I came late to Don Van Vliet. Listening to Doc at the Radar Station in summer ‘ 99 at the peak of my infatuation with post-punk and its antecedents, I was prepared for its wrenching guitar sound and quicksand textures, but not the sheer oddness of the Captain’s vocals. “Telephone” and “Sue Egypt” still sound frightening late at night driving home — fuck the guitars and Moogs. Other than a cursory listen to the less involving Ice Cream For Crow, I ignored Beefheart until, fittingly, this time last year, when I downloaded Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), accounted his best by fans indifferent to Trout Mask Replica. What struck me, ten years after my first listen and cognizant of Pere Ubu, was how damn catchy the thing sounded. Another lesson I’d learned from loving Ubu’s Cloudland for years: the insistence on “linear” songwriting actually made the artists sound stranger. At odd times I’d hum “Tropical Hot Dog” and “Harry Irene” to myself; the former sounds like dotty Rupert Holmes.
Now I guess I’ll listen to Trout Mask Replica: a “classic” record I managed to politely ignore for years.
As a postscript, here’s Lester Bangs’ interview with Beefheart from the late seventies. The artist’s way with the English language is as astounding as his chordal structures.