Jul 172008

Run Paint Run Run

“Fifty years from now you’ll wish you’d gone ‘wow’.”
– Captain Beefheart, conscious of his visionary powers, in a 1980 NME interview.

As I read through and participated in Townsman Sammy‘s candid Bullshit On: Captain Beefheart thread, I sensed some members of Rock Town Hall willing to give this admittedly difficult artist a fair shake. It’s a new day at Rock Town Hall – Your Rock Town Hall – so I’ve put together mix of decreasingly accessible Beefheart songs that may allow those of you who are getting anxious with only 22 years left on that 50-year “wow” clock that’s quoted above to find a way into this guy’s music. Do you get what I’m saying? Have a listen, and say “wow,” somebody!

First, a recording that makes me wonder why anyone wastes their time on ZZ Top, even at their best. I like my boogie refried.

“Nowadays a Woman’s Gotta Hit a Man”

Next, an uncharacteristically tender Beefheart song that you probably know from The Big Lebowski. Close your eyes and think of Julianne Moore‘s translucent skin if you start finding yourself troubled by this naked sound file.

“Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles”

Moore Moore Moore

I know you like hearing a guitarist cut loose now and then. On this next track, Beefheart steps aside, shuts up, and lets his guitarist do the talking.

“Alice in Blunderland”

Now steel yourself for a plodding, grumpy tale of devolution. This is the point where we oh-so-slowly head way back toward Mirror Man, where it’s just a few turns across the border to Trout Mask Replica.

“Grow Fins”

The following Clear Spot song is a good example of the benefits of Beefheart picking up on his fractured blues approach from Trout Mask Replica with more accomplished musicians and a fairly conventional studio sound. Plus it’s funny. I’m surprised, when I read of a Townsperson’s inability to dig Beefheart, how often folks fail to appreciate the man’s humor. I know, I’m sounding like The Great 48🙂

“Big Eyed Beans from Venus”

Here’s your reward for working so hard…

“Clear Spot”

Now, let’s shift ahead to 1980’s Doc at the Radar Station, where I think Beefheart and/or his label once and for all gave up on the idea that he’d ever be a regular rock artist and sell more than 2000 albums and, instead, made an entire album as focused on his vision as was anything since the primitve Trout Mask Replica. (Maybe Lick My Decals Off Baby was the last one made with as much integrity and focus, as Geo suggested, I don’t know. I get a cold feeling from that album whenever I spin it. I’ll have to listen to it again.) This album opener always gets me dancing in my head. As a lover of dry recordings, this album can’t be beat. Place me between a sandwich of Doc and Gang of Four‘s Entertainment and I won’t ever grimace over some insecure use of reverb.

“Hot Head”

Here’s another one that recommits to Beefheart’s old Trout Mask Replica approach while still rocking. The imagery in the lyrics is pretty cool, too, for those of you who can closely follow that stuff.

“Ashtray Heart”

Here’s a little ditty I’ve always loved. General Slocum and I had some really deep discussion over this track about a hundred years ago, if memory serves, although I can’t recall what wisdom we’d culled from the tune. If you happen to have similar deep thoughts, feel free to claim our forgotten insights as your own.

“Sue Egypt”

And now, what I believe is the song that the “landmark” recording of Trout Mask Replica first pointed toward.

“Dirty Blue Gene”

BONUS: Previously posted on Rock Town Hall:

“Kandy Korn”

Archives: All the Beefheart content that’s been fit to post.


  20 Responses to “Rock Town Hall’s “Fair Shake Era” Launches with a Measured Reconsideration of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band”

  1. BigSteve

    These tracks are great. The write-up is also great. The two photos accompanying the thread … great. I especially liked the great title Mr. Mod has given the thread. the whole thing is GREAT!

  2. I’ve read that “Ashtray Heart” is about Beefheart being pissed off that the punks who he felt ripped him off weren’t giving him enough credit. As such, I view it as one of his angriest songs and generally uncharacteristic of much of his output, which I’ve always felt had more to do with man’s destruction of the environment (actually not too unlike Yes, though some may cringe at that comparison), a fascination with the natural (and supernatural, at times, in that he loves giving life-like characteristics to inanimate objects ala “Run Paint Run Run”) world and other themes, all done with the requisite sense of humor noted above. In any case, though, I don’t really get why he was complaining when so many, from Joe Strummer to John Lydon to Mark E. Smith, all happily cited the Captain as a huge influence.

