crew.

So, how did a prim and proper secretary bird from Twickenham get involved with Frank Zappa? It is a question that Pauline is constantly asked - read the book to find out! Perhaps they were not so far apart? Despite Zappa's zany and weird appearance and the even weirder characters who lobbed into the log cabin, Pauline reveals that his values were conservative and conventional - he hated drugs! Perhaps he was serious about running for President!

This book is no hagiography. Frank was charismatic and mesmerizing but he was no saint. He could be cool and cruel. He was aloof; always taking his meals alone.

But, this is Pauline's story and it is a page turner. We care about what happens to Pauline. Does she retain her virtue? How does she put up with the chaos of the cabin?

The detail in the book owes much to the long letters that Pauline wrote from the cabin through the years she lived there. I liked the bite-size chapters and the photos which made this book a joy to read. And now I know a lot more about the legend and the people around him.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By William H. Haines on November 10, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
No fan of Frank Zappa can consider their collection of Zappa books complete without this one. Here is a well written, engaging tome written by a former employee of Frank's, the former Pauline Butcher (now Bird), who became his secretary for four years, living in the same house and bearing witness to the craziness and never ending procession of rock stars, hangers-on, groupies and sometimes dangerous delusionals who showed up at all hours, desiring an audience with Frank Zappa. Fans of Zappa who desire more and more information about the man will find no shortage of juicy tidbits about him, and what's more, since Ms. Butcher was an insider, you'll begin to form a picture of the private Zappa, the one few people got to see. You'll learn about his relationship with his wife Gail, his children Moon Unit and Dweezil (Ahmet and Diva not having been born during Pauline's time with the Zappa clan), the rest of the Mothers and other of his employees. But this book is not entirely and exclusively about Frank Zappa. This book, at its heart, is the story a young English woman who left her career, family and beloved Mini behind to persue a job offer from one of the premier rock musicians of his day. It is, in part, a study in contasts. To have left a drab, low paying secretarial pool job in cold, rainy, ever-so-proper England, to become a live-in (for a time), available around the clock secretary for a rock idol in free spirited, sunny southern California, must have been quite a change. Pauline Butcher does a wonderful job telling her story, keeping the reader engaged and hungry for more. Two sections of rare and previously unpublished black and white photos serve to give the reader some added perspective. The reader will be left satisfied, and wanting more simultaneously.
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