Saturday, December 18, 2010

Big Eyed Beans From Venus, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band (1972)

RIP Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, who died yesterday.  For reasons unclear to me, my knowledge of this man and his music is virtually non-existent.  Earlier today my friend Harvey Gold, himself a fine, fine musician (google Tin Huey), wrote to me in a most heartfelt manner about the Captain's importance to him. So with his permission I've deemed it more fitting to concede the podium today to a guest blogger.
... I'm feeling his loss as I would a lifelong friend or a member of my family. I started unfashionably late with him, seeing him in 1972, on the Spotlight Kid Tour, the first of his albums that I really glommed onto.

On record, it's so easy to dismiss his music as brittle, a sometimes atonal novelty, what with him, on the surface, seemingly doing a Howlin' Wolf impression. The show I saw opened with the original 4 piece Little Feat which I was a big fan of, so it was a pretty amazing start. Then it happened. Rockette Morton came out in his floral suit and fedora, blowing into this weird snake dance while playing the shit out of his bass, ultimately going into the signature riff opening When It Blows Its Stacks. When the rest of the band came in, it was over for us all. Hearing what this truly Magic Band was doing at high decibel levels... like a Rock Band for God's sake... brought all the solidity, legitimacy, and dynamism of this music, nailing us right between the eyes.

By the time the set got to the place where Don did his requisite soprano sax 'solo' nonsense, we had to grab Mark Price and pin him to his seat, he being so moved as to tear off his zippered rubber galosh and attempt to throw it at the Captain from our vantage in the balcony to the side of the stage, in tribute to what he was doing to us.

That was the beginning but by no means the end. I'll openly admit I never really got to know Trout Mask Replica all that well, but when I hear it I chuckle and feel good.

But I digress: the next album was Clear Spot. For me this is a desert island album, without question. This band, adding Roy Estrada (original bassist for The Mothers of Invention and then original member of Little Feat), took the Spotlight Kid material to another level. One of the best albums I've ever experienced. Big Eyed Beans From Venus is one of the great song/performance moments in electric music history, I kid you not. (Editor's note: Holy mackerel!)

Anyway, my personal experience with him - seeing him in concert 5 times (all the bands, without question, Magic), the last, HIS last, at The Beacon Theater in NY, having met him at a concert once, and again when he stopped in for a visit as we made our album for WBS in LA back in '78 - are asides.

The four greatest musical influences in my life AS A MUSICIAN were The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart and The Soft Machine. They all changed me along the way, opening up possibilities, areas of challenge, and just as important, new areas of comfort.


Wade said...

Thanks for this, Wendy and Harvey. Beefheart is just a name I've known without really knowing anything about him or his context other than, vaguely, "sixties." Didn't even know he was in San Francisco, but I had a connotation of him with Richard Brautigan (troutfishing, troutmasks,, I guess). After reading more about him, I gotta say his stuff sounds pretty daunting to try to get into/understand now (especially since "Zappa" is used in the same sentence), but I'll give it a shot.

H. Harvey said...

Even though Don did a collaboration with Zappa, 'Bongo Fury,' forget the connection when it comes to Beefheart's music. So unless you're really into atonality and what may seem daunting, i.e. really jagged, underproduced guitar and marimba music with Howlin' Wolf vocals on an astonishingly strange galactic level... just get the Spotlight Kid/ Clear Spot doublepack (all on one cd and inexpensive), put on good headphones or great speakers, crank it up, and you'll quickly realize that he was just too damned off the path to have what decade anything occurred matter. Be intrepid, Wade. If you don't like it, you won't like it, but if you do, it'll be a goldmine.