I have a vague recollection of Frank Sidebottom from my childhood, being only two years old when Jon Ronson joined his band. He has remained in my mind as a sinister feature of my youth – I wasn’t a child that coped well with hidden faces.
I tried to watch Frank the film when it was released, but it put me on edge – I scarcely watched minutes. So, reading a short 80 pages on Frank and the making of the film felt far more palatable.
‘In the late 1980s Jon Ronson was the keyboard player in the Frank Sidebottom Oh Blimey Big Band. Frank wore a big fake head. Nobody outside his inner circle knew his true identity. This became the subject of feverish speculation during his zenith years. Together, they rode relatively high. Then it all went wrong. Twenty-five years later and Jon has co-written a movie, Frank, inspired by his time in this great and bizarre band. Frank is set for release in 2014, starring Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Domhnall Gleeson and directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Frank: The True Story that Inspired the Movie is a memoir of funny, sad times and a tribute to outsider artists too wonderfully strange to ever make it in the mainstream. It tells the true story behind the fictionalized movie.’ GoodReads.
Frank/Chris (Chris being his non-paper mache-clad regular self) was a startling juxtaposition. I was not entirely sure if Frank was created to protect Chris from the world – an on stage (or perhaps in head) performance – or actually part of Chris’s personality.
I can see why Jon felt compelled to travel around with Frank’s strange band, off-key with the rest of British culture. It was a marvellous devolution from his own semi-regular life. I say semi-regular, because, in comparison to my life, Ronson’s life before Frank seems pretty exotic.
Ronson’s writing is (as ever) honest and compelling. He is never an author who feels the need to portray himself in anything but a realistic light. I would find his shopping list engaging. He has a way of looking at things that makes me forget he is a journalist, I could imagine him being an easy person to spill secrets to without even realising.
Frank is a sweet tribute to an unique man (and experience) I felt a little teary by the end. If only to glimpse a slice of a strange existence of one cultural dissident this is a book worth reading.