I was in a rut. All music sounded the same to me. For some reason, I just couldn’t get excited about anything I let enter in my ears. It all sounded the same: clinical, rote, sterile. Desperate to the point of jumping down (perhaps “dropping” down would be more apropos) the treacherous EDM rabbit hole, I decided to assess the situation. Becker, you’ve been here before. Don’t do anything rash like that time you thought French Chamber Pop was the solution to your musical woes. And it came to me…Tom Waits! I’m 29 years old, a bit of a sot, it’s time to figure this guy out. But wait you silly clod, how can you understand Tom without understanding where Tom Waits came from? My obsession with inversion led me to the cantankerous Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart.
Every Saturday morning around this time, I would head down to the Bywater and dig through the piles at Euclid Records (when it was the small, dusty purple shop on Chartres and Desire). I asked my trusted store confidante, “where do I start with Beefheart without being completely turned off immediately.” Without delay, he responded, “Play it safe with Safe As Milk. It’s the most accessible.” So naturally, I chose Shiny Beast instead. NOBODY TELLS BECKER WHAT TO DO! We Halls are an obstinate bunch. I’m joking, but I had done some internet research too and was pretty sold before I even asked. I picked up the album and scanned the tracks labeled on the back cover, “The Floppy Boot Stomp” “Tropical Hot Dog” “When I See A Mommy I See A Mummy” “Candle Mambo” “Bat Chain Puller” What in the hell is this? I knew I was in for a ride.
That evening, I popped a bottle of wine and put the record on the turntable. My then girlfriend (who possessed a great musical ear) was preparing dinner in the kitchen. I got about half way through the album when I heard a scream from the kitchen, “What is this? TURN THIS SHIT OFF!” I didn’t. [OBSTINATE] I played it thru till end, then quietly wondered to myself, what did I just listen to and if this is his most accessible, good lord what is the rest like? Later in the night, a little lighter in the legs and mind, I played the record again. This time it struck that chord within me that I had been chasing unsuccessfully. My musical cage was thankfully getting bigger unlike sweet Apes-Ma. Similar to my indoctrination to the Pixies, I would go on a Beefheart tear.
This album almost never happened as that wanker Frank Zappa was holding the tapes to a handful of songs to the original working album title, Bat Chain Puller. Beefheart was able to wrestle them away from Zappa’s estate and add a few new tracks of his own. Van Vilet is an enigmatic iconoclast. This record is full of deranged storytelling, beautiful melodies, cacophonous chaos, hypnotic rhythms, and infectious madness. Like Dr. John, there are howls and growls mixed with a surreal kinetic atmosphere. Combining unconventional time signatures and rich sonic layers, Beefheart’s Magic Band is the cohesive element that keeps the album from complete entropy. Just wacky shit.
Not a month goes by where I don’t play “Harry Irene.” I find its lunacy so calming, charming and absurdist. If I were to create the perfect cooking playlist, it would be in there in the first few tracks.
I had to push my boundaries to find what I was looking for. We fear obstacles because we are inherently lazy but ah what good riches come from extending past our borders. This album opened up a new world of avant garde and was the catalyst for future, deeper jazz explorations. I still haven’t delved into Waits and thankfully haven’t had to bathe myself in EDM
Favorite Tracks: “Tropical Hot Dog” “Harry Irene” “Suction Prints” “Bat Chain Puller”
Pressing: Warner Brothers Records – BSK-3256 (Limited Edition Green Marble. Rumored 200 Copies)