Moon Zappa had just finished the very first public reading of her debut novel in a Manchester, England, bookshop. As she prepared to field her first question, two middle-aged men, both shaven-headed and wearing skintight jeans, began chanting, "We're not here for you! We're here for your father!" Security eventually escorted the two aging Zappatistas from the premises but Moon remained shaken by the bizarre experience. "They are still mad that he's passed on," says the daughter of rock idol Frank Zappa, who died in 1993. "I was shocked by that."
Perhaps that's because she has moved on with her own life and, she hopes, out of Frank's shadow. Now the U.S. release this month of America the Beautiful, which received excellent reviews after publication in Britain last year—the Sunday Telegraph called it "brilliant"—is forcing Moon, 34, to confront pointed questions about her childhood and her relationship with the eccentric genius who was her dad. The novel, after all, chronicles the romantic travails of thirtysomething America Throne, also the quirkily named daughter of a celebrated artist. Zappa insists it isn't autobiographical. "I would never write a book about my family," she says, but concedes that her childhood provided "wallpaper for the story."
Enough wallpaper to cover the White House, starting with the issue of those names. In addition to Moon—or Moon Unit Zappa, to quote her birth certificate—Frank also insisted on giving unusual monickers to her brothers Dweezil, 32, and Ahmet, 27, both actor-musicians, and sister Diva, 22, a photographer—all with the acquiescence of wife Gail, 56. Sometimes, says Moon, "I dreamed of having a normal name like Debbie, Mary or Jane."
With her father frequently holed up in his studio, Moon remembers feeling frustrated at her lack of time with him. "I did feel his presence in the house," she says. "But you didn't bother my father unless it was really important."
In 1982 her sense of isolation led Moon, then 14, to slip a note under Frank's studio door. It read, "Since we don't seem to be able to get together personally, maybe we could get together professionally." It worked. A few nights later Moon got her first studio session. The result: "Valley Girl," the satirical single that was a surprise hit in 1982 earning Moon a Grammy nomination. "I had no idea it was going to be such a big hit," she says. "I just wanted to spend some time with my father."
After earning her GED at age 15, Zappa went on to a string of minor TV roles, even costarring alongside Dweezil on the 1990 CBS sitcom Normal Life. A stint as a stand-up comic in which she retailed anecdotes from her rock-royalty past led to her first writing gigs for L.A.'s Raygun magazine.
When Frank was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in 1990, Moon devoted the next few years to helping him, driving him to his radiation treatments and cooking his meals, while trying to bridge their emotional distance. The results were not always gratifying. "He said, 'I'm sorry. I can't talk to you about these things. I'm just in too much pain,'" she says. "It put a cap on how much further our relationship could go."
These days Zappa shares a meticulously tended ranch-style house in Los Angeles with her fiancé Paul Doucette, rock band Matchbox Twenty's drummer. "Because Moon is an artist too," says Doucette, 29, "she understands me. When I met her, I felt like I found myself." With that kind of support Zappa is confident she can handle the hecklers. "I don't feel like I have anyone to prove anything to," she says. "My father created to satisfy himself. I feel I got that imprint."
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