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December 18, 2010


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really sad news...


Captain Beefheart is a strangely important figure for me. Back when I was far more willing than I am now to experiment with my musical tastes, "Trout Mask Replica" stood out for me, before I listened to it, as a kind of make-or-break-it album. I think I'd begun to sense that I my tastes weren't quite so elastic as I thought -- in other words, I seemd to have my limits. I can't remember the order of these two things, but I was working at Barnes & Noble at the time and I bought "Trout Mask Replica" and I, let us say, struggled with it, as I continue to do. After this struggle began -- at least I think that's the right order -- I was working at the cash registers with the woman who would one day become my wife but was then not even my girlfriend, and as things were slow I was reading an article in either Mojo or Uncut about Beefheart, and "Trout Mask Replica" specifically. My future wife asked me what I was reading, and I told her and said something like "It's a very weird album, but a lot of people think it's brilliant. I haven't been able to get into it, but, you know, a lot of people like it." She said "So you're trying to force yourself to like it so you'll be cool like them?" I can't say she was completely wrong.

However, this is a knock on me, not Beefheart, or his fans. I kept listening to him, because of what I'd read about "The Spotlight Kid" and "Clear Spot" and "Safe as Milk", and I've found much to like in that more accessible area of his career. The opening riff to "When it Blows Its Stacks" is glorious to me, for instance (and that one probably counts as my own favorite Beefheart song). But Beefheart stands as both a welcome into the more esoteric corners of music, with his angular, oddball take on blues and so forth (outside of the lyrics, and obviously the voice, I still have a hard time believing that "My Head is My Only House When it Rains" is from the same who recorded "Ant Man Bee"), and a wall.

Had "Trout Mask Replica" made any sense to me, who knows how far I'd have gone with that kind of thing. But it didn't, and I've stayed in a bit of a bubble, musically, ever sense. I very, very big and rich bubble, but a bubble all the same.




*taps side of head

Kent Jones

GK, that's always been my favorite Beefheart song too. Like certain Velvets songs, it feels ancient, like it's been found in a cave, and absolutely present.

Grant L

bill, I love Trout Mask, though after many, many listens my favorite thing on it is the gloriously silly pop-song-only-by-comparison "Ella Guru." Have you tried Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)? For me that feels like a very fine, very organic blend of angles and (relative) accesibility.

Not being within the bubble myself, I (of course) can't speak with any authority, but maybe it ain't a bubble. When faced with that sort of feeling within myself or others, for whatever reason I often turn to the example of my aunt. A wonderful, thoughtful, hilarious, complex woman, devout Christian of the best kind (meaning she never pushed it on you), who took me into her home for a year when I was having serious troubles with my dad in my late teens. Her musical tastes were extremely "narrow," and though I sent a few things her way that she enjoyed, they never opened much further at all. Could her world be enriched by some of the more out-there stuff in my collection? Maybe. Can she live an entirely happy and fulfilled life never having even been exposed to that stuff? C'mon, is that even a question?


For Don. Boo!



@Grant L - I appreciate all of that, and my parents were very much like that (and from them I picked up some interests that expaned my bubble to include big band music and the like), but in the case of your aunt (and my parents) she sounds like she was pretty content in having the set of interests and musical taste she had. I can't say I'm all that content in that same way. I miss taking those chances, but the problem for me has been I feel the bite of buying an album I end up not liking far more than I do, say, a book I don't care for.

Either way, Van Vliet's passing has inspired me (that sounds wrong, but I'm sticking with it) to put the feelers out again. After seeing BLACK SWAN this morning, I swing by a nearby music store and picked up "The Stooges" by The Stooges, "In the Court of the Crimson King" by King Crimson and "Bad Music for Bad People" by the Cramps. So we'll see.

Incidentally, I did check out their Beefheart selection, but "Shiny Beast..." wasn't there -- they only had the three albums I already have. Had it been there, I might well have snagged it.

Bruce Reid

"Owed T'Alex" for me, with "Moonlight on Vermont" and bill's favorite "When It Blows Its Stacks" too close behind to matter. Probably more mainstream--downright hummable even--than many fans would choose, but the Captain's influences were so wide-ranging and his genius so protean (a friend of mine who's a painter was generally indifferent to Van Vleit's music but loved his art) it's impossible we're all mourning the same man today.

James Keepnews

I was honored to play on "Bat Chain Puller", "Tropical Hot Dog Night," and a few other masterworks from the songbook for a Beefheart tribute band put together by my friend Mitch Elrod a few years back. I've missed the demented exactitude of his surrealist imagery and his galactically lysergic, Howlin-Wolf-Rules-the-Omniverse croak for so long now, and now more than ever. An insistence on LICK MY DECALS OFF, BABY as the Magic Band's chef motherf*&^in' d'oeuvre. So long, Captain.

Scott Collette


I love FZ and Cap'n individually, but I always loved the joint tracks most.

Yusef Sayed

Jack Nitzsche put together the soundtrack for BLUE COLLAR and the lead track Hard Workin' Man features a brilliant vocal by Beefheart. Nitzsche was after a vocalist comparable to the recently deceased Howlin' Wolf and Beefhart was the only option.

Another favourite work of mine is Alan Licht's The Old Victrola which uses the entirety of Beefheart's WELL and adds a guitar chord backing to recontextualise the piece and transform it into a scorching punk anthem.


I was a small-town weirdo who had to build my record collection mostly through mail order and long drives while in high school. During my first year of college, I loved the short walk to three great record stores and began seriously collecting the canonical works of punk, post-punk, classic rock, jazz, and the unclassifiable. Trout Mask Replica was one of my first purchases. Midway through that first difficult listen, my roommate entered our tiny dorm, said hello, and sat at his desk. His musical tastes were strictly limited to early 1990s top 40 pop (Mariah Carey, later Michael Jackson, etc.). He sat there silently for four or five songs, staring at me nervously, and left without saying anything. He didn't come back to the room for three days, and he never said much to me for the remainder of the year other than hello. I feel some sympathy for him. I had to listen to that record ten times to make any sense out of it, but when it finally got me, it got me good. I am grateful I discovered Beefheart's music while my late teenage frontal cortex was still developing. Every Beefheart record, with the exception of Bluejeans & Moonbeams, is in my regular rotation. One night, a friend and I spent an evening drinking too much whiskey, eating giant burritos from a cheap restaurant near his apartment, watching Tetsuo: The Iron Man on mute, and listening to Trout Mask Replica. When you're twenty-one, you do stupid things. I don't recommend that hangover to anyone, but I'll never forget that night. Thanks for the tribute.

Grant L

Never mind the hangover...the combination of too much whiskey and giant, cheap burritos makes my stomach do a little flip. Brings back memories of going to the grocery store with friends with a stomachful of beer and, out of all the choices, thinking that a big, fat eclair stuffed to bursting with cream was what would taste good...

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