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Michel Delville

Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and the Secret History of Maximalism

Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and the Secret History of Maximalism


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This book is not another critical biography, but an interpretive essay investigating what we feel is the cultural and historical importance of Zappa and Beefheart in the context of a wide-ranging network of references that run from Michelangelo and Arcimboldo to William Burroughs and Vaclav Havel. Readers who are only vaguely familiar with their music will be introduced to a projected pantheon of maximalist artists and “moments” which will in turn give rise to poetic-associational readings designed to encourage them to explore the processes of art production, consumption and rejection in their expanding totality and to consider the body as the fluctuating constant against which all composition (addition and subtraction of parts) is attempted. In many ways, this book is also intended as a maximalist alternative to the cultural studies take on the study of popular music, which generally neglects aesthetics in favor of the merely semiotic and sociological and is reluctant to investigate the relationships and coincidences of mass, underground and “elitist” culture. In what follows, we will propose an (anti-)method, a conspiracy theory of the mind that seeks to foster a promotional application of “paranoid” criticism risking its very credibility (and sanity) to abandon itself to the energizing virtues of connectivitis and coordinology.

Praise for this Book

‘Here is a book that has to be played loud. Zapping as irreverently through the icons of dangerous culture as the zany Zappa himself, plotting the gothic with the abject cunning of Don Van Vliet, Michel Delville and Andrew Norris puncture quite a few balloons of our current esthetic doxa, from body art to weak consensual clichés on post-mortem postmodernism. Here is baroque modernism come back to haunt us with a vengeance: it screams, it bites, it claws and it kicks.’ —Jean-Michel Rabaté

‘Amid the erudition and the exhaustive unpicking of the Zappa worldscape, the key to the value of this book is its understanding of the man's musical output – the records, the lyrics, the compositional approaches, the performance intentions. Delville and Norris exhibit an assured grasp of the creative line from the Mothers to Beefheart to Boulez and beyond. This book’s appeal lies in its richness of contexts – its ability to mention Braxton and Burroughs, Reich and Freud, Bakhtin and Houston A. Baker Jr, without ever moving too far from its object of scrutiny, a frustrating genius whose life of contradictions requires a study as unrelentingly unbound and as intellectually promiscuous as this one.’ —Simon Warner

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