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Mike has tackled Ben Watson's Frank Zappa tome "The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play" so you don't have to.

The Poodle Bites!

Repudiating The Poodle

By Mike Keneally

©1995 Mike Keneally

Last year Ben Watson had his book "Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play" published in the UK. The active and effective John Scialli was kind enough to send one to the Keneally household as a welcome-to-the-world present for Jesse. Jesse read it before her 1 month birthday and told me she found it fascinating so I read it as well. While I find Ben's tangential approach to the FZ canon absorbing and entertaining, I was constantly disturbed by a barrage of factual errors. When I saw in January that Ben had scored U.S. distribution, I scanned a copy in the bookstore, in the hopes that measures had been taken to correct the book. As far as I could tell, they hadn't...however in case there have been some adjustments of which I'm unaware, the reader of the following should understand that these corrections apply to the original UK edition. My gut tells me that the U.S. edition is indeed identical; apologies if I'm mistaken.

(The Poodle Bites, incidentally, is Scott's title, not mine; I don't think the book necessarily bites, in fact I now find it to be a stimulating read, especially when digested at random in small chunks. My suggestion was Repudiating the Poodle, but I must defer to the obvious appropriateness of Scott's title.)

[Notes to Mike about "The Poodle Bites!" appear at the bottom of the page.]

June, 1996: Ben Watson Is All Right

"The Negative Dialectics Of Poodle Play" is now available in the US in a paperback edition, and a new introduction makes it plain that Ben has taken the comments of those who were upset by the book's inaccuracies to heart. I, Mike, your humble narrator, am singled out thus (I'm quoting from memory after scanning the book once in the store): "Mike Keneally - Wow! Helpful nit-picking above and beyond the call of duty! Thanks, Mike!" Maybe there aren't as many exclamation points as I'm remembering but you get my gist, and the fact that Ben was able to use "The Poodle Bites!" as an information vessel without being offended by my periodically snide tone suggests that he is indeed an all right guy. I don't own the paperback edition and I haven't crosschecked it with "Poodle Bites" so I don't know if all the appropriate changes have been implemented, but obviously a good faith effort has been made. We'll keep "The Poodle Bites!" here on the Page as a public service to those who own only the hardback edition, but good show, Ben.

Page xii---is the mountaineer not tedious only because people keep asking him why he climbs?

6---Maybe the crux is in how one defines "technical", but technical innovation does not require social opposition

12---"'Home on the Range' by Colors"; the capital C indicates that Ben thinks Colors is a band. He's not aware of the phenomenon of remedial keyboard students putting flimsy colored strips up on the keyboard to help them find their way around, aka "playing by colors"

13---"Why Don't You Do Me Right"; Frank spelled it "Don'tcha"

23---the idea of the "floating lyrics" of the blues being more effective than any "self-consciously original couplets" is fiercely debatable

24---"nothing has ever been achieved by garret composers" etc. Ben's taste for presumptuousness borders on irresponsibility here

26---"speeded-up tape"...wrong. The tape was slowed down and recorded upon, so that when it was returned to normal speed the guitars sounded speeded up.

same page---Sinners & Saints should be Saints 'n' Sinners

37---Blonde On Blonde was produced by Bob Johnston, not Tom Wilson

39---I think I, to a significant degree, invested spiritually in Frank, and I was not disappointed; my life was in fact transformed

43---in Freak Out liner note quote, "action" should be "accents"

49---"Like any other good liberal". Is this sort of thing necessary in a book with designs on the university?

51-52---Anyone who has really listened to Tehillim (the original version, not the disappointing recent issue) would think twice before speaking so dismissively about Steve Reich

55---With the space devoted to Stravinsky and the ritual sacrifice, it's unthinkable not to mention (either here or in the section on the Drowning Witch album) that the music the band is playing while Frank is going "ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ahhh oooh ahh ahhhh, ritual sacrifice" in "Drowning Witch" is, in fact, the "Ritual Sacrifice" section of "Rite of Spring", the very percussion pounding to which Ben refers

62---the proper quote: "Hey you know something people...I'm not black but there's a whole lotsa times I wish I could say I'm not white"

63---"take your TV too and eat it" should be "TV tube"

same page---"of which there is about a dozen" should be "a half a dozen"

64---should be "you wouldn't think I'd have too many since I never cared for sports"

68---Ben refers to "a similar moment" occurring in "Help, I'm A Rock" and "Brain Police"...they are in fact the very same moment, used in both tracks (it's the beginning of the middle section of "Brain Police"---Frank took the initial blast from that section and inserted it into "Help, I'm A Rock". Possibly semi- interesting footnote: I just did an interview with a guy who thought, wrongly, that the scream at the end of "And That's Why It's Called Spunk" (from hat) was that very same Freak Out moment, sampled by me. Adding to the fun, last year I used the "Spunk" scream in Dust Speck right before "Scotch")

70---"you guys are really safe, everything's cold" should be "everything's cool".

