Last year, Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan released a terrific film called Frank, which was a fictional telling of Ronson’s time in Frank Sidebottom’s band. If you’re curious to know which elements of the film were true, read Jon Ronson’s book Frank: The True Story that Inspired the Movie. Frank Sidebottom was the stage alter-ego of Chris Sievey, the Oh Blimey Big Band frontman who wore a giant paper-mache head. Jon Ronson was the keyboard player for three years in the 80s.
In this book, you’ll learn the surprising similarities between the character Jon and the real Jon (like how he could only write songs about things right in front of him and how he joined the band after subbing for the keyboard player), as well as the glaring differences (like how Frank Sidebottom’s true identity had a wife and kids and used drugs). Yet, there is an almost supernatural element surrounding Frank Sidebottom, as witnessed by fellow bandmate Mike Doherty’s Sharpie tribute to the band on the walls of his home many years later.
The book is the story of a man busking with his one song on keyboard to joining a whirlwind band for three years to the band’s collapse once it evolved from plinkity-plink to 80s rock. The film goes beyond Frank Sidebottom, though, as it’s a story of mental health and obscurity. Ronson studied musicians like Daniel Johnston and The Shaggs to inform the fictional Frank, a Frank that really was called Frank and who really was as innocent without his paper-mache head as with it.
What I hadn’t realized was that Chris/Frank was still alive when Ronson and Straughan started putting the script together. Chris had given them his blessing on doing a fictional version of his story. Unfortunately, he died of throat cancer before the film was realized. Ronson used Twitter to raise enough money (and way more than he meant to–21,000 pounds!) to make sure that Chris wouldn’t get a pauper’s funeral.