Monday, May 05, 2008

Why I Do What I Do

Email from listener:

"Have you ever gotten any grief for playing CB? In all the years I've been listening to radio, and as various as that listening has been, I think you've given Beefheart more airtime than anyone I've ever heard.

Oh Blobby, aren't you great.

Sue Egypt! SSSSue EEEEEEEEEEEEgypt!? She's not bad, she's just...."

Captain Beefheart-not exactly any station's first choice in programming.

Last night, I was chatting online with a friend while the show was on. All was ok until the Beefheart segment came on. Conversation then went something like this:

-nothing-I don't give up easily
"Have you heard of him?"
"Well, so-and-so is into him."
"Have you listened?"
"I'm sure if I listened enough, I could get into it."
"That's just a nice way of saying nooooooooooooooooooooo."

Beefheart is not something you want to put your listeners through all the time. It is simply too intense and the musical language too idiosyncratic to attract or sustain a large audience. Certainly, I won't get any pats on the back for playing it; the above listener's email a rare exception.

Listeners come with expectations. Ralph Towner, one of the great jazz/classical guitarist-composers of our time, said that listeners want to be about 50% right when it comes to their expectations. With Beefheart, all the familiars are gone: pretty guitars are replaced with razor, gritty electric guitar riffs, lyrical singing has been replaced with guttural, crazed witch doctor ranting, lyrics are surreal and most of the time, the band sounds like they are trying to play in a sandstorm or create one. In short, everything you expect music to be, is turned upside down by the magic man.

So, it doesn't matter how many accolades are heaped or how much praise is piled upon the Beef, audiences (including numerous musicians-often the most conservative) are probably not going to like the music.

From Wiki:

Don Van Vliet's (his real name) legacy is one of limited commercial success, but nonetheless one with a devoted following. Despite this lack of commercial success, his influence on musicians, especially those of the punk and new wave genres, has been described as "incalculable".

To which I would add:

Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat chain puller


1 comment:

Will said...

Rarely does a lyricist come along whose output can suggest such a multiplicity of interpretation. As with other great poets, Beefheart's lyrics attach to the outstanding events and observations, in my life anyway, and lend a prism for viewing these things from an alternative perspective. His expressionism provides a sense of solace by capturing the intensity of emotion which might otherwise provide defeat.

Cheers to Mr. Vliet for committing his life to his paintings. The music he's left behind is cherished by those of us with ears, and who have to listen. I'm swinging a sponge on the end of a string.

alias John Fahey