78---"technically skilled musicians who lack the character of innovators like Don Preston...he has gone for total control". Rarely, if ever, during his experience with living rock musicians did Frank go for total control (possible exceptions would be the several through-composed pieces, a la "Black Page" and "Sinister", which, taken in the context of Frank's overall rock- oriented repertoire, are in the vast minority, and which still rely to a certain degree on individual musicians' interpretation, like it or not), especially on stage where individuality was both necessary and encouraged; and, whether or not Tommy Mars is Ben's cup of tea, Mars' synth patches---his "character"---helped to define the timbral quality of Frank's music for years

90---cheap shot at Ambrosia. Their first two albums (Ian and Ruth appeared on the second) are ambitious, eclectic and not in the least soporific. Whether you like them is a whole other matter (I think the albums are largely remarkable, and way overdue for CD release), but the characterization (which judges the band by its later radio successes, far removed from its early work) is inaccurate

92---valuable to note that the "Hawaiian Punch" theme also appears in "Drowning Witch" after the line "people with Hawaiian shirts on", and in some live versions of "Dumb All Over" where the line "in which to praise our God, 'cause he can really take care of business" has been changed to "'cause he can really go Hawaiian"

97---the riff after "a little nostalgia for the old folks" is played on guitar, not bass. All the dialogue on Lumpy Gravy was ad-libbed from FZ's suggestions; eg. he'd say "I'm advocating dark clothes" and the participants would take it from there. This has since been documented in his liner notes for Phaze III

100---the dialogue attributed to Motorhead is actually Louis the Turkey

102---Ben in a nutshell: who else in the world would hear what is so obviously "salute" as "solute"?

same page---it's not JCB saying "drums are too noisy"

111---nowhere in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" are the deer- team listed by name, although the deer are unquestionably in the song (they are named in "'Twas The Night Before Christmas", which is a poem, not a hackneyed seasonal jingle)

112---in the Only Money liner notes, the "instructions for the use of this material" is in reference to "Chrome-Plated Megaphone" only, not the whole album

116---strange to cite "Ugliest Part" as evidence of chauvinism, then quote from "Harry, You're A Beast"

118---"Apostolic Vlorch Injector" should be "Blorch"

122---moustache has not been "pencilled in"; that was the real deal (the error isn't even justifiable---the moustache doesn't look remotely pencilled in)

126---here, Ben doesn't go far enough. The original limitations of Ruben and the Jets had more than a poetic aroma---they were intrinsic to the very meaning of the record. Frank's decision to stick 1980's bass and drums on those songs destroyed the album's original reason for existing

144---a trivialization of Henry Cow. At its best it had power and disorder to spare

145---footnote, "Yuda" is misspelled "Uda". The same error appears in the song's index entry, where it is accompanied by another error: page 495 is listed under "Dong Work For Uda", but no mention of the song resides thereupon

148---Wild Man Fischer made three albums for Rhino, not just one

167---footnote, Weasels was a 1970 release, not 1969

same page---"listener can identify many of the ideas of 'The Adventures of Greggery Peccary'"; I don't know if "ideas" means actual passages, but none of the musical material in "Low Budget" was used in "Greggery"; however, on the other side of Studio Tan is the reorchestrated "Low Budget", so this may be what's confusing Ben

168---the band members are identified (by first name) on the fold-out which came with the original Burnt Weeny vinyl issue, and in the Old Masters Box Two as well

same page---the photo in the gatefold is of the band on a stage, not in the studio (the absence of headphones is a bit of a giveaway)

169---"Love Lies Limp" should be "Here Lies Love". Did someone mention Freud?

