Wednesday, August 24, 2016

It's Catch-Up Time!

This week marks my return from the long, relaxing, and much-needed vacation I took with my family, and my return to the real world of the daily work grind, kids in school and on sports teams, and normal everyday life. While I was away, I purposely avoided checking my work email, answering work-related phone calls and texts, and limited my time online.  What this means is that even though I did many things that warrant being written about, I didn't spend a lick of time at the keyboard! Now that I'm getting settled back into the "real world" (or as "real" as it can be at present), I'm also getting back into the writing groove. There's lots for me to write about: book reviews, my review of the Billy Joel concert I went to last week, taking my kids to their first Red Sox game at Fenway Park, thoughts on sports, and more.  I hope those of you who enjoy reading some (or all) of my posts can bear with me as I begin to work on all of these...I promise (hope) it'll be worth the wait!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Holiday, Vacation...Whatever You Want to Call It

It's that time of the year when a nice, long break from the daily grind of work is in order. Unlike most years where I typically take several short 3-4 day breaks over the course of the year, in 2016 I've barely taken any time off. The plan has been to cash in all of my vacation days for an extended break this summer, and while I'm excited that it's finally coming this week, I'm also pretty burned out. More than anything, I'm mentally exhausted from the stresses of work and just need some time away to recharge my batteries, relax, and enjoy time with my family and friends.  Mrs. Chemist and I have a lot planned for our time away (including, among other things, taking the kids to their first Red Sox game and seeing Billy Joel in concert) and while I'll continue to write, my posting on here will probably be sporadic (if I even post anything at all while I'm away). However, you can rest assured that I'll write about our trip, the game, and the concert (among other things) when I get back. I've also got lots of ideas for posts that I just need time to flesh out and write, so hopefully the extended break will get the creative juices flowing even more than usual.

Here's to coming back more refreshed and focused as the summer comes to an end!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

"I Thought I Knew You...What Did I Know?"

Or perhaps, "I Knew You Then, But Do I Know You Now?"

They say writing is good therapy and an effective way to get feelings and thoughts out in a way that's easier than doing so verbally, so here goes nothing...

This is a difficult post for me to write, and I'm warning my readers up front that I'm going to be intentionally vague about details in order to protect the people affected, but my world was rocked the other night with some news I got about someone I know. We'd been close friends for almost ten years and were in regular contact, with plans to get our families together in a couple of weeks once I'm on vacation. Then, oddly, I didn't hear from him for a couple of weeks. We'd last communicated on good terms so I had no idea what was going on and began to get concerned that something was wrong. Imagine my surprise when his wife contacted me a week ago to let me know that he was in jail for having a sexual affair with a minor. Needless to say, I was stunned: first, as a husband and father of four (three of whom are my precious daughters) I was appalled by his actions; second, I was thrown for a loop because in all the time I'd known him I never would've expected him to do something like that.  My heart goes out to his wife and two children, neither of whom he'll probably ever see again, and I've wiped him out of my life by deleting and blocking him from my phone and social media accounts. 

While all of this has been a huge shock to me, it's also shaken me regarding my ability to read people. All I've been able to think about it is how he could do such a thing? I'd known the guy for almost a decade and he was one of my closest friends. I never suspected he could or would do anything like this, not in a million years. I thought I knew him but now I'm wondering if I ever really did? Did I only know who he presented to the world while he kept the rest of his true self hidden?  It's made me wonder if I'm a poor judge of character, or if I'm too gullible that I fell for it. I also feel the tiniest twinge of guilt over cutting someone who was such a close friend out of my life so wholly and suddenly, but I then remind myself that he did that to himself and that what he did was so heinous that I can never have anyone who is capable of that in my life in any capacity.  I have a nagging fear that he'll try to contact me when he gets out on bail (which is only happening after he gets fitted with a tracking ankle bracelet) since we haven't spoken in almost a while and we were supposed to meet up later this month. I've blocked him from my phone and social media and if he does try to get in touch, I'm just going to ignore it, but it's a situation I hope I won't be in in the first place. Finally, it's set my mind racing as to whether anyone else I know has something so horrifying as this hidden within them. However, I am refusing to let this prevent me from trusting wholeheartedly in the rest of the people in my mind who haven't given me a reason not to.

