For some, today will be a day you will always remember where you were when you heard the news. Don van Vliet a.k.a. Captain Beefheart died today after a long battle with Multiple Sclerosis.
So who was he?
He was a musician, singer, songwriter so far ahead of his time, his time never came.
He started making music around 1965 and even his early structured songs came with an experimental twist – take the awesome Autumn’s Child or Electricity from his first album, Safe as Milk. And this was at a time when the supposedly ground-breaking Beatles were still singing about wanting to hold your hand!
The albums got stranger and stranger – less apparently structured – and certainly more barrier-breaking – up until around 1968 when his seminal Trout Mask Replica double album was released.
This is the day - to dig out your copy of Trout Mask
Never before – and possibly since – has an album caused such a stir. One listen was never enough. 10 listens were not enough. This was a body of work that demanded your time and careful attention before you realised just how accomplished it really is.
Following a brief period of more conventional work in the 70’s in an effort to raise funds to supplement his painting, the Captian withdrew from public life as his illness began to take hold. Fans have been feeding off scraps of sightings – somehow PJ Harvey managed to penetrate the sanctom and became a close friend – an influence that can clearly be spotted in her own work.
Another big fan is Matt Groening – creator of The Simpsons. I don’t know quite what Homer Simpson would have made of Trout Mask, but I’m sure Bart Simpson will grow to love it. Anyhow, it provides me with another reason to talk about The Simpsons. (Apologies for flagrant abuse).
I said to my 6yr old boy, Weedy, that today is a bit sad as Captain Beefheart died. “Oh well”, he said, “at least you can still listen to the music! I’d be sad if the Ting Tings died but I’d still listen to them.”
And he’s right. Forever, the Captain may be gone – but people will continue to discover the music of Trout Mask Replica and began their own voyage of illumination. That is his legacy.
Now there… are 3…. steps to… carry a donor card – ooh, wap wap!
Just follow steps 1, 2 and 3.