172---"one of the Mothers": unforgivable. This is classic Roy Estrada and easily identifiable as such

same page---"Weasels, like all Zappa's records" contradicts Ben's own assessment of Hot Rats, eleven pages earlier, as an album whose appeal resides in is its lack of nonsense and interruptions

183---Jim Pons was not involved in the filming of 200 Motels; his voice was used in the soundtrack as the voice of the bad conscience, and became a Mother only after filming completed

185---"special train they're sending in" should read "they're sending him". Grammatically incorrect but far more insidious and meaningful

186---I may well be mistaken, due to the nature of the recording, but I always thought it was "watch him for time" rather than "watch him for signs" during Kaylan's final speech. Both interpretations are logical, as Frank provided both services with his hand signals

192-193---the word "philosophical" does not appear in the beef- pie line, at least as it is captured on Just Another Band From L.A.

193---side two of Just Another Band is a four-song suite, not five

193-194---it's Kaylan, not Volman, who declares that his pants stretch in all the right places

202---I'm fairly sure that the opening solo on "Grand Wazoo" is a very clean electric guitar rather than an acoustic

205---The US Ryko original CD release preserves the original vinyl Wazoo playing order

same page---"Blessed Relief" is the second longest song on the album, therefore it's a bit odd to refer to it as short

same page---again I believe that Frank's guitar is clean electric rather than acoustic

209---"to my friends", which Ben found significant enough to italicize, is actually a very oddly pronounced "ants in my pants"

210---"tinny"? Perhaps there's a semantic difference at work, but Uncle Meat, especially on the original vinyl, sounds quite lush

211---I think "Cucamonga" is a little too beautiful, perhaps even in spite of itself, to be labelled an "empty vessel"; the music for the song, incidentally, is a much slowed down rendition of the section at the very end of "Farther Oblivion", an early '70s concert piece (including themes that also appear in "Greggery Peccary" and "Be-Bop Tango") that hasn't been released officially (the piece identified as "Farther O'Blivion" on Stage Vol. 6 is simply an early version of "Father O'Blivion"). "Farther Oblivion" does appear on Piquantique from Beat The Boots, where (just to make things a lot more exciting) it is listed as "Father O'Blivion". Sometimes I understand why some people don't want to bother with facts

same page---"commecialism" should be "commercialism"

220---the deodorant is "Ultra Ban", not "Ultra Clean"; Ultra Ban is a real live brand of American deodorant

same page---the "urine" seems more likely to be semen

221---"a comma omits works like an apostrophe"; should "works" not be "words"?

230---"listening to the words to of the next song"; we can lose one of those, please

236---the words "for my intercourse" should be placed after "organic Vaseline"; "Bobby Ray's" should be "Bob and Ray's" (Bob and Ray are/were [Ray died] American comedians of very high quality indeed); the words "in Fullerton" should be placed after "jeans embroidered"

239---not a correction, just a funny Onan-related story: after Van Halen released the album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge a couple of years ago, a non-sympathetic reviewer suggested that rather than focusing on the first letter of each word in the title, the nature of the album might be better conveyed by focusing on the second letter of each word---which I found to be a nice insight

260---in 1988 the "Ring of Fire" signified an inflamed asshole, not a vagina, hence the references to Anusol (a hemorrhoid remedy)

261---"back pages of the free press"; it should read "Free Press", an alternative L.A. newspaper of the day

265---there's at least one exception to the "stage prop" hypothesis: the musician photos in the inner spread of Zappa In New York are not stage props, they're just photos of musicians a la the original Grand Wazoo spread

266---Ben is upset that new star names have been added and he can't read them; the new names were added for the vinyl album's re-release as part of the Old Masters Box Three collection (still available) and are extremely legible there. The new stars are: PUMPKIN (818); LALA; Ahmet; Dogess; KNARF (uview); DWEEZIL (Auriga Ra6b 46m145d47 6'); Gorgo; DIVA; RDNZL; HONKULES (Galaxy); Unit

same page---a grunion is a fish; a grunion run is a peculiar California beach ritual whereby you sit on the sand all night drinking beer and wait for these tiny, near-meatless fish to insert themselves into the receptacle you've placed in the water- --you're not allowed to actively pursue them, they have to come find you

same page---left out "Novi" from the "Chunky, Ernie and Novi" star triptych; this was a performing trio, all of whom Frank performed with at one time or another (Novi Novog was a female violinist/keyboardist/vocalist who was in the band for about three weeks)

272---"Sodium & Wasser" does not appear on the cover but "Sodium & Sulpher" does, as does "Wasser" separately

