Title: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
Author: Mitch Albom
Imprint: Harper Paperbacks
Released: October 25, 2016
Once in a very blue moon a book comes along that is so unique and wonderful, no – downright magical – that it immediately becomes one of the best books you’ve ever read. Those books are what I call five-star desert island classics; books I want to have with me for the rest of my life because I know I will read them again and again.
Recently, my client and dear friend Deborah Ledon recommended a book for me that she said she loved and was certain that I would love too. I bought the book, called The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom, whose work I had read previously and especially adored in The Five People You Meet In Heaven (which I’ve so far read twice). Albom is a maestro of the rhythm of storytelling and I believe he has created his magnum opus with The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, a book narrated by Music itself.
Francisco de Asís Pascual Presto was born in Villareal, Spain in August 1936 in a church where his mother had sought refuge from El Terror Rojo – the Red Terror – revolutionaries and militiamen who were angry with the new government. Francisco’s mother Carmencita was aided by a young nun as she gave birth to her son, and we later learn that she died after childbirth and the nun took care of the newborn, who would not cry, in his early days as an infant. Before Carmencita dies, she sings a melody to her baby, a song called “Lágrima” (teardrops) by the renowned Spanish guitarist Francisco Tárrega, and the song is immediately ingrained in baby Frankie’s memory.
On the boy’s first birthday his guardian takes him into town to its largest store where Frankie hears a song by Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia on a wind-up gramophone for the first time, and he finally cries. In fact, he continues to cry constantly and the only thing that will ease his torment is music.
Frankie is raised by a blind guitar teacher in Spain, known to him as El Maestro, who gives him six mysterious blue strings and a beautiful acoustic guitar, educates him in music, and allows Frankie’s magnificent talent to blossom.
Throughout this extraordinary story, we travel back through Frankie Presto’s illustrious history from the 1940s jazz scene to the Grand Ole Opry, to the birth of rock and roll and Woodstock, while Frankie (accompanied by his hairless dog with no name) searches for his childhood sweetheart, Aurora York. We meet some of the great artists who influenced him and were influenced by him along the way, including Django Reinhardt, Duke Ellington, Elvis Presley, Darlene Love, Tony Bennett and Paul Stanley to name a few, who help Music to narrate the tale.
I couldn’t believe it when in Part Five of the novel, Albom wrote about Paul Stanley‘s reminiscences of Frankie Presto, at the end of which he recalled:
“It’s funny. In 1999, I got a chance to play the lead in Phantom of the Opera in Toronto. I’ve never tried anything like that. But I went for it, partly because my son at the time was about five years old. And I remember thinking, “I want him to see me in this.”
Well, I saw Paul Stanley, guitarist and founding member of KISS, in 1999, in Phantom of the Opera in Toronto, and he was absolutely brilliant!
I was mesmerized by Albom’s story from the very first chapter and found myself smiling a lot, although sometimes tearing up too while reading Music’s epic tale about Frankie’s journey to discover what matters most in life and how the power of talent can change our lives. Music, fame, true love and the inevitable fall from grace shape the melody and harmonies of Frankie’s soundtrack and like all great soundtracks, leave us thinking about our own.
Like most of us, Frankie doesn’t get through life unscathed and has to deal with more than his fair share of tragedy, but music, love, and the magic of synchronicity save him, again and again.
This passage brought tears to my eyes with its simple truth:
He recalled a conversation with his teacher.
“Why do the strings make different sounds, Maestro?”
“It is simple. They work like life.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The first string is E. It is high pitched and quick like a child.
“The second string is B. It is pitched slightly lower, like the squeaky voice of a teenager.
“The third string, G, is deeper, with the power of the young man.
“The fourth string, D, is robust, a man at full strength.
“The fifth string, A, is solid and loud but unable to reach high tones, like a man who can no longer do what he did.”
“And the sixth string, Maestro?”
“The sixth is the low E, the thickest, slowest, and grumpiest. You hear how deep? Dum-dum-dum. Like it is ready to die.”
“Is that because it is closest to heaven?”
“No, Francisco. It is because life will always drag you to the bottom.”
I love the messages in this story that tell us with perseverance, practice, and determination, we can overcome the largest of obstacles in our lives…and the loyalty of a good dog can sometimes save us. But ultimately, true love and leaving a positive legacy for our children, is what matters most in life, and for this die-hard romantic, no truer words have ever been written.
With this book, Mitch Albom has become one of my favourite authors. I hope that you will read it so that he will become one of your favourites too.