ZAPPA by Ben Watson


The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play
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 A self-proclaimed ``Zappographer'' overanalyzes the work of one of modern music's most outrageous iconoclasts. Frank Zappa (194093) began his career as the guiding force behind the Mothers of Invention, a rock band that specialized in social parody and scatological lyrics, using tape collage, noise, and other nonmusical effects. Zappa continued as a solo artist and bandleader through the rest of his life, prolifically composing a body of work in rock, jazz, modern, and several noncategorizable forms. He also became a spokesperson for artistic freedom, testifying before Congress in the mid-1980s, when conservative groups were attacking rap and other pop music forms as pornographic. Watson, the ultimate Zappa freak, has spent his career writing under the nom de plume ``Out to Lunch'' for a variety of underground fanzines dedicated to Zappa's work. He argues that Zappa represents the ``materialist'' trend in modern art, basing his work on ``what is actually there,'' even when reality is unattractive or offensive. He links Zappa with other avant-garde figures in a variety of fields, from Edgar Varäse and Charles Ives to James Joyce, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. Much of the book's language reads like Roland Barthes put through a Cuisinart, and it's hard to wade through the dense linguistic undergrowth. Watson inflates Zappa's importance as musician and philosopher (``every Zappa guitar solo denigrates the Platonic philosophical ideal'' is hyperbole, for sure, whatever it means) and finds excuses for Zappa's most blatant sexist, racist, and anti-Semitic remarks. The book ends with an ecstatic description of Watson's final meeting with the master, weeks before Zappa's death from prostate cancer. Awed by the presence of his icon, Watson is reduced to burbling ``The humility of the man is hard to credit'' after realizing that even Zappa didn't admire his own work as much as Watson does. Not one of the new rock criticism's brightest moments.

Pub Date: Jan. 25th, 1995
ISBN: 0-312-11918-6
Page count: 656pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1994