273---the "harpsichord" is actually a piano with metal tacks in the hammers

same page---creative interpretation, but "Evelyn" is about a dog watching the protagonists of Lumpy Gravy (whose adventures are now continued on Civilization Phaze III) talking inside the piano (hence the "pedal-depressed panchromatic resonance")

275---the dogs at the beginning of "Andy" sound like people imitating dogs to me, rather than a lion's roar

276---a little opportunity was missed here to provide a Zappa- through-the-ages continuity thread; mention might've been made of Z doing a song called "Leviathan"

286---it is most definitely, without room for qualification or debate, "thud-like"

289---it is "Roughneck 'n' Thug", not "Dug"

290---seriously doubtful that Beefheart sings "merde"

same page---not a clavinet on "Cucamonga", but the same tack piano heard on "Evelyn"

same page---it's "chicken was never like this", not "that", and Duke doesn't say it, Beefheart does

291---"eighteenth-century harpsichord" is that ol' tack piano once again

294---"Duck Duck Down" should be "Duck Duck Goose"

300---the "Angels" on the T-shirt are a California baseball team, although the Punky correlation may well have been intended or at least welcomed

302---there's still plenty of lumpy oppositional integrity in the "Black Napkins" solo---the amount may be a matter of subjectivity, but it has not been abandoned

304---there's some horns playing "Bringing in the Sheaves" as well as whatever sort of keyboard is on there

313---"Down in de Dew" isn't unreleased, it was included on the cassette The Guitar World According to Frank Zappa, an eight- song guitar sampler (compiled and annotated by Frank) which was made available for a time through Guitar World magazine, and which features several otherwise unavailable tracks

318---the "pile-driver riff" in question is from Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love", and is still part of "Duck Duck Goose" rather than "Down in de Dew"

320---I don't hear "Lightnin' Rod Man" in "Tryin' to Grow A Chin", but I'll admit I'm just replaying the songs in my head right now, so further investigation might reveal a connection

329---"What, your talent for sucking?" "I never." should read "What, your talent for sucking? Never." It's the same guy saying both things.

333---Misleading! Wrong! Contradictory! Scurrilous! Unprincipled! Slanderous! Wrong! Ben himself, on page 207, acknowledges that Frank's quote about boring chess-playing musicians is in reference to the touring Wazoo musos, but on page 333 Ben suddenly says it's about the OFSA band (considering "Po- Jama People" actually appears on OFSA, this assertion isn't even remotely logical). This is journalistic amateurism of the lowest order, and terribly unfair to the musicians in question. Certainly Frank had nothing but fondness for George and Ruth in particular, and I know that era was a fun time for him. This, for me, is the most upsetting inaccuracy in the book.

336---Hitchcock's film was called "Rope", not "The Rope"

337---the peal of bells that recalls Berlioz is in fact the melody of the old standard "Isn't It Romantic?" Get it?

338---"...ignorance of Zappa's music...being impressed with jazz- rock"...needlessly catty

347---regarding the passage about the guitar solos Zappa choosing to release mainly featuring Wackerman---Shut Up 'n' Play Yer Guitar featured nearly all Colaiuta and absolutely no Wackerman (all of the solos were recorded before Chad was in the band)

348---on the Sleep Dirt album, the "my fingers got stuck" exchange occurs before "The Ocean is the Ultimate Solution", not "Spider of Destiny"

same page---"Bogus Pomp" deserves deeper analysis than this book offers

366---the engineer called it "the Ampex guitar", not "the Nagra guitar"

368---the "astonishing passage of scored music" in "Wet T- Shirt Nite" takes place after the second verse, not after "BIG WET ONES!" (which precedes the actual contest). Ironic that Ben suggests that "attentive listening" is needed to reveal the scored passage (actually you'd have to be a block of wood to not notice it), yet this same attentiveness didn't lead him to figure out where in the song the passage exists

383---the "clavinet" chord in "Easy Meat" is a piano again

395---"leave my nose alone, please" is a quote from "Flower Punk" on We're Only In It For The Money, audible right before the stereo monologues at the end of the song

398---"I Come From Nowhere" is Estrada, not Bob Harris! Come on, Ben!

402---Ben notes, about Tink Walks Amok, "Its complete control (not 'amok' at all)" etc. That's why it's "walks" amok and not "runs"

405-406---The Clash's producer was Sandy Perlman, not Robertson

408---the film "Baby Snakes" is criminally underanalyzed in this book, which is strangely typical of FZ bios (writers can't seem to get a handle on it). Are the visual aspects of Frank's work unsuitable fodder for poodle play?

