Interview with Nigey Lennon
IN JULY, WE INTERVIEWED NIGEY LENNON, AUTHOR OF THE BEST BOOK ON FRANK ZAPPA Nigey Lennon’s Being Frank: My Time with Frank Zappa occupies a fascinating and lively spot in the world of musical autobiography. When it was originally published it was extravagantly praised by many readers and critics, on the one hand, and at the same time snarkishly derided by some who questioned its legitimacy. All quibbling aside, the book remains the only firsthand, up close-and-personal memoir of the late Frank Zappa, iconoclastic composer, guitarist, and social commentator. In light of the fact that www.boryanabooks.com will soon be offering a completely revised and updated e-book edition of Being Frank, we decided to shoot a few questions at Ms. Lennon, who has lived in New York since 2000.
Q: Would you say your view of Being Frank has changed since you originally wrote the book?
A: Definitely. I’m not the same person I was when I wrote it in 1994. But then, in 1994 I wasn’t the same person I was when I’d known Frank in the 1970’s. The basic idea in the book is the passage of time, and how one’s perception of time and circumstances can be affected by many different factors. Looking back as a 54-year-old at things that happened to someone in her teens and early 20’s, it’s almost like looking at the experiences and feelings of a total stranger. Even I had to grow up eventually, I guess.
Q: Were you at all prepared for the strong reaction of some hardcore Frank Zappa fans when the book was first published?
A: The thing that surprised me was how violently expressed some of the negative opinions were. In his lyrics and interviews (which I guess a lot of people took at face value), Frank could be very blunt and cutting, and these fans were evidently trying to imitate what they thought was his manner. They didn’t seem to be taking issue with what I was saying as much as with my right to say it. It made me realize what a convoluted legacy Frank had unwittingly left behind. It made me cringe, honestly.
Q: Do you feel you may have been a bit harsh toward Zappa in your book, as some reviewers have suggested?
A: I honestly didn’t intend to be. Frank was a complex person, and I struggled to present him exactly as I had experienced him, contradictions and all. It was probably inevitable that my portrait of him would differ drastically from the way he appeared in the media — and that some people would take it the wrong way.
Q: You’re close to some members of Frank Zappa’s family. How do they feel about the book?
A: Frank’s sister Patrice (Candy) Zappa is a very good friend and musical collaborator. She has always been a staunch supporter, not only of the book, but of all my creative pursuits. Through Candy I was also able to get to know RoseMarie, Frank and Candy’s mom, before she passed away in 2003. I gave her a copy of the book with some trepidation, because it described things you wouldn’t necessarily want a lovely, refined Italian lady in her 90’s to read about her “unrepentant” (in his words) son — but she read it a number of times and seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. Strange as it might seem, we bonded over it.
Q: According to a recent article by Frank’s daughter Moon Unit, her childhood, and that of her brothers and sister, was extremely laissez-faire and ultimately left her traumatized as an adult. Yet Frank Zappa maintained, in his own book [The Real Frank Zappa Book] and in his interviews, that he had a good, if highly unconventional, family life. How do you account for the credibility gap?
A: Probably denial — he ignored a lot of what went on at home, when he was there at all. I’ve read Moon’s essay (included in the book Afterbirth: Stories You Won’t Read in a Parenting Magazine, Dani Klein Modisett, editor). As I’ve stated before, I had no involvement at all with that part of Frank’s life, but generally what she says seems to ring true. If she ever gets to New York I’d enjoy having a drink with her. In the right atmosphere perhaps we could swap stories, correct mutual misconceptions, and fill in a lot of respective gaps.
Q: What’s changed in your life since the original appearance of Being Frank?
A: What hasn’t changed? I survived cancer, moved to the East Coast, quit writing for awhile to focus on music, went through a really rough period financially, and now I’m finally back on my feet, cautiously ready for whatever comes next. I’ve learned, however reluctantly, to roll with the punches.
Q: What are you working on these days?
A: Improving my kayak paddling technique. And the vegetable garden needs a lot of attention. I was under-employed for most of my working life, and now I guess I’m inadvertently retired, at least for the moment.
Q: Any new books or music in the works?
A: I have a lot of ideas, but it remains to be seen how writing and music are ultimately going to reach people, as far as the technology is concerned. But I’d definitely like to do a lot more in the near future.
Q: Any hints about the nature of your writing or musical projects?
A: Abstruse and recondite musings on the nature of water.
Q: Final thoughts?
A: I think Boryana Books has a great business plan and a glorious future ahead.