Saturday, 18 December 2010

Trout Mask Original

Slightly shy of twenty years ago, I recall some balmy summer evenings sat around a table with three other friends. This was in a student house but it was pretty well-kept, any rough edges being part of its charm. Wooden floorboards, and a long open-plan living room, and the double-doors open to the garden.

Low lighting.

A bottle of whisky at the table, generous measures being regularly topped up. A mixture of easy conversation and hard concentration. Cigarette smoke. We four would be playing bridge. I was a novice (still am - I've hardly played since) but would enjoy the challenge, and no-one was too bothered if I asked for advice: it didn't hinder the flow of the game.

These were marvellous evenings.

As often as not, an album would be playing on the stereo that complemented - or maybe completed - the atmosphere. A trippy, unfettered thing that really got under my skin. Interlocking yet contrapuntal slide guitar riffs, loose and syncopated drum beats, and bursts of growled vocals and freeform sax playing.

This album was "Mirror Man" by Captain Beefheart: a series of extended jams which really seemed to capture the woozy meanderings of our conversation and gameplay (and whisky) set against these hot summer nights.

That was an ideal introduction to Beefheart's music for me and, when these particular nights in question tailed off, I gradually found myself searching for his albums.

Trout Mask Replica is the one most people talk about, and not without good reason. I'll just say that I loved it on first listen, and have done since: it seemed to perfectly fill a musical gap for me, given the various types of music I'd been listening to for a while.

But, on hearing of Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet)'s death yesterday, I've just sat listening to Doc At The Radar Station very loud, and am struck by not just how original it is, but how - despite playing it and his other work countless times over the years - startling it still is for me.

For some reason, it's this album that I've listened to the most. I know the notes and layers really well, since I was near-obsessed with this album for a long time. Yet there's still something surprising about it as I hear it for the first time since he died. It seems there's always something beyond those notes, layers, nuances, dynamics and discord, which never fails to engage.

I always wonder how it sounds, to talk about emotions and loss and so on, when the person who's died was not someone known to me in any personal sense. But, my word, the impact of the music that he created, and what it did for me: it's difficult not to get emotional about such a unique and utterly enriching music knowing that the driving force behind it has gone forever. There was nobody like him, ever - and I doubt that there ever will be again.


Fire Byrd said...

What's death notice blogging? Is it like a blog world obit column?
I'm off to clear the snow now.... grrrr!

trousers said...

Yes, it is - it's from when I seemed to be blogging a lot about people who'd died (but then, they did keep dying...).

D.J. Kirkby said...

Beautifully written, as usual. I hope 2011 is wonderful to you my freind. xo

trousers said...

Thanks Deej, and the very same to you too xx