Friday, June 15, 2007

Tropical Hotdog Genius- Captain Beefheart



The Eclectic Electric Music Of Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band

Don Van Vliet, or Captain Beefheart if you prefer, is perhaps the single greatest rock musician in all eternity, ( although Don would say " I 'm not a rock musician, I'm a soft person") and certainly one of the most original and influential geniuses of the 20th century. He and his Magic Band cohorts completely erased all musical dogmas and reinvented music on their own terms. The Beefheart style blends some deep Delta blues, free-jazz, cacophonous avantgarde and rock and roll, but what is unique about Van Vliet's music is the rhomboid, skewed, manic, aleatory and perfectly disturbing structure of his compositions.

The desert (where he grew up) could be a better key to understand his art than any of the influences that one can hear on his albums. Van Vliet also created one of the most original styles of singing ever, one that, again, revolutionized centuries of vocal music. The gruff, abrasive, werewolf-grade, warbling of Van Vliet had Its roots in the blues, but become something else entirely, covering 7 octaves sometimes jumping from the highest to the lowest in a single breath. If your new to the Capt., I suggest “Clear Spot “ as a great place to start, It’s one of my favorites and has all the great elements that make his music great but enough “normality” for the uninitiated to cling to. Van Vliet joined the newly forming Magic Band in 1965, and quickly took over as Bandleader. Their early output was rooted in blues and rock music, drawing comparisons to the Rolling Stones of the same time period but gradually adopted an experimental Daliesque approach. The 2 hardest albums to classify in all of rock music are "Trout Mask Replica" and "Lick My Decals Off Baby". When I first started this story, I thought It would be easy because of my familiarity with the music, but just listing the recordings, and writing a few sentences about them became a bit exhaustive. There can be no short Beefheart article. We merely scratch the surface here and it is still a bit lengthy. We have a couple videos this time out because seeing only one gives a very limited view of the work under review here.
Watching an early performance would lead you to believe the blues was his medium. In a sense he reinvents blues in his own fashion.
Beefheart is also known for his off and on friendship and collaborations with Frank Zappa over the years having known him since high school.

Lets have a brief look at the Captain's catalog:


The Legendary A&M sessions
A fun album to listen to, especially if you are a blues fan. With the great cover of Bo Diddley's "Diddy Wah Diddy". It is very well produced but sounds "of the era". If you like other music from 1965 this is lots of fun.



Safe As Milk
The first album featuring Ry Cooder on slide guitar. My favorite tunes from this album is "Zig Zag Wanderer" and "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do".

Lyrics: Well I was born in the desert came on up from New Orleans
Came up on a tornado sunlight in the sky
I went around all day with the moon sticking in my eye

Hey hey hey all you young girls wherever you're at
I got a brand new Cadillac I got a Ferrari too
Sure 'nuff baby sure 'nuff 'n yes I do...

video- Live on the beach in Cannes


With that first tune, you know your not in Kansas anymore. This album is steeped in Delta Blues but is uniquely a desert version, a much higher wattage visionary doodad.
In this photo we can see that John Lennon was clearly a fan of "the Capt." as there are 2 of the "Safe As Milk" bumper stickers included with the original release on the wall at his home.





Mirror Man
A 1999 re-issue features massively improved mastering and packaging, and also includes a selection of outtakes.
aA live recording. An interesting album. "Mirror Man, Mirror Dog, Mirror Woman, Mirror Frog... "
Most Capt. Beefheart albums have a healthy dose of humor.


Strictly Personal
I like this but Don hated it. The producers added phasing effects all through it without Don's knowledge or approval. Of course the Capt. was right, the "trendy at the time"
(1968) psychedelic production dates what would have been timeless. The Capt. said the "Fizz" they added destroyed his songs. There is a clear distinction between the albums up to Strictly Personal and that which followed. After this point, nothing was to sound quite the same ever again....



