BOOK REVIEW / Idol speculations: 'Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play' - Ben Watson: Quartet, 25 pounds
Sunday 17 July 1994
He does not make things any easier for himself, or for his readers, by approaching his subject from a doctrinaire, hard-left political perspective (Watson is a member of the Socialist Workers Party and he doesn't care who knows it), which would seem to be the very antithesis of Zappa's free-market seditioneering. This apparent contradiction is not a problem for Watson.
His basic argument is that 'Zappa's art, though necessarily underpinned by a petit-bourgeois belief in cottage-industry economics, is just as much part of a protest against the divisions of capitalist society as the music of Charlie Parker or Kurt Weill'. If you were to substitute the word 'my' for the second 'a' in this sentence, Watson's thesis would be unanswerable.
This book is not an easy read, but the author's total involvement with his subject is infectious, and there is something pleasing about the way he mingles the testimony of his intimidating posse of expert witnesses - Freud, Marx, Theodor Adorno and Phillip K Dick prominent among them - with personal reminiscences of his own. A conversation he had with John Peel while hitch-hiking, a tape recording of him heckling a Zappa show and begging Frank to stop playing 'Dinah-Moe Humm', a lewd recording once made for him by a mercifully unnamed girlfriend - all are grist to the author's interpretative mill.
'Poodle play' seems to be a critical scheme for approaching the idea of obsessive Zappa fandom, gradually built up by Watson in the series of articles for the underground press on which this book is based. It is to his credit that when he actually gets to meet the object of his fascination - an epilogue recounts his visit to the Zappa family home in California, where he reads from the book to the generous approbation of his ailing hero - his critical principles do not go out of the window.
'Just because my daddy done work for the government, I've changed schools until it's a crying shame.' These words were part of a rock opera Frank Zappa wrote while still a teenager, and this book is full of such sudden glimpses of humanity amid artistic and conceptual over-reach. Moments like this make you feel you ought to want to listen to some of those 57 albums, and there really is no higher tribute.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
Glastonbury 2015 tickets: How to make sure you’re successful in Sunday's re-sale
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling