Saturday, December 18, 2010

Captain Beefheart, 1941-2010

"I don't think I do music. I think I do spells."

- Captain Beefheart

Captain Beefheart, a true American original and visionary of modern music, died this week, so we gotta pour one out for the man.

I bought the Captain's storied masterpiece, Trout Mask Replica, back in 1987. It was an album I loved without liking. You know, I mean I loved the idea that somebody would create something so fucked up and illogical, and would insist that it be a DOUBLE ALBUM. I loved playing it for people to freak them out. I loved taking one of the weirder songs, like "Pena" or "The Old Fart at Play" and putting them on a mixtape between Butthole Surfers and Pussy Galore songs. But it was never really something I would sit down and listen to, certainly not all the way through. Then one day, after I had had the album for close to a decade, I listened to it, and suddenly I heard a completely different album. When I listen to it now, I just hear a really deep, funky blues rock record. That may sound like bullshit, but honestly, Trout Mask and it's follow up Lick My Decals Off, Baby don't even sound that weird anymore. This gives me hope that maybe one day I will be able to wrap my ears around Albert Ayler.

I do wonder how many people get turned off to Beefheart because of Trout Mask. As deserved as I think the praise for Trout Mask, Decals and the Captain's late career triumph Bat Chain Puller are, I bet a lot more people would warm to Beefheart if they started with Safe as Milk, Clear Spot and The Spotlight Kid, relatively conventional albums that filter the Captain's weird visions through relatively conventional blues, soul and garage rock, just as I'm sure that Sonic Youth would have a lot fewer fans if their followers were always trying to win converts with Confusion is Sex rather than Daydream Nation.

The quote at the top of this, by the way, comes from an amazing interview conducted by Lester Bangs, and appearing in the anthology Main Lines, Blood Feasts and Bad Taste. Track it down, it's a great read. Some of my favorite Beefheart moments:

Great rocker from Safe as Milk:

An odd song in the Beefheart catalog, but one of my favorites:

Probably the catchiest song on Trout Mask:

Almost sounding like an Al Green song:

Great train blues:

And maybe my favorite, this a capella tune from Trout Mask. The amazing lyrics are listed below.

a thick cloud caught a piper cub's tail
the match struck blue on a railroad rail
the old puff horse was just pulling through
and a man wore a peg leg forever
i'm on the bum where the hoboes run
...the air breaks with filthy chatter
oh i don't care there's no place there
i don't think it matters
my skin is blazing through
and my clothes in tatters
and the railroad looks
like a 'y' up the hill of ladders
one shoe fell on the gravel
one stick poked down
gray of age fell down on a pair of ears
an eagle shined through my hole watch pocket
a gingham girl baby girl
passed me by in tears
a jack rabbit raised his folded ears
a beautiful sagebrush jack rabbit
and an oriole sang like an orange
his breast full of worms
and his tail clawed the evening like a hammer
his wings took to air like a bomber
and my rain can caught me a cup of water
when i got into town
odd jobs mam and your horse i'll fodder
i'm the roundhouse man
i once was your father
a little up the road a wooden candy stripe barber pole
and above it read a sign: 'painless parker'
licorice twisted around under a fly
and a youngster cocked her eye
god, before me - if i'm not crazy - is my daughter
come little one with your little old dimpled fingers
gimme one and i'll buy you a cherry phosphate
take you down to the foaming brine and water
and show you the wooden tits
on the goddess with the pole out full sail
that tempted away your peg legged father
i was shanghaied by a high hat beaver mustache man
and his pirate friend
i woke up in vomit and beer in a banana bin
and a soft lass with brown skin
bore me seven babies with snapping black eyes
and beautiful ebony skin
and here it is i'm with you my daughter
thirty years away can make a seaman's eyes
a roundhouse man's eyes flow out water
salt water


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