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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Never Heard of 'Em: Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band

Posted by on Thu, Apr 12, 2012 at 4:13 PM

Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band
Trout Mask Replica
(Straight)

Anna Minard claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we force her to listen to random records by artists considered to be important by music nerds.

06trout1.jpg
Um, so if you know this album, maybe you're already laughing. (You should be.) Grant handed it to me with the comment, "It’s pretty weird." That's it. Then I listened to Trout Mask Replica. Yesterday, I confronted Grant. "I have absolutely nothing to say," I told him. "Are you kidding me with this?" "People love that album," he said. "You have to write about it."

To which I say: PEOPLE! Who are you? What is going on? Context-free, just listening to this for the first time, do you think I should appreciate it? The different instrumental parts seem to have only the most passing relationship to each other. They regularly go off on the sort of screechy musical tangents that drive me up a wall ("now I'm just gonna play this scratchy out-of-tune bullshit for a full minute at the end of a song, I’m so amaaaaazing"). And the lyrics are insane: "A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast and bulbous. Got me?" NO, I DO NOT GET YOU!

My emotional response to this was annoyance-morphed-into-irrational-anger, kind of like road rage, or slowest-line-at-the-grocery-store rage, or why-won’t-the-fucking-printer-print-my-boarding-pass rage. There's no point in being upset by things you can't control, like someone cutting you off in traffic or the sound of printer wheels churning to no observable effect. But sometimes a thing hits the solar plexus of your animal rage brain and before you know it, you're Hulking out. I was fully Hulking out on this shit. My sanity was basically a shredded pair of purple pants. I haaaaaate this.

Then Grant broke the cardinal Never Heard of 'Em rule: He explained the context. "Frank Zappa recorded it in a basement while they were all on acid." Um, yeah. OBVIOUSLY. That is exactly what it sounds like. But why would I want to hear that? That sounds terrible! Still, after this most basic of explanations, my rage was extinguished. Now it just seems like a bunch of silly dudes on drugs, and even though that's boring, I don't really care. Plus I like some stuff just fine—"Moonlight on Vermont" and "Veteran’s Day Poppy" are neat. This Beefheart guy's voice is fun to listen to and I'm thinking maybe I should try something of his that's a little bit less, you know… insane? Does that exist?

I give this a "damn, music nerds, you are crazy" out of 10.

Listen to "Ella Guru" after the cut.

 

Comments (42) RSS

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Kris 1
This is my favorite Never Heard of 'Em yet.
Posted by Kris on April 12, 2012 at 4:28 PM · Report this
2
This column is great. I'm not so sure about the acid thing, though.

If you want to hear a more listenable Beefheart record, Clear Spot is probably the friendliest. Safe as Milk is a little more straightforward, also awesome.
Posted by danmohr on April 12, 2012 at 4:57 PM · Report this
3
One of my favorite all time bands. RIP Mr. Van Vliet. I first discovered them in the 3.99 bin at Sam Goody when I was 12. The juxtaposition of the business suits and the crazy name intrigued my adolsecent brain. I also had 3.99 to spend. Anna, starting with Trout Mask Replica is like taking LSD as your first time doing drugs ever. Try Safe As Milk for a proper introduction. I can't wait to give you a hard time about this at the next bookstore related function (if you still go to those).
Posted by peter laughner on April 12, 2012 at 5:06 PM · Report this
4
I love this column.
Posted by Chester Copperpot on April 12, 2012 at 5:06 PM · Report this
blip 5
I fucking hate this album. Supposedly a lot of effort went into making it sound like a giant pile of impenetrable garbage. Cover art's neat though.
Posted by blip on April 12, 2012 at 5:08 PM · Report this
6
Ha! Do you not recognize the need for sheer headfuckery? Should all musics be smooth and shiny so as to mollify the willful ignorami?

OK, now that I'm done with my pompous screed... this IS an overrated version of the Magic Band. Not even in my top 5 of their albums. It is a little too crazy.

