We have lost a lot of people this year.
Each one leaves a sense of numbness and sadness but death of Don Van Vliet or Captain Beefheart has knocked me sideways.
There are few constants in my life but Captain Beefheart is one of them.
His death is a major shock.
He died from complications brought on by MS- the disease that had been laying him low for years.
I’ve listenedÃÂ to his records for years. Not to be hip or smart but because I totally loved them. I loved their sprawling energy, their sharp intelligence and their wild bohemian spirit. Their words were sheer poetry- shards and slivers of and craps of surreal words that make their own logic as they go along. These were words that combined a wild free jazz humour and a free jazz spirit in a confusion of phrases that were at once funny and touching and made bizarre and brilliant pictures in your head.
He was even a genius painter, whose artworks matched the wild spirit of his music and personae and fetched thousands when he concentrated on his painting when he retired.
He fused the wild spirit of Howling Wolf whose grizzly bear voice he must have loved to the out there freeform imagination of John Coltrane and the skronk jazz greats. He mashed avant-garde with the guttural blues into music that dripped with feral wildness and a wild humour that touched every emotion in your body.
Utterly invigorating- a prime time Captain Beefheart album like Trout Mask Replica was an adventure on its own. I must have listened to that record thousands of times and I still can’t rememebr it all because of its twists and turns and fierce undiluted smartness.
Massively influential- Beefheart touched corners of rock music that you would never expect. Artists including Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Franz Ferdinand, even Oasis apparently, Red Hot Chili Peppers and The White Stripes are among those who have cited him as an influence.
Beefheart is part of my life. He turned music and language inside out but always made it raw and thrilling. he made moustaches look cool and his zig zag imagination and that gravel pit voice are so distinctive that a whole genre of music emerged in his wake. It’s fair to say that nearly every band that we hung around with in the eighties when we were doing the Membranes and the Death To Trad Rock scene was totally infused with anarchic spirit.
This was the sound of the human soul, untainted and unvanquished. Beefheart sounded wild and free. It may have taken a bit of work to decipher what he was doing but once you got there you got the holy grail of music. Unfettered, wild and free- a true genius.