I wrote a brief article several days ago mentioning that Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart, had passed away at the age of 69 of complications from multiple sclerosis.
His passing propelled me to pull my old vinyl copy of his Trout Mask Replica from its resting place in my record room and give it a spin. I made sure that my wife was out of the house and the grandchildren were protected from harm.
Trout Mask Replica was his third release and is considered his masterpiece, for want of a better word. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it number 58 on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. It is one of the few albums on the list not to chart in the United States.
It certainly pushed the limits of what was accepted as music at the time of its release and continues to do so today. It is either genius or trash depending upon your inclinations or state of mind. I know it makes Thelonious Monk seem absolutely melodic and Frank Zappa completely sane.
It is a combination of styles; from free form jazz to blues, abstract poetry, to rhythms that come together to defy description. It all adds up to expressionist art made into sound. It can be a difficult listen, especially when you consider the fact it was originally a two disc, 28 song affair. Repeated listens close together will only confuse the matter.
In some ways he was trying to reinvent music from his own perspective, as has been done with jazz on a number of occasions. Songs such as “Ella Guru,” “My Human Gets Me Blues,” “China Pig,” “Moonlight On Vermont,” and “Veteran’s Day Poppy” are repetitive, not danceable, or even hummable for that matter. They will stay with you, however, be it for better or worse.
Trout Mask Replica brings the sanity issue of Captain Beefheart into question, and of anyone who gives the album repeated listens. I find it fascinating, such as slowing down to view an accident on the highway.
The music of Captain Beefheart and Trout Mask Replica is what it is. One of my regrets is I never saw him live.
It all adds up to an acquired taste, which admittedly some will never acquire. Whether a person thinks the album is genius or madness is up to the individual listener. Wherever the old Captain is right now, he no doubt is doing his own thing and probably doesn’t care what music fans think.
One last tip of the hat to the Captain Beefheart and Trout Mask Replica!