Captain Beefheart is dead. Sh*t.
I happened upon the news tonight on NPR. I wonder whether it'll get a mention on MTV. I wonder why I wonder, since even back when Music Television actually played music videos, the Captain wasn't in the mix.
Capitalism is one thing. Genius is another. You don't get to be a good capitalist trying to sell people genius. Usually.
HERE'S SOME of what the NPR story said:
Avant-garde musician Captain Beefheart died this morning in California from complications of multiple sclerosis. He was 69.
An all-time favorite of rock critics — and known to readers of lists of the best rock albums of all time as the guy with the hat and the fish face — Beefheart earned a reputation for making challenging music. But his work was, at its root, well-executed blues-based rock.
His given name was Don Vliet — he added a Van in between his first and last names later. He was one of those musicians who sold fewer records than his best-known fans: Tom Waits, members of R.E.M. and New Order are just a few of dozens. The late British DJ John Peel called Beefheart a true genius, possibly the only one rock ever produced.
Mark Mothersbaugh, of the band Devo, calls him one of the all-time greats.
"The Beatles and The Rolling Stones would definitely be in that group of what turned me on about music," Mothersbaugh says. "But I have to say that he made me want to be an artist."
Born in a Los Angeles suburb, the only child and art prodigy was featured on a local television show making animal sculptures as a child. When he was 13 years old, his family moved to the Mojave Desert, where he befriended a young Frank Zappa.
In 1966, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band signed with A&M records and scored a regional hit with a cover of Willie Dixon's "Diddy Wah Diddy." Pretty soon, Van Vliet was writing original material for his band. In a 1980 interview with the BBC, he insisted he was a composer, not a songwriter. And in his band, he was exacting.
"I play the drums. I play the guitar. I play the piano," he said. "I want it exactly the way I want it. Exactly. Don't you think that somebody like Stravinsky, for instance — don't you think that it would annoy him if somebody bent a note the wrong way?"
DON VAN VLIET is dead. Sh*t.
I miss the days when "avant-garde" rarely was a euphemism for "can't play their damn instruments" or, more simply, "noise." And I will miss Captain Beefheart.
Thank God for record albums.