Trout Mask Replica
This groundbreaking album has been in every "Top 100" list since it's release in 1969. The sheer audacity to release something like this has no equal in history.
when I bought this double album, I played it once and was so musically offended by it, I literally threw it out the window. Something made me retrieve it and it slowly grew on me becoming an absolute favorite. There is no precedent for Trout Mask. It is quite likely the most completely original explosion of creativity ever captured. . Every preconceived notion of what music is disappears in a wave of dissonant polyrhythmic cacophony. Beefheart's surrealistic lyrics are light, dark, innocent, world weary, spiritual, and mundane simultaneously. Produced by Frank Zappa who captured the band faithfully with no agenda other than creating art, this is the avant garde by which all else is measured . There is not a commercial consideration to be found here, only the artistic vision of a genius. It has no equal.

"Old Fart At Play" by Don Van Vliet 1969
"Pappy with the Khaki sweatband
Bowed goat potbellied barnyard that only he noticed
The old fart was smart
The old gold cloth madonna
Dancin' t' the fiddle 'n saw
He ran down behind the knoll
'n slipped on his wooden fishhead
The mouth worked 'n snapped all the bees
Back t' the bungalow

Momma was flatten'n lard
With her red enamel rollin' pin
When the fishhead broke the window
Rubber eye erect 'n precisely detailed
Airholes from which breath should come
Is now closely fit
With the chatter of the old fart inside

An assortment of observations took place
Momma licked 'er lips like uh cat
Pecked the ground like uh rooster
Pivoted like uh duck
Her stockings down caught dust 'n doughballs
She cracked 'er mouth glaze caught one eyelash
Rubbed 'er hands on 'er gorgeous gingham
Her hand grasped sticky metal intricate latchwork
Open t' the room uh smell cold mixed with bologna
Rubber bands crumpled wax paper bonnets
Fat goose legs 'n special jellies
Ignited by the warmth of the room
The old fart smelled this thru his important breather holes
Cleverly he dialed from within from the outside we observed
That the nose of the wooden mask
Where the holes had just been uh moment ago
Was now smooth amazingly blended camouflaged in
With the very intricate rainbow trout replica

The old fart inside was now breathing freely
From his perfume bottle atomizer air bulb invention

His excited eyes from within the dark interior glazed;
watered in appreciation of his thoughtful preparation."



Lick My Decals Off Baby
Many fans feel this is the finest hour of the Magic Band. It is certainly one of the best, yet has been out of print for some time.The music on this album is intelligent, beautiful, chaotic, complex, VERY AMERICAN and "too much for most mirrors" (Not easily grasped). One company in Germany sells it but they are asking $150.00 U.S. for it. (And I have heard the only ones available on the internet are bootlegs, be skeptical. ) When it finally becomes available in the U.S. again on CD, if you haven't yet heard it, you are in for a real treat if you purchase it. Produced by Don himself, this music is a continuation of the styles explored in Trout Mask Replica but arguably refined. The addition of Artie Tripp (formerly with the Mothers of Invention) on marimba gives the music a great new dimension in sound. Trout Mask and Decals are the most experimental and visionary work in the catalog. A stunning achievement!
The "commercial" Don made to promote this album is absolutely and perfectly obtuse.


"DR. DARK" by Don Van Vliet 1970
Mama, mama, here come Doctor Dark
Horse clippin', clappin' 'n his ol' hooves makin' sparks
Black leather lady Lord carried her bags
The hell horn, hell horn, hell horn
Horn rim crimped
Glasses look out on the pale hell bent
Moon milk run
O' lady go home
Lord they done cookin' done
Black lady
Black leather lady
Done had a white, white, white poor son
Mama, mama, here come Doctor Dark
Horse clippin', clappin' 'n his ol' hooves makin' sparks
Gotta git me who I want to
God, Lord knows I've got to oh see that Doctor Dark
Mama, mama, here come Doctor Dark
Horse clippin', clappin' 'n his ol' hooves makin' sparks
Shed a tear on the meadow lark 'n like
Tear t' drink
T' brush away
'n tear apart 'n black 'n white 'n like
Tear t' drink t' brush away
'n tear apart 'n black 'n white 'n like
The moon a pail of milk spilled down black in the night
Little girl lost a tear
'n her kite
T' the night 'n like 'n light
God, Lord knows I've got to oh see that Doctor Dark






The Spotlight Kid
Spotlight Kid contains some very heavy, slow and spacious blues. Seen as a disappointment by many on its release in 1972, due to its restrained nature, it really shines through today as being another Beefheart classic, containing some of his most beautiful songs, such as Glider and Grow Fins.