409---why is the coverage of Shut Up 'n' Play Yer Guitar out of chronological sequence?

412---"while you were out" notelets are usually pink, not yellow (yellow post-it notes tend to be completely blank)

413---"Variations on the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression" is from "City of Tiny Lites", not "If Only She Woulda"

414---the jumble of dialogue after "Beat it With Your Fist" isn't from Lumpy Gravy (it's another Lather outtake), and at the time of this release Frank had not yet wrested the Lumpy master tapes

same page---"Why Johnny Can't Read" is certainly not a reference to the Eagles; both song titles are inspired by the sort of cautionary "troubled youth" articles likely to run in a middlebrow magazine along the lines of Reader's Digest

same page---"canard" is also "duck", which seems a more likely Frank interpretation

416---footnote. Hmmm. Poodle Play applauds negativity in modern art, yet it seems quite taken aback by "Jumbo, Go Away" and "Jazz Discharge Party Hats"

419---slightly awkward phrasing makes it seem there were only two Zappa lineups in the eighties, whereas there were five (six, if you count the 1984 band both pre- and post-Napoleon Murphy Brock...thanks to the enigmatically named Dem for pointing out the error which formerly lived in this entry)

same page---Tommy Mars was not present in 1984! Christ, Ben!

423---"the tune works like a Zappa guitar solo"...it, in fact, was a guitar solo, transcribed by Ian Underwood in the early '70s

429---I don't think Ed Mann would say that he has ever "lived for Zappa's music"

432---"Outside Now, Again" is more than a return to the motif, it's a transcription (by Steve Vai, available in the "Guitar Book") of the actual guitar solo, programmed into the Synclavier. In early 1993 I performed this at Lincoln Center with rock band and orchestra, collating the original and the orchestrated versions

434---the use of previous backing tracks was not the only reason some felt burned by Thing-Fish; I personally felt more burned by 91 minutes of music being stretched over six vinyl sides, at a fairly exorbitant price---overall the package felt skimpy, and the non-welcoming nature of the material seemed, initially, an additional slap in the face. As much as I've grown to enjoy it, I still consider the album one of Frank's most significant missed opportunities

447---footnote: "Heinz make food" is "Heinz, Heinz, baked food", spoken by Ed Mann on "Approximate" from Stage Vol. 4.

454---why is "Marqueson's Chicken" called "a live solo"?

same page---footnote: the Bob Harris of Fillmore East and the Bob Harris of the early eighties are two different guys; an understandable error which Frank should've taken greater pains to address

same page---"Dance The Blues" should be "Let's Dance"

456---it isn't silence that leads to Frank's John Cage remark; the guy is clearly heard singing "woo ooh ooh"

462---the "cheesy Wurlitzer samples" are nothing of the sort, it's Mars' standard synth arsenal

464---the line about "the wimp" does not refer to Zappa; if memory serves, Sen. Hollings is the guy speaking before this interruption occurs

471---the "environmental sounds" are Dweezil washing his car same page---"St. Etienne" is a solo from a version of "Drowning Witch", and thus recalls that song a bit more than it does Joe's Garage

471-472---I believe the "Hi-Ho Silver!" sample is Ahmet; it's definitely not Ike

475---"razzo rizzo" should be "Ratso Rizzo", the derelict hustler played by Dustin Hoffman in the film "Midnight Cowboy"

same page---it's Kaylan, not Volman, who says "get the big pieces"

476---the odd moment of digital interference is just a random whack on a Syndrum

479---"Chatanooga Choo-Choo" was not just favored in 1977 renditions of "Torture", for instance we used it in 1988 as well

same page---the "English-sounding band member" is obviously Aynsley, and he says "knob-job", not "wolb-job"

same page---"then we'll mine the harbor" is substituted for "then we'll escape together", not "then we'll dance the blues"

same page---it's "tax the business owned by the churches", not "belonging to the churches"

480---it's not Bobby on Hammond samples, it's Tommy Mars on a real Hammond

484---in fact, most of the difficult sections of this version of "Drowning Witch" are from 1984 (note the absence of Ed Mann's percussion, and the use of Yamaha DX patches and Chad's electronic drum set, both introduced in 1984)

