The Austin Chronicle

Memoir Suite

Rock & roll books from Austin to Beijing

Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, December 16, 2011, Music

Freak Out!: My Life With Frank Zappa

by Pauline Butcher
Plexus, 320 pp., $19.95 (paper)

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.

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