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Ok.  LET’S GET SERIOUS, FOLKS!  Today’s featured song is brought to you by that paragon of the peculiar, Captain Beefheart.


Light floats down day river on uh red raft o’ blood
Night blocks out d’ heaven like uh big black shiny bug
Its hard soft shell shinin’ white in one spot well
It's a hard place dat I’m livin’ but I'm doin’ well well
The white ice horse melted like uh spot uh silver well
Its mane went last then disappeared the tail
My life ran thru my veins
Whistlin’ hollow well
I froze in solid motion well well
I heard the ocean swarmin’ body well well
I heard the beetle clickin’ well
I sensed the thickest silence scream
Then I begin t’ dream
My mind cracked like custard
Ran red until it sealed
Turn t’ wooden ’n rolled like uh wheel well well
Thick black felt birds are flyin’
With capes of solid chrome
With feathers of solid chrome
’n beaks of solid bone
’n bleach the air around them
White ’n cold well well
Till it showed in pain
The hollow cane clicked like ever after
Its shadow vanished shinin’ silence
Well well

Copyright Don van Vliet
Lyrics obtained from The Radar Station

The album ‘Trout Mask Replica’ is NOTORIOUS.  I have been known to describe Frank Zappa’s stuff as ‘the Marmite of music’ (you either love it or you hate it), and I guess this is a similar deal.  But I would go further with TMR.  You either want to love it, or you want to hate it.  An act of will – of effort – is required.

Some people like to see TMR as this totem of unnecessary weirdness, pretension beyond belief, almost the emperor’s new clothes of music.  “Uh, you like THAT??!  Yeah, ok.  Suuuurrre you do.  Riiiight.”

Others view it as THE WORD.  Not, perhaps, of GOD, but of SOMETHING.  Something ‘other’ or ‘better’ than the humdrum, everyday, garden-variety tunefulness that covers up more than it reveals…  The pretty pap that drools out of a million radios…

Myself, I’m just intrigued by big personalities in music.  Don van Vliet – Captain Beefheart – is a BIG personality.  Too big for this post.  Also, the thought of music that doesn’t sound like anything else… that to many ears, doesn’t even sound like MUSIC…  Well, that’s pretty fascinating to me.  The idea that ‘it’s music because I say it is’ and ‘noise versus music is only a matter of opinion’ is one I support with every fibre of my being!  I’m one who believes that a million people can be wrong.  (Unfortunately, they often are, too.)  And ‘normality’ (however you define that) is just a lifestyle choice.

Well, anyway.  I felt I had to get that out of the way – the whole “put this record on at a party and see who actually STAYS IN THE ROOM!!!” thing.

On to this actual song at last.

I was thinking about this song this morning as I dried my hair.  (No, really.  Singing, or just thinking about songs, for no reason, at inopportune moments, is one of my silly habits.  Why I picked on “Light floats down day river on a red raft of blood” [as opposed to “Oh, what a beautiful morning!”, say] – ack.  Who knows.  But anyway.)  There it was in my brain.  And I started thinking about the words, the wonderful words.

Nobody coins an inscrutable metaphor like Beefheart.  The sort of words that look like, well, just selected words, maybe chosen just for their sounds – and I’m sure they are to an extent.  But then all of a sudden your brain catches up and gives you the picture to go with the words.  The image of a huge beetle standing in for the night sky – the shiny dot of light reflected by its carapace being the moon – it’s so marvellously ominous.  And the sunset like a river of lava, down which time itself is floating away somewhere unreachable…  It all puts me in mind of the Ancient Egyptian symbolism of the scarab beetle, shoving its sun of dung along in a desert landscape.

I’m very taken by the idea of shamanism being the default setting of the human brain.  I have this feeling that that’s what would be left, if all the other cultural trappings were taken away from us.  By ‘shamanism’ I mean the way in which people often feel linked to other categories of creature.  I can’t judge whether we really are connected that way – just that it’s natural to look into your dog’s eyes and think you know what he is feeling.  And when I say ‘shamanism’ I also mean this concept that ‘regularly scheduled reality’ isn’t necessarily the be-all and end-all.  There are ways to reconfigure the mind’s lens, see things differently, change our viewpoint.  Again, I couldn’t say for sure whether any of that is ‘real’.  And I totally reject some of the ways in which people try to get there (no intoxication for me, thanks!!).  But I do think it’s hardwired into us, as human beings, to know what we are, know what we’re not, and wonder if we can ever cross the divide between the two.

