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!):