27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 16 September 2011
The story of a prim and proper part-time model/typist who Frank whisked from Twickenham to Hollywood to be his secretary, for reasons that aren't entirely clear. Contains lots of inside information about the true state of the grubby log cabin and Gail & Frank's strange relationship, Pamela Zarubica's role as FZ's social agent, Pauline's brief affair with Cal Schenkel, and Ian Underwood's creation of the `clonemeister' post. It's interesting that the man who spent his final years glued to CNN never seemed to read a book or newspaper, listen to the radio or watch TV during Pauline's four year `life' with him - yet he still had a fully formed opinion about the state of US politics and thought he stood a realistic chance of becoming President. Indeed, one of the stated reasons for employing Pauline was to help him with a book he had been commissioned to write - a political perspective. It never happened, of course. 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.). Like Zarubica, Pauline loved Frank but was not in love with him - though she admits that had he not been married, things might have been different between the pair (which could've applied to Underwood too), and the book does detail Frank's rebuffed advances for `nookie'. She clearly did not see him as the God-like genius everyone else around him at the time seemed to, and was not terribly enamoured with much of his musical output. Certainly she was very different from the others Frank surrounded himself with, which seems to be another reason he liked having Pauline around. She originally wanted to call the book Reflected Glory, My Time With Frank Zappa, and 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. With books like this - factual ones, covering in detail specific eras, tours or pieces of equipment - Mr Clayson will have much useful raw material to help him write the definitive official biography. Whether that's what we'll get remains to be seen - so, meantime, this fills in some of the blanks between 1968 and 1972 very nicely.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 28 September 2012
Freak Out! is a readable account of what now seems a distant era. PB is a fluent writer, with an impressive level of recall (helped apparently by a diary she kept at the time and by letters she wrote to her mother). She creates period detail well as she describes the demeanour and dress of those she met. Although Zappa is of course the book's raison d'être, much of her account centres on her relationships with two other women in the court of King Frank- his wife Gail and Pam Zarubica (aka PamZ or Suzy Creamcheese). At times the three of them were evidently competitors for Frank's attention, with Gail unjustly perceiving Pauline as a potential sexual rival.
A parade of other characters also passes through the log cabin where Zappa and his entourage lived, including a veritable constellation of rock stars- amongst the brightest, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull, Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart, Roger Waters and David Gilmour of Pink Floyd and Joni Mitchell and David Crosby. Even these `premier' names receive only brief sketches in the book (I would have liked more detail). There are fuller descriptions of musicians in Zappa's immediate circle, including the members of the Mothers of Invention, notably the talented pianist and woodwind player, Ian Underwood. We also meet the wonderfully eccentric Captain Beefheart and the less wonderful (indeed barely sane) Wild Man Fischer.
Although the book is not primarily about the music itself, there are interesting insights into Frank's musical influences, both in the world of blues and rock and from classical composers such as Stravinsky and Varèse. Pauline also describes FZ's composition technique of writing down lines of melody from one-handed playing of his grand piano. Later he added harmonies which he was unable to play, relying on Ian Underwood to help him audition the final result. There is also a wonderful account in chapter 20 of a jam session involving Frank, some of the members of the Mothers, Captain Beefheart and a few of his band.
Zappa himself emerges as an enigmatic figure, quietly spoken and at times almost reclusive, preferring to eat all his meals alone. Contrary to the lifestyle of many of those around him, he was strongly opposed to the use of illegal drugs. Pauline attributes his suspicion of the forces of law and order to an incident early in his career when Zappa was arrested after making an `obscene' audio tape for a businessman's stag night. Yet he remained determined to push the boundaries of what was acceptable in print and other media- witness the `colourful' lyrics of his songs, his interest in publishing groupie diaries and his fascination with the work of Cynthia Plaster Caster, who made casts of rock stars' penises. (One of the more entertaining parts of Pauline's book is an account of Cynthia's unusual enterprise). It is also hard to understand why such a consummate musician as Zappa was interested in recording people of such limited talents as Wild Man Fischer and the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously).
There is an obvious readership for this book amongst Zappa's devotees around the world and I will here declare an interest as a (moderate) Zappa fan, who twice witnessed him in concert. It is harder to determine whether the book will have wider appeal. What does it offer to the general reader with no particular interest in Zappa and the Mothers?
