SUGAR AND SPIKES
odds and ends
the new captain beefheart album 'clear spot'
from CREAM #21 010273
review by john peel
'let him who would move and convince others be first moved and convinced himself' - thomas carlyle
the problem is that when you're so close to something, when in fact you're just about buried in it, you can't back away far enough from it to get a proper perspective on it. like a doctor operating on someone he or she loves more than anything or anyone.
the first i knew of captain beefheart was when 'diddy wah diddy' arrived at kmen, san bernardino, and because i got in first to open the records so that i could lift the ones i wanted for myself, i called johnny, the music director, and we laughed at the name and listened to the record. well, no record before or since has had that effect on me that that flawed, but magic record had. saul on the road to damascus comes to mind when i'm looking for a comparison.
johnny didn't care for it much but i persuaded him to put it on the play-list and for a couple of weeks there was captain beefheart and the magic band at the very b ottom of the top 40 from a small station in southern california. great days, boys and girls, great days.
around then them (with van morrison, too) were to play at the whiskey-a-go-go in hollywood and beefheart was to support them. since then i've spoken to the captain (i still think of him as the captain because 'don' just doesn't cover enough ground) and he's laughed and told me about the incredible state he was in that night. now he says that he never got into those 'incredible states' anyway, but he certainly was weird.
the band was playing a lot of things like 'little red rooster' and 'smokestack lightning' and the groovers at the whiskey were distant and bored. that voice thundered and roared round the room and the band flew around it and everyone just talked and drank and missed everything. i bet those soft buggers talk about it now and say what a great time they had and how they knew all along, of course they did.
months later i'd fled to radio london armed with a country joe e.p., 'surrealistic pillow', a lot of elektra elpees, one of those floppy records that the velvet underground has done for 'aspen' magzine - and the memory of the magic band. without the records all i could do was tell everyone about this marvellous man, the mad captain ('mad' was a mistake but i wanted people to pay attention and i didn't care why they did as long as they did).
then came 'safe as milk' and a few months later they were here in britain and i found myself introducing them at middle earth. i remember crying.
the captain, so he told me, was at that stage still seven people away from being himself and his lack of conventional discipline really messed audiences about. i hired a small car and drove him to as many gigs as i could. he was very, very nervous - convinced everyone was out to get him. enemies lurked everywhere and i even became one myself for a while.
at the gigs, half the audience would file out in the first five minutes while the rest sat mesmerized by the music and by the captain's sheer power. i've never known such a powerful man. his conversations were structured on about five levels simultaneously and were véry difficult to follow. he wrote a new song every hour and, to hear him tell it, everyone was going to be on the next elpee.
that was 'strictly personal' and when i got it i also got seven acetate elpee sides that have never been released. beefheart has since disclaimed 'strictly personal' but it's an elpee that still gives me pleasure and still provides little surprises that i'd never noticed before. in fact, i sometimes suspect that the record is physically altering itself in the sleeve when my back is turned. the acetates aren't always great but there are some remarkable moments, including a 25 minute 'terraplane', which should be released.
a lot of us beefheart freaks reckon 'trout mask replica' as his finest hour but i don't like to make those sort of comparisons. everything he has done has been unforgettable, startling, rooted in the soil of earth while flying somewhere out there so far away that you can't escape the feeling of mystery that pervades the music. there's a holy of holies that none of us can enter - at least, not yet.
at the albert hall last year, beefheart was standing at the back of the floor while the band worked towards a balance. 'how's that, don,' asked zoot horn rollo. 'like a custard with two feathers sticking in it,' replied don and the band went 'aha' and adjusted their instruments accordingly.
my favourite band in the world is the faces. i curl up when i read things like that because they mean nothing much but the faces get down into dark parts of me and dig out all the shit that's in there and get rid of it. they're an amazing release of tension.
not even the faces could have done to the city hall in newcastle what beefheart and the magic band did last year. you know that riff in 'click clack' that almost made it a hit last year? well, when the band dug into that the whole building seemed to beat with the pulse of it. passers-by must have been surprised to see the roof and walls moving rhythmically like a human chest. the moment only lasted for a minute at the most - but it was a good minute to have experienced.
but this is supposed to be a review of 'clear spot'. i should be breaking down the tracks, telling you about the lyrics, analyzing the vocals, the music, the musicians. i'm really not equipped to do that, though. i do believe the good captain is the most important single figure in contemporary rock. that he has ability far above and beyond anyone else i've heard and that anything he does merits your most careful attention.
'clear spot' - and this is what i should have said at the very start - is magic music.
click clack back to the history or the power station
captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo