He Is For Me: My Intersections with Captain Beefheart

January 14th, 2011, 12:29 pm by Sara

Men & Volts original poster

In the month since Don Van Vliet died, I’ve been considering my connection to the music he created under the name Captain Beefheart. His albums “Trout Mask Replica” and especially “Lick My Decals Off, Baby” provided some of the soundtrack to my high school years. I’m glad I was an adolescent when a major label saw fit to record and release Beefheart’s music.

Though Van Vliet’s musical career only spanned sixteen of his 69 years, that decade and a half overlapped with my own awakening curiosities. Among them was an interest in music. With my bass guitar, I formed or joined a series of bands in my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, until the early ’70s when I headed off to college and not-college and college.

By 1979, I’d been living in Boston for a while, when I had an urge to play in a band again, something I’d not done since leaving Erie. Checking listings in the weekly arts paper, the first one that leapt out at me, unexpected and impossibly perfect, stated “Seeking bass player to play music of Captain Beefheart.” The band was six musicians including two singers, and augmented by a couple additional musicians on saxophone and marimba, in the few instances they were needed.

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RIP: Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart), 1941-2010

December 20th, 2010, 10:21 am by Greg

A friend told me Beefheart died. I haven’t looked up the details, fuck the internet. Beefheart was a sunovabitch. He worked the Magic Band like dogs to make “Trout Mask Replica.” It all sounds improvised, like an explosion in a freakout factory. It’s not. None of it is. It’s all sculpted, rehearsed, fractured and assembled like a trout, like a mask, like a replica. Beefheart had a greater vision. He painted. Rock and roll was just another canvas. Look at pictures of Howlin’ Wolf. It’s all right there. He’s black as night, his skin oily like a snake. He worked his band like dogs. Howlin’ Wolf. Add drugs. Beefheart. But Beefheart didn’t need the drugs. His head was already psychedelic. Who else could suggest looking up Lady Liberty’s dress to discover the secrets of Hubert Sumlin. Eat another piece of whole grain bread and play to the bush. Put your hat on. You need a roof over your house. Not a lot of people understand the blues. Chris Whitley did. Fred Neil did. Beefheart did. When you understand the blues, you die. Frank Zappa didn’t understand the blues. Many people think Beefheart, they think Zappa. They’re wrong. Ry Cooder came closer, but he needs to eat more whole grain bread. When my son was four he sang “Frownland,” a cappella, in the car. He doesn’t remember it, but I’ve told him about it so he owns it as a received memory. He has a little Beefheart. Just a little, but it’s enough. A few weeks ago I told him we were going to start a band and call it “Sun Zoom Spark.” He said, as he does, “have fun with that.” We would. He’ll know that someday. Same week — look, the disc was in the car, on repeat — I played “Nowadays a Woman’s Gotta Hit a Man” for the wife, as some kind of advice. I also played her “Clear Spot,” but you know, she’s not big on the Cap’n. He might be something of, um, an acquired taste. He moved to the desert as all great men do. To be closer to the sun, to speak with the sand, to talk with the scorpions. To paint. To paint. To paint. And to die, too. The desert’s a good place to die. Tom Waits died. A piece of him. Even Bruce Springsteen died. A little teeny-tiny floppy boot stomp piece. Wikipedia will have the details, I’m sure. But if you’d like to understand, it’s really simple. “Too Much Time.” Hell, you can probably Google it. Turn it right the fuck up loud, so you can feel the horns. “In my life I’ve got a deep devotion, wide as the sky and deep as the ocean, every war that’s waged makes me cry, every bird that goes by gets me high.” Listen to the birds. It’s rule number one. Look it up.

Story by Bokonon

Happy 69th Birthday, Don Van Vliet!

January 15th, 2010, 10:30 am by Greg

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