One of the refreshing things about it is that it is no `misery' memoir, the now fashionable and somewhat over-worked genre in which the author overcomes appalling odds to arrive at more or less sunlit uplands. Pauline's account is shot through with cheeriness and optimism- her childhood in a big family seems to have been reasonably happy, her parents were perhaps severe but hard-working and generally supportive. At the log cabin, this self-confessed stay-at-home, whose mother had cooked for her and washed her clothes, throws herself enthusiastically into cleaning and painting to alleviate the initial squalor.
What gives the book its potential wider interest is that it describes a set of experiences that were clearly transformative for Pauline. My main objection is that by bringing the book to a rather abrupt conclusion Pauline misses the chance to explain fully how and why working for Zappa made her future life so different. The path she chose after her time in the US seems to have gone against many of FZ's ideas. Pauline returns to study and applies to university whereas Zappa was hostile to traditional education. Similarly her interest in the developing feminist movement contrasted with Zappa's somewhat less 'enlightened' views on the role of women. She does make these contrasts briefly towards the end of the book but it is all too rushed.
It is also a pity the book has no index, or even chapter headings to help give it structure, but this criticism is partly offset by some excellent photographs of Zappa and other members of his circle, including Pauline herself.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 9 April 2013
If you are interested in the 60's as a period of change, excitement, hope for the future and great music, this book might be for you. Even if you are not an hardcore Zappa fan, like me. I am not in the least an admirer of Zappa's music (I like some of his stuff, but on the whole, it's not my thing at all). However, I previously read a book by Pamela Des Barres and since she mentioned Zappa with great affection, I was intrigued and wanted to know more.
Besides, I thought that the time an location of this book would had made it - at least - for an interesting chronicle of California during an exciting time. The book deliver exactly what I expected. It is told from the point of view of an "outsider", Zappa's English secretary who got drawn into his world merely by the strength of his presence. From what she writes, I gather Mr. Zappa must have had a very magnetic personality. Sadly, even if I looked many times at this photos and at some Youtube footage, his magnetism did not work on me. Maybe it is the distance in time or just the fact that there are no rules about physical/intellectual attraction.
Anyway, Pauline Butcher met Frank Zappa for a quick typing job in London, was struck by the guy and decided to try everything to move to the US and work full time for him. She succeded, but the results were not what she expected.
Having dreamt of living with Zappa in a Hollywood mansion and perhaps of upgrading their relationship to something more personal, Pauline found herself in a log cabin inhabited by a crowd of hippies and by Zappa's wife and first child, Moon.
The relationship between Pauline and Gail (Frank's wife) is described in hilarious terms. It sounds so very human in its mix of jelousy, admiration and developping friendship. Gail is described as having three speeds "Slow, very slow and stop", which I found very funny.
Zappa was not so easy to describe, but from Pauline's words I got the idea of a guy focussed mainly on his music and very little on people and stuff going on around him. Self-centered, megalomaniac and slightly callous, with the occasional moments of tenderness. Not the most flattering portrait, but I guess a sincere one.
As time went by, Pauline grew to like most of the musicians and other people hanging around Zappa, but her tone is always of an outsider who knows her days in the US are numbered. Eventually, Pauline was forced to move back to Great Britain, but even if she had not, I doubt her American experience would have developped into anything more intense of what she had during her year at the log cabine.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 20 February 2012
If you're interested in Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention then this really is the book for you. I have just finished reading it and highly recommend it. It brought back so many memories for me, not that I was there but I must have been in spirit.
I read a review in the English music paper New Musical Express (around 1966, I guess) which absolutely slated Zappa's first release Freak Out. The reviewer made it clear that the record was the greatest heap of rubbish he had ever heard and went on to laugh at some of the song titles: Help I'm a Rock, Who are the Brain Police?, Return of the Son of Monster Magnet. With titles like those and the awful review, this record had to be the one for me.
In Dublin in 1966, getting your hands on American import albums (unless they were big names) was very difficult if not impossible. Even Richard Branson hadn't yet started his Virgin record mail order business. Nobody had ever heard of a band called the Mothers of Invention. I had to give up.
