In Memoriam: Captain Beefheart 1941-2010

Trout Mask Replica

Captain Beefheart

Troutmask Replica Captain Beefheart


pappy with the khaki sweatband
bowed goat potbellied barnyard
that only he noticed
the old fart was smart
the old gold cloth madonna
dancing to the fiddle and saw
he ran down behind the knoll
and slipped on his wooden fishhead
the mouth worked and snapped all the bees

back to the bungalow
momma was flattening lard
with her red enamelled rolling pin
when the fishhead broke the window
rubber eye erect and precisely detailed
airholes from which breath should come
is now closely fit
with the chatter of the old fart inside

an assortment of observations took place:
momma licked her lips like a cat
pecked the ground like a rooster
pivoted like aduck
her stockings down caught dust and doughballs
she cracked her mouth glazed caught one eyelash
rubbed her hands on her gorgeous gingham
her hand grasped sticky metal intricate latchwork
open to the room a smell cold mixed with bologna
rubber bands crumpled wax paper bonnets
fat goose legs and special jellies
ignited by the warmth of the room
the old fart smelled this through his important breather holes
cleverly he dialled from within
from the outside we observed that the nose of the
wooden mask where the holes had just been a moment ago
was now smooth amazingly blended camouflaged in
with the very intricate rainbow trout replica

the old fart inside was now breathing freely
from his perfume bottle atomizer air bulb invention
his excited eyes from within the dark interior glazed
watered in appreciation of his thoughtful preparation

oh man, that’s so heavy.

I heard “Old Fart at Play” for the first time in 1969 when Trout Mask Replica was originally released. 37 years later, 2006 to be exact, I used it for the name of my blog. I always knew that it would come in handy, I just didn’t know when or how.

You’re probably aware by now that Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet, born Don Glen Vliet) passed away Friday, December 17, 2010, after a lengthy battle with multiple sclerosis. He was 69.

Having nicked the name for my blog from one of his songs I feel honor bound to acknowledge his passing. 

Possessor of a four-and-a-half-octave vocal range the Captain’s music was a mélange of

 idiosyncratic rhythms, absurdist lyrics, and an unholy alliance of free jazz, Delta blues, latter-day classical music, and rock & roll.

Even in the free wheeling 60’s his music was considered , somewhat, somehow, outside the norm.  Today, our notion of what’s normal in music has been stretched, but even with ears now attuned to a “new” normal his music presents a distinct challenge.

Trout Mask Replica, with it’s

minimalistic R&B, blues, and garage rock to free jazz and avant-garde experimentalism. Atonal, sometimes singsong melodies; jagged, intricately constructed dual-guitar parts; stuttering, complicated rhythmic interaction

is considered his masterpiece. Rolling Stone Magazine’s has it at No. 58 on their list of the 500 greatest albums all time. Critics loved it, most casual listeners think it’s just so much noise. What it isn’t is a party album. Host’s, feel free to play the album to encourage those last few guests to finally call it a night.

I saw Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band once. With my friend John and his girlfriend we saw them perform at the Paramount Theatre in Springfield, MA., in January 1972. Sponsored by the “underground” rock station WHVY (Heavy), and with ticket prices under $10 ($8 if memory serves me correctly) the Paramount was packed. We had prepared for the concert by sitting around, drinking beer, and listening to his first four albums, Safe as Milk, Strictly Personal,  Trout Mask Replica, and Lick My Decals Off, Baby. Too bad our fellow concert goers hadn’t prepared as well.

Shades of the “Ed Sullivan Show.” The opening act was a trained seal act. Onto the headliners. I can’t  remember what Captain Beefheart wore, but The Magic Band all wore matching gray suits. Aligned in a single row behind him, when they played, they did so in lock-step.

Springfield was not prepared for Captain Beefheart and his “brand” of music. The concert was a disaster. The boo birds came out with the opening notes. After seven or eight constantly booed songs the band fled the stage. Now those same boo birds began calling for an encore. More, More, More. A few minutes later Captain Beefheart, without the Magic Band, returned to the stage, where he asked if we did want more. More shouts of more, more from the audience. So standing there, at center stage, he proceeded to whistle “More,” the theme song to the movie Mondo Cane. You know the tune.

More than the greatest love the world has known,
This is the love I give to you alone,
More than the simple words I try to say,
I only live to love you more each day.
More than you’ll ever know, my arms long to hold you so,
My life will be in your keeping, waking, sleeping, laughing, weeping,
Longer than always is a long long time, but far beyond forever you’re gonna be mine.
I know I’ve never lived before and my heart is very sure,
No one else could love you more.

[musical interlude]

More than you’ll ever know , my arms they long to hold you so,
My life will be in your keeping, waking, sleeping, laughing, weeping,
Longer than always is a long long time, but far beyond forever you’ll be mine,
I know that I’ve never lived before and my heart is very sure,
No one else could love you more, no one else could love you more.

And with that he was gone. We had asked for More and he had given us “More.”  The newspaper later reported, not on the concert, but that the band’s gear had been stolen. Springfield couldn’t have been too bad because in October 1972 he opened for Jethro Tull at the Springfield Civic Center.

So Rest in Peace Captain Beefheart, we weren’t ready for your music, perhaps Heaven is.


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