Monday, November 11, 2013

Captain Beefheart - the Biography - book by Mike Barnes

A long-time Beefheart fan, Barnes obviously spent a great deal of time on this labor or love, in order to create a well-done and entertaining biography of the reclusive r'n'r icon known as Captain Beefheart. While Don Van Vliet would never acquiescence to an interview himself, Barnes managed to contact many members of the various versions of the Magic Band in order to tell his tale. He also talks extensively of all of the recordings, giving us a feel for the sessions, as well as basics such as the personnel who appeared.

From Vlient's early days as friend and collaborator to Frank Zappa (who came up with the "Captain Beefheart" moniker for a movie staring Don in the mid-60's) to his time as a musical innovator (specifically on the seminal Trout Mask Replica) to his reunion with Zappa on Bongo Fury, to his fruitless attempts at commercial success to his artistic reinvention (Shiny Beast and Doc at the Radar Station) - and many projects in between - to his change of media to - and eventual commercial success with - painting, to his fight with MS and loss of life, Barnes covers it all. There are many anecdotes by those who were there and who were friends as well as musicians. Drummer John French was apparently interviewed fairly extensively, which may have given him the impetus to write his own book, Through the Eyes of Magic, which I have yet to read, but those who have say that it is a good companion to this time.

Barnes has a very descriptive vocabulary and is successful in describing what is often indescribable - the noises that came out of the Captain's warped mind and onto vinyl. Of course, it is always good to be familiar with the material, whether it is sounds or sights (record covers), but this is as good of a translation as you are likely to find, and will undoubtedly point you in the direction of what you do & don't want to dig up by the man.

Beefheart's music can be extremely difficult, but also extremely rewarding, if you are willing to open yourself up to it. This book is a great guide to it all. Thumbs up!