Some time later I walked into a shop which boasted of its speciality in American imports (who had never heard of the Mothers the year before!) and there displayed on the top shelf was Absolutely Free, the Mothers' second album. I asked the guy to play a bit of it. The track Plastic People was enough to make my mind up. I bought it and played this fantastic album over and over. The music was so incredible that the Beatles and Stones were insignificant in comparison. Some time afterwards the same shop managed to get Freak Out which became my second Mothers album. The rest is history. I bought every Zappa album as it came out. Some were crap (I mean, I don't like most of Lumpy Gravy) and some were good. But when they were great, they were great!
At the same time I tried to read up in the music magazines as much as possible about this enigmatic band and it's even more enigmatic leader. But living in Dublin in 1966, I was a somewhat long way from California or New York. And I couldn't afford a plane ticket to London (no cheap flights in those days) to see the Mothers in London. So I followed as best I could picking up snippets here and there.
I wrote to the United Mutations (a sort of fan club, Frank's words) and received their information pack. To my delight, there was a note enclosed telling me that my letter was the first they had received from Ireland and was signed by Pauline, sec. to Frank Zappa. Now that was cool. I still have that note.
When I discovered Pauline's book, Freak Out, I had to buy it.
...and what a great read. It plunged me back more than 40 years to those days when I first discovered this wonderful music by this zany man and his equally zany musicians. Thank you, Pauline.
It is not a book written by somebody who came along later and had to do research and interview people and probably repeat fairy stories gleaned from other books or ill researched material. This is a book written from direct experience and rings so true. Pauline obviously knew Frank and the others who lived at the log cabin intimately and she relates the story with integrity and great insight. She obviously worshipped the man, but doesn't allow that to get in the way of honesty and she tells it like it was. You can say that I can't know that, but through my years of following Zappa, it just feels right. I've read other books through the years and you just know they're not being completely truthful or employ great dollops of so called artistic licence, after all Frank is no longer around to verify or deny (not that he'd probably care too much). This book strikes me as the real deal.
If you want to know about Frank Zappa during his early days with the first incarceration of the Mothers, read this book. I doubt you'll be disappointed.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 25 September 2011
This is an account of an ordinary English girl who ended up living and working for one of the twentieth century's most extraordinary figures, the composer Frank Zappa. That an English shorthand typist should establish an easy rapport with someone as eccentric and way out as Frank Zappa is surprising, that he should ask her to give up her job and fly out to work for him and that she should accept is astonishing. The book describes Pauline Butcher's life in the `Log Cabin' in Los Angeles which she shared in the late 1960's with Frank, his wife Gail, their children and various other members of Frank's entourage. The book is based largely on Pauline's letters home and her personal recollections.
Life was not dull in the Log Cabin with visits by Mama Cass, Peter Tork, Stephen Stills, Rod Stewart and Mick Jagger. People seemed to wander in and out as they pleased. It was exciting but chaotic. Pauline viewed all this with a calm eye; her account is honest and restrained. She got to know Herb Cohen, Frank's manager and Cal Schenkel, who did the art work for the albums and the surprisingly shy Cynthia Plaster Caster. She describes the painful breakup of the original Mothers of Invention and tells of Frank's attempts to launch the careers of the GTO's, who Pauline managed for a time, and the half crazy "Wild Man" Fischer.
I love Frank Zappa's music and though the book sheds some light on his genius and his character he remains an enigma. He liked living in a bustling busy environment but he would seal himself off in a corner to write his music and pay no attention to the passing of day and night. When a visitor asked him what he liked most in life he brought out a blank sheet of music paper and tapped it with the back of his hand. He spent much of his time filling these blank sheets with musical notes when not rehearsing or touring. He said he didn't know what his music would sound like until it was played, a tantalising insight which was never elaborated upon.
When Frank was recuperating from an attack made upon him onstage and could hardly speak Pauline was recovering from her own operation which made her a little deaf. She couldn't even lip read properly because of his thick moustache. Communication was difficult but they still felt the same rapport for one another, a rapport that was platonic out of respect for Gail, Frank's wife, with whom Pauline was also close.