Grow Fins 1972 by Don Van Vliet.

"Now here ya come baby
With yer tail draggin' the gravy
Y' know yer P's 'n Q's
What ya don't know baby
Is you givin' me the blues
Ya got juice on your chin
Eggs on the drain-board
Pie on the wall
Dirt on the rug
I come home late
'N I stumbled 'n swore
Ya won't even give me a hug
Ya had my things all laid out by the door
I'm leavin'
I'm gonna take up with a mermaid
'N leave you land lubbin' women alone
'N leave you land-lubbin' women alone
Ya said ya had it together once
Now yer head's around the bend
I'm tellin' ya woman
Ya better get it back together again
I'm gonna grow fins
'N go back in the water again
If ya don't leave me alone
I'm gonna take up with ah mermaid
'N leave you land-lubbin' women alone
'N leave you land-lubbin' women alone
Now here ya come baby
With yer tail draggin' the gravy
Ya know yer P's 'n Q's
What ya don't know woman
Is yer givin' me the blues"

A Live Performance From The Spotlight Kid Era




Clear Spot
A glorious collection of tight punchy songs immaculately recorded by producer Ted Templeton ( Doobie Brothers, Carly Simon , Montrose, Van Halen). There isn't anything particularly odd about them. There isn't anything particularly normal about them either. A great Album. A must have. Mr. Zoot Horn Rollo, Hit that long lunar note and let it float! This will put a smile on the most sullen of human faces. Again if your new to the Beefheartian Universe, this 1972 release is your best entry point. "Big Eyed Beans From Venus" is one of the best rock songs ever! And then there's Golden Birdies...



"Those little golden birdies look at them"

"And the mystic Egypt tossle dangling down
Old sleeper-man shish, don't wake him
Up one hand broom star was an obi-man
revered throughout the bone-knob land
His magic black purse slit creeped open,
Let go flocks of them

Shish look he's singabus
Snored like a red merry-go-round horse
And an acid gold bar swirled up and down,
Up and down, in back of the singabus
And the panataloon duck white goose neck quacked
webcore, webcore"

1972 by Don Van Vliet.

("The Spotlight Kid" and "Clear Spot" are available together on one cd here.)


Unconditionally Guaranteed
This album isn't one that Beefheart fans praise much, as it is not what one may expect the Captain to produce. However, it is an album that has a charm. The Magic Band plays simple love songs, admittedly with none of the twists and curves that you expect with Beefheart's music. Don had a history of bad deals in the music industry and in 1974 producers Andy and Augie DiMartino convinced him that he could be a commercial success under their guidance. The band hated being told what and how to play by the producers whom they felt were amateurs and quit when the album was finished. The Capt. did a tour to support the album with some session players, later referred to as the tragic band. Women seem to like this album more than men. It's got some great stuff on it despite being an attempt at a wider audience. Beefheart at the time said he was ‘selfish’ in the past producing a form of music which was highly elitist, in that few people were able to listen to it. My opinion is this is actually a great collection of songs played by excellent musicians who everyone expects to be strange and are not. It's atypical but has merit.

Moonbeams and Bluejeans
This is the one Beefheart fans site as the worst. I would say you could in fact live without it. There are some good songs and some clunkers, Only recommended for completists. "The camel wore a nightie at the party of special things to do"... hmmm. Not exactly prime beef. Though I know people who like it.






Shiny Beast
One of the best! The Capt. gives up trying to please others and returns to pleasing himself. Which of course pleases his fans as well! A true return to form.
This captures it all. The humor, the unusual approach to songwriting, and the surrealism. A genuine milestone. The addition of Bruce Fowler (Mothers of Invention) on trombone is perfect.





