Saturday, December 18, 2010

Captain Beefheart, RIP

circa early '70s, via Rolling Stone

I'm not even a fan, but nearly every blog I read has a memorial to the artist/musician known as Captain Beefheart posted in the last couple of days (he died Friday, 12/17).  You might want to start with the excellent Wiki bio.  Tristero at Digby, Driftglass, and Doghouse all have posts.  You'll learn a lot if you just take some time and read some about him.  I'm particularly struck by the various people who say things like "the first several times I heard 'Trout,' I thought it was horrible.  Then it 'clicked,' and now it's the best album ever made."  That's pretty serious cudos in anybody's book. 

As to why it's difficult to follow your own path in this world (the greatest democracy man hath ever wrought, needless to say, and just watch our glorious Senate on C-Span if you want confirmation), see the following post from Jesus General (a guy who is probably the grandson of Guy Grand):

And for the consequences of actually living and working with a genius like the Captain, I give you a paragraph from the Wiki bio, written by one of his sidemen, John French:

If Van Vliet built a house like he wrote music, the methodology would go something like this... The house is sketched on the back of a Denny's placemat in such an odd fashion that when he presents it to the contractor without plans or research, the contractor says "This structure is going to be hard to build, it's going to be tough to make it safe and stable because it is so unique in design." Van Vliet then yells at the contractor and intimidates him into doing the job anyway. The contractor builds the home, figuring out all the intricacies involved in structural integrity himself because whenever he approaches Van Vliet, he finds that he seems completely unable to comprehend technical problems and just yells, "Quit asking me about this stuff and build the damned house."... When the house is finished no one gets paid, and Van Vliet has a housewarming party, invites none of the builders and tells the guests he built the whole thing himself.

While I've never been in a band containing such a genius, I will say that, a couple of times, I've been rather close.  In comparison, I was on Mars while John French was on Mercury.  For other examples of this kind of charismatic genius, see, e.g., the Pogues live concert video featuring the the lead singer who drove the rest of them crazy, Shane MacGowan.  After they "fired" him, however, they all simply became postmen with musical instruments.  A couple of details in the composite bio which jumped out at me:

1.  While recording "Trout Mask Replica," Vliet became unhappy with the progress of the recording (supervised by Frank Zappa no less) and demanded that they go into a studio and "do it right."  Once there, Vliet refused to wear headphones and synced all his vocals by listening to the faint sounds coming through a sound-proof window.  His singing, including the odd out-of-sync aspect, is often noted in reviews of the record, which Rolling Stone lists as 58 on their all-time 100 best albums.

2.  On the Dave Letterman show, Vliet said that he lived in a trailer in the desert.  "Do you like that?" Letterman asked.  "I hate it," Vliet replied.  "Why do you live there then?"  "For the tension."

Vliet left music in the early '80s and became a successful painter.  He had been painting since he was a child. Of two of his records, discs which aimed for more "listenability" and were released in the mid-'70s, he said "they were horrible.  People should return them to the record store and ask for their money back."   (Been there too, in a different way.)

The story of how the stage persona "Captain Beefheart" came into being is pretty funny.

Update (Lud us sing goddam):

Digby reports the following, after congratulating the Congress and President Obama for getting the repeal of DADT to a vote, at long long long last:

Predictably, America was unable to take a step toward equality without sullying ourselves with a blatant act of cruelty and bigotry to balance it out. I guess there's only so much decency allowed at one time. They filibustered the DREAM Act, which would have given a path to citizenship to people who'd been illegally brought to the US as children. Surely the empire would have fallen if young people who've been here their whole lives were allowed to work and contribute to our country.

Oh and by the way, several Democrats helped them do it. When they are losing their next elections to some right wing racist I wonder if it will occur to them that they are going to spend time in hell for no good reason.

Perhaps the Democrats who signed on to this bit of viciousness will offer, as a response, that they "like the tension"?  Of course America has been fine with collateral damage upon the utterly innocent for quite some time.  To the GOP such practices are actually evidence of moral strength, so why wouldn't Red State Dems figure that some moral toughness here will pay off later, in votes.  Not that it won't be child's play for the professional Hard Men to paint these pretenders into the wussy corner.  Probably all they'll need is to say, over and over, that "My opponent is a member of the Democrat Party."    

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