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Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa Paperback – October 11, 2011
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'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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You have to admire Butcher's iron will and fierce drive to get ahead. She stayed true to her roots right to the end. She definitely provided an important outsider view of the scene. Her rendition is direct and compelling.
A couple things I would have liked to have read was some info on what she did with her personal life after leaving Zappa. She leaves you hanging in the end with her application to Cambridge. It would have also been nice for her to have clarified what Pam Zarubica's role was in the scene. It was also pretty jarring to have her briefly announce the breakup of the Mothers at the end of a chapter and then not get around to detailing the repercussions until a half-dozen chapters later.
The last 100 pages detailing her drifting away from Zappa was too long. Her arguments with Zappa about Women's Lib were especially tedious. I'm glad she forged a life for herself outside Zappa's orbit but that doesn't make her personal story interesting. If she meant it to be an inspiration to other young women rabidly on-the-make she could have saved it for another book. And I find the idea that such rabid careerism is in any way natural to be offensive, regardless of gender.
Given that Butcher is British and that the publisher is British it is remarkable how many glaring English word misuses there are. You would think the editors would have been more careful. There are at least 20 such errors. One of the most ridiculous was, "Laurel Canyon, the most happening rock'n'roll caveat". Caveat?? Nuts.
This is, of course, a fan book. If you were a fan then this is totally necessary reading.