Captain Beefheart dies

Trout Mask Replica
Trout Mask Replica

The BBC is reporting today that the artist and musician Don Van Vliet, known as Captain Beefheart, has died in California from “complications from multiple sclerosis”.

I only ever bought the one Beefheart album, Trout Mask Replica, but I have appreciated it more and more over the years.

I recall that a few years ago Trout Mask Replica won an award for the best album of all time on some TV channel. While researching this I found that BBC 6 Music had listed it as one of the most overrated albums of all time. Beefheart’s detractors are missing out. Yes, Trout Mask Replica is not shiny and perfect like most of the music produced today but that’s the point.

Starting around the fifties or sixties recorded music became industrialised. A machine evolved to create music and sell it as a product to generate profit. To begin with this was done by “spotting” talent but today this has evolved into attempts to create talent. E.g. The X Factor. The problem with the likes of Simon Cowell trying to create talent is that Cowell has no artistic talent himself. Yes, he has the ability to spot similarities and this is what he does. He observes how talented singers sing and then tries to encourage would be talent to sing in the same manner. Consequently the “artists” which emerge are mere imitation of true talent. They can hit the notes, they can keep time but they have no artistic talent. They are the musical equivalent of battery hens. After Cowell and his team have refined and Kaizaned all their individuality out of them they resemble a Toyota more than an Aston Martin.

Even in the 60s the machine was gearing up to replace temperamental and expensive talent with clones created by the industry. One of Captain Beefheart’s achievements was to defy the system and create music which was not reliant on emulating others.

It’s interesting that, though the British press are reporting Beefheart’s death, the story has not even made the front page of The L.A. Times.


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