C O M M E N T S
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (John V. Scialli)
A very scholarly work, 597 pages, 2 inches thick, footnotes, no photos.
So this is not fluff. Chapters: Origins; Freakdon and the Hippies; Glam
Rock and the Market; Music Music; Bizarre to DiscReet; Guitars; Laether; CBS
and Corporate Rock; More Guitars; Orchestras and Broadway; Synclavier and Total
Control; Stageism, or, Issuing the Oeuvre; Webern vs. Televangelism; Epilogue:
Going to Meet the Man; Appendix: A Discography For Non-Fetishists.
Last sentence: "Not just a consistent irritant to moralists in any guise,
Frank Zappa is a hero for anyone who thinks that the class system, along
with its high/low cultural divide, is something that needs dismantling."
From: email@example.com (OnTheCornr)
THE NEGATIVE DIALECTICS OF POODLE PLAY by Ben Watson is simultaneously
highly erudite and full of shit. Very amusing if you want a book you can
really sink your teeth into. No good if you want FZ's life story, but
impressive as a socio-political-exegetical document. Unfortunately Watson
doesn't know beans about American popular culture--a must for analyzing
FZ--and can't even quote lyrics and titles right.
From: Pat Buzby <firstname.lastname@example.org>
My take on it : Ben Watson's expostulations on FZ's music are generally
amusing and sometimes illuminating, but the book has two major flaws in my
view - it includes loads of factual/interpretational errors, and Watson
knows a lot about political theory, but not a damn thing about music.
From: email@example.com (Alex Hartov)
I concur. At times Ben Watson has some interesting insights on the
"conceptual continuity" of Zappa's work, at others he is downright full of
For what it's worth.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Harvey Abramson)
I agree too. Ben Watson has two religions which damage the book. One is
marxism and the other is Cambridge academicism. There are too many political
asides, remarks, and attacks in the book, many against obscure and tiny
marxist sects. Also, he confuses Frank Zappa's anti-bullshit stance with
marxist anti-capitalism. Since FZ is anti-bullshit and since he is American,
some of the bullshit which he is against is connected with manifestations of
capitalism in America. This is OK as far as Watson's marxism is concerned.
However Ben Watson has difficulty dealing with other manifestations of
Zappa's anti-bullshit when that is connected with the troubles Zappa had with
American music unions. One tenet of marxism is that unions are good, and that
anyone who is against them is wrong. Hence Watson has to come to terms with
this "paradox" in Zappa's thinking.
Watson at one point makes a comment on how good the politics of Lenin were.
Anyone who could say that after the collapse of the Soviet Union - when so
much more information is available concerning the history of the communist
dictatorship - is a total asshole.
The other of Watson's religions leads him to make literary comparisions
and references which probably would be exciting in the trivial context of
seminars and tutorials at Cambridge University, but outside that hothouse
atmosphere are just silly and ridiculous.
Watson does report that when he went to visit Zappa the Zappas were
entertained by his presentation of some of the material in Negative Dialectics
of Poodle Play, but this may have just been amusement at a creature (Ben
Watson) every bit as weird and bizarre as, say, Wild Man Fischer.
From: email@example.com (David Thomas)
NDOPP is *not* a biography.
It is an analysis of the symbolism, the psychological, cultural, and
political significance of FZ's music and lyrics. The analysis is heavily
tainted by the author's Marxist views, which he uses to create some wild
extrapolations from FZ's lyrics (and sometimes even from the cover art on the
albums). The author is not a musicologist, so the emphasis is on the lyrics
and the packaging.
Just as George Bernard Shaw's Jungian analysis of the work of Richard Wagner
tells us a lot more about Shaw than about Wagner, Ben Watson's analysis of the
work of Frank Zappa tells us a lot more about Watson than about Zappa.
This book is terribly flawed, but no one has attempted such an ambitious
interpretation of Zappa's work before. Personally, I would rather see a
serious musicological analysis.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Don White)
Actually, Frank and Gail found both it and Watson highly entertaining
when he went to their house and showed them parts of it while he was
still finishing it. I find it to be entertaining as well. Certainly,
there are parts of it that are absolute crap, and some of his facts are
simply incorrect, but at least it's more entertaining than David Walley,
Michael Gray, Julian Colbeck, or any other hacks who have tried to come
up with their interpretation of Frank. I give Watson credit for being
original, at least.
And I'm not a Marxist, either. Like Frank, I *like* to own things.
From: email@example.com (David Thomas)
The trick to reading Watson's book is knowing when he is "out to lunch".
He frequently carries his analysis far beyond the support of any evidence.
Personally, I would like to see a genuine musicological analysis of FZ's
work. Watson doesn't appear to be a musician, much less a musicologist.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Pat Buzby)
He also knows nothing about music from a technical perspective; most of
the time he tries to hide this, and sometimes he manages to make some useful
comments anyway, but too often this detracts severely from the quality of
his analysis of FZ's work. IMO, at least.
From: "Lurraska" <email@example.com>
I think it important to point out that the above criticism
of Ben Watson's work is largely erroneous blather. I'm sure that Zappa
was amused and even inspired by Watson, a man who had obviously gone to
geat lengths to at least try and interpret the gist of FZ's output.
This is a Herculean task, and should not be confused with the definitive
version of translation of the music. Yes his book is tainted by Marxist
interpretations, (I shouldn't even say tainted), just coloured, and this
is an entirely adequate fashion to interpret something which stands as a
great testament to artistic achievemnet. No one can ever really know
exactly what FZ meant at every turn because his lyrics and musical
motifs were so heavily laced with in jokes and esoteric mythology that
you could never know about those things unless you were there. Is it
worth even trying to interpret all those things? Well, yes I think that
it is, especially when a fan like myself would like to be made aware of
any current ideas concerning the man's art, his life and so forth. I
think Watson's book was an entirely worthwhile endeavour which has won
him many admirers amongst the body of listeners who would like to
stretch their own perception of what lay beneath such beautiful comedy.
From: Istvan Fekete <IFekete@daten-kontor.hu>
There is a US edition of Ben Watson's NDOPP with a different cover.
Unfortunately I don't have any details.