Review Summary: An entirely incomplete disservice to the Captain's music, yet I feel compelled to write.
The following is the result of the inspirational and often hysterical awe that The Captain – Mr Don Van Vliet emits. Whilst the following scraps of text are entirely brief, incomplete and pathetic comparably, I wish to somehow surmise the significance of a man entirely overlooked by modernity, not merely to satisfy my own heartbreak but to document my own feelings in somewhat of an ordered manner outside and away from my own mind. If you don’t know who Captain Beefheart is then the following will be largely useless and nonsensical, but as you aren’t aware of Don Van Vliet, I really don’t care.
Sculpting a raw beaten imprint and existing only in a transitionary state, before permeating and leaving you permanently sizzled… You don’t even really like this horrendous noise; ‘Troutmask Replica’. And you’ve been left damaged from its secretions; your skin is shrivelled from being exposed to it. You dislike the racket and the mark that remains from its initial run-through has made you irritable. Yet as you shed its effects; this dead membrane that has collected upon your flesh falls aside and beneath, thicker and stronger is yet an even more visible sign of its influence upon you. It spreads, eventually consuming.
The world recedes.
Another verse plummets downward and slices you in half, revealing the faults within your own corrupted flesh. Innards explode and guts are entangled. This destruction is beautiful. It is the masterful inclination of a genius; Captain Beefheart. This is fact and this is serious. This is art. Art. A-R-T. Now, usually such grandiose terms are hidden beneath a barrage of scoffs, especially within popular culture. A wall of pomposity imposes upon you, like one of those idiots who believe the term ‘genius’ is solely applicable to The Beatles or Bob Dylan, but such is the state of our tragic world. In this particular case, I can state without pretension, without having to stifle a laugh at my own arrogance, and without needing to amend my own hysterical blubbering, that Don Van Vliet is a genius.
Don Van Vliet inhabits the Mojave Desert. He isn’t influenced by anything that came before and doesn’t let trivial annoyance (such as the weather) distract or change him. From the pictorial evidence I’ve gawped at, he doesn’t even own a tan, despite living in a trailer upon a desert. Mere underlings such as you and I must adapt to survive, Don refutes compromise. The entire buzzing world shifts around him even though he seems to want nothing of it himself. For me, this perfectly displays and defines Captain Beefheart, uncompromising, immoveable and flagellated by principle. He remains unaffected, even nature abides. He is a cast iron imprint of his own ideas. A red hot poker moulded into an incomprehensible figure, forever marking us, his bovine flock, with the distinct idiosyncrasies of a Beefheart disciple.
Don doesn’t seem to have faith in the strength of the English language, to him it seems to crumble and buckle when his intent is flung close by. He definitely doesn’t trust it… Old stories modified through generations, filtered from decade to decade, slightly affected and changed in its meaning; derided and compromised… This is Don’s nightmare. It’s too breakable, too fragile; therefore using the English language in the literal sense could never suffice. A whole unabridged lexicon is unlocked, archived and unleashed. Don’s distrust of language, or more accurately, his distrust of OUR language stems from it being a medium for emotion instead of it being something you intrinsically feel or automatically comprehend. Therefore in reflection, his decision to escape and evade the music industry for his first love of painting and sculpting shouldn’t be surprising. His raw passion, leaving you scrambled, and reasserted to the mains is now, especially for him, purer than ever. His works now don’t have the discomfort or inadequacy of requiring a translatory medium for deliverance.
Around the release of ‘Doc at The Radar Station’ in 1980 and during an interview with Lester Bangs (a friend of Beefheart) Don explained this situation perfectly “We’re talking without talking. I mean that in a good sense. We’re saying things that can’t be put into the tongue. It’s like good music”.
Instinctive, a throbbing nerve, a live wire, The Captain is a creature, a monster in a cave, however maybe this analogy of cave-like proportions is entirely wrong. In fact, I know this is the case. Don is the evolved being, the affluent and superior figure singing into newly created fire whilst we’re asleep in the cave, grunting, smelly and incapable. He senses, he doesn’t evaluate, he feels.
The Doc’s here only to lacerate the flesh of his victim, for his own relief, pleasure and probably amusement. But whilst he works selfishly (as it should be) for his art, he reveals his true-self, dispersing his irrepressible and incomprehensible wonder. His work comes down to the basic models of art, natural progressions; creation and destruction. Throughout his musical expositions he allows us to observe his many procedures, whilst we do observe his methodical practices magically sedate us and next our body is being used for The Doc’s explorations. We become his mannequins, his victims; The Enlightened Ones.
Don once professed that he didn’t make music, he made spells. Bewitchingly I agree. Bow down, bow down. His writing deals in truths not facts. Swells of cascading vocal augmentation ponders and rivets over constructions of everything contained within life.
Beefheart vocally has been compared (lazily) to Howlin’ Wolf who was in turn named such for his verbal sensibilities to that of his namesake. There IS something in that theorem. Undoubtedly there’s an animalistic glare within The Captain, exuded through every movement, stem of music, verbose pattering, suffocated noise, exploited silence, heart bled yelp, angered roar, pain filled spurt and barbaric howl. Don deals with the aesthetics of Anthropomorphism; it’s a default setting.
Loosely borrowing a line from Lester Bangs ‘unlike his other contemporaries, who escaped the 1960s as survivors, The Captain is a natural resource.’
Beefheart’s music will never be recognised. It will never be a trend. It cannot be superficially drafted into the mainstream. I’m glad, very glad, and this isn’t my wincing, snot-nostril inflicted pronunciation of knowing something you don’t; *wink wink* “Aren’t I proper clever"” This is something above my mere mortal status.
He is genius.