Much like the efforts we take to write more, exercise more, drink less, spend less, work harder, take more time for ourselves and family, etc. etc., we also make resolutions at the beginning of a new year to change our cultural consumption habits as well. Maybe you’d like to visit more art museums, or read at least three historical non-fictions by the end of the year. Maybe you also want to start listening to an artist that you never really considered listening to before. Here at Electric Comic Book, we are dedicated to helping you get the most out of your musical experience, and so, we’d like to offer this short Rock Primer on how to appreciate a classic artist that can seem daunting to jump right into. Our first subject to this new feature is the notoriously intimidating Captain Beefheart.
Whether you’ve read past essays on this site on the life, times, and death of the good captain (aka Dan Van Vliet), Captain Beefheart still remains a mystifying and daunting figure for both the myths and legends behind his personal life, but also what’s actually on the records. While many of them are worthy of acclaim after years of gestating in the critical back shelf, it seems that since his death in 2010, interest in Captain Beefheart’s music has enjoyed a slight upswing as other critics (namely, Rolling Stone, who, I’ll admit, put together a good list of songs, but not albums) pointed to his ‘best stuff’ in their eulogies — many of which pointed to his masterpiece, 1969’s Trout Mask Replica. However, because it does remain a haunting, challenging listen — even now, and after I published last week I would sooner turn that album on at a party before White Light/White Heat — the focus of his ‘best’ is not the intention here. This primer will be a guide for those who still look upon the Captain’s work with trepidation, and need a guide on dipping your toes in first before diving in to the rest of the Beefheart legacy. And even though many of your favorite artists will be quick to cite him as an influence, and usually point to Trout Mask Replica as the starting point (indeed it was for me), there are some who are still unable to make the plunge. Mind you, among the artists who consider Beefheart an influence include (but are not limited to): Tom Waits, Jack White, Kurt Cobain, John Frusciante, Black Francis, John Cale, Little Feat, the Clash, Johnny Rotten, Beck, the Black Keys, Beck, and Matt Groening — who got the Magic Band to reunite for the year he curated All Tomorrow’s Parties. And if you like any of them, chances are you’ll find something to love about the shambling, intentionally mad, silly darkness and intentionally ‘wrong’ music of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. And for that, we don’t start with his most well-known work, but in a some safer territory.
After the Jump: Loving One of Rock’s Most Difficult Personas.