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Frank Zappa's Negative Dialectics Of Poodle Play [Paperback]

Ben Watson
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 28 1996
Too iconoclastic, too rude, too idiosyncratic to be easily embraced by the music world or the critics, the late Frank Zappa lives on by having established the avant-garde musical seat in the pantheon of artistic genres. Here, Watson details the esoteric and ambitious work of one of this century's most dedicated and unclassifiable masters of freedom and imagination.

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From Amazon

There is probably no figure of modern popular music who so deserves the sort of scholarly exercise undertaken by Ben Watson in this book, and I am personally convinced that Zappa will be regaled by 21st Century music historians as a "crux of the biscuit" of 20th Century music.

And this 700 page tome will certainly be cited by our music historian descendants. In fairness, it may confound today's Zappa fans with it's copious references to Adorno, Freud, and Marx, but is likely to delight the erudite with its excerpts of the playfully situationist lyrics of Zappa, completely deconstructed by Watson. There is no doubt that Zappa was a genius--albeit a peculiarly American sort--and there is no doubt that no book has yet attempted such a thorough (albeit peculiar) analysis of his genius. Highly Recommended. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Frank Zappa's manic energy and weird lyrics may make him seem like a rock-cult eccentric, but to British journalist Watson, Zappa (1940-1993), founder of the Mothers of Invention (which disbanded in 1969), was a pioneering composer who forged a third stream between classical and rock music, a radical visionary whose works attack class oppression, the conformity of mass culture and the hypocrisy of conventional morality. Fusing musical analysis, cultural criticism and biography, this overblown, provocative study discusses Zappa's music in the context of avant-garde art, William Blake, Wyndham Lewis's Vorticist prose, punk rock and the Marxist politics of the French leftist group Situationist International. Watson unravels Zappa's formative influences as he discusses the ex-Mother's film 200 Motels, Broadway-musical parody Thing-Fish, sonic experiments conducted by Pierre Boulez, freewheeling orchestral scores, electronic synthesizer compositions and recent iconoclastic songs. Including a 1993 interview with Zappa and a discography, this is the ultimate book for serious Zappa fans.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Benign Fabrications April 5 2004
I have read the following books by or about Frank Zappa. In addition, this list constitutes a ranking of my assessment of the quality of these books.
1. THE REAL FRANK ZAPPA BOOK by Frank Zappa and Peter Occhioigrosso
8. THEM OR US by Frank Zappa
9. UNDER THE SAME MOON by Suzannah Thana Harris
When I started reading FRANK ZAPPA: THE NEGATIVE DIALECTICS OF POODLE PLAY, I found myself having flashbacks to the days of my doctoral studies and to the philosophical debates emerging from the 60's liberation movement. While a Ph.D. student I studied Postmodernism, Feminism, Liberation Philosophers, etc. You know, all the stuff you'd think would have no application outside of graduate study. As a result, I was fascinated because reading this book was the first time I had to actually reflect back to the philosophies I studied. I actually found myself reading POODLE PLAY in the manner that I read my required readings as a Ph.D student. I checked and read some of the citations; I searched for more information on topics for which I was unfamiliar (i.e.," Situational International"); I discussed major themes and ideas with colleagues who were professors of economics, philosophy, sociology and political science.
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Alternately ludicrous, entertaining, informative and pretentious, Ben Watson's book on Zappa is nothing if not different. The clue is in the title: "Negative Dialectics", Theodore Adorno is mentioned almost as often as Zappa himself is (but could he play guitar like him?). The thing about Zappa is that he may be probably the most intelligent man ever to strap on a guitar in rock 'n' roll history but (like Beefheart), he ain't no intellectual. Mr Watson however is, and he has uncovered a whole barrel-load of entertaining, but frankly ludicrous, philosophical, literary, political and psychoanalyical allusion and meanings in various Zappa songs and albums. The thing that makes me most suspicious of Mr Watson is the way the lamer an album is the more time he spends expounding on it's "actual" meaning - thus Apostrophe is compared to King Lear, I could go on - no wonder Frank and his missus were in stitches.
The fact that Watson has to spend so much time and hard work on Zappa's oeuvre post-1970 perhaps tells it's own story - the fact is Zappa stopped saying anything very interesting in his songs throughout the entirety of the 1970's, only the intervention of the PMRC into his increasing smug and self-refential universe helped reignite the kind of indignation and passion Zappa had displayed in the 60's.
