MEMOS FROM A MUSIC FIEND
BY ALEJANDRO MAGAÑA
Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica
Straight Records, 1969
Goddamn weird times. Meme-ology. Folks’ brains turning to mud. Now I need something for my mind, something to puzzle me, provoke me, make me have to think NEW thoughts….
Fucking Trout. Mask. Replica.
Has there ever been a more divisive album that is generally regarded to be one of the most important records of the 20th century? Heck, my CD copy came from an ex-girlfriend’s father who had bought it when it was listed in Rolling Stone as one of the ‘100 greatest albums,’ and he said I should have it, thought I might appreciate it more, because he “never could get into it.” This isn’t even my favorite Beefheart record, but it is an album that I always recommend people check out, as there are very, very few complete albums on such a creative and provocative level. No matter where your tastes lie, you’re certain to feel something about this, the Magic Band’s third record, a dense, sometimes bluesy (The Captain was a helluva blues singer, inspired by Howlin Wolf,) hollerin’ poetic, free jazz, proto-no-wave opus. You know what? Scratch that, this is a volume of wild poetry that has sound on it. Carefully artfully arranged sounds. Hmmm…And even that is too limiting. THERE IS LITERALLY NOTHING LIKE THIS RECORD.
While much of the myths surrounding the songwriting and recording have consistently been in dispute, some things are clear: Captain Beefheart, nee Don Van Vliet, composed approximately 75% of the ‘songs’ on piano, an instrument which he had no formal training on, and drummer John “Drumbo” French would transcribe these fragments into music, usually only a couple measures long, then he’d piece them into longer compositions, and then decide which instrument would play which part and assign the parts accordingly. Thus, French is now recognized by many biographers as the ‘arranger’ of the album, though the liner notes list Van Vliet. The rest, he said, was transcribed from Van Vliet whistling the tune! Some of the pieces of poetry are Van Vliet splicing together pieces of tape on which he’d recorded his poetry. They practiced the music for months, recorded some “provisional” tracks at the house where the entire band lived an “almost cult-like” existence, and then the band recorded 20 of the instrumental tracks, one after the other, straight through in one six-hour long session with Frank Zappa at the production helm.
Ugh,I’ve failed. I didn’t want to describe this record so straight. So boring. I’d even thought of doing a bit of collaged found poetry instead, which might have been more appropriate. (Alas, I saved y’all from that!) This record makes you upset with the status quo, makes you wanna exhibit more soul, run into a river with your ass on fire. Write a haiku backwards. Aye eye Captain! Fast n’ Bulbous!