    Anyhow, I’m too lazy to check the archives, but I’m curious if the conversation touched upon these themes. As for getting Beefheart, you either get it or you don’t. There’s very little middle ground on the guy. As someone in the “get it” camp, though, I think many make the mistake of starting out with Trout Mask Replica (which is great but very difficult to get into) instead of say, Clear Spot or Shiny Beast, which to my ears are much more natural starting points for those weaned on more traditional-sounding classic rock. Though I love those records, they’re not as daring as say, Trout Mask or Lick My Decals Off, Baby or even Doc at the Radar Station. Which one I like best depends on what mood I’m in, really.

  3. sammymaudlin

    With my mind as open as possible, here are my thoughts as I listen to these:

    1. Nowadays: Cool boogie beat. Fun stereo separation. Dig that guitar sound. Dips into annoying “Beefheartism”. Horns! I’m a sucker for horns. There’s that Beefheart shit again. Wo. Wait. Solo. Right on. Still listening. Descending bass line cool. Beefheart shit annoying.

    Better than anything I heard on Trout. Couldn’t make it through a whole album of that. I might download it if I find enough in this post to make a decent playlist.

    2. Her Eyes. I love The Big Lebowski. I remember this scene which totally jades my impression of the song. Can’t help that. Nice. Is that an acoustic doing that jabbing? Sleigh bells? I’m a sucker for sleigh bells. OK, I surrender on this. Beautiful. Will download regardless. If its the only one I download, not sure what I’ll tack it onto.

    3. Alice in Blunderland. Stupid name like the worst of Westerberg’s. If I wanted to listen to shit like this I’d put Zappa on. Sorry Mod, I’m no Zappa fan, but Frank does this sort of thing better. I don’t think I can make it through this one. Drums sound like my speaker wire is loose. Only a minute left. Better than anything on Trout… Won’t be downloading.

    4. Grow Fins. Too much harmonica annoys me. This could be a big part of my dislike for this guy. Although I love Little Walter. Am I supposed to be listening to the lyrics? Is that what makes this song listenable? Like Ray Stevens? What’s with the repetitive dirge that this guy inflicts on me? I’m getting a small headache at the base of my neck.

    But I’ll do my best to hold up the Fair Shake concept.

    5. Big Eyed. More Ray Stevens lyrics. Or Jim Stafford on ACID. ON ACID. Liked the break at about 1:20, possibly because of the respite in provided. If I listen to just one of the instruments at a time I can almost groove to them but together they just hammer me. 1 minute left. I should’ve eaten something before I tackled this.

    6. Clear Spot. Opening has me hooked. Oooo. An Ubu guitar. I’m grooving largely, or all, due to that cool Ubu guitar. Restrained harmonica solo. Like it. Actually like the lyrics. Cool. Will download.

    7. Hot Head. My wife just asked me to close my door if I’m going to listen to this for much longer. Waiting for something interesting. Ooof that was bad.

    8. Ashtray Heart. Sounds like what I’d imagine a Poetry Slam would sound like. “Someone’s had too much to think” is another bad Westerbergian lyric twist. This song is just stoopid. Is it “inability to appreciate” or simply having the common sense to know crap when you hear it.

    9. Sue Egypt. Alright, a guitar riff I can grab. Sadly dissolves away. Was that a flute? The flute has no place in music, apologies to Van Morrison fans. Something about this I kinda like though. I think it is that guitar riff when it shows up. This would be a great song to slip in at someone’s party and watch as the party slowly grows quiet. Haven’t heard that riff in too long. Oh. There it is, like a life raft. 2:57, felt like 12:57.

    10. Dirty Blue Jean. C’mon dude. I’m at 1:43 with over 2 minutes to go. 2 minutes of my life I’ll never get back. This song makes me want to start smoking…filterless. Reminds me of those performance art guys in the 80’s that would cut themselves on stage.

    I organized a series of performances one night for an alternative artspace that I was the local art director for. One of the guys I knew wanted to do this “cut yourself on-stage” deal. Problem was he planned on buying a straight razor and or conventional blades at a 7-11 on the way to the show. Of course 7-11 only sold those blue plastic disposable razors. So he used one of those and could barely muster a nick on his wrist while he cursed at himself and eventually stomped offstage in a huff. It actually ended up being a great piece.

    I bet he liked Beefheart.

    11. Kandy Korn. I’ll take the Buzzcocks please. If there was something I could like about this song I don’t think I could find it right now as my previously open mind slammed shut about 2 songs ago.