485---it's a bit of a stretch to hear the closing guitar lick as a "Layla" parody ---we actually rehearsed "Layla" for a few minutes in 1988 during one of our cover song frenzies, and Frank wasn't that familiar with it

486---the Palermo teargassing event was '82, not '84

487---Ray plays only one gritty solo, not two

same page---the "reflective, non-feedback solo" is on the chubby- stringed Telecaster from 1971, not the 1982 mini-guitar

same page---it's Tommy, not Bobby, who sings "I want a nun", and he's not imitating Thing-Fish, which was recorded after this tour

same page---the crowd roar at the end of the disc is from the Pier in New York, not Seattle (this is an FZ liner note error). I can't remember any longer how I arrived at this conclusion, maybe I'm hallucinating

488---Ray White replaced Napoleon Murphy Brock as the voice of the Evil Prince, not Bob Harris (Harris was Harry-As-A-Boy). Bob Harris couldn't sound like an evil prince if you put 9,000 volts through him

490---footnote, "Titties & Beer" was not on Does Humor Belong in Music? Speaking of which, why is that CD virtually ignored in this book?

491---the "squirt" noise is actually a plastic tube with a little thing in it that moves down the length of the tube, squeezing air out of a hole in the end and causing that peculiar noise--- not a synthesizer

495---"sparkle" should be whatever the proper spelling of asparagus in German is (lets say it's "spargul" for the sake of argument); the song is about German promoter Fritz Rau's contention that asparagus should not be offered to just anyone backstage, causing him to throw some sort of unseemly fit, which Frank of course immortalized in song

same page---it's "shall we weep in the box-office dawn", not "door", and the falsetto passage that follows is a quote from the Frankie Valli/Four Seasons song "Dawn"; the line is "Dawn, go away, I'm no good for you". Get it?

498---"Duck Duck Down" should be "Duck Duck Goose" again

500---"Lisa's Life Story" was played by the 1981 band, not 1980. This is a liner note error; the accuracy level of the Stage series' liner notes is not great, and Vol. 6 is especially abominable. But Frank had illness to contend with; what's Ben's excuse? (Sorry, that's a bit mean-spirited)

501---"Thunes fell out with the band"; in truth he fell out with everybody except me and Frank

same page---inaccurate to suggest that Scott called the shots and Frank merely added finishing touches at our rehearsals. Rehearsals started at 4:00 and Scott would run things for a couple of hours while Frank was otherwise occupied (doing interviews and whatnot) but once Frank arrived, he unquestionably called the shots

503---the horn arrangement of Jimmy Page's solo was arrived at by my showing the notes to Paul Carman, who arranged it for the horn section

504---"Stink-Foot" was not a terribly common opener on the tour; far more often we opened with "The Black Page"

516---Ben leaves out a Beatle song; we did "Norweigan Wood" as well (as part of the Swaggart medley). The words to "I Am The Walrus" were not altered in any way, and it was not a part of the Swaggart medley

523---"Flo & Eddie's riotous renditions of Money tunes"; "Mom & Dad" is definitely not riotous

525---in the unedited Yellow Shark video, the line about abortions provokes shocked silence, which Frank quickly speaks to fill; the applause on the CD at this point was a studio edit

526---the third item on the list of the saucy knave (who looks like Herb Cohen) looks like "cans"; significance unknown

527---footnote, the actual spelling, for whatever perverse reason, is Civilization Phaze III

553---I take exception to the concept of Frank's "rabid opposition to mysticism". I believe he had a rabid opposition to mysticism exploited by charlatans, but a respect for it in its pure form; in The Real Frank Zappa Book he writes admiringly and convincingly of a child's natural sense of mysticism

Notes to Mike about "The Poodle Bites!"...


Thanks for your list of corrections to Watson's book, only a few of which I had caught myself.

However, you are wrong on one count. Santa's reindeer are listed by name in the verse of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (which no one ever sings). Still, FZ's allusion in "Absolutely Free" must be to the original poem as you say, because of the word "on", which doesn't correspond to the song.

Charles Ulrich
Pomona College

Thanks, Charles...I've heard that opening verse a zillion times (Burl Ives recites it just before the opening credit sequence in the animated "Rudolph") but I utterly forgot about it. My apologies.



I enjoyed your critique of Watson's book. I have two other errors to point out. Unfortunately I don't have the book here to cite pages. I don't _own_ the thing, I read the U of TX library copy.

