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Records I’m Keeping: Captain Beefheart’s “Clear Spot”

Captain Beefheart. It sounds weird, doesn’t it? It should. He made weird sounds.

In July of 1977 John Lydon sat down to do an interview and select some songs to put on the air on London’s Capital Radio. With everyone waiting with bated breath to see which garage rock obscurity he’d dig up, Lydon started with a Tim Buckley song. Then he played some dub. Then reportedly there was some Can, and somewhere in the mix–along with some prog rock and Velvet Underground–there was a Captain Beefheart song. Though he probably hadn’t intended to do it, Lydon had just expanded the boundaries of a lot of listeners and helped lay the groundwork for postpunk in the process.

It’s not hard to hear Beefheart in postpunk. At heart (ahem) the Captain is a bluesman, and I used to enjoy imagining that he was an alternate universe Howlin Wolf with an affinity for abrasion. But the Captain and his Magic Band took blues cliches and ran them through a Donald Judd machine so that what came out was all sharp edges and impenetrable monolith. The blues is in there–there’s no denying the Magic Band could work up a groove when they weren’t busy freaking out the world–but it’s bent to the Captain’s strange will.

Before today I owned 4 Captain Beefheart records. Trout Mask Replica was a landmark of dense rock experimentalism & noise, and Lick My Decals Off Baby channelled TMR’s discoveries into some great and deeply weird songs. They were postpunk touchstones. Doc At the Radar Station served as an acerbic
response to the art-school weirdos like Public Image Ltd that kept claiming the Captain as a Godfather, and it was probably the most overtly abrasive rock record he ever made. But I only kept one.

Clear Spot lacks the outre cache of Trout Mask or the monetary value of Decals, and it’s not becoming a record that’s hip to namedrop like Doc apparently has. In my opinion, though, Clear Spot gets you your best ratio of weirdness to grooving to songs. It doesn’t have “Ashtray Heart” or “Making Love to a Vampire with a Monkey on My Knee,” but hot damn if it doesn’t groove.

Here’s Clear Spot‘s “Big Eyed Beans from Venus.” You probably don’t want to watch the video if you have a history of epileptic issues.


About Justin Jacoby Smith

I’m Justin Jacoby Smith. Some people call me “hoosteen.” I live just outside Washington, DC. I like punk rock & country songs. I’m a data monkey. I Occupy DC, because a better world is possible. I’m a cohost & contributor for Voices of the 99%. I’ve served on the editorial board of the DC Mic Check. I briefly developed digital strategy for The Parley. I write poems. Sometimes I get published. Dig it.

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