Basically, this entire thing has really knocked me sideways and I'm still coming to terms with it, not only in terms of sympathy for the victims, but all of the anger, disappointment, horror, and confusion it's wrought in me. I plan on following the case as it's reported on in the papers and I don't feel any remorse in hoping for a just and severe punishment. Some things are simply beyond the pale regardless of how close you once were (or thought you were) to someone.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Complete Pink Floyd: The Ultimate Reference

Among the numerous books about Pink Floyd that I've written about on this site, there was one I reviewed a short while back called Echoes which was subtitled "the complete history of Pink Floyd."  It was a thorough day-by-day chronicle of the band's entire existence from the birth of the band members in early 1940s through 2006. It was a chronological record of every recording session, live concert, TV and radio appearance, and record release over the course of forty years and ranks alongside similar books on the Beatles and Kinks as essential tomes for fans of those bands. However, I became aware of a new book called The Complete Pink Floyd from a publisher I was working with on another book; they asked me if I'd be interested and I of course said yes. It's brand new (published in 2016) and by the same author: renowned Pink Floyd expert Glenn Povey. At first glance it looked much the same as Echoes, although much thicker. What, if any, were the differences between the two books? That's what I set out to discover and I'll convey my findings in this review.

***special thanks to Carol at Carlton Publishing for sending a copy of the book to review!*** 

The first thing I should note is that I was sent a copy of the UK edition of the book...the US edition is the same in every way except for different cover art. Second, from the moment I opened the book it was clear that this is really an updated and revised edition of Echoes. In fact, with the death of Richard Wright in 2008 since the publication of Echoes and the final non-archival releases from Pink Floyd in the interim (2014's The Endless River), The Complete Pink Floyd can be seen more as the final edition of the book. It goes up to the end of 2015 and so includes the additional Pink Floyd reissues and releases since 2006, as well as additional solo releases and live concert appearances from Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright in the interim. The layout of the book is the same as in Echoes, with each chapter devoted to a year or cluster of years/era from the band's career. Within each chapter, the first several pages are devoted to a write-up describing their activities during that time; after this is the day-by-day diary section describing everything they did during that period. The chapters are accompanied by lots of photographs of the band during those specific eras, as well as various memorabilia, mainly concert posters/flyers and ticket stubs. Many of the entries for concerts include contemporary press reports and reviews to give an idea of how their albums and concerts were received at the time; this is especially beneficial when comparing with the retrospective views on much of their work. Where this updated and expanded edition really shines is in documenting their recording sessions, especially during the early years through their mid-career (~1975). With unprecedented access to the Abbey Road Studios archives, Povey is able to give the most detailed analysis yet of their recording career, detailing every take, edit piece, alternate/working title, and unreleased song they ever worked on. There are even some songs that were lost forever which are finally chronicled. While after a while it all becomes a bit repetitive, it's still very nice to have all of this information at one's fingertips and in one volume.

While this book doesn't really lend itself to front-to-back reading, I did just that the very first time in order to make sure I didn't miss anything. However, this is a book that is best enjoyed when being used as a reference guide for serious fans. Overall, as Echoes was, it's an excellent book although I do have a few criticisms. First, while the photographs are wonderful, there are many nice ones from the previous edition that are now missing (most notably, a shot of Frank Zappa onstage with Pink Floyd in 1969). Second, the narrative write-ups that lead off each chapter are really nice, but large chunks of them are repeated word-for-word during the sections that detail each album and single release; this just seems a bit lazy, but is only a minor criticism. The remainder of the book has extensive discographies of Pink Floyd, as well as the various members' solo releases and is an invaluable guide for any collector or fan. In all, this is the final word on Pink Floyd's day-to-day career and truly lives up to its subtitle as "the ultimate reference." If you're a serious Floyd fan, you need this book.

