Saturday, January 08, 2011

RIP Captain Beefheart

A little more in the way of music videos + 'things that happened in 2010' before this year's content begins in earnest.

Seems like the past couple of months saw a great many well-known people pass away. The one that moved me enough to write about them here was the passing of Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart, who died last month aged 69.

I largely cut my teenage musical teeth under the tutelage of BBC DJ John Peel, and often came across the name of the Captain. It always sounded such a sufficiently 'out there' name that I had to hear him for myself at some point. Once I started digging, the words on the wall behind Lennon (in the picture below) made a little more sense - 'Safe As Milk' being the title of one of Beefheart's earliest and most accessible works.

John Lennon /w Safe As Milk Stickers

As I remember it, I got my hands on 'Safe As Milk' after having listened to the likes of Howlin' Wolf and some of the free jazz guys. The Captain's earlier style sounded something like a combination of those two distinct sounds and the album was accessible enough yet sounding quite different from what most other pop/rock musicians were putting out in early '67. At the top of this post is a clip of Beefheart and The Magic Band performing the track 'Sure 'Nuff N Yes I Do' from that album, on a beach in Cannes.

Poorly received at the time, 'Milk' has gone on to be one of those seminal works of the 'weird 60s'. The big beast in the Captain's canon however, and still the yardstick by which most avant garde music of the rock era is measured by, was 'Trout Mask Replica'.

I own a copy of 'Trout Mask'. I may even have played the whole disc all the way through on more than one occasion. With all the things I have willingly listened to in my time, I'd consider myself as having pretty left field tastes when it comes to music. This is, however, one difficult collection of songs to get through. On first hearing, it sounds something like several bands of totally different genres determinedly playing their tunes as they tumble down stairs together. Remarkably, the band rehearsed each track extensively for the recording - totally different from how it sounds.

The Captain Beefheart Radar Station website gives the following overview of 'Trout Mask':'s hard to listen to. A common response to this initial hatred. It has a very cacophonous sound, but after listening to it for a while, it sort of creeps up on you, and you find yourself loving it. It does take some determined listening, though.
I'm not sure whether I could claim to love it, but I do love the fact that it was made. Perhaps one day it'll endear itself to me that little bit more.

Beefheart stopped making and issuing music in 1982, when he reverted to his earlier moniker of Don Van Vliet and concentrated full time on painting. Even then he managed to push the envelope, producing one of the early music videos for his final release 'Ice Cream For Crow'. This was prior to the dominance during the 80s of MTV, who rejected the video on the grounds of it being 'too weird'. His paintings make their presence felt in the clip below, challenging like his music but with an almost childlike quality.

Most of the people I mentioned his death to commented that they'd been surprised as they thought he was dead already. Well, now he is. The music's still there though, and for that he certainly made his mark.

Head this way for Jon Savage's take on the Captain.

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