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The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play
Mon, February 1, 2016 @ 5:30 PM - 7:30 PM$80 – $110
A 10-week course with Dan Karan
Mondays, February 1-April 4, 5:30 to 7:30 pm
This 10-week class will explore the music of Frank Zappa, one of the most important (and delectably enjoyable) composers of the late 20th century. Racist, sexist/misogynist, homophobe, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, Zappa was accused of them all at one point or another in his nearly 30 year career. Misunderstood? Well, Zappa was no socialist for sure; yet, from his first release, Freak Out, in 1966 until his premature death in 1993, he was always a keen (and often very funny) observer and critic of American society; its popular culture, politics, organized religions, mainstream education, censorship, and everything in between. Freak Out included “Trouble Every Day” about the Watts riots while Absolutely Free, the Mothers second release in 1967 included “Plastic People”, Zappa’s critical take on hippie culture. Later came songs such as “Dickie’s Such an Asshole” (about Richard Nixon) and “Lonesome Cowboy Burt (Swaggert Version)” and “Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk” (about televangelists Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Baker and Pat Robertson) and the full-length musical (?) Thing-Fish about an evil, racist prince/theater critic who creates a disease intended to wipe out African Americans and homosexuals and tests it on prisoners who are turned into “Mammy Nuns” led by the story’s narrator, Thing-Fish (a reference to the “Kingfish” character from the 1920-1950s Amos and Andy radio program).
And then there’s the music…some of the most creative and complex compositions that drew from, combined, deconstructed and or thoroughly destroyed rock, “pop,” jazz, classical, music concrete, blues, R&B, doo-wop, Broadway show-tunes and more. We will explore Zappa’s music by:
• We will be reading Ben Watson’s Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play (informed by Frankfurt School theorist Theodore Adorno’s Negative Dialectics). The book is out of print but reasonably priced used copies are available through Abebooks.com, Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com;
• Listening to Zappa’s music; music that influenced him (e.g., Edgar Varese, Igor Stravinsky, Anton Webern); and music influenced by him (e.g., the legendary Czech band The Plastic People of the Universe; England’s Henry Cow; Italy’s Area (an “Autonomia” movement band); German “Krautrock” band Faust; Sweden’s Zamla Mannas Manna; Maryland’s The Muffins; Cleveland’s Pere Ubu; and, many other bands you may well have never heard).
• Viewing a classic early mid-70s Zappa concert.
Dan Karan has been studying Marxist theory and listening to all manner of music for 40 years. The first record he ever owned was Zappa’s 1969 Hot Rats. His first concert at age 14 was a Zappa show.