MY RATING: 9.5/10

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Tickets from a game Mrs. Chemist & I went to that magical 2004 season

I've made no secret of my love for the game of baseball and how it's been really rewarding (and fun!) to see my children so enamored of the sport as they grow up. We're at the point now where they want to watch Red Sox games with me every night, and every morning they ask who won, what the standings are, and how their favorite players performed, and so on. What's been even more fun for me is to teach them all of the nuances of the game...the obscure rules, the fine details, and the strategy. Additionally, teaching them how to interpret box scores, standings, and player statistics has been a lot of fun. (Let me point out here that I'm old school when it comes to baseball...I'm not a big fan of all of these new advanced statistics and metrics, most of which make little sense to me and seem so convoluted and contrived). They're also developing favorite players who they root for (they like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, and of course David Ortiz!) and learning about the history of the game, which I hope will lead to a lifetime of enjoyment for them as much as it has for me.

We've been to several of minor league games for the local team around here, the Harrisburg Senators (double A affiliate of the Washington Nationals); the ballpark is less than a half hour away, the tickets are cheap, they play good ball, and you get a chance to see both up-and-comers as well as established MLB players on rehab assignments. However, later this summer we're taking our kids to Fenway Park in Boston for their first ever Major League and Red Sox's going to be a LOT of fun. I remember what it felt like the first time I saw a game there and honestly, for as excited as I am to go (I haven't seen a game there since 2012), I think I'm more excited to see the look on their faces when we first walk in. It should be a lot of fun for all of us and the first of many trips to the ballpark to see our Sox play. A lifelong dream of mine has been to go to a game at as many of the Major League ballparks as I can, but so far I've only ever been to two: Fenway Park and Olympic Stadium in Montreal (home of the now-defunct Montreal Expos). Now that we're in central PA, though, we're within easy driving distance of many ballparks including Camden Yards (Baltimore), Citizens Bank Park (Philadelphia), PNC Park (Pittsburgh), Yankee Stadium and Citi Field (New York City), and Nationals Park (Washington, DC). It'd be a lot of fun to catch the Red Sox at any of those parks, and especially easy at the American League Parks (Camden Yards & Yankee Stadium) where they play multiple times every season.

Wrapping up, going to a game this summer will be a blast and something I know my kids won't soon forget! I don't know whether I'm looking forward to it more as a fan of the game or as a dad who wants to see his kids have fun...probably equal amounts of both!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Rockshow! PART 2: Paul McCartney Live at Hersheypark Stadium, Hershey, PA July 19, 2016 (A Concert Review)

My ticket!

It had been almost three years to the day since I last saw Paul McCartney live in concert on his Out There tour in 2013, and it still sticks in my mind as one of the greatest shows I've had the pleasure to have seen. When he announced a show for his new One on One tour literally two miles down the road from my house here in Hershey (where I've lived since we moved a couple of years ago), there was no way I was going to miss the chance to see him again, especially as I wanted take my wife (who is also a big Beatles fan) with me. Since I've been signed up for Paul's fanclub for many years, I was able to take advantage of the presale for members and I scored a couple of nice tickets for us. We got them in the mail in early May and since then, we'd been waiting and waiting for the night to finally arrive. My appetite was further whetted when I saw that at Paul's show at Fenway Park two nights earlier, he was joined by the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir (he'd just played Fenway the night before), while Rob Gronkowski, one of my favorite players from my favorite football team (go Patriots!) got onstage to "sing" and play air guitar during "Helter Skelter." Knowing that had we not moved away a couple of years ago that we would've been at that show, it left me wondering what (if any) surprises might await us two nights later here in Hershey. Well, the big night came and went and even though there were no special guests, my assessment is the same as it was after I saw him in was the best concert I've ever been to.

