Book #1 of 2016: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
“There is a reason you glance up when you first hear a melody, or tap your foot to the sound of a drum. All humans are musical. Why else would the Lord give you a beating heart?” – The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
These were the lines that I read that urged me to write down this book in our company’s Christmas Exchange Gift Wish List last December 2015. Sir Geoff was my Secret Santa! We were in the same team, and I hadn’t even thought of the possibility he’d be the one to pick my name! I’m thankful for him for this book, truly.
It’s a story about Frankie Presto, one of the world’s most gifted guitarists. He is Music’s cherished disciple. In the book, Music is our narrator – the one who tells us all about Frankie since the day he was born up to his mysterious exit from this life.
But when Music wasn’t speaking, people who knew Frankie Presto would be the ones telling you his tale, like how they knew him, and what role did their play in Frankie’s life.
Interestingly and cleverly, Mitch Albom asked the permission of real people (musicians/artists/producers/songwriters) like the jazz trumpet player Marcus Belgrave, singer and actress Darlene Love, songwriter Burt Bacharach, musician Roger McGuinn, country singer and songwriter Lyle Lovett, and singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson – to name a few – to let him include fictional Frankie Presto in their lives. He did his best in speaking in these artists’ voices and perspectives to talk about their relationship with Frankie.
This particular move to inject the realities and lives of actual musicians, as well as the mention of the most popular and beloved songs decades ago in the whole story, immensely helped in shape Frankie Presto’s history and life, especially the one about Francisco Tarrega, a Spanish composer and classical guitarist. The most powerful connection of Frankie to Tarrega is the song Lagrima, meaning teardrop, which Frankie’s mother sang to him during a terrible time in the story. After reading the story, I had to listen to Lagrima, and when I did, it moved me so much that I tried to learn the first few tabs of Lagrima in the guitar.
Because of this book and Frankie’s life and guitar lessons under El Maestro, I appreciated music more, how it’s made, how it’s born, how it serves as our savior when we cannot say something with the right words, how it connects us as our universal language, how it saves people, how it brings people back together after many years…
Music for me has also been a saving grace. God speaks to me through the songs I listened to when I was troubled. When I was alone. When I was needing a friend. When I was in pain. My Dad sang to me and hummed to me our favorite Beatles songs when I was sick in an emergency room in Manila and when I had to undergo endoscopy in 2012. He sang Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright while playing the guitar when I was nauseous in our couch in the living room, seeking healing from my Dad’s music and the rain outside. My friends in the schoolpaper in college for a birthday surprise presentation for me and one of our writers specifically sang Hey Jude for me. The Eraserheads’ With a Smile got me through my sickness and loneliness too. There are so many songs and melodies out there that have pulled me out of troubled water and made me dance in joy as well. Music also holds our precious memories – it is like a time machine. One song leads to many special moments, both blissful and painful.
“What would you give to remember everything? I have this power. I absorb your memories; when you hear me, you relive them. A first dance. A wedding. The song that played when you got the big news. No other talent gives your life a soundtrack. I am Music. I mark time.” – Music
I also love how Music likened life to movements – for instance, how he described one of Frankie’s and Aurora’s phase in life as adagio, or slow turn… Music would also describe a setting in the story with a time signature and tempo. Albom is truly creative in the way he also characterizes the manner his narrators speak.
Besides the musical aspect of the premise, let us not forget that this is also a book about a man’s life, his love, his family, his past. It tackles redemption, lies, repentance, forgiveness, loss, death, life, commitment, helping, generosity, mistakes, hope… Music was the teller, but it was still Frankie who wrote the song of his life.
“Rooms are rooms, after all, as a music staff is a music staff. How you fill them is what makes them your own.” – Music
Through Music and the people dearest to Frankie, he had gone through an extraordinary, meaningful, and enriching journey, no matter how many wrong turns or trials he had to endure.
“The string would snap. You cannot ask things to do what they are not meant to do, Francisco. Eventually, they will break.” – El Maestro
Frankie Presto is such a memorable character. In my mind, when I first read the first few chapters, he reminded me of my cousin Paffy, who is skillful in playing the guitar. And then, his image morphed into Elvis Presley, but when he was getting older, I imagined Frankie to look like an older Bob Dylan.
But even more than his physical appearance – the black hair and blue eyes – reading about all his kind acts towards others had won my admiration for his character. He’s well-rounded and strong, sometimes weak and needy of affection. He had his dark times, but there were many people who had saved him from those moments. To me, Frankie feels like this very good friend of yours that you don’t get to talk to much, but he is one of your friends who sincerely care about you. He also is like a caring and quiet yet fun older brother to me. I don’t know, but while I read the ending and during the key moments in the story, I cried for this man. I cried for this character and the other characters. I cried for them during the times I read the book, while I was aboard a bus going home to our province from the city, and from our province to the city.
I also loved the characters El Maestro and their hairless dog, Baffa Rubio, Aurora, Hampton Belgrave, Lyle Lovett, Mr. Kevin from Waiheke Island, New Zealand… I wish I could write more about them, but I shan’t, as to avoid spoilers for those who want to read the book. I recommend this book for music lovers and those who want to know more about music. But also, I recommend this book for another reason: Mitch Albom has created truly remarkable and lovable characters in this story that you will be able to relate to and sympathize with, to root for and love. He wrote this with love and utmost care in detail and respect to rock and roll history and the musicians that he spoke with to make this book possible and Frankie’s story more believable. You can really tell how much time, effort, thought, and love that bound this book together. This is one I would love to read again in the future. I felt his pain, I felt his glory, I felt his loss, I felt his return.
Reasons we read books we already read before can be because of the friends we’ve made in the characters and the author himself. They comfort us as their familiar faces come to mind again when we open the book a second, a third, or fourth time. It’s the same way I feel about re-reading the whole book or chapters of Harry Potter, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet, Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts… The characters and stories have become havens and reminders for us.
The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto. This book taught me more about many important things like family, friendship, love, leaving, healing, forgiveness, sacrifice, repentance, returning and reconnecting with your past to learn, and hope. The world needs more music from the heart. The world needs a Frankie Presto.
“The secret is not to make your music louder, but to make the world quieter.” – El Maestro
A guitar string has turned blue.
Thank you, Mitch Albom. Thank you, Frankie Presto. Thank You, Lord, for music.