Archive for the ‘Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JASON ISBELL & AMANDA SHIRES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #88 (September 30, 2020).

I can’t decide if I like Jason Isbell or not.  I like his songs quite a lot and after watching this set I like him a whole lot. But I find his voice unpleasant–too twangy and country, which just rubs me the wrong way.

And yet the chorus of “Dreamsicle” is wonderful.  The way he and Amanda Shires harmonize is just fantastic.  I’ve heard the song on the radio, but it sounds amazing here.

The songs for this Tiny Desk (home) concert are from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s Spring release, Reunions. “Dreamsicle” shares the story of a child seeing his family falling apart all around. Reflecting on those times, he finds fond memories, and the chorus of the song — “a Dreamsicle on a summer night in a folding lawn chair” — conjures up bright light even amidst the darkness.

Between songs, Jason is very chatty, making a lot of humorous observations, like that he’s been to the Tiny Desk and “The Tiny Desk Desk is not tiny, it is larger than average for a desk….  It’s a tiny concert at a desk.  [Call it a] cluttered desk concert.”

The next song “Overseas” is a louder song (it think it even distorts their sound equipment some).  Introducing the song he says, “Lets do ‘Overseas.’ Because we cant go overseas were gonna sing ‘Overseas.’  There’s a lovely lead violin and more terrific harmonies in the bridge.  They have this back and forth at the end

JI: That’s Amanda Shires playing the fiddle.  That’s really good.
AS: Thanks for having me.
JI: That was so good.
AS: I like to the play the fiddle, man. It’s a violin though.
JI: We should do this more often.
AS: Yeah we should.

This interchange is all the more funny because

Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires feel fortunate. They have their 4-year-old daughter, Mercy, a wonderful home, and each other.

Jason says that Mercy “tells me that she is an expert yodeler…. And it’s good, especially for a four year old who is not Scandinavian or Jimmie Rogers.  But then she says can you send that video to Jewel?   Jewel seems very nice but I’m afraid she’s going to come to our house and say “you can’t yodel for shit” and I want to be the barrier between my daughter and the cutthroat world of yodeling.

Amanda says they got a new rooster who is learning to crow.  Mercy named their new rooster Captain Love Heart. He has a lot of love in his heart and he is a captain. Makes me think of Captain Beefheart and makes me think of the chicken crowing “Upon the Me Oh My” or something from Trout Mask Replica.
The final song, “It Gets Easier,” deals with Jason’s drinking demons, with a refrain filled with such stark truth: “It gets easier, but it never gets easy.” These words could be an anthem for all those in recovery. It’s the nature of Jason Isbell to sing the truth.
I really enjoyed their banter and it made me like their songs even more.

[READ: September 24, 2020] “Birth of a Gardener”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

the story works because the woman’s husband is a mansplainer.  He loses her to another dimension simply because he assumed he understood the principles of physics better than she did. Not to worry: that isn’t a spoiler.  …  [Pitkin Buck shows that] even as we are simplified into the roles that prioritize our relationships — mother, wife, sister, daughter, partner — over our individuals identities, women in 2020 (as with women in 1961, and women in 1861, and…) have to fight to retain our own rich interior experiences.

In this story, Payne is a physicist–Fermi Research at the Droxden Foundation, famous for his work on anti-matter.  His wife, Lee, is not.  And he hates to see her “spraining her mind” over books about physics. Why did she waste her time with books like that when she has such a green thumb.

He is so frustrated with her that he finally says she should just give it up “If you would be happy for life, plant a garden.”

She replies “That wasn’t why I evoked you.”

He doesn’t understand what she means, even when she says, “I just thought very hard and–finally one day, there you were.”

He says “Stop playing around with a rigorous logic that isn’t your style.”

She retorts: “Rigorous logic!  Rigor mortis!”

Finally, she says she wants him to teach her to see physics.  It would help them both.  She says she can already see neutrinos.  

He gets angry and asks why she keeps talking fairy tale when he has serious work to do.

After more back and forth he ends the discussion with, “Darling, you bore me.”

