Sunday, December 19, 2010

R.I.P. Captain Beefheart

Saddened by the news that Don van Vliet, AKA Captain Beefheart, passed away on Friday, of complications from multiple sclerosis. He was 69.

He was a true original. I was fortunate to have discovered him relatively early, acquiring "Trout Mask Replica" not long after it came out in 1969; to see him twice in live performances with incarnations of The Magic Band, and to see him one final time with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention on their joint 1975 "Bongo Fury" tour. I still listen regularly to "Trout Mask Replica", "The Spotlight Kid" (1971) "Clear Spot" (1972), and the joint Zappa/Beefheart/Mothers "Bongo Fury" (1975). It's not for me to recount his whole biography here (Wikipedia does a pretty decent job, with appraisals of all his albums and numerous references); real fans know what he's been up to since his retirement, and I've been blessed with friends who are also fans and know enough send me stories and links when they come across them. A number of us can still recite from memory long stretches of the strange, compelling poetry in those albums.
My master's thesis (Northeastern University, Chemistry, 1976) contains the following epigraph taken from the back of The Spotlight Kid:
The stars are matter
We're matter
But it doesn't matter
- Don Van Vliet
It was reported to me a couple of months after my defense that this quotation had the professors in the Chemistry Department exchanging puzzled looks ("Who is Don van Vliet?" "Captain Beefheart." "Who? Who the hell is that?"), which I took at the time as a clear indication of its absolute rightness. Aside from stretching the possibilities of rock and blues, Beefheart spoke my language--before I really knew what that language was. But that's about me, and I'd rather leave you with these lyrics from "Steal Softly Thru Snow" (Trout Mask Replica"):
The black paper between a mirror breaks my heart
The moon frayed through dark velvet lightly apart
Steal softly through sunshine, steal softly through snow
The wild goose flies from winter, breaks my heart that I can't go
Energy flies thru a field 'n the sun softly melts a nothing wheel
Steal softly through sunshine, steal softly through snow
The black paper between a mirror breaks my heart that I can't go
The swan their feathers don't grow - they're spun
They live two hundred years of love - they're one
Breaks my heart to see them cross the sun
Grain grows rainbows up straw hill
Breaks my heart to see the highway cross the hill
Man lived a million years 'n still he kills
The black paper between a mirror breaks my heart that I can't go
Steal softly through sunshine, steal softly through snow
- Don van Vliet

2 Comments:

Blogger sunshine said...

I was just out blog-hopping and came upon you.
That was a wonderful tribute to Don van Vliet. I don't pretend to "get" everything he wrote but I can appreciate his genius.
Sadly, there are few originals anymore...you have to dig to find them. :)

((Hugs))
Laura

December 20, 2010 at 4:18 PM  
Blogger Steven Levery said...

Thanks for the positives, Laura. Hope you come back some time....

December 27, 2010 at 9:50 AM  

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