“However, Zappa is the strangest case. I’ve never met anyone (who expressed an opinion) that wasn’t polarized one way or another — you’re either 100 per cent Zapped or you find him so repellent that his work becomes unapproachable…
“I sympathize with Penman’s Zappa problem — it is a toughie, but I can’t accept his position that his problem with Zappa fans and Zappa’s stance invalidate all his output generally and for everybody. This is the sort of preposterous stance that is typical of Zappa-related discourse, almost as unacceptable as that of the Zappalytes themselves. I would be interested if any of The Wire‘s contributors would take part in [an] open discussion of these dilemmas in a more general vein, maybe looking for other interesting cases.”
A pretty good letter written to The Wire regarding Ian Penman’s 1995 teardown (which impresses me a little less every time I look at it, though that always tends to be my reaction to critical teardowns, even the most entertaining and comprehensive ones; they rarely — not many I can think of, anyway — ever sustain themselves on the merits of their actual arguments).
As the letter-writer points out, polarization is the thing with Zappa, but it’s complex, and you can (I do, and so do many others, I bet) exist in the gap, between being “Zapped” and repelled, and (one of Ben Watson’s arguments, I think) to be a critical fan of Zappa is not to ignore or dismiss the repellant parts but to deal with them, head on. Not that there’s a law against ignoring them, of course, but… good luck finding much left over to be a fan of, perhaps? (The question then becomes: why bother even being a fan? And why devote a portion of a website to it? I deal with the discomfort of these questions everyday, trust me.) With Zappa, one hand stains the other. How many times, listening to his records, have I thought, “God, why does he have to go wreck this perfectly fine thing with that?” (“That” being a smutty joke, a distasteful image, a wanky musical bit, another 170-bpm xylophone sprint.) Indeed, there’s very little Zappa music I can think of, beyond a handful of cuts from his first few records, that lets you off the hook this way; that engages you in pleasure from start to finish. This may be (indeed, by all accounts it is) deliberate, it may be an aesthetic dead-end, it may be (or it may have quickly become — it wasn’t at first, I don’t think) a cliché. But I can’t think of any other music I care for that works me over like this.