I would recommend this well written book to anyone interested in those now distant times or to anyone curious about Frank Zappa. I found it fascinating and thoroughly enjoyed it.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2011
More than once in this book Pauline remarks on how surprised she is at Frank Zappa's belief in her writing talents. Mr Z was not wrong. As well as offering a unique, fresh and personal insight into the early days of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Pauline has produced a highly enjoyable, and well written book (unlike so many of its type), which includes some genuinely moving as well as very funny sections. I was completely drawn in to the story after two chapters and truthfully couldn't put it down until the end.
Heartily recommended - and certainly not just for Frank Zappa fans.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 29 July 2012
Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa A fascinating and honest insight into the early years of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Pauline Butcher takes the lid off the 'bizarre' world of Zappa and his close family, band and hangers on in those formative years, and often reveals that many things were not as they seemed. Frank, a control freak when it came to his music, is often depicted as merely an observer on the goings on in his household to the point where he remained largely un-involved in all the "hippy new-age" behaviour being lived out under his own roof. Pauline reveals the fact that FZ spent most his time alone absorbed in composing and didn't have much interaction with his band, and he was happy maintaining a largely unsocial lifestyle. Beneath the outrageous image he chose to portray was a very straight conservative man heavily disguised. His perceived role as a leader of the counter culture never overtook his business sense and despite the lack of commercial viability in his music he was always looking for the best and most effective way to promote it.
Pauline, herself a square peg in a round hole, was able to to have a unique relationship with Frank in a loose P.A, role and was witness to the whole FZ operation during the mid to late 60s and early 70s. All the characters that surrounded Frank at he time make an appearance, Including The GTO's who Pauline become's responsible for, Captain Beefheart, who from the outset goes out of his way to be be strange and mysterious despite Pauline's no-nonsense reaction to his absurdities., and the paranoid Wild Man Fischer, who Pauline admits to being afraid of.
Always a lifelong fan of Frank Zappa this book finally confirms to me what I always feared to be the truth. His double standards, lack of genuine education at the time ( he cherry picked his knowledge) and sexual mores show him to be a man who was often at odds with his own morals and ideals. Something that Pauline was often prepared to question him on which probably intrigued him and is perhaps the main reason he kept her on as his P.A.
Despite it all, he remained a man with a mission. A must for all FZ freaks and those that need a fresh insight into the hippy trippy era days of L.As. Laurel Canyon scene.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 July 2014
For anyone interested in learning more about Frank Zappa as a person, this is THE book to read. No one was more qualified than Pauline to write this book, and the time she spent living in the Zappa family home reveals a fascinating look at Frank's day to day life.
From the constant stream of visiting famous musicians to Frank's devotion to his music and composition, plus how he demonstrated his formidable business skills, this book is an essential addition to anyone who is interested in Frank Zappa or music in general.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 7 November 2011
I'd recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in 60's culture, both British and American.
This is an astute and highly readable book, one written with great lucidity and charm.
Zappa, is in fact, the book's McGuffin: he is only what the book appears to be about.
The book is very much, I felt, about the women in his life; indeed, a whole range of women not only those around Zappa but others in the UK, the ones in Butcher's life - a much broader range than 'just the groupies.'
As a portrait of a generation, I thought it sensitive, astute and thought-provoking - far more complex, subtle and insightful than most rock memoirs.
It was also really engaging - as if a Muriel Spark heroine or a Flora Poste had fallen in with hippies.
The book's real worth is the way in which the author widens a story that begins in 60's London and moves to LA, until it becomes a meditation on one man's fame, and, without insistence but with real subtlety, how this fame impacts on the women in his life and by extension a whole generation.
This looks like a 'tell-all' tale, but the 'all' it tells is surprising and comprehensive.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 28 September 2011
Having been a hardcore fan of Frank Zappa since 1970 (when I heard Hot Rats) I have read most if not all of the numerous books written on him since David Walley's 'No Commercial Potential was first published in 1971. I absolutely loved this one. It gives an almost daily account of life in the Log Cabin in 1968 during a period when Frank Zappa was maybe at the height of his game. I found it riveting. and each character seems to come to life on the page, Mothers, GTOS et al. It is very well written and humorous. I was fortunate to have met FZ briefly in 1979 and got a faint whiff of his charisma which Pauline describes so well.
Well recommended without reservation then to all FZ fans and anybody else who has an interest in this fascinating period of 60s' music history.