Try: Doc at the Radar Station, Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), Clear Spot, Spotlight Kid
Posted by Daily in LA on April 12, 2012 at 5:16 PM · Report this
Gurldoggie 7
This is an excellent review. Your reaction is totally honest and true, but nonetheless you should listen to it again. And maybe again after that. This is an absolutely amazing album, there is just nothing like it for sheer musical weirdness, but you need to train your ears to hear it. I'm sure I sound like music nerd #1, but I mean it. I love this record. And if you want to hear something just as exciting but a little more conventional listen to "Shiny Beast/Bat Chain Puller.
Posted by Gurldoggie http://gurldogg.blogspot.com on April 12, 2012 at 5:17 PM · Report this
DavidG 8
Grant, I do believe Frank Zappa never ever took acid in his life. Famously ridiculed people who took drugs, even, except for his beloved chain-smoked cigarettes and coffee.
Posted by DavidG http://portableshrines.com on April 12, 2012 at 5:24 PM · Report this
DavidG 9
Also, Beefheart denied that he ever used drugs as a musical influence: http://www.rickmcgrath.com/beef1.html

McGrath: You've said you don't believe in drugs. Is there any reason for that?

Beefheart: I think people should give themselves more credit. I think they have everything themselves. I don't think anything needs to be induced. Do you know what I mean?

McGrath: Yeah.

Beefheart: I think they just get disconnected.

McGrath: Can you offer any suggestions why so many people do drugs?

Beefheart: Because they want to, I guess. What I'm saying is that I just don't take them. Nobody in the group takes them.


I don't know where Grant gets his info from but any diehard fan of Beefheart would know better.
Posted by DavidG http://portableshrines.com on April 12, 2012 at 5:28 PM · Report this
Mahtli69 10
"Silly dudes on drugs" couldn't play that. Just because there's dissonance doesn't mean it isn't tight.

This column pisses me off, which I guess makes it a good column, but fuck!
Posted by Mahtli69 on April 12, 2012 at 5:28 PM · Report this
11
My dad loves this shit. Can't understand it. I'm with Anna.
Posted by Nitidiuscula on April 12, 2012 at 5:43 PM · Report this
CATSPAW666 12
I am so happy that this record still gets this kind of a response.

I bought it new, when it came out, and perverse or not, I loved it. Named my first sewing machine "Ella Guru". It is far from out of tune or anarchist- it is incredibly precisely played. It was rehearsed, live, for months on end. And nobody was high on anything when it was recorded.

But, back in the day, you were pretty much guaranteed to clear out a party, if you put this on. Even high on acid, the Anna Minards of 1970 would have the exact same reaction as they do today.
It was handy for snagging the leftover beer, as the crowd left.

I was afraid that Beefheart had become so assimilated that he would seem normal today, but I am happy to hear that it still offends, as it should.
It rewards repeated listening, but I wouldnt wish it on anyone who doesnt like it. But since you left, you wont mind if I finish that beer, would you?
Posted by CATSPAW666 on April 12, 2012 at 6:11 PM · Report this
CATSPAW666 13
I would like to hear Anna's response to the 80's party clearing record of choice- the Pussy Galore re-enactment of Exile on Main Street- she should be able to get some mileage out of that, for sure.
http://www.xtrmntr.com/pg/exile/
Posted by CATSPAW666 on April 12, 2012 at 6:16 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 14
listen to the earliest stuff as an entre to beefheart. "grown so ugly" or "electricity", for instance. then the later stuff starts to make sense.

Posted by Max Solomon on April 12, 2012 at 6:50 PM · Report this
15
Ice cream for crow is very listenable too. I'm irritated by the fact that the fish on the cover is a carp and not a trout.
Posted by codswallower on April 12, 2012 at 7:11 PM · Report this
16
I get the reaction. But this album is awesome, even sober. Still, "Safe as Milk" is completely unfuckwithable. A 19-year-old Ry Cooder on guitar? Yes please.
Posted by JoshRuffin on April 12, 2012 at 7:16 PM · Report this
17
I love this record, although not my favorite Beefheart record. I've spent a lot of time with it some years ago.

