Reviews

Books

EARTH TO MOON: A MEMOIR BY MOON UNIT ZAPPA (White Rabbit)

One question this book raises is why did it take Moon until she was nearly twenty to decide she needed to leave her chaotic family home?
    As you would expect, this is a very well written and engaging book - and well worth the wait. And like Nigey Lennon, Moon has opted to change some names to protect the privacy of those involved - for example, here 'Nellie Bly' becomes 'Kiwi Vicki'!
    The book's title comes from something Gail would say whenever Moon was in a brown study - which is better than it's working title of I Hope You (Die) Love Me.
    We learn that as a very young girl, Moon had a crush on Terry Bozzio (and, weirdly, Derek from the Bay City Rollers - even in later life, her fascination with drummers seems to continue); that she had harp lessons from Lou-Ann Neill (who plays on Zoot Allures, Orchestral Favorites, 200 Motels - The Suites and more); was told she had secret powers by Gail's psychic (and later put a spell on a mean girl at school who then fell off the monkey bars); that RDNZL was an FZ nickname for GZ; and My Mother Is A Space Cadet was written about Gail when she was engrossed in one of her magazines.
    Moon writes that Frank asked for a divorce from Gail on at least three occasions, but of course it never happened. A German lady named Gerda is cited as one of the main reasons for his desire to leave Gail.
    Of all the kids, Moon is clearly the most damaged by their 'unique upbringing' and bore the brunt of Gail's many outbursts, such that you do feel a little sorry for her.
    She yo-yos between blaming her cheating, absent father and her angry, unloving mother for all her ills. Once she finally does flee the nest, she undergoes therapy and gets an acting coach and a guru but remains lost and unhappy. Then her father phones to tell her he has terminal cancer and Gail insists she sells her house to help pay for her uninsured father's hospital bills, so Moon can return home and devote her time to caring for him.
    After he passes, Moon's relationship with her mother gets no more harmonious, but her marriage to Paul Doucette and the birth of their daughter bring fleeting happiness - until three year old Mathilda becomes seriously ill and her marriage unravels.
    The book leaves few stones unturned and ends with her finally learning to love herself and forgive her siblings for the pain they caused following Gail's demise.
    As I say, it's very well written but there are some tiny errors (which could conceivably be fixed, as I have an uncorrected proof copy of the book): for example, she confuses the Pink Panther with Snagglepuss, plus the timeline seems a little awry in places as she talks about the Rainbow incident before introducing the GTOs, and also that she lost her virginity in London on 4 July 1982 after Valley Girl was a hit that enabled Gail and the kids to travel with FZ to Europe for his tour that started at the beginning of May. Minor stuff, but this is a major contribution to the ever-expanding Zappa bibliography.

TONY TROMBO'S TALKING ZAPPA INTERVIEWS (Independently published, 2024)

Having had a similar book published several years ago, with a lot of the same interviewees (Frank Talk), I just had to check this out. I know of Tony and his Talking Zappa shows, but I'm not really a podcast guy - even as a part of the ZappaCast for several years, I rarely listened back to them. Reading is more my thing, but your mileage may vary.
    In his introduction, Tony talks about how he used an AI programme to transcribe his audio interviews, and then went through and corrected the resultant text. He acknowledges that he might not have done a perfect job and, in the first edition, there were indeed quite a number of typos, Happily, most of these have now been fixed. The interviews - all from 2014 - are interesting and include some 'new' info - for example: Ike Willis told Tony that Frank briefly went into remission in the summer of 1993 and laid out his plans to Ike for a 25th anniversary celebration of 200 Motels with a big reunion tour; Mike Keneally talks about a Synclavier version of Sleep Dirt that he helped Frank create; and Howard Kaylan bemoans the fact that most of FZ's guitar solos were edited out from the 'Vaudeville' albums in favour of more Flo & Eddie comedy.
    As I say, the interviews are quite engaging, and I'm jealous that Tony managed to do what I haven't yet succeeded in doing: a full interview with Cal Schenkel!
     The book comes in hardcover, paperback and on Kindle. Here's to a Volume 2.

MARK VOLMAN with John Cody: HAPPY FOREVER – MY MUSICAL ADVENTURES WITH THE TURTLES, FRANK ZAPPA, T. REX, FLO & EDDIE, AND MORE (Jawbone Press, ISBN: 978-1-911036-19-7)

As the book’s blurb says, this is not your average musical autobiography, as Mark’s comments throughout are minimal. Instead, his story is told by friends and family, including Howard Kaylan (of course), Ian Underwood, Aynsley Dunbar, Don Preston, Jim Pons, Jeff Simmons, George Duke and Gail Zappa (yes, it has taken co-author Cody around 12 years to assemble this tome).
    In it, Pons reveals that he squired Gail before she met Frank, though GZ describes it as “just hanging out”. (One of the many fun things here is that the narrators are allowed to quibble and contradict one another, with even Volman chiming in to set his side of the story straight.)
    Simmons and Dunbar both say they initially tried to talk Frank out of recruiting Kaylan and Volman as Mothers, but both later admit they were wrong. (Aynsley also confirms that he was asked about replacing Chad Wackerman in 1988.)
    And Turtle drummer John Seiter, who fought for his writing credit on Eddie, Are You Kidding?, claims to have provided vocal overdubs on Happy Together for the Fillmore East – June 1971 album.
    Happily, Mark has more than elsewhere in the book to say about his time with Frank, but that’s only a part of his story: we’re taken from schoolboy pranks to his becoming a Professor at Belmont University and a born again Christian, via the early days of Mark and Howard’s involvement in surf music with The Crossfires to their later fall-out with Marc Bolan after they dared to ask to be paid for providing back-up vocals on future T. Rex hits.
    The book is a fun read and what stands out is that Mark loves to play the clown and is a much beloved entertainer. Long may that be so.
    For more Flo fun, check out my old interview with him here plus this specially curated Spotify playlist.