ALL ZAPPED OUT – Ben Watson Interview

Like him, hate him, despise him, abhor him – the one thing you cannot do with Ben Watson is ignore him. No matter what your position is when it comes to Frank ZappaBen Watson’s thought provoking, sometimes shocking, sometimes scurrilous perspectives are always bound to generate volatile responses among Zappa fans, especially hardcore Zappa fans (are there really any other kind? Ever heard of a casual Zappa fan?).

Frank Zappa must have rolled over in his grave when Tipper Gore drummed on daughter Diva’s “When the ball drops”. During the eighties he fought an anti-censorship battle against Gore. But that wasn’t the only thing he was known for of course. He was also a prolific musician who dabbled in every genre. From jazz to doo wop, he tried it all and with success. Kindamuzik wanted to focus on this musician who was a schoolfriend of Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart). Who better to talk about Zappa than Wire contributor and Zappa connaisseur Ben Watson?

Read the kindamuzik interview with Ben Watson.

Following that, treat yourself to a video of “King Kong” from A Concert For Jimmy – a benefit concert held on November 9th, 2008, to raise funds for the family of original Mother and Grandmother, Jimmy Carl Black (who passed away on October 31st, 2008) featuring: Ben Watson, The Thurston Lava Tube, The Muffin Men, Fraz Knapp, That Legendary Wooden Lion at BRIDGEHOUSE II, Bidder Street, Canning Town, London, United Kingdom:



Note: As always, follow the various links in this post to a lot of interesting Zappa covers, and other interviews.

52 Responses to “ALL ZAPPED OUT – Ben Watson Interview”

  1. Sterbus says:

    Why most of the questions are more than 10 lines long?

  2. jonnybutter says:

    “If I’m right, Zappa’s miscegenation of high and low music was not postmodernist (redemptive) but dadaist (critical)”

    I think he’s right.

  3. Brett says:

    Technical analysis of Zappa’s music?

    It’s been done! See my dissertation.

  4. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    A quote from Brett:

    See my dissertation.

    Link?

  5. Brett says:

    Here

  6. jonnybutter says:

    Nice work, Brett. The stuff on Rhythmic dissonance is immediately illuminating.

  7. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Brett:

    Technical analysis of Zappa’s music?

    It’s been done! See my dissertation.

    A perfect example of how formal education acts as an affront to creativity. That has got to be one of the blandest dissertations I have ever read. Did the subject matter do nothing to inspire you, Brett? Or have you been stuck in those Ivory Towers too long? You examine Zappa’s orchestral music at times as if you are whipping some dead Classical warhorses like Bach, Hayden, Schubert, and Mozart.

    Is there no common ground between the “over-the-top” hyperbole of a Ben Watson, and the opposite conservative extreme where your dissertation lies.

    Isn’t a PHD education supposed to develop exceptional and revolutionary thinkers?

    I applaud you. You have successfully reduced a great modern composer to the status of a minor cultural tinkerer by relying only on source material and nary an original, creative thought.

    Ben Watson may have a hell of a big mouth, yet those are original, creative, thoughts behind his words. Like them, hate them, abhor them. I can respect that while disagreeing with much of what he says.

    Lack of creative intuition is really unforgivable when it comes to the study and analysis of Frank Zappa’s music.

  8. Brett says:

    Urban,

    You certainly don’t know what you’re talking about. Don’t attack something just because you don’t understand it.

  9. jonnybutter says:

    UG, you’ve repeatedly called for serious, rigorous analysis of Zappa’s work, and when you get it, you say it’s dry! Of COURSE it’s dry. It’s dispassionate on purpose. Ever read Schoenberg’s writings on music? Dry as a popcorn fart! It’s technical. It’s supposed to be like that.

    I am at a loss as to what it is you want. Is your idea of serious rigorous analysis something like the guy you quoted a few weeks ago (writing about the birth of postmodernism) who said that Zappa, if he had grown up in a different circumstance, would’ve developed snobbery of some kind? That’s not analysis – it’s pure opinion dressed up as ‘scholarship’.

    I personally would never write something like this dissertation. But within its limited scope, it does what it sets out to do. It’s not quite fair for you to decide that the scope he chose is wrong. It’s an academic, technical analysis of some aspects of Zappa’s music, which is all it claimed to be.

