I started responding in the comments box to something from Patrick regarding Zappa and the critics, but I ended up writing stuff I thought would make more sense in its own post, so — I’ll just post it here instead. Patrick mentioned Christgau’s “A” review of We’re Only In It for the Money (as partial proof against my contention that Zappa is the most “critically despised rock musician of all-time”), and that got me to thinking about how all the Mt. Rushmore folks treated Zappa.
Christgau: Yes, the Dean (imagine Zappa snickering at that?) grades Money an A, but that’s 28 years after the fact, and it strikes me less as a gushing rave over Zappa himself than as an almost slight acknowledgement of the man’s formal innovations, and the rest of Christgau’s run-ins with FZ suggest anything but a fan. (And by the time of Christgau’s ’80s collection, he reduces his interest in Zappa to a one-sentence write-off: “Oh shut up.”)
Bangs: He wrote an enthusiastic (though ambiguous re: Zappa himself) review of Hot Rats in Rolling Stone but in 1981 (in “Untitled Notes” collected in Psychotic Reactions) he calls Zappa “a despicable wretch morons actually call ‘composer’ instead of ‘rip-off artist,’ walking human offal if such matter ever lived.” (I had to look up offal. Turns out it has nothing whatsoever to do with vegetables.)
Marcus: Includes Absolutely Free in his Stranded canon, but again — and maybe I’m just projecting — doesn’t seem terribly enthusiastic about it to me (admires FZ as a satirist of sorts, but also notes his smugness). Don’t recall reading anything else by him on the subject (actually, I think he reviewed Ruben & the Jets in RS? Don’t recall the review, though; might’ve been semi-satirical?). I did hear Marcus once, in an interview about Dylan, note that he could never imagine himself wanting to explore the sort of country Frank Zappa and the Grateful Dead inhabited (unlike the country Dylan mapped out) — or something to that effect, it was much more Marcus-like coming from the source, of course.
Meltzer: Possibly worthy of future exploration here. He wrestles with FZ’s work some in Aesthetics of Rock, but he comes off as a bit irritated by it. (In general, Meltzer keeps explicit value judgements out of the book, though sometimes they slip through a little.) I actually like the interview he did with FZ which is collected in Whore — from the mid-’70s, I think. Comes across more as not-giving-a-shit than as a despiser. But nothing at all like a fan.
Marsh: Big fan, which surprises me; at least in the Marsh books I own, he has written very little about the guy (save for some stuff in his “Louie Louie” exposé). Heard a recent (fairly enjoyable) Sirius-XM show hosted by Marsh in which he interviewed Gail Zappa and played Frank stuff from all eras (or anyway, he discussed all eras, he didn’t limit himself to just the early stuff). He’s actually quite over the top in his Zappa love; I’d like to read something by him on the subject, if it exists.
Willis: Don’t recall anything from her anthology, which is a shame. Willis on Zappa might’ve been a fascinating critique. I’d be shocked if she cared, though; no one close to her who has ever written about her has suggested such a possibility.
So anyway, that obviously doesn’t account for all of rock criticism, but of the six instrumental early figures of the American chapter, I count one actual fan, two much closer to the despise-him camp (Christgau and Bangs), two possibly ambiguous (Meltzer and Marcus) — and I feel even that’s a generous description — and one highly-unlikely.