(As an aside, this was Paul's first show ever in Hershey and Hersheypark went all out, renaming the street leading to the park "Paul McCartney Avenue," renaming (for the day) some of the rides after his songs, and playing his music throughout the park all day which was a cool little touch).

There was a banner and flags all around the stadium welcoming Paul

The stage

After putting in a full day at work, I raced home and changed into shorts and a Beatles t-shirt before my wife and I headed over to Hersheypark. It's only a two or three minute drive from our house and since we have seasons passes to the park, we were able to get into the parking lot  (usually concert parking is in the fields across the street). Because of this, we were only a short walk from the stadium and when we got out of the car we could hear the soundcheck going on (we heard the last two songs). Doors were due to open at 6pm and we'd been warned via an email from Hersheypark earlier in the week that security was going to be tight and that we should allow at least 45 minutes to get in. However, after queuing up for less than a minute, we were through security and the gates. After waiting a few more minutes for the stadium doors to open, we were finally inside and got to our seats. They were almost dead center, just a bit to the right and next to the mixing desk. After waiting for almost an hour, a DJ came onstage and played a mix of Paul's songs with the Beatles, Wings, and solo, in mostly remix or cover versions. Around 7:30pm, which had been the announced starting time for the concert, the pre-show film started. Unlike the vertically scrolling banner from 2013, this was a rotating column, but equally as cool, mixing in photos and short video clips from throughout Paul's life and career. At 8pm, the orchestral crescendo from "A Day in the Life" began as the image on the video screens morphed into Paul's famous Hofner bass guitar and he and the band strolled onstage to begin the set. And what a set it was!

Dr. and Mrs. Chemist waiting for the show to begin!

From the beginning of this tour back in the spring, there had been concern that Paul's voice was finally giving out and that this would and should be his final tour. I'd heard clips and seen videos and admittedly, his voice was in rough shape so I was a bit worried at what he'd sound like. I needn't have worried, though, as he was in fine voice, strong and clear and with almost all of his range. There were a few wobbly spots when he tried to go really high in his chest voice but otherwise he absolutely nailed the entire show. "Maybe I'm Amazed," which is a ridiculously difficult song to sing for the best of singers, was spot on and by song's end he was feeling it, throwing in some screams and falsetto that elicited loud whoops of approval from the crowd. There was thus no concern over his voice and certainly none over his musicianship or that of his band. Abe, Rusty, Brian, and Wix were their usual stellar selves and seemed to have had a blast onstage (as did Paul)'s no wonder they've all been together for so long; Paul's very lucky to have formed this great band and kept them together. Also, the sound mix was excellent and in particular the bass guitar was mixed nice and upfront so you could really hear Paul's great bass playing. With that out of the way now, let's get to the music (as well as the pictures that I took that are worth sharing). First, the set list...

Set list

A Hard Day's Night
Save Us
Can't Buy Me Love
Letting Go
You Won't See Me
Love Me Do
And I Love Her
Here Today 
Queenie Eye
The Fool on the Hill
Lady Madonna
Eleanor Rigby
Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Band on the Run
Back in the USSR
Let it Be
Live and Let Die
Hey Jude 

Hi, Hi, Hi
Golden Slumbers
Carry That Weight
The End
The first thing I want to point out is that there were *fifteen* songs that were different from the last time I saw Paul, so the set felt very fresh and new. Yes, he still plays a lot of the same staples, but anyone who thinks they're not going to hear "Hey Jude," "Let it Be," "Band on the Run," and other songs like that, well...I don't know what they're thinking! When Paul came onstage, the roar was deafening and they got right into the set with THAT chord...the entire crowd was on their feet dancing and singing along, as they would for most of the show. I will say right now that I was disappointed that during the songs from his NEW album (which I really like), "My Valentine," and some of the more obscure album  cuts ("Temporary Secretary," "Letting Go") that huge chunks of the crowd went to get more drinks or just sat down. I stood for the entire show and loved every one of the songs. "Letting Go" was a particular favorite of mine as it's one of my favorite songs from Paul's time in Wings and they played a really sexy, grooving version with some tasty guitar licks. Paul told most of his now-familiar stories and banter between songs, but even having heard most of it before I still smiled and laughed. His introduction to "Here Today," telling the crowd to let the people they love know how they feel before it's too late, was even sweeter and more poignant than when I saw him do it in 2013 and that song honestly brought a tear to my eye when he was finished. In fact, "Here Today" and "Blackbird" might have been my two favorite moments of the entire show. Just Paul singing and playing acoustic guitar all alone on the rising stage. He nailed both songs, both instrumentally and vocally, and it was so quiet in the crowd that you could hear a pin drop. Everyone stood throughout and cheered rapturously after...very cool moments. As for highlights, there are so many to mentions, so I'll just list them out...

