Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica

2009-11-06 15:25
Trout Mask Replica

The hippie dream is dead. And what are The Beatles doing about it? Tossing off their Abbey Road outtakes and wondering whether they should split up. Rock music's desperate for a saviour. It gets an idiot savant instead.

Enter Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band's epic stream of consciousness rock sermon that mainlines garage rock 'n roll guitar duels, spastic rhythm 'n blues reconstructions, old time folk, psychedelic soul, sea shanty song and free jazz experimentation into 28 lysergic soaked trips, adminsitered over four sides of virgin vinyl hallucination.

It's not just the sonic excess that makes Troutmask such a mind blowing listen. It's the mad dadaist science with which the Captain (aka Don van Vliet) rewires rock music's compositional code book. "The Dust Blows Forward 'n the Dust Blows Back" is a bizarre spoken word  Beat poetry postcard from old timey Americana. "Dachau Blues" is a dissonant rhythm 'n blues retro futurist manifesto of atonal jazz saxophone solos and out of key guitar strum 'n wails. "Ella Guru" is an avant rock soundtrack to schizophrenia in stereo. "Moonlight in Vermont" is a surreal B-movie fuelled proto-punk yowl about,, surely not simply howling at the moon? 

Hell, no. Not Beefheart. Beneath the frenzied falsetto and lunatic jabberwocky is a labyrinth of abstract art brut thematics that mainlines everything from an anthropology of  the blues, folk and gospel to the politics of the Holocaust, the de-humanisation of 21st century consumerism and yes, even global warming. But this is still a rock 'n roll record, so don't forget the sex.

"Tits tits the blimp the blimp. The mother ship the mother ship. The brothers hid under the hood. From the blimp the blimp...All the people stir. 'n' the girls' knees tremble. 'n' run 'n' wave their hands. 'n' run their hands over the blimp the blimp...." rants the Captain on "The Blimp". Are we to interpret this as rock scribe Lester Bangs advised, on a purely verbal level as "an explosion of maniacal free-association incantations, eschewing (with the authentic taste that assassignates standards of Taste) solemn "poetic" pretensions and mundane, obvious monosyllabic mindlessness"?

For sure. But it's also something more insidiously simple. It's Beefheart getting his rocks off. "When Big Joan Sets Up" is a feverish fairytale about an obese chick that finds Beefheart reanimating Howling Wolf's tombstone blues rasp with his own four-and-one-half octave wailed non-sequiturs over an apocalypse of fire-breathing sax jazz skronks that makes the earlier jazz freestyling of "Hair Pie: Bake One" sound positively half cooked.

And let's not forget the plethora of "samples", those found sound bites clipped from Miles Davis' Concierto de Aranjuez ("Sugar 'N Spikes"), a guitar line reanimated from Gene Autry's cowpoke pop "Rancho Grande" ("Veterans Day Poppy"), or a refrain reprised from both "Old Time Religion" spirtuals and serial classical composer Steve Reich's "Come Out" ("Moonlight On Vermont"). Bangs nailed it back in his 1969 Rolling Stone review when he wrote that Trout Mask is "the most unusual and challenging musical experience you'll have this year".

After 40 years it's lost none of its snakebite. It's hallucinogenic art rock pandemonium can still be heard echoing through the dark side of the street sounds of avant-bar balladeers like Tom Waits and just about every post-punk band worth tuning in to from Pere Ubu and The Mars Volta to Sunburned Hand of the Man, our very own Mr Cat & the Jackal and more. 

Beefheart Sound Bites
"I got tired of scaring people with what I was doing." Crawdaddy, 1972.
"I'd always thought music was too formal, and I thought 'well, I'll get into this and fix it'." Oui Magazine, 1973.
"Be kind, man - don't be mankind." John Peel radio interview, 1973. 

Beefheart Facts & Folklore
Trout Mask was voted # 58 on Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time".
The album was produced by friend and former schoolmate, Frank Zappa, and was originally released on Zappa's Straight Records imprint.
Beefheart infamously insisted his Magic Band "live" the album, rehearsing his complex compositions for eight months, living communally in a small rented house in the Woodland Hills suburb of Los Angeles. 
Control freak? Word has it that at various times one or another of the group members was put "in the barrel," with Van Vliet berating him continually, sometimes for days, until the musician collapsed in tears or in total submission to Van Vliet. Drummer John French reportedly described the situation as "cultlike" [The Captain Beefheart Radar Station] and a visiting friend said "the environment in that house was positively Manson-esque." [Barnes, Mike. Captain Beefheart. Quartet Books]
Legendary BBC disc jockey John Peel on Trout Mask: "If there has been anything in the history of popular music which could be described as a work of art in a way that people who are involved in other areas of art would understand, then Trout Mask Replica is probably that work." No coincidence then that Peel's playing of the record on late-night radio was largely responsible for its reaching 21 in the UK charts. [Mike Barnes, "Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica", Perfect Sound Forever, February 1999.]

America 1969: President Richard Nixon's bombing the crap out of Cambodia. Kids are coming home from Vietnam on a conveyor belt of body bags. Race riots are simmering. Charlie Manson's family is murdering movie stars. You can feel it: Apocalypse Now.

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