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Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa Paperback – 14 Sep 2011

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Plexus Publishing Ltd; First Edition edition (14 Sept. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0859654796
  • ISBN-13: 978-0859654791
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.5 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 55,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Pauline Butcher was born in Twickenham, England and is the tenth child of eleven children. A trip to America with her parents cut her education short and with it her dream of a university education. On their return to England, she took up the only channel available to girls in the 1960s - secretarial work.

A chance meeting with Frank Zappa in London in 1967 changed Pauline's life when he invited her, a straight English girl, to California to live and work in the bizarre rock'n'roll world of Laurel Canyon and the famous log cabin.

Four years later, in 1971, Pauline was struck by a life-threatening illness and raced to England for an emergency operation. She had expected to go back to California but while recuperating chose instead to apply for a course in economics at Cambridge University. During her studies, she met her husband-to-be Peter Bird and together they moved to Scotland where Peter taught economics at Stirling University. Their son, Damian, was born in Scotland in 1982.

After seven years, they returned to England and Pauline took up teaching A-level psychology at Reading College. In 2001, when Damian went to Oxford University, Pauline realised she had no excuses left and must pursue her life-long ambition to be a writer. She began with radio plays for radio 4 with no success. Then a producer advised her to write something 'that no one else could write'. That 'something' was her experience of living and working with Frank Zappa.

By now, Pauline and Peter had moved to Singapore and it was in Singapore that the play became a book and three years later, in September 2011, Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa was published. To become a published writer had taken ten years.

Pauline and Peter plan to return to England in 2013.

She can be contacted at

Product Description


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 superiors inner sanctum. Zappas 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 Paulines eventual charges, the unruly and elemental GTOs. A vital purchase for those that love their Mothers. 4*s Reviewed by Oregano Rathbone --Record Collector

Only the most ardent Zappaphile or various Mothers of Invention and hangers-on who made up the freak show surrounding Frank Zappa's Laurel Canyon log cabin would recognize the name of Pauline Butcher. Even so, Freak Out! gives the onetime English secretary and part-time modeling instructor the opportunity to tell her insider's view of the head Mother, one that's 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 GTO's (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

About the Author

London-born Pauline Butcher worked in Los Angeles as Frank Zappa s PA from 1967-1971. During this time, she ran the fan club of the Mothers of Invention, and managed the all-girl rock act the GTOs. After returning to England in the early 1970s, she studied at Cambridge University, and went on to teach A-level psychology. She now lives in Singapore with her husband.This is her first book

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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Greenaway on 16 Sept. 2011
Format: Paperback
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.Read more ›
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Cerdanya on 28 Sept. 2012
Format: Paperback
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Daniela. G. on 9 April 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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