- "Letting Go:" As I said, this has long been one of my favorite Wings songs ever and this version was a bit slower than the album version with a very sexy, slow groove and great guitar licks from Paul and Rusty. Most of the crowd didn't seem to know it and either sat or went to get more drinks, which is a damn shame as it was a killer performance.
- "Temporary Secretary:" If a lot of fans sat or left their seats during "Letting Go," even more did during this song! I think me and the guy next to my wife were the only ones in our area who knew the song and were excited enough to cheer when it started. Great version although the backing synth track was a bit too high in the mix.

- "I've Got a Feeling," "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five:" Two more favorites of mine, both done perfectly. There was a nice little jam coda tacked on to the end of "I've Got a Feeling" that I'd not heard before.

- "Maybe I'm Amazed:" One of the great ballads of all time, and usually very taxing on Paul's voice, especially in recent years. He absolutely nailed it here...I couldn't hear a single bum note, his screaming was dead on, and he was feeling it so much that he added some extra screams and falsetto near the end that were so good that the crowd around us cheered loudly in appreciation. Stunning version.

- "In Spite of All the Danger," "Love Me Do," "And I Love Her:" I was skeptical as to how "In Spite of All the Danger" would work since it's such a simple, early song and only fans who have heard it on the Beatles Anthology CDs would know it, but it was great! Very sweet and they played it again after it was finished so that the crowd could sing the "oh oh oh oh!" answering part. "Love Me Do" was definitely a fan favorite, as was "And I Love Her." The last song had an added treat for the ladies in the audience who cheered and whistled when Paul turned his back and shook his bum a bit during the solo in the middle.
- "You Won't See Me:" I absolutely *loved* this version of the song...after telling a story about how he was inspired to write the melody from a guitar figure he came up with, they played a fantastic version that was driven more by the acoustic guitar than the studio version is. It was just brilliant and it's little nuggets like this that keep his shows interesting and fresh.

- "Blackbird" and "Here Today:" See above...stunning, both of them.

- "Something:" Yes, he's been doing this tribute to George, complete with the story and the intro on ukulele, for years, but it's still incredibly touching and a great version of the song. VERY well received by the crowd.

- "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da:" Have you ever wondered what 30,000 people singing the chorus to this song would sound like? If you were at the concert, now you know. For a song that is supposedly one of the worst the Beatles ever released (according mainly to critics and the devout Lennon contingent of fans...I've always liked it), it seemed as though EVERYONE in attendance knew all of the words and sung along lustily throughout.

- "Let it Be:" I don't know how you can listen to this song and not be uplifted and comforted, even when everything is going great in your life. Lovely version.

- "Live and Let Die:" A great song, and always accompanied by fabulous pyrotechnics and fireworks. I knew what was coming having seen it before, but it was still cool. Even better was seeing the reaction of my wife and the other first time fans around us marvel in awe when that first blast went off.

- "Hey Jude:" My favorite Beatles song and one of their most recognizable and popular songs of all time. I proudly sang along to every word, as did Mrs. Chemist and everyone else around us. The "na na na na" chorus at the end is must-sing and if you've never experienced being in a crowd with tens of thousands of fellow fans singing and waving their arms to that, you've missed out. Even the well-worn "first the the girls!" instructions from Paul are fun as hell no matter how many times you've done it.