Watson goes thru all sorts of ingenious and amusing contortions trying to defend or explain away his hero's often rancid social and sexual politics. He does at least nail Zappa's hopelessly petit bourgeois hatred of unions but struggles to convince on such gems of Zappa's back catalogue as "The Illionis Enema Bandit" (a glorification of a convicted sex offender) and gives up altogether on the truly repulsive "Jumbo Go Away".
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4.0 out of 5 stars Bottom line- if you're a fan , get this April 2 2001
It's amazing that so much different music came from one man, the genius Frank Zappa. Also amazing is Ben Watson's knowledge of Philosophy, Psychology, recorded music and literature. and politics.and history.and etc. This book is a combination of Frank Zappa and Ben Watson. Ben using loads of intellectual,materialist arguments to analyse FZ's music (well, mostly his lyrics). The method of negative dialectics brings low culture and high culture together and ridicules the class system, or something like that. It's quite difficult, one moment you can be reading the lyrics to Easy Meat, and suddenly you're plunged into the intellectual reduction of Beethoven's music to orgasm. It's heavy stuff, and it isn't helped by the long-windedness of the writing.
The chapters on the early stuff, from freak out to 1972, are pretty damn good.He draws a lot of his information from other books (Michael Gray Mother!The story of Frank Zappa - loads of quotes from this book; also david walley 'no commercial potential'), but he gives us loads of his own insights too, loads of Karl Marx and Freud. For example, the uncle meat analysis is brilliant.(When he reads it to Frank in the epilogue section, frank leans over to shake his hand). Ben uses a lot of quotes from a philosopher guy called Theodore Adorno, these are used to illustrate certain points but sometimes are incredibly difficult to understand( to non-philosophy readers like me).
Then things get really insane. Overnite sensation and apostrophe are analysed almost to death, and this is where he starts bringing in Shakespeare and Plato and James Joyce and other things. He doesn't talk a great deal about the 'music' in these albums, it's all poetry.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This has to be the necessary course book in university
This one is very very funny!!
If you have basic knowledge about culture, literature, music, political and western history and philosophy, this is even funnier. Read more
Published on Jan. 27 2004 by Kari Herranen
1.0 out of 5 stars Wordy and says very little .5 stars.
This book is guilty of trying to put FZ in clothing I am not sure he would wear.
I understand that FZ thought the book was 'good' but you can bet he never read this big... Read more
Published on June 19 2003 by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Psuedo-intellectual tripe
God, how I hated this book. I'm been a huge FZ fan since the '60s; have everything he's ever put out (& then some); but if I had read this book first I would never have even given... Read more
Published on Jan. 24 2003 by Keith Thompson
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Companion for FZ fans
OK, it's a shame this book is out of print. I bought it years ago, and still come back to it time and again. Read more
Published on Sept. 18 2002 by Patrick Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars a brillian work - worthy op a great musician
I am a Zappa fan with no special interest in postmodernism, Theodor Adorno, or Marxism - but Ben Watson has written an extraordinary book that enhanced my appreciation and... Read more
Published on July 13 2002 by Charles R. Watson
2.0 out of 5 stars Watch out Ben! The poodle bites.
I hope no one will ever read this and take it seriously. Somehow I have a hard time thinkin Frank would be impressed with this self-indulgent intellectual nonsense. Read more
Published on March 2 2002 by Brandon E. Schafer
1.0 out of 5 stars exactly what frank was talking about
If there was one thing that FZ hated, it was critics. Frank hated them because they didn't understand what he was doing. Frank hated them for not understanding music in general. Read more
Published on July 10 2001 by Howard
5.0 out of 5 stars a memorabil fanzi
as i swam through the output macrostructure delighting in the accidents of conceptual similtude i streamed into a smoky chamber where a host of zappophiles cast off their... Read more
Published on Dec 4 2000 by Ken Fox
4.0 out of 5 stars A Bit Self-Indulgent
Frank Zappa's work is the product of pure genius. Every serious musician, regardless of genre, is familiar with and appreciates his work. Read more
Published on Sept. 7 2000 by Chuck
3.0 out of 5 stars A Great Scholarly Work, But Not Without Problems...
I have enjoyed reading (and re-reading) Watson's book since it first came out years ago. His passion for the music of Frank Zappa makes this book a wonderful read. Read more
Published on March 20 2000 by x
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