Friday, December 17, 2010

I was going to write about the New York Dolls today, and then news filtered through of Don Van Vliet AKA Captain Beefheart's death, so I'll save that for another time. Then again, given the number of tributes to the guy which are currently clogging up the 'net, any "tribute" I pay will be redundant. But again, redundancy has never stopped me before. I haven't listened to Beefheart a great deal the last decade, for the very reason I haven't listened to the music of the Stooges or Miles Davis: when you know the music that well, there seems little point in actually listening to his records on a regular basis. I flogged the guy's discs into the ground the previous decade. These days, if I need a fix of his sounds, I usually head for his more straight-forward albums. Not his oft-maligned '70s discs such as Bluejeans and Moonbeams or Unconditionally Guaranteed (both of which have their moments of greatness), but his debut, Safe As Milk, or his swansong, Ice Cream For Crow. I wrote about the latter here, as well as a piece on The Spotlight Kid here, both many moons ago. An excerpt from the former article later wound up in a press release for a Virgin/EMI reissue, so I guess someone out there liked what I wrote (or was hard-up for copy). There was an interview w/ a musician I read some years back - can't remember who it was - and the person in question stated that they loved the music of Beefheart for its unabashed strangeness, which he felt was a true reflection of its creator's eccentricities, and noted that this contrasted greatly w/ that of the music of Beefheart's pal Frank Zappa, whom he thought tried way too hard to be "weird" but fell flat on his face for his efforts, his music coming across more like the try-hard efforts of the class clown too fond of boobie jokes for his own good. Or something to that effect. I love Zappa's early works, too. Grab your ears around Freak Out!, We're Only In It For The Money, Absolutely Free, Uncle Meat, Weasels Ripped My Flesh, Lumpy Gravy or Hot Rats, and you've got some of the best audio documents of their era. But I get the point. Beefheart's music had heart and soul, two things Zappa's music sorely lacked. The good Captain couldn't make music any other way. For a brief period in the early '70s he tried, and failed. By the early '70s, Zappa had crawled up his own backside and barely made his way out again for air. Captain Beefheart's music was strange according to the standards by which most people judge music, but I find it just as strange that most people would want to listen to the music they do. That music merely reflects the boring personalities of the people who make it, and there has to be more to the possibilities of sound than that. Beefheart explored the possibilities that few others travelled, he did it better than just about anyone else, and for that you oughta be grateful. The world would be a much more dull place had he never existed. Most of my musical heroes are now dead, and there goes another one.


Mrowster said...

But I betcha Don V. appreciated a good boobie joke when he heard one.


robin said...

Very saddened to hear about the Captains passing. A true genius of exceptional eccentricities and despite the poo pooing he has received in recent years from former bandmates, I believe a man of exceptional musical talents. My favourite Beefheart anecdote is from later in life when he received a letter from Bono offering to record, produce, promote etc etc the Captain on a new recording venture. The Captains comment to a friend was “Who is this Bongo”. Dave your comments re Zappa vs Beefheart are spot on, there are many out there who disagree… I personally agree.