Monday, 20 December 2010

Oh Captain, My Captain: Captain Beefheart 1941-2010

I was saddened to open up the Pitchfork web page on Saturday afternoon and see the headline at the top: "R.I.P. Captain Beefheart". It was accompanied by a sad photo of the Captain from his (now) final 1982 album Ice cream for crow.

I first stumbled upon the music of the eccentric Don Van Vliet (the Captain's real name) after reading an interview with Simpsons creator Matt Groening, who named the 1969 album Trout Mask Replica as his favourite record of all time. Being a long time Simpsons fan, I respected the opinion of Matt Groening, so I sampled a few songs like Ella Guru and Dachau Blues from Trout Mask Replica. It was a little while later that I purchased the album, and to this day it remains one of the strangest and most enigmatic 78 minutes of music in my extensive collection.

I have since picked up many more of his albums: Safe as Milk, Strictly Personal, The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot. While they are all much more "normal sounding" than Trout Mask Replica, this term is used very relatively. They are all avant-garde blues-rock creations that helped pave the way for much musical experimention and boundary-pushing in the decades to follow. If it weren't for the work of Van Vliet, Tom Waits may not have made the dramatic (and much needed) stylistic u-turn in 1983 when he released Swordfishtrombones.

Rest in peace, Captain Beefheart. May the dust blow forward, 'n the dust blow back.

"Moonlight on Vermont" (from Trout mask replica)

"Big Eyed Beans From Venus" (from Clear spot)

"Yellow Brick Road" (from Safe as milk)

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