Captain Beefheart, R.I.P.


Don Van Vliet, the painter and musician who performed under the name "Captain Beefheart," has died at age 69 of complications related to multiple sclerosis.

One of the great progenitors of avant-garde (read: really annoying to most) jagged rock with his Magic Band, he left the music business for good 28 years ago to paint.

I kept hoping, maybe even assuming (not realizing how sick he was), that he'd join the long list of lost semipopular music legends who returned from the cold to delight the wave after wave of new kids who learned to love him; alas, no.

From the driving and familiar gritty garage punk of his mid-'60s Safe as Milk era work to the jagged and skronky difficulty of the Trout Mask Replica era and the slightly more structure-minded version of same toward the end of his recording career in the early 1980s, the man and his band invented fresh and strange ways for guitar music to sound, and in my own youth I watched at first hand as his old records fired the imaginations of new generations of people wanting to do something more peculiar with the six-string, bass, and drums. (One of the bands, Meringue, on the record label I ran in the 1990s were so turned on by Beefheart that one of their guitarists' home was semi-affectionately known as "Beefheart Prison," because you weren't escaping til you dug the Captain, or tried to.)

Dig the strange beauty of "Ella Guru" (Or, if you are like most people, don't!):

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  1. Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles was a great, great song.

  2. This is a sad day. Ice Cream for Crow is as good as it gets. Samples here:…..amp;sr=1-1

  3. Whenever I’ve have had about four more beers than I should have had, I suddenly grow the very strong opinion that Lick My Decals Off, Baby is the greatest thing in the world, next to more beer.

    Tonight, +4 beers.

    B) Dude. That Harry Pussy record rules. Dude. Dude. Dude.

  4. I used to be in a road band and when we would end up having to play in some shitty club somewhere in Nowhere, SD, we’d play Captain Beefheart as break music just to piss them off.

    AWorth noting: Beefheart did not read music. In order to get the musicians to play what he wanted, he would sing the parts separately to each musician note for note.

    RIP Captain.

  5. Captain Beefheart was kind of before my time, but listening to Ella Guru it’s pretty clear where Beck came from.

    1. I was going to say the same, but about Mr. Bungle.

      1. The folk-rock musician, not the other Beck.

        1. Right. Beck?

  6. I wonder if Mick Karn and Peter Murphy were listening – or if they came up with “Dalis Car” by coincidence.

  7. Captain Beefheart warped my twelve year old mind.

  8. A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast and bulbous. Got me?

    Vale, Beefheart.

    1. This phrase passes through my head often. I’d never forget Captain Beefheart if this was his only contribution to the arts.

      1. Some reasonable and compassionate person uploaded the entirety of “Lick My Decals Off Baby” to youtube!

        Flash Gordan’s Ape

  9. Great song selection. Trout Mask was about as far out as it’s possible to go, and Ella Guru is one of those rare tracks that manages to be experimental, funny and genuinely enjoyable at the same time.

    I bought a copy of that album in high school and used to play it at parties to piss people off. RIP, Captain.

    1. why throw pearls at swine? pissed off swine are dangerous. I say, let them live peacefully however statusquoacious that may be. Everyone grows up at a different pace. Shock treatment probably reinforces more than it awakens. Let the learing for the curious go at its own pace. Allow for the seeker.

      1. But pissed off swine are a laugh riot.

  10. Jackson Pollack on guitar! Was ist das? Avant guard rock is rank balderdash.

    1. I think Rank Balderdash joined the Magic Band sometime after Trout Mask.

  11. Even if you can’t get into the music, I believe you’ll appreciate the lyrics of Frownland:

    “My smile is stuck
    I cannot go back t` yer Frownland
    My spirit`s made up of the ocean
    And the sky `n the sun `n the moon
    `n all my eye can see
    I cannot go back to yer land of gloom
    Where black jagged shadows
    Remind me of the comin` of yer doom
    I want my own land
    Take my hand `n come with me
    It`s not too late for you
    It`s not too late for me
    To find my homeland
    Where uh man can stand by another man
    Without an ego flyin`
    With no man lyin`
    `n no one dyin` by an earthly hand
    Let the devil burn `n the beggar learn
    `n the little girls that live in those old worlds
    Take my kind hand
    My smile is stuck
    I cannot go back t` yer Frownland”

    RIP, Captain Beefheart.

  12. RIP. Interesting term. Of course the corpse will rest in peace and even if it’s molested by a necrophiliac, it will rest because it won’t register any unsolicited act since it is a dead body.