The next morning Lee was dead. It was shocking to him, but he felt closer to her now than he ever had while she was alive.

Suddenly he started seeing her–as if she were down at the end of a tunnel looking at him. He sees that she is looking at book. It is called The Validity of Thought Patterns as Determined by Their Elegance. He sees that she is the author of the book.

Then she starts demonstrating a diagram on a black board. She made a beautiful arabesque–it was the work of a clear and intelligent mathematical. But he had to laugh because she had gotten one thing crucially wrong–of course she would be confused in the end. 

Then he realized the mistake was his own.  She was not drawing matte but anti-matter.  His own field of study!  He and Lee were even closer than he’d ever realized.  He must try to communicate with her.

The end of the story is outstanding.


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SOUNDTRACK: THE RESIDENTS-Meet the Residents plus Santa Dog EP (1973/1972).

Like a proto- Negativland meets Primus, The Residents took the world by storm in 1973.  Their debut album (pictured here) bore the unmistakable tagline: The First Album by North Louisiana’s Phenomenal Pop Combo.  And so it is.

Read more about the album in the Jon Savage essay below.

“Boots” is a sampled and remashed version of “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”  “Gylum Bardot” sounds like a Primus demo.  “Breath and Length” is noise and noise and effects and a soothing female vocal singing the title.   “Consuelo’s Departure” is a noisy soundtrack to nothing and “Smelly Tongues” sounds like a hammered dulcimer with a menacing bassline behind it until the vocals come in: “Smelly tongues looked just as they felt”.   And all 6 of these songs last less than ten minutes total.

“Rest Aria” changes tempo of things.  It’s five minutes long.  It starts as a simple piano track (slightly out of tune) but it slowly adds crazy horns and what sounds like children’s instruments.  The other longish song, “Spotted Pinto Beans” comes with a kind of faux chorus (female and then male) singing a kind of call and response which is overtaken by noise.

The one-minute “Skratz” comes between these two longer songs and is mostly  mumbling spoken vocal.  “Infant Tango” sounds like a normal song.  It opens with a funky wah wahed guitar.  Of course, the skronking horns and mumbled bass vocals tell you this is not going to be a hit.  It runs 6 minutes long with a strange little “guitar solo” in the middle.

“Seasoned Greetings” (with it’s weird holiday wishes at the end) segues into the 9 minute “N-Er-Gee (Crisis Blues”).  “N-Er-Gee” is a piano “melody” which is really someone banging the same notes very hard on the piano.  The voice on both tracks sounds like the aural equivalent of blackface until the sample (a very long sample that apparently voided placement on some releases) of “Nobody But You” morphs into a manipulated sampling of the word “boogaloo” and eventually becomes a dissonant chant of the title.

The appended Santa Dog is a bit more song-like.  Totally weird songs yes, but there’s actual melodies and lyrics.  Like on “Fire”: “Santa dog’s a Jesus fetus.”  “Aircraft Damage” is mostly a bunch of people reciting bizarre lyrics over each other.  The whole EP was about 12 minutes.  It’s weird but more palatable than the LP.

Despite how much this album foreshadowed loony alternative bands in the future, there is a clear predecessor in Trout Mask Replica.  Although Captain Beefheart followed a (relatively) more conventional song structure, you can hear elements of the Beefheart within.  This album is also notable for being made in the early 70s when the technology to do this easily was very far away.  You could whip this album up in a few minutes now, but back then with splice and paste, it would take ages.

It did not sell as well as the similarly titled Meet the Beatles.