Floppy Boot Stomp by Don Van Vliet released 1978
"The floppy boot stomped down into the ground
The farmer screamed 'n blew the sky off the mountains
Eye sockets looked down on the chestbone mountains
'n the sun dropped down, 'n the moon ran off,
His heels 'n elbows pale as chalk
'n all the comets collided 'n blew t' dust
For fear they'd be seen.
'n the sky turned white in the middle of the night
'n the sky turned white in the middle of the night
'n the big floppy boot stomped down into the ground
'n the red violin took the bow
to do the hoodoo hoe-down
'n the red violin took the bow
for to do the hoodoo hoe-down
The farmer jumped in ah circle 'n flung his chalk right down
Do-si-do the devil sho' showed 'n he broke of his horns
'n fiddled him down the road
through the fork
'n the farmer's floppy boot stomped down
Red tail squirmin' and the hot leg kicked
'n the fire leaped 'n licked
And when the boot came up, the fire went out
And hell was just an ice cube melting off on the ground.
And the bold caught down for to do the hoodoo hoedown
And the bold caught down for to do the hoodoo, the devil hoedown
To the fork, huddlin’ in a hollow, standin’ at the crossroads
With that bunged-up bandaged broken bum that fell in the wrong circle
He had a sole red tail – once went red, now was pale
Fe Fi Fo Fum he was summoned up from hell
Booted down a spell
By a square-dancin’ farmer
By a square-dancin’ farmer, well
That old bum was sticking out his thumb
When the farmer drove up, said
"Listen son", and the horse compared his hooves.
"If you fall into my circle again I’ll tan your red hide
And dance you on your tail, and pitch you from now to now
Pitch you from now to now."
And the hotlick kicked, and the fire leaped an’ licked
And the hotlick kicked and the fire just leaped an’ licked
And the hotlick kickin’ an’ the fire jus’ leapin’ an’ lickin’
And the fire leaped and licked."


Doc At The Radar Station
The Coup de gras! One perfect Beefheart album. I don't think it gets any better, some say it's abrasive. But its songs are far beyond the realms of praise, criticism and condemnation. Robert Palmer said of Beefheart’s music. "The rhythms that disintegrate before your very ears, the xylophone riffs that suddenly appear out of nowhere and cut across the polyrhythms set up by the other instruments, the impossibly dense and atonal chord clusters, all these effects are plotted in advance and painstakingly rehearsed. Casual listeners may still consider Beefheart a wild-eyed primitive, but in fact he's an American maverick composer who has created his own musical idiom - an idiom that's related to blues and rock-and-roll but also problematically tangential to them."
There is nothing that compares to this. It's Capt. Beefheart at his creative best. Another work of swampy surreal genius.

Ashtray Heart by Don Van Vliet 1980

"You used me like an ashtray heart
Case of the punks
Right from the start
I feel like a glass shrimp in a pink panty
With a saccharine chaperone
Make invalids out of supermen
Call in a "shrink"
And pick you up in a girdle
You used me like an ashtray heart
Right from the start
Case of the punks
Another day, another way
Somebody's had too much to think
Open up another case of the punks
Each pillow is touted like a rock
The mother / father figure
Somebody's had too much to think
Send your mother home your navel
Case of the punks
New hearts to the dining rooms
Violet heart cake
Dissolve in new cards, boards, throats, underwear
Ashtray heart
You picked me out, brushed me off
Crushed me while I was burning out
Then you picked me out
Like an ashtray heart
Hid behind the curtain
Waited for me to go out
A man on a porcupine fence
Used me for an ashtray heart
Hit me where the lover hangs out
Stood behind the curtain
While they crushed me out
You used me for an ashtray heart
You looked in the window when I went out
You used me like an ashtray heart."

Ashtray Heart On Saturday Night Live



At the end of Captain Beefheart's performance of "Hot Head", on a Saturday Night Live broadcast, actor Radames Pera can clearly be heard saying "That's shit!" According to Beefheart, the heckler had a conversation with drummer John French about the nature of The Captain's music. He was in the front row of the next gig cheering and became a huge fan of the band and a personal friend of Don.

Ice Cream For Crow
The Swansong. After recording this album in 1982, Don quietly walked away from the music business never to return.
Ever since Don has been painting. His art commands a high price and he is well respected in the art world today. In fact
a new installation of 15 of Don Van Vliet's paintings has opened and runs until the 6th of July 2007 at the Anton Kern Gallery in New York.

Would you like to purchase a Don Van Vliet Painting?

"Men let your wallets flop out and women open your purses"...
here's information about buying Don Van Vliet's magnificent paintings.

Please direct all enquiries to:

The Michael Werner Gallery,
4 East 77 Street,
New York 10021.

Telephone (212) 988-1623 Fax (212) 988-1774

Queries should be addressed to the associate director, Justine Birbil.