This is what this song speaks of to me – I can well imagine its powerful, fearful, out-of-skull bellow coming from some shaman who is describing his latest vision.  Being able to sense things that can’t be sensed by a normal human being, in everyday reality.  “I sensed the thickest silence scream… then I begin to dream!”  The fusion of one sense into another: “shinin’ silence” – a sound you can see; or an un-sound you can un-see, maybe…

This song is scary.  It’s just a large man, singing in a cavernous acoustic – it echoes and flickers on a flimsy CD just like it would around a long-ago cave, and around frightened minds belonging to a cowed crowd, an awed audience.  And the word ‘singing’ – well, it’s not really adequate.  Try ‘a tuned roar’ or ‘a dark squeal’ – the very voice of it sounds like part-animal to me.  The ‘melody’ (an inappropriately dulcet word!) mostly oscillates between two notes, a sombre minor third that calls to mind even more the feeling of an incantation, a spell, some sort of ritual invocation of… something.  There is no accompaniment – not even a drum or a handclap to soften the torrent of horrible, wonderful imagery.  I can’t imagine hearing that otherworldly-yet-earthy voice singing about ‘thick black felt birds’ with ‘beaks of solid bone’ without feeling a shiver trickling up and down my backbone like iced parasites.

If you hear this song and feel the chill coming over you, a dose of ‘Frownland’ should ginger you up and set you right.  But that’s enough from me on matters musical for one day!


( 8 confidences — Confide in me... )
Mar. 4th, 2008 03:47 pm (UTC)
"That's right, the mascara snake, fast and bulbous."

Ah, Beefheart. Even after enjoying bands like Ruins, D.N.A., John Zorn, Boredoms, and Sunn O))), I'm still convinced that one does not love Trout Mask. I think there are just varying degrees of tolerance and understanding. :-p

I do like Doc at the Radar Station, though.

No doubt, he definitely knows how to paint a picture with words when you're not too busy fighting through a state of utter confusion caused by the music.
Mar. 4th, 2008 04:14 pm (UTC)
It sure does stir up strong feelings!!

It’s almost like a lot of people think it’s ‘beyond music’. They can’t listen to it, and simply think ‘That’s well-executed – I see what they’re trying to do – but I don’t like it that much’. Or ‘Hmm, it’s pretty good. Not in my top ten, though.’ It’s all ‘No, make it stop!’ or ‘This is the ONLY MUSIC!!!’

I think there’s a certain amount of ‘pushing on through’ required, with any of this not-very-normal-sounding music. Just to get your brain to accept it as ‘music’, in the first place, so that you can then decide what you really think of it!! Our brains get so de-skilled by having such simple expectations… not that simplicity is bad.
Mar. 4th, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC)
Well, studies have shown that when you listen to music, parts of your brain are working to decipher what's going on. So, until you're able to understand what you're listening to just through listening--not through reading about it--you won't be able to enjoy it, really.

You'll be too busy pulling it apart. It's like this group that I just reviewed on my blog yesterday.

Their music is decent, but it's just really hard to pull apart and decipher. Not because it's overly complex or avant, but it just blends together into this wall of hums and static. It's interesting what they're doing.

At first it was kind of difficult to listen to because I was looking for that mental entry point to sort of start going in and deciding what's what, but listening to each song is sort of like walking along a fence, looking for some flaw or break where you can get in and see what's happening on the other side.
Mar. 4th, 2008 08:24 pm (UTC)
Aha! Pattern recognition. :-) I'm with you on that one. Once your ear hears the pattern in something... then you can find your way around in it. Until then... yes, it could all be words and noise. :-)

Re. your blog... I just had a listen to 'A Faulty Chromosome' on their myspace page. And now I know what you mean!! (The song was 'Them Pleasures of the Flesh'.) It reminded me strongly of - now what is it called? Is it 'process music'? Very machiney and repetitive! Bits of patterns (yes, those again) cycling in and out of focus, one on top of another. Quite an onslaught!

[And now I'm going to go back and listen to your podcast...]
Mar. 5th, 2008 02:52 am (UTC)
I have the feeling we could have a 1,000-hour conversation on music. Do you have an AIM name?
Mar. 5th, 2008 09:02 am (UTC)
"a 1,000-hour conversation on music" - v.tempting!

I don't *currently* have an AIM name. I think I might have to get one. ;-)
Mar. 5th, 2008 01:48 am (UTC)
I have always looooved that album. So I'm right there on your theory of extremes.
Mar. 5th, 2008 09:19 am (UTC)
Hey, another female listener of DVV! We are rare and precious!! ;-)
( 8 confidences — Confide in me... )

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