[READ: June 16, 2011] Five Dials Number 11

Five Dials Number 10 was a special issue, but Number 11 goes back to the format we know.  It sort of has a theme about lists.   It contains half a dozen short essays and one long short story by Paul Murray (author of Skippy Dies).  This issue is also something of a surprise as it weighs in at a fairly small 16 pages (sometimes smaller is perfectly fine).  The issue also raised a couple of totally weird coincidences which I will point out as they come up.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On Wilton’s and Lists
Number 10 was designed to be ready for an evening at Wilton’s Music Hall on February 26th.  But the real theme of the issue is lists.  In part this is inspired by the Raymond Chandler entry, it’s also inspired because Taylor keeps lists around the office.  At the end of the letter he provides a list of all of the notes he’d left to himself in the office.  Some are about the issue (Paul Murray manuscript), other are seemingly more random (USA 5 Canada 3, men’s Olympic ice hockey result;  Canada 7-Russia 3, men’s Olympic ice hockey result; ‘Range Life’–Pavement).  And the one that is most coincidental to me–(The Umbrellas of Cherbourg–Jacques Demy).  This is coincidental because on the day that I read this, my friend Lar wrote a post about this very movie, which was completely unknown to me. (more…)

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trout–Fast and Bulbous.
–Bulbous yes, but also tapered.

This is an infamous disc in the history of music.  Which surprises me, as I can’t imagine many people have ever listened to it in its entirety.  I learned about it though my Frank Zappa fascination (he produced the record).

This disc also holds some kind of fascination for fiction writers.  I recall an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 (yes, of course I watched it) in which a new character was introduced.  He was a cool hip indie guy and I thought he was finally a cool character on a show I was getting rather sick of.  But because he was different, he was of course mocked.

He is first mocked for keeping his records in alphabetical order (and come on, anyone with more than 50 discs has to, it’s not a sign of weirdness, just common sense).  And second he was mocked for owning this album (picture a 90210er say Captain Beefheart?).  Of course, later on, he goes on to commit murder or arson or some other thing, thereby proving that alternative music is only for psychopaths, but heck, when has TV ever lied to us?

And now, this disc is a favorite of the hero of this book (which is what prompted me to bust out the disc and give it a listen).

And so wow, what a weird album.  Even 41 years later this record is still waaay out there.   The disc opens with “Frownland.”  And how to describe it?  The left speaker is playing sort of free jazz guitar chords.  The right speaker is playing a wild atonal guitar solo with a thumping bass.  In both speakers you get all over the place (but rather quiet) drums and the good Captain himself singing in a voice that could have inspired Tom Waits.  And the Captain’s song would be a very catchy melody if it had anything to do with what everyone else was playing (which it doesn’t).  And the whole things lasts for under 2 minutes.  There’s 28 songs not unlike this one, for a total of about 75 minutes.

Some other treats: a wild skronking horn solo on one song.  There’s also a song about the Holocaust.  And there’s even several music-free spoken word “poetry” readings.  And of course, the aforementioned bulbous quote.

Amidst this chaos are three songs that are more or less songs in the conventional sense, “Moonlight on Vermont,” “Veteran’s Day Poppy” and “Sugar ‘n Spikes,” meaning they have verses and choruses and whatnot.  But even those are still pretty far out and won’t be (and haven’t been) on the radio anytime soon.

Word is that this is a hugely influential disc and it lands on all kinds of Best Album Of All Time lists.  I can see that it has influenced a few people over the years (Devandra Banhart comes to mind), but still.  This is the kind of music you put on at a party when you want everyone to go home.

[READ: November 6, 2009] I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President

I heard about this book when Jon Stewart gave it a big plug on The Daily Show (the author is one of the writers for the show).  After many of the “heavy” titles that I’d been reading, it was a delight to read something that was purely comic.

And it was very funny indeed.

The book reminded me in many ways of Artemis Fowl (if Aretmis hadn’t turned over a new leaf–and without the fairies, of course).  In fact, I’m not entirely sure what the age group for the book is.  The main character is in seventh grade (and the language is very mild, certainly suitable for kids).  But when I found it in the book store, it was in the adult section.  So, I’m not entirely sure where to place it.

Anyhow, the premise here is that Oliver Watson is an evil genius.  Evil here doesn’t mean psychotic or sociopathic, he doesn’t want to kill people.  He just wants things to go the way he wants.  All the time.  And he is usually quite successful.  He is, after all, one of the top 5 wealthiest people in the world.  And he’s only in 7th Grade. (more…)

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