Celebrating Captain Beefheart's birthday with a look at his masterpiece, Trout Mask Replica

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/01/15/celebrating-captain-beefheart.html

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one of the great albums of all time.
when my younger colleagues want to see ‘edgy’, I direct them to this.
it’s not even a trout but a catfish!

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The myth that circulated for years was that Beefheart composed the music in one 24-hour cosmic mental diarrhea blast, then spent a year trying to teach it to the Magic Band. The reality that they all basically composed it under Don’s cult-like sway for a year, then recorded the entire thing in one 12-hour studio session (sufficiently impressing the notorious perfectionist Frank Zappa) is actually a better story.

Drumbo gives all the credit for the compositions to the Magic Band musicians, but I think it’s fair to give Beefheart at least 50% of the credit because I can’t imagine anyone coming up with this music on their own-- the process Drumbo describes needs a svengali-ish conductor (Beefheart) to force the musicians to play stuff they would never have played naturally.

“Shit I don’t know how I’m gonna get that in there!”

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It’s the album that never stops giving. I never fail to find something new with each listen. And it’s not even my favorite Beefheart record, that would be Clear Spot. But jeebus, Troutmask Replica is just endless. It’s the Moby Dick of rock.

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I clicked expecting to see that someone had made a replica of the trout mask on the cover (I don’t know the band enough to know that that is actually the title even though Ive seen the cover many times)

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I remember hearing Clear Spot the first time as a teenager and thinking “how come none of these songs became ‘hits’ on rock radio?”

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It’s surrealism, it’s performance art, it’s musical anarchy, it’s nothing like anything that you have ever heard before. Back in the day, it blew my mind, even though I had no idea what was the point. I just loved the sheer idiocy of it all.

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Ice Cream for Crow is also well worth a listen!

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This from Wiki:

In preparation, the band rehearsed Van Vliet’s difficult compositions for eight months, living communally in a small rented house in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles. Van Vliet implemented his vision by asserting complete artistic and emotional domination of his musicians. At various times, one or another of the band members were 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.[6] According to John French and Bill Harkleroad, these sessions often included physical violence. French described the situation as “cultlike”,[7] and a visiting friend said that “the environment in that house was positively Manson-esque”.[8] Their material circumstances also were dire. With no income other than welfare and contributions from relatives, the band survived on a bare subsistence diet. French recounted living on no more than a small cup of soybeans a day for a month,[9] and at one point, band members were arrested for shoplifting food (with Zappa bailing them out).[10] A visitor described their appearance as “cadaverous” and said that “they all looked in poor health”. Band members were restricted from leaving the house and practiced for fourteen or more hours a day. Van Vliet once told drummer John French that he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and he would see nonexistent conspiracies that explained this behavior.[11]

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Yeah, I’ve read all the accounts, the booklet for the “Grow Fins” box set includes this version events more-or-less, and was a revelation to me as a fan at the time. There’s also the story of either Harkelroad or French making plans to escape, hiding his clothes in a vacant lot across the street, and one of the other guys finds out and demands “take me with you” and he backs out for fear of getting caught. It really tarnished Van Vliet’s image to me (obviously), but at the same time I consider the music, and the kind of creative insanity and extreme discipline needed to bring it about, so it kind of evens out in the end. As justifiably angry as those guys might be about how Don (and the other band members) treated them, the consolation prize is that they have their names attached to a monumental masterpiece forever.

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Well, their Beefheart created pseudonyms anyway. Which they didn’t have the legal rights too and were allegedly forced to abandon when they fled Cap. Here’s Mallard’s debut album featuring Bill Harkleroad, Mark Boston and Art Tripp:

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I’ve always been partial to:

“Master master
This is recorded thru uh flies ear
‘n you have t’ have uh flies eye t’ see it
It’s the thing that’s gonna make Captain Beefheart
And his magic band fat
Frank it’s the big hit
It’s the blimp
It’s the blimp Frank
It’s the blimp”

I think it’s from Doc at the Radar Station (please correct me if I’m wrong). Fortunately the thing gets much weirder.

Oh my gawd, it’s the blimp.

I’ve always enjoyed the story of someone interviewing Captain Beefheart and Don interrupts and says: Answer that. Interviewer sez: Answer what? [ring]

:

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It’s a carp. The barbels (whiskers) are most common to catfish, but many fish species have them. I’m counting on my internet fish pedant brethren to correct me if I’m wrong here… It looks like a breed of Koi based on the colors. But not all goldfish are close relatives to common carp, and not all koi have barbels, and so on and so forth…

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Fuck that Vox video without even watching it: anyone who calls “Trout Mask Replica” “awful sounding” is just generating clickbait and calls to mind Satchmo: “If you have to ask what it is, you’ll never know.”

I have “Trout Mask Replica” on my music phone and parts of it come up daily on the random shuffle. When you break through and see it as the demented electric blues that it is then you know just how brilliant this album is. Awful sounding, my ass.

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I met Jeff Cotten a year or two ago. Turns out he’d been living in my little town in PNW for some years. I helped move his piano that he was giving away to prepare for his move to Hawaii. Nice guy, fascinating to talk to. I had never been ready for Beefheart before then, I’m finally young enough to get it.

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A lot of people who approach it out of a rock, and even “avant guard” (for whatever that term is worth) rock framing have a “what the hell is this?” approach to it, when it does really hone closer to blues and jazz.

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Kilgore Troutmask Replica

kore-tachi ha neko no midori ni supai-koi sakana desu.

There is a moment of uncertainty before Captain Obelisk opens the door to the Steampunk Boiler Room, inviting the swirling, cloudy denizens that dwelt therein to accompany the two of you in the maiden flight of the so-called Glimpse Blimp.

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to me the album sounds like blues crossed with african kora music. The instruments and the individual patterns they play are blues/jazz-inspired, but the way the patterns are layered and shifting in and out is much more like african music.

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