Thursday, February 17, 2011

Respite, Respite & Nepenthe

It's been a while since the last installment. There have been starts and stops, and drafts do lay on Gipetto's workbench, waiting to become a real post. However tonight insomnia brings me to the keyboard to post a belated tribute to that great artist, Don Van Vliet, a.k.a. Captain Beefheart.

I somehow missed his passing on December 17, 2010 but was alerted to it during the "In Memoriam" portion of the grammy show last week.
Probably few others noticed.

I was brought up on a steady diet of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Probably explains a lot. Early Zappa asked important questions, that resonate with me yet today. For example:

[timid, mousy voice feminine voice] Yes?

Indeed, what will you do when the plastic's all melted and the chrome is too soft? Who are the brain police?

And of course Frank offered meaningful commentary that reinforced our social fabric: "be a loyal plastic robot for a world that doesn't care", "brown shoes don't make it", and hopefully no one has forgotten that the yellow snow is not for tasting. But I digress.

My first taste of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band was via an album called "The Big Ball", which was a 1970 Warner Bros promo album that contained their song "Ella Guru". It was memorable, but didn't compel me to run out and buy the parent album Trout Mask Replica. And in fact, I heard nothing more from the Captain until 7 years later, a sophomore in college.

One day in the Campus Bookstore I happened in to buy a random spiral notebook. Arriving at my Geology class I opened the book only to find the entire lyrics of the epic tale, which I later discovered to be "The Old Fart at Play", from Trout Mask Replica. I share this below, so that you might appreciate how bizarre and at the same time awesome it was to find this scribbled inside an ostensibly brand new notebook.

[a continuous monotone diatribe, with off-beat background guitar work]

Pappy with the Khaki sweatband
Bowed goat potbellied barnyard that only he noticed
The old fart was smart
The old gold cloth madonna
Dancin' t' the fiddle 'n saw
He ran down behind the knoll
'n slipped on his wooden fishhead
The mouth worked 'n snapped all the bees
Back t' the bungalow

Momma was flatten'n lard
With her red enamel rollin' pin
When the fishhead broke the window
Rubber eye erect 'n precisely detailed
Airholes from which breath should come
Is now closely fit
With the chatter of the old fart inside

An assortment of observations took place
Momma licked 'er lips like a cat
Pecked the ground like a rooster
Pivoted like a duck
Her stockings down caught dust 'n doughballs
She cracked 'er mouth glaze caught one eyelash
Rubbed 'er hands on 'er gorgeous gingham
Her hand grasped sticky metal intricate latchwork
Open t' the room a smell cold mixed with bologna
Rubber bands crumpled wax paper bonnets
Fat goose legs 'n special jellies
Ignited by the warmth of the room

The old fart smelled this thru his important breather holes
Cleverly he dialed from within from the outside we observed

That the nose of the wooden mask
Where the holes had just been a moment ago

Was now smooth amazingly blended camouflaged in
With the very intricate rainbow trout replica
The old fart inside was now breathin' freely
From his perfume bottle atomizer air bulb invention

[Background music ceases. Spoken word, echoing to an open room]

His excited eyes from within the dark interior glazed;
watered in appreciation of his thoughtful preparation.

[A pause. It has ended. Another voice in the room]

Oh man, that was sooo heavy.

Hahaha! Unbelievable. Yes I ended up buying the album. And probably could have recited 90% of the above from memory, but searched it instead for the benefit of an accurate tribute. Can I say the other songs, such as Hair Pie Bake 1, Neon Meatdream of a Octafish, or Hair Pie Bake 2 were worth it? Well let's just say that was the price of admission. And it was worth it.

Alas - quoth the raven...


  1. beautiful tribute to a great artist thank you

  2. You're welcome Becca. I know I promised #51 would be shorter, but it just didn't work out.

  3. That is freaking awesome. I don't even know this band, but am now compelled to go find some of their music. I've felt this way about certain bands before, so now I've got to find out who this gem is. Thanks for the fun (if bittersweet) post! It's always good to know when an artist has left their mark.

  4. @Firespark: CB and the Magic Band were on the fringe, but he clearly had some vision(s).