10/15/2009

Milestones: Trout Mask Replica

[Our series of posts on albums, movies, etc that celebrate significant anniversaries this year continues. - KJ]


CAPTAIN BEEFHEART AND HIS MAGIC BAND
Trout Mask Replica
[Straight/Warner Bros-1969]

Ah, yes: the "fast and bulbous" classic by The Magic Band;
the subject of so much ink during the pre-internet era, yet it's hardly referenced or remembered these days. Accordingly, we feel a work of such dedicated artistry and independence, as well as being a blatant middle finger--the Captain allegedly got his stage moniker from childhood buddy and TMR producer Frank Zappa for harboring a "beef in his heart" towards society--both deserves and needs to be always present when plastic, pre-fab nonsense tightens its stranglehold on the musical norm. So, here it is.

Wanting to mold his disparate, rhythm-oriented, piano-based compositions into a body of music that could be closely replicated--like a classical piece--the non-piano playing Captain Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet) and the Magic Band worked on the music that was to be Trout Mask Replica for a few weeks before embarking on an 8 month/14 hours per day rehearsal regimen under difficult conditions, with barely any money or food to sustain themselves. (Talk about suffering for your art.) Zappa at the helm, the bulk of the album was recorded in one six hour session, with Beefheart coming in afterwards to record his legendarily out of synch vocals, the product of the Captain's decision to eschew headphones and sing to the sounds he heard thru the studio control room glass.

Unsurprisingly, this experimental mix of blues, folk and free jazz released on Zappa's Straight label in 1969, did very little in the way of sales but has become an influential and inspirational touchstone for such disparate performers as pop songwriter Andy Partridge (XTC) and avant garde guitarist Gary Lucas, for example. (The latter became a member of the Magic Band some 20 years after this album's release.) Frequently regarded as one of the top albums of all time, Trout Mask Replica's true legacy resides in its defiant spirit and in the hearts of those who choose to make art within the context of popular music regardless of commercial or monetary reward.

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