In discussion of Jazz From Hell, he speculates on the meaning of the title "Beltway Bandits" without ever seeming to realize that it's a stock phrase, invented long before the song, to describe a type of person often found in the D.C. government complex: "inside the Beltway."

In the discussion of Porn Wars, he describes Ernest Hollings as Senator from Texas. Hollings is from South Carolina; he is not now and never has been Senator from Texas. As a lifelong Texan, I'm well aware of my state's potential highs and lows, and I resent Watson's siccing some other state's asshole on us, just because he has a cracker accent.


John Henley


xxviii---You may not like his music but the great Russian composer Alfred Schnittke has nothing to do with New Age songwriters (Carl Baugher feels Schnittke is the greatest *living* composer).

John Scialli


In his chapter on Thing-Fish, Watson uses jwcurry's "Rampike" article extensively, but where he mentions it by name (pg.435 note 36) he gives the title incorrectly as "Grammatical Sabotage: Conversing with Frank Zappa's Thing-Fish". jwcurry himself pointed out to me that it is actually titled "Grammatrical Sabotage: Conversing with Frank Zappa's Thing-Fish".

Did Watson deliberately sabotage jwcurry's deliberate sabotage of the English language? Far more likely, Ben was just out to lunch again.

gordie mazur

Mike and Scott,

I think you should add something like the following in your amazing "The Poodle Bites!":

401---The surname of Massimo Bassoli is mispelled as "Bassou".

490---"The Torture Never Stops (Original Version)" has been performed on May 1975 (not 1976) in the "Bongo Fury" concerts (the YCDTOSA 4 liner notes are wrong).

Francesco Gentile

Hi Mike and Scott!

As a young, new, fresh and Swedish Zappa fan just about to enjoy Watson's book, I enjoyed very much your critique of it (in fact, I can't tell you how much I appreciated it!), and although I think it covers all the really serious errors, I was amused to note that some of it verges on just being nasty to Watson. So, to continue that tradition, before Watson claims he put errors in there on purpose to "generate work on part of the fan", inspiring Zappographers everywhere", here's ...

84---Dirty Love misquoted. It's "Like some tacky little pamphlet".

99---Motorhead's gas station monologue is present in a rather sloppy transcription - read it and listen to the album at the same time. Also, the chatter fades in earlier than transcribed.

154---I don't think it is Beefheart's "expressive vowel twists" that are responsible for the line "Dachau blues, Dachau blues those poor jews" getting "lost" - the lyrics are simply printed all wrong in the CD booklet. All the lines are there, but the order is messed up. (I, for one, prefer the original (sung) version.)

229---No, there is no guitar sound in the I'm the Slime LYRICS. (This "correction" dates from way back when I was still hoping that phrasings like this would be isolated mistakes; now I don't notice them anymore.)

231---As I remember it, it's not "Why must I do that? Why must I chase the cat?" - it's "Why must it be like that? Why must I chase the cat?". (I'm no Clinton fan, but Watson's bland approximation suggests a rhythm that denies the very funky essence of Clinton.)

239---The transcription from Montana ("I'm ridin' a small tiny hoss...") is totally messed up. This time, I don't think we can blame the CD booklet - at least my LP sleeve got it right.

241---"the drummer hits the cymbals only once a bar" - unnecessary, since it's not at all true.

286---"my entire body" should be "my entire bodice". It is my experience that when you're dealing with Beefheart, letting your own knowledge of conventional sentences, semantics and syntax get in the way approaches transcriptional suicide. Also, I've heard that it's not Lancashire Boulevard but Lankashim or something, allegedly a Pakistani name, but I don't know - never been to LA.

(It's "Lankershim". My favorite Mexican restaurant, Ernie's Taco House, resides there. --MK)

287---It's not "Debra Fauntleroy MAGNESIUM [my capitals] Kadabra", it's simply "Ebneezra" again. I was almost fooled too, at first (since I read the book before ever hearing Bongo Fury), but listen closely and you'll see.

288---SOMEONE made a mistake here - there is one "DA" too many in the passage quoted from "Absolutely Frank".

290---Regardless of whether or not Beefheart sings "merde" (which is indeed doubtful), Watson is STILL wrong (YES!), because it would be "So mean she can't grow no merde" (whatever that means), not "But not too mean to grow a merde". The latter is so far off the mark that simple mishearing is out of the question; Watson must be quoting from memory. Of course, the question remains: what DOES he sing?

