Mitch Albom Realizes His Dreams of Rock Stardom With “Frankie Presto”

Image from the Satellite Media Tour with Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom is known for writing books that have a profound impact on people. Many were moved to reconnect with a mentor after reading Tuesdays with Morrie. Others were inspired by The Five People You Meet in Heaven to help a stranger. As Albom recounted in a recent one-on-one interview, “Over the years people have come up to me after that book and have said, ‘Oh, that book changed my life.’”

Although he’s always been skeptical of the praise, it finally led to his latest novel The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto. Reflecting on his fan’s comments, Albom recalled, “I was happy to hear that but I always wondered, ‘Really? Is that a little too strong? It changed your life?’ And I began to think, ‘Well, what if somebody really had enough talent to change somebodies life?’”

The best-selling author, who once dreamed of being a musician, took that very simple concept and mixed in a little bit of rock and roll. “I created this magical character called Frankie Presto, who in my novel, is the greatest guitar player to walk the earth. He has more talent than anybody.”

But in true Albom style, Frankie has some demons to overcome. “He suffers a lot as a child. He’s an orphan and he has to go through an awful lot,” explained Albom. “As a result of that, he’s granted by the fates this magic guitar that has six strings that effect six lives over the course of his lifetime. When he really changes somebody’s fate with his playing, the string turns blue and then it disappears and he can’t use it anymore. Then it goes to five and four and three and two.”

Having started his writing career as a journalist after letting go of his musical pursuits, it makes sense that Albom would ground his fictional tale in the reality of rock and roll history. “We follow the story of [Frankie] throughout the 20th Century as he plays with all these real life musical acts. He weaves in and out… He becomes a pop star.”

Leaving no iconic rolling stone unturned, Frankie plays with everyone from Duke Ellington to Elvis Presley and is present at legendary moments like Woodstock. But as is often the case in real life, Frankie’s fame is fleeting.

“He becomes world famous and then he disappears,” revealed Albom. “All throughout it we see the different people who he has affected and how the strings turn blue when he changes their life. So it’s a metaphor for how all of our talents and the way that we mesh with the bands that we have in our lives affect one another — only it’s done in a ‘Forrest Gump’-y, mythical story.”

Knowing that Albom started his career as a pianist, it’s hard not to wonder why it took him so long to place a musician front and center in one of his stories. He conceded that the reason was “probably because it was so important to me when I was young. It was all I really wanted to do, even out of school and into my twenties.”

Abandoning his musical aspirations hit Albom hard. “When I had to give it up, I just buried it. I didn’t want to revisit it,” he admitted. “It was a little painful memory that it was something I always wanted to do but I don’t do that anymore, I write now. So, I just think I stayed away from it almost like an old feud that you can’t even remember what the argument was about anymore. I finally decided, hey, this would be a good way to tell this story about how we affect one another… But it did take about 30 years for me to get around to writing about something that had been the only thing that had mattered to me when I was young.”

As any good journalist would do, Albom worked tirelessly to get the facts in his fiction just right. He acknowledged, “I really dove into it and I put so much time and research and effort into this book. It’s twice the size of anything I’ve ever written before. I had a full-time researcher working with me so that all the historical musical stuff would be accurate.”