    Although, nice interlude around 3:45. But staring down that 8 minute mark gives me palpitations. 5 minutes. I can’t make it. Choreographed masturbation. 5:48 Here comes the ocean and the waves… 6:10. god grant me patience. At least I don’t have to suffer his voice through most of this. 7:15. Almost there. I’m wondering if a Mungo Jerry album would be as painful. Big finale.

    Ahhh. Quiet.

    Heart rate going back to normal. I made it. I MADE IT. I’m kissing my ELO records right now.

    Final score: 2.5 winners. 8.5 losers.

  4. Mr. Moderator

    Sammy wrote:

    Hot Head. My wife just asked me to close my door if I’m going to listen to this for much longer.

    Is there a woman on the planet who likes Beefheart? Could his lack of feminine appeal be part of your problem, Sammy?

    I kid. Thanks for giving these tracks a Fair Shake. I feel confident that the 2.5 songs you liked will eventually take root. We’ll check back with you in 22 years.

  5. Is there a woman on the planet who likes Beefheart? Could his lack of feminine appeal be part of your problem, Sammy?

    I’m eagerly awaiting thegreat48’s reply to this thread as I know from the basement edition of RTH that his wife was a big fan of both Beefheart and Zappa in her youth and actually bought the records when they came out and what not.

    Also, I have a female friend who’s a fan and has the entire catalog.

  6. Beefheart’s the man. I wish you’d put up something more challenging, like “Making Love To A Vampire With A Monkey On My Knee,” but I see what you’re up against.

    I’ve yet to meet a woman who’s into Beefheart. If I ever did I might have to propose on the spot.

    np – Matching Mole’s Little Red Record

  7. Yep. I married the world’s premier female Beefheart fan. Because I’m awesome like that.

  8. I hear you on Decals, Mr. Mod. It is a very tidy, reserved recording. But the music is wild, particularly the double drumming the title cut and Doctor Dark. I think of Decals, Trout Mask and Doc at the Radar Station as the albums that are strictly Beefheart, front to back. But both Trout Mask and Doc have that brutal treble attack while the guitar is a little warm on Decals. I think it takes a little edge off the assault for a newcomer.

    By the way, that “flute” was actually a mellotron, and how cool was Beefheart’s atypical mellotron usage on Doc. It might be the last instrument in the world I would expect to show up on a Beefheart record, and the way it gets used is SOOOO Beefheart sounding.

  9. …not to mention, PJ Harvey!

  10. Once again, with absolute authority, Great 48 gets it completely wrong:


    Go to the bottom and hit poll results.

    Trout Mask best Beefheart by 43% plurality. Safe as milk, closest runner up with only 13%

  11. sammymaudlin

    Mellotrons that sound like flutes have no place in music.

  12. BigSteve

    sammy sez:

    Mellotrons that sound like flutes have no place in music.

    I guess Strawberry Fields Forever isn’t music?

  13. sammymaudlin

    BS: That doesn’t sound like a flute to me. Does it to you?

  14. BigSteve

    The opening bars of Strawberry Fields? Yes, I think it sounds like flutes. Given that a mellotron operates using prerecorded tapes, I thought it literally was flutes. Same with the mellotron in Phenomenal Cat.

  15. Mr. Moderator

    Sure that’s the flute setting on “Strawberry Fields Forever”! Sammy’s just pissed that Beefheart ripped off Bo Diddley.

    I’m curious to know what the rest of you Beefheart Skeptics have made of these tracks, whether you’ve given it a Fair Shake?

  16. sammymaudlin

    Yeah, OK. And in the reprise at the end. OK.

    Its not a prominent flute though. It has never activated my flute-alert.

  17. Trout Mask best Beefheart by 43% plurality. Safe as milk, closest runner up with only 13%

    Which proves only that, as I keep saying, Received Wisdom is bullshit.

  18. Mr. Moderator

    I’m concerned, as we move into RTH’s Fair Shake era, that Townspeople may not have given these Beefheart tracks a fair shake. Beside Sammymaudlin, did any of the Townspeople who rushed to judgment on Beefheart in the Bullshit On piece comment on this plea for a measured reconsideration of the man and his music? I think not. For shame, Rock Town Hall! Before you’ve missed yet another opportunity, I urge you to give these tracks a fair shake.

    Coming soon: Sufjan Stevens’ collected banjo works!

  19. I don’t know why but I’ve always expected to not like him at all. I did give them all a cruel but fair shake and thought there was some potential there. I definitely hear where Tom Waits got the inspiration for his new direction after putting that tiresome hipster beatnik persona to rest. I also think that Lindsey Buckingham has listened to Abba Zaba more than once.

    I still feel like I need to start with SaM, but I’m intrigued.

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