- Encores: Nothing too surprising here, but still lovely, and ending with the final song ("The End") from the final Beatles album (Abbey Road) and that iconic final verse ("And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make") is beyond shrewd. Before "Birthday," Paul brought two fans onstage whose signs caught his eyes: the first was a girl who was probably 13 or 14 who asked Paul to sign her poster. She was clearly shy and a bit overwhelmed with excitement, but very sweet and cute (our oldest daughter is around the same age so she reminded us of her). After she left the stage, Paul brought on a teacher who wanted him to sign her so she could "show and tell" with her students when school gets back in session next month! He signed her shoulder and then she asked for one on her wrist. He cracked a joke about her "pushing it" and that they'd be there "all night" and then gladly obliged. I'm sure she was off to the nearest tattoo parlor first thing the next morning!

The intro film

Paul walking onstage and waving to the crowd

As usual, there was a wide mix of ages in the crowd, from first generation fans in their 60s and 70s to second generation fans my age (30s and 40s), down to teenagers and young children. It was also nice to see a lot of fans of different races, showing that Paul's music has wide appeal across all barriers. The weather was gorgeous, always a plus for an outdoor rain-or-shine concert...warm but not too humid, a nice breeze, and once it got dark, a beautiful full moon that even Paul stopped to point out (including telling the moon that we were having a heck of "a party down here on Earth!"). One thing my wife and I both discussed on our walk out to the car was how Paul and his band not only performed brilliantly, but had great interactions with the crowd. They clearly have a ton of fun onstage and there are lots of little in-jokes that keep them smiling and laughing...that, coupled with the fun they convey and Paul's own gestures and comments, make for a concert that is not only musically brilliant, but a joyous experience.

Once we got back to our car, it took us a little over an hour to get to the road. This made us laugh since we live literally five minutes away from the stadium! To put it in perspective, the show ended right around 11pm (after nearly three continuous hours of music) but we didn't get home until well after midnight. Of course, being so wired from the concert, it took us a while to wind down and fall asleep. I was pretty tired the following morning, although unlike 2013 where I had a stressful hour-and-a-half commute into Boston for work, my current twenty-minute drive to work on back farm roads was much easier! Mrs. Chemist and I both decided that the next time (and hopefully there *is* a next time!) that Paul tours and plays nearby, we're going to take our kids...they're all huge Beatles/Wings/solo Paul fans and would absolutely love the concert. Not only is it amazing that Paul is still out there touring at 74 and putting on fantastic shows, but music from his entire career still resonates with fans of all ages in a way few, if any, performers can claim. Irrespective of his status as a former Beatle and one-half of the most famous and successful songwriting partnership in the history of popular music, Paul McCartney is a living legend who still delivers top-notch and high quality performances and if you haven't seen him yet, try to get to at least one show before he stops for good.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Real Frank Zappa Book

The most iconoclastic and musically adventurous artist to emerge from the 1960s rock music scene, Frank Zappa and his amalgam of rock, jazz, classical, blues, social and political commentary, and satire were a mainstay on the fringes of 1960s and 70s popular music with the occasional foray into the mainstream. In the 1980s he became well known for his political activism against censorship and in defense of free speech. Since his death from prostate cancer in 1993, his music and interviews have continued to be influential, and it's inarguable that the world in its present state would surely benefit from some of his withering social comment and insight. The closest we'll get any of that straight from his mouth is The Real Frank Zappa book, a quasi-memoir he wrote and published in 1990. I first read this book back around 1993 right before he died when I was just getting into Frank's music; I remember laughing hysterically at some of the anecdotes and being surprised at how many swear words he used throughout the book! As I got older, I re-read it a few times, but it had been many years since I'd last gone through it and so, for this review I've given it a fresh re-reading.