    Of course, I understand the greater meaning of the term. I was pretending it was literal day for my musing.

    1. I think the point is that we hope the person doesn’t become a zombie. Although I would pay dearly to see zombie Captain Beefheart perform live.

  13. Sad day.

    I remember playing Trout Mask Replica as a teenager and annoying my friends to no end.

    RIP, indeed.

  14. I went to high school in the Sierra Foothills near Yosemite — “Cowboy Heaven,” if you believed the local bumperstickers and license-plate frames. Most kids (the ones who weren’t driving pickup trucks with gunracks in the back windows, anyway) took the bus back and forth to school. One of the girls on my bus was extremely attractive, at least until she opened her mouth. Let’s just say that she didn’t speak as elegantly as she looked. But the boys, including myself, were generally willing to overlook that minor quibble. One day, though, we were all on the way home, and she began to giggle uncontrollably. She had to wipe away tears of laughter as she turned around to her girlfriends, seated just behind her, and choked out, “Captian Bee Fart!” “Captain Bee Fart!” They all looked pretty embarrassed. That was the first I had heard of the Captain. But it wouldn’t be the last, although I must admit that this episode marked the last time I would ever even entertain thoughts of having … you know … um … THOUGHTS … about that particular girl. As I look back on that occasion, I think you may have saved my life, Captain Beefheart. Thank you & RIP.

  15. My favorites from his blues-rock days: these performances of Sure ’nuff ‘n’ yes I do and Electricity from Cannes Beach, 1968.

  16. Am I the only person on this planet who finds it peculiar a right wing blog has something nice to say about a wild man like Van Vliet? It’s sick. Captain Beefheart was fucking genius. Leave him alone, you fuckwads. Don’t let SE Cupp near this genius. I need a bath after that.

    1. Captain Beefheart has the power to bring liberals, conservatives and libertarians together. As an anonymous groupie said in the movie Spinal Tap, “Concerts bring audiences together, until you’re like one with the band.”

    2. Of course, Reason H&R is not a right-wing blog. But thanks for playing our drinking game! DRINK TO CB!

    3. Am I the only person on this planet who finds it peculiar a shitty blog proprietor has something randomly untrue to say about a wildly un-right wing place like Reason? It’s sick. H&R is fucking genius. Leave it alone, you fuckwad. Don’t let Jymn near these geniuses. I would need a bath after that.

    4. I guess I should throw out my Gang of Four, Robert Wyatt and Pop Group albums and start listening to non-Dixie Chicks country music and Ted Nugent so I don’t warp poor Jymn’s fragile little worldview…

      Would it be ok if we can keep “right-wingers” Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Ian Curtis and Frank Zappa, or do you have to be Democrats to listen to those guys as well?

  17. I’ll admit it: I never heard of him.

    1. Have you heard of Beethoven and Sinatra?

    2. Try Bongo Fury which pairs The Captain with Frank Zappa.

      … Hobbit

      1. He’s on Hot Rats as well.

        I’m a little pimp with my hair gassed back…

  18. I was listening to a lot of Zappa when I finally sarted-in on the Captain; I deeply loved Shiney Beast and Trout Mask Replica. RIP Captain.

    My dorm neighbors learned to hate him, Metal Machine Music and me after one particularly expensive record run.

  19. Webcor, Webcor

  20. I really think that Beefheart, and of course the magic band, those poor suffering souls, were the most exciting live rock act I ever saw.

    I can play a bit myself, but they were astounding. Really they were “musicians’ musicians”, if you know what I mean. Ornary, comfort-seeking consoomers wouldn’t last 4 bars with that band at its demented height.

    Beefheart in those days was a bit of a mad so and so, by most accounts, and all outsiders like me can say for sure is that he was pivotal, somehow or other, without being able to define exactly how. Perhaps because it was in so many ways at once.

    Part of me died with him.

  21. “Doc At The Radar Station” makes my top 10 of all time, hands down, but I like pretty much everything the Captain ever did. One of the most distinctive musicians in the history of pop music, and I don’t think I’ve ever been sadder about a celebrity dying.

    The only hope now is they will find a huge treasure trove of unreleased recordings that can finally see the light of day.

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    1. Yes, I do want a a brand new leather purse AND a polo shirt. Thank you so much for telling me about your wonderful site. It’s always helpful when online businesses suggest I buy their products, especially in a time of mourning such as this when I am too despondent to leave the house. You made my Christmas shopping so very easy. Thank you so much, my new friendbot.

  23. Great music and the inspiration for the Muppet band:
    RIP Captain.

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