I also LOVE this column. I need to go back and check out more of them.

go Grant.
Posted by Steven Severin on April 12, 2012 at 7:51 PM · Report this
18

To understand Captain Beefheart, you have to imagine being handed an iPod in 1926.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on April 12, 2012 at 8:24 PM · Report this
19
This is a fun column. I love this album, but honestly it does take like 15 listens to crack. Not only were they not on drugs in a basement, but Beefheart instituted a kind of fluxus, dictatory thing--making the band practice for 12 hours at a time and then leaving the studio etc. The musicianship is extraordinary if you really listen, super super tech, not unlike Coltrane's Ascension. But Safe as Milk and Shiny Beast are the banging, crowd pleasing beefheart albums that I listen to way more.
Posted by Hosono on April 12, 2012 at 8:28 PM · Report this
LEE. 20
from Wikipedia...

"Van Vliet used a piano—an instrument he had never played before—as his main compositional tool."

there you go!

I do appreciate this column, but COME ON. it's really hard for me to buy that even though a person doesn't care for music much, by adulthood they would be oblivious to the concept of abstract sounds and compositions. would you expect me to believe that you've never heard of Dada, or Burroughsian cut-ups, either?

that said, once I stayed up all night drinking coffee at Beth's Cafe and then went home and put this album on. I haven't been able to make it through more than two songs since. that was ten years ago...ugh.
Posted by LEE. on April 12, 2012 at 9:14 PM · Report this
LEE. 21
also, Anna if you haven't yet, it is worth your time to read about the production of this record. the process sounded brutal.
Posted by LEE. on April 12, 2012 at 9:16 PM · Report this
Keekee 22
Why did Grant lie about the acid thang???
Posted by Keekee on April 12, 2012 at 9:44 PM · Report this
23
This column is always a win
Posted by Todd Hamm on April 13, 2012 at 1:50 AM · Report this
24
@22 'cause Grant doesn't know what he's talking about on this one. He's pulling shit out of his ass with this one. I guess the conceit is "records important to people who love music" - not necessarily records important to Grant.
Posted by jnonymous on April 13, 2012 at 4:56 AM · Report this
--MC 25
People have been talking about "Safe As Milk" -- go here

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCSPf5Viw…

for a taste. One of John Lennon's favorite albums. Once listen to that album, you can see the bones of the blues grinning out of the structure of the songs on "Trout Mask Replica". (And you'll never be able to listen to Tom Waits again without a patient, indulgent smile.)
Posted by --MC on April 13, 2012 at 7:05 AM · Report this
26
There is a huge disadvantage to plucking sounds our of context, since this album (and many, many you haven't heard) existed in a dialog with other records, and "in real time" some of these records made different sense. Beefheart was a twisted genius, but it probably helps to think of it as an avant garde art project with equal parts Howlin' Wolf, beat poetry, music concrete, sixties garage rock, James Joyce, Richard Nixon, LSD, Southern California, dissonant found sounds, Ornette Coleman, experimental electronica, R&B, Stockhausen, John Cage, Fellini, and the fear and trembling of crawling out of a frozen garbage can in an alley in the middle of the night. This is not easy listening, after all, and without a little homework and some cultural digging, it's just tossing pearls before swine.
Posted by Bob Rini http://bobrinimakesart.blogspot.com/ on April 13, 2012 at 7:26 AM · Report this
27
Oh, and it sounds good, too.
Posted by Bob Rini http://bobrinimakesart.blogspot.com/ on April 13, 2012 at 7:32 AM · Report this
Geraldo Riviera 28
I do drugs, Frank Zappa didn't.
Posted by Geraldo Riviera on April 13, 2012 at 7:47 AM · Report this
29
While I haven't listened to their music for quite some time, I did a long time ago and in person when they practiced at our home when my former husband and I were students at Cal State Northridge. Don Van Vliet and the other band members would roll in from Lancaster and use our small rental home as a base while my husband and his friend were acting as their first managers out trying to line up gigs for them. The friend's wife and I started the Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band Fan Club of which I was President. None of us had much clue about what to do.