Before getting into the details, I want to point out that anyone going into this book expecting a traditional sort of autobiography will be a bit disillusioned. While the early chapters deal with Zappa's childhood, the formation of the Mothers, and his career into the mid-1970s, the bulk of the book is more like Frank's personal manifesto. Yes, there are chapters dedicated to road stories and some of the more colorful events from his career (mainly in the early years), but the majority of the chapters are dedicated to specific topics that Frank pontificates on and on which he espouses his personal philosophy. These include matters such as parenting, religion, politics, technology, and music. For each of these, he lays out his thoughts on the matter and in some cases, how he would change or improve them. In light of all of the upheaval and change in just about all of these areas in the twenty-three years since his death, it's especially fascinating to read his thoughts on matters that are just as topical and relevant now as they were when he was writing this book in 1988. In particular, his personal politics (where he calls himself a "practical conservative") and his thoughts on the music industry resonate almost as much now as they did then. This brings me to one salient point regarding the is more than a bit dated and as such, frozen in its own time. The same has recently been said of Frank's own music and, strangely, I've no doubt he would agree. Most of his ire is directed toward politicians (mainly Republicans, although Democrats don't escape his wrath), evangelical religious groups, drugs (Frank was strongly anti-drugs), communism, and music industry executives. While some of the matters he discusses transcend their time, for anyone born after 1990 it will probably sound like ancient history to read about Reagan, Bush, Nixon, Carter, the USSR, 1980s AOR rock music, and 1980s televangelists. What it all does point out, though, is that he would have a field day with how insane and crazy modern society and the world as a whole have gotten in the years since his death, and it makes me wish he were still here so that we could read the inevitable blog or Twitter he would have as he offered his social commentary.

In general, The Real Frank Zappa book is enjoyable and informative as the only direct word on his life from the man himself. It's entertaining and humorous in Frank's own unique way, but he also shows a few glimpses of tenderness and love (ironically after he states early in the book that he HATES love songs and love lyrics). It's touching and also quite sad to read of his love for his wife and kids, especially with all of the recent drama that's been aired in public over the last several months as his four kids fight over administration of his trust in the wake of their mother's death. The chapter about how his marriage worked best (he worked all night alone in the studio, Gail spent all day taking care of the kids and the business aspects of his career, with minimal interaction between them) perhaps explains why things went downhill in her relationship with their children in the wake of his death without Frank there to act as a buffer. However, it comes across very loud and clear that he loved his children a lot and that he was very proud of all of them. Elsewhere, he goes on and on (and on...) about some of the things that annoy him and honestly, having listened to his music and interviews for almost twenty-five years, it did get a bit tiresome to read the same ire directed at the usual matters, but for someone who isn't as heavily into all things Zappa, this probably won't be a problem. He comes across as a highly intelligent and outspoken individual who really just wanted to be left alone to do and say what he wanted and to live his own life on his own terms. He was also much more than just a great rock guitarist and withering lyricist. In the latter part of his life and career he was much more interested in composing and conducting his first love: orchestral music. His tales of the trials and tribulations in bringing his various classical projects to fruition were funny and depressing at the same time as he busts a lot of the myths behind modern orchestras and the musicians who play in them. He does sometimes come across as fairly misanthropic and contemptuous of the average person, but at the same time there is more than a grain of truth hidden in just about everything he says.  Like everything he discusses in the book, Frank is uncompromising in his views and whether you agree with him or not, at the very least he pushes you out of your comfort zone enough to make you stop and think.

I don't know how I could say that this book is anything other than essential for Frank Zappa fans. It's funny, intelligent, thought-provoking, and a bit irritating (in a good challenges entrenched thinking and pushes you to at least think outside of your usual mental bubble), just like the man himself. There aren't a ton of revelations in terms of information about his bands, albums, or career so anyone looking for a detailed history of Frank's career won't find it here...there are other books that attempt to cover that ground. Rather, you get a taste of what his childhood was like, some of the highlights (lowlights?) from his long career, and a philosophy manual from one of the most musically adventurous, politically and socially intelligent, and one-of-a-kind geniuses of 20th century music.