Tuesday, 21 December 2010

R.I.P Captain Beefheart

It is with extreme sadness that we announce that another interesting person from the world of music has popped his clogs. Captain Beefheart, real name Don Van Vliet, was a visual artist and strange rock pioneer. He died aged 69 from complications relating to multiple sclerosis, only a few days short of his 70th birthday.

Whilst Beefheart's unrestrained music was not to everyone's taste, it's use of the avant- garde (mixing blues, jazz, rock, and extreme hallucinogens) influenced his good friend Frank Zappa as well as a whole raft of so called alternative musicians including David Bowie, Tom Waits, Throbbing Gristle, The Velvet Underground, PIL and The Klaxons. According to John Peel, "If there has ever been such a thing as a genius in the history of popular music, it's Beefheart... I heard echoes of his music in some of the records I listened to last week and I'll hear more echoes in records that I listen to this week."

Whilst his musical experiments have been heralded, he won less favour from his band who he was apparently physically and verbally abusive to. In his 2010 memoir 'Beefheart: Through The Eyes of Magic', Van Vliet's drummer John French recounted being "screamed at, beaten up, drugged, ridiculed, humiliated, arrested, starved, stolen from, and thrown down a half-flight of stairs" by his employer. He also stated that the unscrupulous contracts drawn up by Beefheart left him essentially penniless. He was paid nothing at all for a 33-city U.S. tour in 1971 and a total of $78 for a tour of Europe and the U.S. in late 1975. Other members of the band have talked of having to deal with Beefheart's incomprehensible instructions. During one recording session he asked the Magic Band (for that was their name) to "Play it like a bat being dragged out of oil and it's trying to survive, but it's dying from asphyxiation."

Despite all the madness and the fact that many of his albums were someway between a musical litmus test and water torture, the sheer insania of Beefheart is in many ways what's missing from the world of popular music today. When a third of the UK population tunes into the X Factor, there's something to be said for a man who never courted the mainstream and who, right up until his death, remained focused on making as many strange noises as possible. Rest in peace you crazy beautiful old bastard.

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