Don Van Vliet—aka Captain Beefheart, who passed away Dec. 17—was an original musical visionary. (Stop yawning.) His career abounded with amazing albums, almost all of which differed in style from one another, but all of which contained that essential Beefheartian weirdness (even those blatant sellout LPs—Unconditionally Guaranteed and Bluejeans & Moonbeams—possessed little nuggets of strangeness).
A reputedly monomaniacal dictator with his band mates (he supposedly kept the Magic Band captive and barely eating in a house for eight months as they rehearsed the songs that appeared on Trout Mask Replica, which is totally believable after you listen to that record), Beefheart had a strong Dadaist bent in his lyrical and sonic approach. While his early recordings trafficked in thickly muscled R&B (The Legendary A&M Sessions EP) and desert-mirage garage rock (Safe As Milk), Beefheart and his Magic Band soon ventured into much stranger territory. No matter in which mode Beefheart directed his bizarrely talented musicians (psychedelia, blues, avant-garde songcraft, proto-post-punk angularity), Van Vliet put his own stamp of grotesque beauty over it. His lyrical skills remarkably matched his compositional outrageousness, which in turn proved to be an ideal playground on which his freakishly expressive vocals could gambol.
Captain Beefheart had so many moments of one-of-a-kind greatness over his 12 albums, it's hard to pinpoint just one representative song. Some of my favorites include "Dropout Boogie," "Abba Zaba," Kandy Korn" (especially the Mirror Man version), "Sugar n' Spikes," "Woe-is-uh-Me-Bop," "I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby," "White Jam," "Clear Spot," "Sun Zoom Spark," "Bat Chain Puller," "Owed t'Alex," "Tropical Hot Dog Night," "The Floppy Boot Stomp," "Ink Mathematics," and, hell, all of Doc at the Radar Station. (There, that should get you started on your mixtape.)
Nearly all of Van Vliet's work exists in a timeless sphere, an endlessly fascinating, frayed-at-the-edges world forged from the demented whimsy of his own unfathomable rules.
Below is the first 13 minutes of a John Peel-narrated documentary. Watch the whole thing and marvel at the man's mad uniqueness (Van Vliet's, not Peel's).
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