Philosophy Weekend: Captain Beefheart’s Innocent Soul

Did Captain Beefheart represent a philosophy of life? The California-raised singer and songwriter who died on Friday was an eloquent poet whose uncommon lyrical non-sequiturs sometimes recalled Gregory Corso:

It was a tropical hot dog night
like two flamingos in a fruit fight

Or Charles Bukowski:

Debra Kadabra
they say she’s a witch
shit-ass Charlie
ain’t that a bitch

Mostly, he did one of two things: he channeled Howlin’ Wolf or he spoke in tongues. He spoke in tongues a lot. Debra Kadabra, the song quoted above, got even better:

Oh Debra, algebra, Ebneezer Kadabra
Witch Goddess, Witch Goddess of Lankershim Boulevard
Cover my entire body with Avon Colog-na
Then drive me to some relative’s house in East L.A. (put it out)
(wait till my skin clears up)
Turn it to Channel 13
And make me watch the rubber tongue when it comes out
From the puffed and flabulent Mexican rubber-goods mask
Next time they show the bernacca
Make me buy the flosser
Make me grow braniac fingers
But with more hair
Make me kiss your turquoise jewelry
Emboss me
Rub the hot front part of my head
With rigid unguents
Give me bas-relief

Emboss me. Give me bas-relief. Captain Beefheart was a grade-A kook, a philosopher of innocence, a noble savage. Many people consider Trout Mask Replica his best album, but I think Mirror Man is the superior work, and Safe as Milk had the funniest title. The best Beefheart album of all may be Bongo Fury, his 1975 collaboration with Frank Zappa, whose highly orchestrated jazz-skiffle-shred outfit brought out Beefheart’s anarchic best. “I wish I had a pair of bongos,” he sings, and then he interpolates Bob Dylan:

Cast your dancing spell my way
I promise to go under it

Farewell, Beefheart.

10 Responses

  1. Mirror Man – the good Captain
    Mirror Man – the good Captain channels Howlin’ Wolf and Blind Lemon Jefferson “somewhere in LA”.

    Adios Captain, I loved Trout Mask Replica, especially The Old Fart at Play.

  2. To be quite honest I don’t
    To be quite honest I don’t like his music. I also don’t like John Lennon’s music either. It’s a matter of personal taste. I like music like Yes and King Crimson, and I also love PJ Harvey (both her music and in a platonic, romantic level) who is a very famous huge fan of Captain Beefheart, so I really don’t know why exactly I just don’t enjoy his music at all.

  3. Captain Beefheart’s music is
    Captain Beefheart’s music is not something I want to listen to every day, but I’ve always enjoyed short bursts of outlandish craziness. I’m not sure why, but it makes me smile and when other people react in bewilderment it makes me laugh.

  4. On Friday, the day the Cap’n
    On Friday, the day the Cap’n passed from exposed, raw nerves, I was tonguing a jello shot (my first ever), which was fun and delicious (although I did request a spoon), and talking to an unusually tall man, possibly the tallest man I’ve ever personally spoken with. I had an extraordinary and brand new physical sensation in my own body, which in and of itself was amazing to me because I am not young and thought I had experienced it all. He was so tall that I kept thinking I should stand up to speak with him but I was in fact already standing, having instinctively hopped off my barstool at his approach. That urge to stand up, to achieve eye-level, to stand in attention, to stand ever taller, there are some rare artists who impel that curious posture, that lengthening and reach. Beefheart was such a one.

  5. Rest In Peace Captain
    Rest In Peace Captain Beefheart, and I’m sorry to be off topic, but it might be a good time for us to do some Paul Revere-ing on the Internet–today the FCC is passing down the first of the Net Neutrality rulings. Al Franken on HuffPo (scroll down middle column) says we should be outraged, and he doesn’t usually exaggerate. The Internet should not be headed toward corporate blogs buying the fast lane and the rest of us stuck in slow.

    Not sure where to make our voice heard, by emailing the White House or maybe the FCC page with How To Make ECFS Express Comments? It might be good if non-corporate websites had a community way for us to alert each other when something important like this comes up. Just FYI.

  6. Here’s something Don Van
    Here’s something Don Van Vliet did as Captain Beefheart.
    (He also was a very good modern artist… ) Song name–
    “I don’t wanna kill my China pig”. from “Trout Mask Replica”… Captain Beefheart was a hoot! I loved the guy and he’ll be missed. He and Frank Zappa used to
    be buds. It is an end of an era. See below: China Pig link– … re=related

    As posted on revolutionrabbit’s “one for Don Von Vliet” on Dec. 18, 2010 in the Poetry forum, Studio Eight under slightly different form.

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