But it was exciting at the time until the band got lured away by a big record company in Hollywood. It was very disappointing to us initially but it was certainly more productive for our studying.

Jeanne Kohl-Welles
Posted by Jeanne Kohl-Welles on April 13, 2012 at 8:39 AM · Report this
kitschnsync 30
Just dropping in to say that Grant is full of shit.

I see that has been covered.
Posted by kitschnsync on April 13, 2012 at 9:13 AM · Report this
31
Holy cow. I can't believe my state senator just chimed on here to talk about Captain Beefheart. (Assuming that actually is JK-W - but who would pretend to be Jeanne Kohl-Welles talking about Captain Beefheart?) Damn, I love this town.
Posted by Levislade http://ballofwax.org on April 13, 2012 at 10:05 AM · Report this
Space Funk Guru 32
This column is now officially "played out." EPIC. HIPSTER. FAIL.
Posted by Space Funk Guru on April 13, 2012 at 12:13 PM · Report this
--MC 33
Some suggestions for the next "Never Heard Of 'Em" column? How about Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, John Zorn, The Shaggs, "Metal Machine Music", Larry "Wild Man" Fischer, Meredith Monk?
Posted by --MC on April 13, 2012 at 12:26 PM · Report this
porter_esq 34
Great comment thread. I look forward to reading about The Madcap Laughs, Double Nickels On The Dime, Bitches Brew and Free Jazz.
Posted by porter_esq on April 13, 2012 at 4:02 PM · Report this
35
"A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast and bulbous. Got me?" - that seems like a keyboarding class exercise
Posted by betsybeets on April 14, 2012 at 6:40 PM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 36
This column = joy
Posted by Canadian Nurse on April 15, 2012 at 7:37 AM · Report this
Grant Brissey, Emeritus 37
I made the acid thing up to see if our fact-checker would fact check it!
Posted by Grant Brissey, Emeritus http://www.grantropolis.com/ on April 20, 2012 at 12:55 PM · Report this
38
Music nerd here. While drug use undoubtably influenced the composition of some the material on Trout Mask, it was not recorded under the influence of drugs at all. It was recorded largely as a live performance by the most well-rehearsed band of all time, who obsessively learned these impossible-to-perform songs over the course of a year. Precision is the key word here, regardless of the chaotic result. It's like learning Jackson Pollock painted with a single-hair brush.
Posted by desertisland on July 14, 2014 at 2:42 PM · Report this
39
If this is too much for you try listening to Clear Spot. IT is much more consumable for the masses of today. They were an important and seminal band. Much of their music crosses several genres and is classified as Art.
John French and some of the guys still play and tour. Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vleit) died a few years ago. he stopped recording in the '80s to concentrate on his painting and drawing. This band will be in the history books. I was a young man when they were recording and was drawn up in the sound and fury of it all.
Posted by Artype on July 15, 2014 at 11:36 AM · Report this
40
So, Anna, for a little perspective, what's your favourite artists and albums?
Posted by Jymn on July 16, 2014 at 10:09 AM · Report this
41
Oh that's right, Anna doesn't listento music. "Beware the woman not moved by sound/She'll drag you to the ground" - the Fugs. I'd hate to be in the same art gallery as Anna and a Pollack. She'd run out screaming.
Posted by Jymn on July 16, 2014 at 4:21 PM · Report this
42
This was not recorded in a basement while they were all high on acid. The band rehearsed their instrumental parts for hours a day, weeks on end, usually with little sleep and not much food, either. (Captain Beefheart--Don Van Vliet--was a bit of a tyrannical taskmaster.) None of this is random...it was all carefully worked out and pieced together...it is "composed" music.

When I first heard it 35 or so years ago--nearly 10 years after it had been released--it sounded random to me, as well, hard to make sense of. However, repeated listening permits you to hear the organization behind the apparent disorganization. This is not to guarantee you will learn to like it, as it still is a master of taste. I like it very much, myself.
Posted by robert1014 on July 17, 2014 at 10:31 AM · Report this

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