No, Barack Obama is NOT the weirdo referred to in the title of this post. I think this is an airbrushed image, but regardless, fucking hilarious it is, so here it is, heading up this oddball entry. The album above is Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band. Circa 1969, for your info. About 4 years before I disgraced the Earth with my presence. However, I found out about this work of sonic splendor through that 10-year waste of time known as Jean-Luc. Part of my initiation into his “heart” was an education in all things Captain Beefheart. I got to hear this one evening while drinking ridiculous amounts of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum and wolfing down Pepperoni Pizza Hot Pockets. Charlie, JL’s best friend and the best bartender/shyster I’ve ever known in my life, was scoffing and arguing for Tom Waits, but JL wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss out on this. I remember wondering several times if I did indeed smoke pot and forget it. That’s what the first go-round of this album was like to me. A gigantic trip. It made me want to drink more to forget it. But, like sex with the exes, a bad car accident in the sonar waves made me want to try and try again. The second time around, i was still as puzzled. It took many more nights of Captain Morgan and Captain Jean-Luc to convince me that this was an album of legendary status. By the seventieth or eightieth time, I was hooked enough to enjoy the madness that is Trout Mask Replica. And then, I had to have a copy for myself. It took me almost ten years and many nights of patient record store trips with Jen before I finally found it, at a Borders in Orland Park.
For those unfamiliar,Trout Mask Replica is the third album by Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band. It was released after Beefheart’s first two albums ran into a brick wall at two seperate labels. This was the third label, Buddah (yes, as in, Buddha) Records, and it got released, although the record company, like the listening public, knew not what to make of it. It’s an album based around Beefheart’s newest instrument, the piano. Except for the fact that, well, he couldn’t play the piano. He just up and decided to learn by trial and error (translated loosely as fly by the seat of your pants and hope to land upright). What resulted, well, is pretty indescribable unless you listen to it drunk, stoned, or completely out of your mind on Vicodin. Or, in the case of a small few, are odd enough to appreciate such a strange mixture of ennui, instruments that are being played with no rhyme or reason, and a bunch of people behind you who are puzzled as fuck by what you’re doing, but they go along with it, record it, and hope for some understanding. That, my friends, is why it’s genius. You won’t find that sort of creativity in today’s musical tilt-a-whirl. You might find some underage, undertalented daughter of a sheep-fucker who can twerk her way into people believing she has talent, but you will never hear a sonic experiment like Trout Mask Replica in today’s world. A review? There’s no fucking way to describe this. As imaginative as I believe myself to be, I could never write a review of this masterpiece. It’s indescribable. You will hear nothing like it in your life. And that’s precisely why you need to find a copy, preferably on vinyl, and listen to it. Stoned, drunk, or stone cold sober on Goo Gone.
Jean-Luc was determined that I would grow into that album. Unfortunately, the insecure Luddite was correct. If you have one of those days where you just say, “I don’t know what to make of this”, Trout Mask Replica is the one to cue up and play. Jean-Luc was so thorough in his plans of brainwashing that he made sure to inform me that Frank Zappa was the producer of Trout Mask Replica. I groaned out loud. He had recently convinced Jen and I to rent Frank Zappa’s movie 200 Motels. We rented it and watched it, with much confusion, several times one Sunday night. Even Pothead Bob couldn’t make sense of it, and that’s saying something. I was trying to get on Jean-Luc’s good side so I could nail him, so I was willing to do anything stupid in the way of art, and hopefully, discovery of misunderstood genius. I didn’t dig Zappa in this, despite the wonderful cameo by Ringo Starr, of all people. We did, however, enjoy Zappa’s movie Baby Snakes much more. It was comprised mostly of a 1977 Halloween concert. Jen and I both enjoyed Frank’s music, much more, than his cinematic dervishes. I asked him about more of Zappa’s music, and he whipped it out. No, no, no, not THAT. This:
This is Frank Zappa’s eighteenth album. 18th! It came out when I was a year old. It’s main claim to fame? One little ditty known as “Don’t Eat Yellow Snow”, which got worldwide acclaim on Dr. Demento, of all places. The album is four sides, nine songs total. The first half is Zappa’s encounter with Nanook, as in the infamous Nanook of the North. The other song bookending that one is called “Nanook Rubs It”. Don’t judge me, I’m a freak. So is the entire album. “Cosmik Debris” is probably my favorite, although “Stink Foot” is not far behind it. It’s an odd album. But that’s why it’s a true find, for those odd enough to sit down, listen, scratch your head, have more of your substance of choice, and go back and listen again. Frank Zappa, for all of his oddness in recordings, was one smart son of a bitch. Most of his catalog has leanings of political fervor in them, but throw in a huge splash of weird and somewhat perverted humor, and a star is born. I am lucky to have found a copy of this on vinyl, at a garage sale, in Burbank, back in 2007. The little fucking album itself has crayon drawings on the back of it, but somehow, that didn’t anger me. It felt like something that Frank Zappa, wherever he was at that time, would have dug, so I dug into my change purse and paid the 10 cents. 10 cents! I wasn’t going to go Terminator on those people for a few crayon drawings on the back- I have never seen this album otherwise, so I cherish it, crayon drawings, and all.
The best story of both of these albums is that Beefheart and Zappa, former schoolmates and friends most of their lives, got into a violent altercation, that led to their estrangement for many years, to the utter disappointment of fans. However, when Zappa was dying from prostate cancer, they buried the hatchet. Unfortunately, it was too late for another collaboration, but at least there was peace in the valley before Zappa ventured home to the big puff tent in the sky. I am never grateful to the bastards who have graced (greased, in some cases) my wheels in this life, but sometimes, something good comes of it, and often, it’s related to music. So I thank Jean-Luc for giving me the gift of introducing me to two of the strangest fucking albums I have had to hear in my life, and the two creatively odd dynamos that produced them.