Sunday, November 22, 2015

“The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto” by Mitch Albom - Traversing the Landscape of Sound

Up until the 20th century it can be said that the evolution of music was relatively slow, with certain genres and composition styles staying popular for decades upon decades, if not centuries. For instance, classical music has been evolving for hundreds of years while countless folk songs have gone unchanged since the dawn of time.

However, when the 20th century burst from around the corner, many new genres and styles came to be born, with a huge point of no return being passed with the invention of electrical instruments. It truly is an interesting time, one that is explored and narrated through in great depth by Mitch Albom in his novel The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto.

In one of his more acclaimed novels, Albom creates an unforgettable character with Forrest Gump-esque life story: Frankie Presto. He was orphaned by the war and raised in a small Spanish town by a blind music teacher. At the age of nine he was sent to America on a shoddy boat, his guitar and strings his only possession. As it turns out, Frankie has a God-given talent, that of playing the guitar like no one else could. His musical prowess takes him through the entire musical landscape of the 20th century, his style bearing influences on the likes of Presley, Carole King, Marsalis and even later bands.

As Frankie grows in popularity, he discovers a power within himself, that of actually affecting other people's futures through his music, with a guitar string turning blue whenever a life is changed. As he grows in popularity and even comes to influence bands like KISS, Frankie suddenly disappears without a trace for numerous decades, his legend growing ever-bigger. He only comes back before his magnificent and theatrical demise, intending to make a final change to one last life out there.

The book is written in an interesting way, being divided into chapters narrated either by an omniscient being referring to itself as “Music”, or the many musicians whose lives were influenced by Frankie. Just to make a note, it ought to be said that Albom himself got in touch with many of the musicians narrating this book, in case authenticity is something that worries you. It all starts at the end and “Music” takes us on a journey through the man's tragic life starting from the early years, highlighting the importance music took in his life and its power to change the world. We are presented a large number of characters and though it doesn't look like it at first, nearly all of them end up having intertwining fates at one point or another.

To call Frankie's adventure similar to that of Forrest Gump would be a bit of an understatement. Often unwittingly, Frankie finds himself with the greatest (sometimes future) stars of the music world at the time and living through many of the important events that marked the evolution of music. His superhuman talent carries him from one adventure to the next, all of them having their own character; some are sad, others are funny, some more carry important messages. However, you'll find they all revolve around music and are used to express thoughts and feelings in regards to its role in human life.

All in all, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto is certainly an unconventional novel, and it shines bright through and through. The story, the characters, settings, philosophies and thoughts expressed are all solid individually and come together seamlessly for a real tour-de-force, a book that will leave its mark on your memory, regardless of whether or not you're a musician.
Favorite quote: "All humans are musical. Why else would the Lord give you a beating heart?"

Mitchell David "Mitch" Albom

Personal site

Most know Mitch Albom through his most famous books, The Five People You Meet in Heaven and Tuesdays with Morrie, but the man born all the way back in 1958 has had a long and diverse career as a journalist, screenwriter, broadcaster, musician, dramatist, and radio show host.

More of the Mitch Albom's book reviews:
The First Phone Call from Heaven
The Time Keeper
Tuesdays with Morrie
The Five People you Meet in Heaven
For One More Day

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