    BTW, Watson says in this very interview that he “..would LOVE to read an indepth, technically-adept analysis of Zappa’s music, though a mere formal (“Schenkerian”) analysis would not work. The music was not written for a standard orchestra. How do you write a formal analysis of a “Satisfaction” guitar lick or a mongoloid folk riff? You need to appreciate the semiotic politics of Zappa’s eclectic use of world styles.” I don’t think he’s quite right here – a formal analysis does ‘work’, but only within its own limited scope. But I do take his larger point, and thought you didn’t – since you don’t seem to like Watson.

    I too would love to read a work with the culturo-critical depth of Watson’s, but with more technical (musical) expertise.

    May I please just say again, that Watson is clearly, obviously, patently NOT ‘uncritical’. Nor is his ‘Poodle Play’ merely a ‘literary’ work. You don’t have to like it, but it’s about as obvious as can be that it is a serious work of Criticism with a capital ‘C’.

  10. Brett says:

    Thanks jonnybutter!

    Urban:

    Comparing my dissertation to Watson is like comparing apples to oranges. Their focus is entirely different.

    I’m a musician and these technical and theoretical matters are extremely important to my performance and hearing of music. If they aren’t important to you, then fine.

    Academic writing is intended to be neutral and unbiased. Otherwise, the objectives of the writer come under scrutiny.

    Did Zappa’s music inspire me? How can you ask this? I spent over 6 years transcribing and analyzing Zappa’s INSTRUMENTAL music to do this dissertation. Have you done anything comparable, Urban?

    No creativity? The dissertation offers several new theories for Zappa’s music. The process of forming a theory IS a creative act (duh). And, of course, it shows that I didn’t rely only on “source material.”

    Reduce Zappa’s music? NO NO NO!!! (fuck you, by the way)
    This dissertation should demonstrate PART of what made Zappa such an inventive composer.

  11. Brett says:

    Oh, yes.

    And the only reason I posted this link is because Watson states in the interview that nobody has produced a technical analysis of Zappa’s music. I just wanted to correct the record.

  12. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    I’m at page 24 (of 402) in Brett’s dissertation, and I’m finding it quite an interesting read so far. Your mileage may vary…

  13. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    Oh and can we all steer clear from the “fuck you’s” please? This has been an interesting discussion so far — it would be nice if we can keep it that way.

  14. Brett says:

    Sorry,

    I really thought that accusation deserved a fuck you.

  15. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    Well stop it you’ll hurt your throat 😉

  16. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Brett:

    Urban,

    You certainly don’t know what you’re talking about. Don’t attack something just because you don’t understand it.

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    UG, you’ve repeatedly called for serious, rigorous analysis of Zappa’s work, and when you get it, you say it’s dry! Of COURSE it’s dry. It’s dispassionate on purpose. Ever read Schoenberg’s writings on music? Dry as a popcorn fart! It’s technical. It’s supposed to be like that.

    I am at a loss as to what it is you want.

    First of all, I’ll admit that I overstepped myself in my prior comment. For that, Brett, I apologize.

    The “fuck you” was, indeed, well deserved.

    Not because I did not understand the subject matter, but because I did understand it.

    Really, need Zappa analysis always be so dry and dispassionate? I know you were writing a dissertation, Brett, but does the language itself used have to always be so adroit?

    I published a post on July 1st, “Chanan Hanspal Plays Zappa” which included an Zappa analysis as well. In Hanspal’s analysis, I felt he bridged both his technical analysis of Zappa with his own unique insights into Be Bop and Jazz without ever once losing the reader with dry and dispassionate text.

    In your dissertation and a technical analysis of Zappa’s orchestral works, Brett, you certainly accomplish what you set out to do – indeed, your investigation and discussion of aspects of Zappa’s own Chord Bible is quite illuminating (even with my own limited musical education and understanding – I am, after all, a writer).

    Perhaps in my perfect dystopian world, jonnybutter, Zappa technical analysis wouldn’t be so dry. Some Zappa technical analysis I have read has been downright exciting (on an intellectual level), while others have just put me to sleep.

    Tell me, which does Zappa deserve, or his fans.

    Or what basic musical knowledge should a fan have to even enter the conversation?

  17. Olfactor says:

    I was skeptical about Watson going into the interview but found him quite entertaining, especially the caricature of Zappafans (“Yo Mama”s for them). It seems like he has his own philosophy which he uses Zappa to help explain, which is okay, he’s not beating anyone over the head or talking in absolutes.

    Brett, your dissertation sounds interesting but also a bit intimidating, any reference-text recommendations for the theory?

  18. Brett says: