Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Now Reading: Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa

Freak Out!In my previous blog post I wrote that I was boxing up years of editorial ephemera and shipping it out to the respective authors -- or, if unwanted by said authors, tossing it into the city-provided recycling bin. Yes, just one publisher for right now, nearly ten years of my life, in boxes and bins.

Anyhow, the process of unloading so many paper-filled boxes in my office allowed me to access other boxes that I haven't been able to get to in years.

And in one of those boxes I found this book -- Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa, by Pauline Butcher -- that I had been wanting to read for some time, but was unable to find it! Yes, things (books, postal scales, notepads, cables and other gear) actually do get lost in my office. I purchased this book in the summer of 2012 (it was officially published in October 2011) after learning about it on Facebook, from the author herself, on a Frank Zappa page.

Ms. Butcher was employed by Forum Secretarial Services, located in the heart of London in 1967. On August 16, 1967, Pauline happened to be the one to answer the phone because the owner was out of the office. The call was from the concierge at the Royal Garden Hotel: "We have a client who wants a typist at six-thirty." As Pauline took the call -- and none of the other workers were particularly anxious to go out -- she accepted the job.

Upon arriving at the hotel, and taking the "lift" to the fourth floor...
...I trotted along the corridor to Room 412, set my cases on the floor, and knocked.

Nothing prepared me for the figure that opened the door.

Squiggly, ink-black curls fell below his shoulders. He had a long, thin face with a thick, drooping moustache and an extra tuft under his bottom lip. He wore an orange t-shirt and pink trousers over the skinniest of bodies. I blurted out, " Oh, I'm sorry, I've come to the wrong room."

"Par-leen Butcher?" he said in a deep, American drawl.

"Yes, is Mr. Zappa here?"

He held out a straight arm and I stood there, astonished. This was Mr. Zappa? Undeniably, he had a Mediterranean air with his swarthy skin and dark eyes that held mine in a bemused gaze. We shook hands and he said, "Come on in." He pressed his back against the door as I picked up my bags and brushed past. He kept nodding confusedly, as if he'd expected a fifty-five-year-old with flat shoes and Lisle stockings.

Pauline eventually went to work for Frank Zappa -- and later his Bizarre Records label -- initially living in the Laurel Canyon "log cabin," located in the Hollywood Hills, for about a year, with at least a dozen other people: aside from FZ and his wife Gail and daughter Moon, there was PamZ, Christine (one of the GTOs), Calvin, occasional members of the Mothers of Invention (primarily Ian Underwood), and others. At any time, day or night, you might find Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful hanging about, or members of The Monkees, or Eric Clapton, or Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart, or members of Pink Floyd, or Grace Slick, or.... Once word got out that FZ was residing in the log cabin, anybody and everybody managed to drop by at some point in time.

Ms. Butcher kept a journal during her tenure with FZ, and wrote regular letters, at length, to her mother in England, who kept those letters. This memoir is based on her journal entries and letters to her mother.

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