Sunday, December 26, 2010

THE DREAMER HAS AWAKENED: Don Van Vliet (1941-2010)

I was taken completely by surprise by the announcement of Captain Beefheart's passing on December 17th 2010 from complications relating to multiple sclerosis.  For nearly three decades he'd been close to invisible to music fans,  while he carried on a career as a serious and well-regarded painter,  often tackling environmental themes in an expressionistic manner (much like his music).  Releases like TROUT MASK REPLICA (1969) and LICK MY DECALS OFF,  BABY (1970) set the standard for kinetically precise,  yet skewed rhythms,  angular bass and guitar interplay,  mystifyingly composed  "free" playing,  and  obtuse poetics.  He and his Magic Band were truly magicians when it came to creating experimental pop that morphed their blues and free jazz influences into unique hybrids that begged the question "how did they do that?".  Even a later release like the somewhat more accessible CLEAR SPOT (1973) seemed the real deal,  containing beautifully hummable commercial moments ("Too Much Time") alongside heartfelt avant-garde gestures ("Big-Eyed Beans From Venus").  This was an album that bravely combined both surrealism and soul in a satisfying way.  I've always cherished his performance at My Father's Place in Roslyn,  New York (Nov. 18th,  1978),  not just for the music,  but for the chance to meet the Captain up close and personal.  Beyond his legendary weirdness and supposed egomania,  here was an affable,  charming,  and funny guy,  someone I now miss even more.

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