Prices start at $12,500 for the paintings, and drawings range from $2,500 to $4,500.

(The Michael Werner Gallery is where the paintings are on the permedent exhibition.)





No self-respecting fan of Don's music would be without these other fine recordings.

1. The Tubes - "Now"
Don plays sax on "Cathy's Clown" and harmonica on "Golden Boy".

2. Blue Collar (original Movie Soundtrack)
Don does the main theme " Hard Workin' Man" and this soundtrack reunites Don with Safe as Milk guitarist Ry Cooder.
(Incidentally "Hard Workin Man" also appears in the film "A Civil Action" starring John Travolta, though is not on the soundtrack album for that film.)





3. The Zappa Collaborations
a. Hot Rats
b. Bongo Fury
(hear a live recording excerpt from Debra Kadabra)
c. Zoot Allures ( Harmonica)
d. One Size Fits All (Don appears as Bloodshot Rollin' Red on "San Ber'dino".)








4. Mallard (Magic Band without Captain Beefheart)
I love these albums. They are very traditional compared to Don's but the songs and playing are really great. They are available together on one CD now after previously being very rare.
a. Mallard
b. In A Different Climate

5. The Magic Band "Back to Front"
( Matt Groening, creator of "The Simpsons" and huge fan of Capt. Beefheart financed and wrote the liner notes for this great 2003 reunion album.) Also 21st Century Mirror Men, the live album and DVD of the Magic Band's performances in in 2003 and 2004 at the Royal Festival Hall, The Garage, Edinburgh Liquid Room, and the ATP festival in Los Angeles. Includes a bonus DVD.

6. Grow Fins
Arguably the best box set ever put together for fans of a band. The 5 CD box set contains a 112 page hardcover book featuring John French's notes, rare photographs and a wealth of other information. A few videos and a raft of rare previously unreleased tracks. A pirates booty for fans. But a little pricey. Still this is what all box sets should be like, it's lavish.



Capt. Beefheart Quotes

"There's no competition with our music. It can't be compared or impaired, or impaled with points or justifications...It means absolutely nothing, just like the sun."

"I think most people try to get others to see through their eyes. And if you look through enough eyes, like in books, you end up not knowing how to use your own eyes. Then you have to be started by something. It all has to do with The One. People can't realize that a One is really a Zero split in half. It's like splitting the world in two; choosing up sides."

"You can tell by the kindness of a dog how a human should be."

"The past sure is tense."

"I'm like a woman because I have my periods, if you know what I mean. Every once in a while I get the cramps and do something far out. This album needs someplace to go, you know? So I sing with a definite woman in mind, not like those groups that have men on their mind."

(On making the more accessible albums.)
"I would just as soon play the music on the new album because when I see all those people out there taking acid to get into *my* music, then I don't want to play that kind of music. I don't want to make people think they've got to use some sort of elevation to get into what I do. If I did that, what kind of artist would I be? Just another phoney asshole."

"A carrot is as close as a rabbit gets to a diamond."

"The largest flying land mammal is the absent mind."

"My music isn't that much different from the music that's in anyone’s mind. Because I conceive it so naturally, it's bound to be in their minds. Sooner or later, they'll catch on; they'll learn to enjoy it without understanding why. Unless they're so far out they can't get back. I don't really think they are. All tongues are connected, you know - we all drink from the same pond."

"Everybody's colored or else you wouldn't be able to see them."

"I don't want to sell my music. I'd like to give it away because where I got it, you didn't have to pay for it."

"The stars are matter, we're matter, but it doesn't matter."

"I'm not really here, I just stick around for my friends."

"I don’t like marches. I'll tell you why: war. It's very similar to disco."

"I'd always thought music was too formal, and I thought 'well, I'll get into this and fix it'."

"The most widely held misconception about me is that I'm a mystic. I'm not. I believe in black and white, I believe organically."

"I believe in varying degrees of disconnection. I don't believe in insanity."

"I don't look like a desert person because I stay indoors most of the day and fool around at night. That's what the desert animals do - they don't have a tan either."

"I needed to purge myself of all the attention my parents had given me - I wasn't neglected enough as a child."

"With my voice and my band, I can do anything"

Thank you Don. You certainly did.

No comments:

Our Sponsors Today

LastFM