290---I think it is "Chicken was never like THAT [once again, my capitals]", not "like this". (Sorry, Mike.)

(I cling to my interpretation. --MK)

303---Is resynchronization not merely a process whereby xenocronicity can be achieved - especially if the resynchronization is, say ... experimental or something?

321---We're missing an "Enema" here.

338---I always thought that Eddie Jobson's Moog solo on I Promise Not to Come in Your Mouth, and the way it was pointed out in the sleeve notes, was there to make Zappa's guitar solo "look better" - to show off the difference between Zappa's powerful improvisation and a more average musician, who sounds to me like Jean-Michel Jarre's noodling album The Concerts in China ... but I'm no expert on fellatio.

(Hmmm. I think that Moog solo, even if only for the timbre, is a lovely and necessary part of the song. --MK)

345---No, no drum solo on The Black Page #2, and no spoken commentary and disco vamp on #1. Damn it, Watson, there were TWO versions! Also, the differences between #1 and #2 go very far beyond just an added vamp; much of the melody is rhythmically rewritten.

356---Zappa's polyrhythms may get to you after long-term exposure, but try squeezing "everything we've got here" into the Flakes rhythm. It's really "All what we got here".

455---"the chorus ... sets a new benchmark for march-time pomp and stupid circumstance." Now, on the back cover of my copy, the book is said to set "out to rewire everything we think we know about the politics of culture", in which case sentences like the one quoted above are hardly adequate.

527---Footnote: The surnames of Mats "Oberg" and Morgan "Agren", the Swedish players in the Zappa's Universe band, lost their diacritics somewhere. Very disturbing, if you view it in the light of Moggio, Lather and especially - considering the rivalry between the two countries - the Norwegian Marten Sund: all spelt in the book with retained diacritics.

529---Correct this if I'm wrong, Mike, but I think there are plenty of micro-tones in Zappa's music and in his playing. His distaste for them is not otherwise mentioned and there is no footnoted source to check.

I only regret that I don't have more albums yet. There must be lots more that I couldn't catch. (Of course, I wouldn't go through all this trouble if I didn't like the book at all ...) By the way, I'm looking forward to ordering Hat and Boil That Dust Speck before the end of the year.

Johan Wikberg
University of Stockholm, Sweden

Hi there, Mike,
I'm the guy with the four-year-old who enjoys "Brown Shoes", remember?

MK: I remember.

(By the way, he has progressed: he now asks me to replay the bit where the "little bloke sings 'Tax the FUCK out of the churches'" so much that I'll have to purchase a new copy of the vid before long.)

That's awesome.

Having just read most of Ben Watson's tome today, I congratulate you on your corrections & comments, etc. However, I'd like to hear your ideas on Watson's central thesis, which, if I read it correctly, is that Frank's work represents probably the most consistent artistic critique of your weird American society in living memory!

I guess the argument could be made that that's the central thesis. As to its sagacity, it's hard not to consider that there might be someone a lot more obscure than Frank turning out more trenchant, consistent critiques (the "there must be intelligent life out there" theory) that may have escaped our attention. The question of intent must also come into play...a lot of what Frank did (I'd venture to say the majority of what Frank did) does not fall into the social critique category, but were constructed to deal with personal musical concerns, hopefully resulting in a piece of personal, concerned music.

Now, as a Marxist scholar, Watson is obviously at pains throughout his book to reconcile Frank the social critic with Frank the petit-bourgeois businessman. I don't think he succeeds: Frank was obviously a contradiction (which negative dialectics are supposed to be able to resolve - just ask Theodor Adorno!)

Anyone who participates in the world of American commerce while maintaining artistic ambition is a contradiction.

Nevertheless, I am intrigued by what I think was, in Frank, a genuine belief in the potential of American society to "come good"; I guess the line "I hope we never see that day/In the land of the free" could be read as deliberately ironic, but to me it sounds truly plaintive.

As it is delivered, I agree with your interpretation.

My main criticism of Watson's effort is that, while its sociological analysis is interesting and probably contains much truth, he negates Frank's specific intention (as far as I can discern) to produce musical artifacts of great beauty.

That sort of dovetails with what I said earlier, doesn't it?

Don't we have to, sometimes, shelve the analysis, turn the volume up, and simply marvel at Watermelon in Easter Hay?

Damn straight.

Kindest regards from the Antipodes,

Laurie Fraser

Thanks for writing.


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