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Most of this blog is related in some way to the music, books and films produced by Gonzo Multimedia, but the editor has a grasshopper mind and so also writes about all sorts of cultural issues which interest him, and which he hopes will interest you as well.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Fish out of Water: A Voyage into Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band

Photo: pausaparanotas @flickrThe first time I heard about Captain Beefheart was when he died in 2010. I probably listened to a few tracks back then in a half-hearted homage to van Vliet. However, I must have not taken much from it as I am only now coming round to beginning my voyage into his musical discography properly.
So why am I only starting now? Well, my theory is that I was daunted by the prospect. Similar to artists like Neil Young, Frank Zappa or Tom Waits, Beefheart’s musical library is vast and its range large. Questions such as ‘Where should I start? With the most known album or the first? Should I immediately understand it? Am I too late to fully enjoy this artist?’ et cetera usually remain unanswered and I crawl back into a metaphorical cave of familiarity and assured appreciation of my musical listening. With a three week holiday consumed by a dissertation I decided now would be a good time to get out of the cave and get into Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band.
I started not with any album but with a documentary on Captain Beefheart narrated by the late John Peel. In it, I learnt about the Captain’s obsessive and, at times, brutally authoritative personality. One story remains prominent in my mind of how he kept his band cooped up inside a house for eight months during the recording ofTrout Mask Replica, only allowing them to leave for groceries. At one point, a member recalls living on one cup of soya beans-a-day. “Ok,” I thought, “this guy is slightly crazy, but the genius ones usually are.”
I then began my listening experience in chronological order. First up, 1967’s Safe As Milk. This album I really enjoyed from the first listen. I’ve probably listened to it three or four times now and will continue to do so. What struck me was the structured nature of the songs. I was expecting an avant-garde mess of an album; abstract and obtuse; unforgiving for a new listener. But it wasn’t. Instead I was welcomed by a collection of catchy songs, none more so than ‘Yellow Brick Road.’ ‘Electricity’ is really something. That voice is remarkable and is nothing like I’ve heard in music before, almost like Darth Sidius from Star Wars has joined a band. ‘I’m Glad’ was unexpectedly beautiful as well with a sort of Sam Cooke vibe.
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Don Van Vliet (born Don Glen Vliet; January 15, 1941 – December 17, 2010) was an American musician, singer-songwriter, artist and poet known by the stage name Captain Beefheart. His musical work..


Don Van Vliet (born Don Glen Vliet; January 15, 1941 – December 17, 2010) was an American musician, singer-songwriter, artist and poet known by the stage name Captain Beefheart. His musical work..

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