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It's tough to review Frank Zappa...

...when his music, performance, and earnest approach to creating is so honest. The only way to take him down with tact is to question this altogether. The bf showed me this piece by Robert Christgau in the Village Voice, Dec. 24, 1970. A highlight:
But where Zappa's distance from his audience is a calculated means of bullying it into some sort of respectful cash-on-the-line attention, Beefheart really doesn't give a shit. Zappa plays the avant-gardist and Beefheart is the real thing. He does perform, but for once performance and self-expression are almost identical: his detachment is in some sense pure and even innocent, and at the same time he is arrogant as only the pure in heart can be arrogant. Unlike your run-of-the-mill musical galahad, however, Beefheart's noises sound truly original--much more original, my intuition tells me, than Zappa's usual mix.

His point that Zappa is somehow exploiting his audience is a definite assumption, without much in the way of example or evidence. This is a trend I've noticed with rock purist critics - to interpret a style of music and put your own spin on it is somehow devious or exploitative, whereas the idiot savant who isn't trying to make a new piece of art, but plays something poignant without seeming to conscious of it, is better because he's "closer" to the music itself. It gets to such a minute, splitting-hairs level of detail that you want to grab the reviewer's ears and hold them to the stereo.

This is the route critics take when they're given the task of critiquing masters. It's tough to say Zappa's music or stage performance is somehow lacking, so it's safe to go for an accusation of duplicity - that he's a performer in the vaudevillian sense, while Beefheart is the true artist.

Whatever, I doubt anyone reading this will listen to either of their recordings in a different light. Really all this diarhea of the typewriter does is say Beefheart is better than Zappa. And its sudden shift from concert review of Beefheart alone to comparison piece suggests that Christgau was straining for a thesis.


“It's tough to review Frank Zappa...”