Review by Andrew Hamlin.
“(Van) Vliet staked his stories and stuck to them, making myths and cartoons out of his own history.”
Captain Beefheart – Sun, Zoom, Spark:1970 to 1972
The flower comes out the barrel of a gun. The gun and the hand holding it come out the wall, the floor, the corner, the light fixture, your bathtub drain—any land they ought not to rightly claim. Hand pulls trigger, flower flexes, pollen lava flies in your face. You open your ears to a land where you have to keep slipping to stand still.
That’s the Captain’s land. He tilled his own soil with the majesty of nature, the humors of consciousness, the lugubriousness of lust, growing rare and wondrous orchids–tempered with the menace of the gun. It’s not quite the Captain without menace. He’s proud of his in-your-face refracting crop, and he’ll hijack your own sense, blind you to your own private consciousness, for forty minutes or an adulthood.
Such was the modus lunacy of the man born Don Vliet, later Don Van Vliet. He claimed he could remember being born; doctors and scientists call bullshit, but (Van) Vliet staked his stories and stuck to them, making myths and cartoons out of his own history. He never made peace with the world he was born into, preferring noble animals stocking his idealized vision of nature.
On Trout Mask Replica, a double-LP directly preceding this Rhino set, he grumbled he’d “find me a cave/talk the bears into taking me in.” Lick My Decals Off, Baby, the first of three albums collected on Sun, boasts almost the same lineup and gestalt: Guitar lines as irregular heartbeats, bass as burble, horns as hysteric, free-jazz Greek chorus. Drummer John “Drumbo” French and marimbist Art “Ed Marimba” Tripp find common ground over French’s cymbal frequencies, locking and unlocking in myriad gear teeth. And the tyrant over all (you have to conveniently ignore how horrible he was to his faithful sidemen), bellowing, whispering, condemning, sometimes matter-of-factly stating his case—the Captain ordering a sandwich, say, or accepting a bus token. But that’s only for relief.
Over The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot, also included in this set, the Captain came back to Earth as most of us mortals know it. On his terms. Grudgingly. Carrying his long list of discontents with him as it dragged the ground. He blamed the band for The Spotlight Kid which makes no sense since everybody’s still in despite Vliet’s verbal abuse and constant attempts to force them through his conceptual meat grinder. Bending closer to the blues, he pumps up the lust and borrows train cadences, busting out his blistering, laconic harmonica.
By Clear Spot, okay, it’s the blues, with some honest by-Captain jamming out white-blues-band style. It’s okay. Everybody can still play, even the blues. The Captain’s a crank as ever. Except about sex.
And the outtakes? A listen at the master builder working his flesh methods on captives. For all the sounds of chaos, he never allowed his band improvisation. Every orchid flourish had to be nailed down. And if he sounded calm at the end of a take, that was a good sign. Until it was time for take umpteen.