“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”
Deep in the semi-fashionable Woodland Hills of Los Angeles, an inconspicuously disheveled rental property once lay in ruins. Today, the house is a most unremarkable renovated relic of a bygone era. But there are ghosts. Freakish ghosts. Ghosts of a conductorial nature, shrieking a maudlin, avant-garde rattle and haunt. The building is a house of deprivation; then and now. A house of starvation, sweat shop mentality and tyranny. This is no ordinary house. This is the house that Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band painstakingly rehearsed the notorious Trout Mask Replica album in.
“The environment in that house was positively Mansonesque.”
John French aka Drumbo (Magic Band drummer)
For the first eight months of 1968, Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart, together with a group of hand-picked musicians collectively known as the Magic Band, rehearsed relentlessly in preparation for the recording of one of the most experimental, yet cohesive, albums ever put to tape – Trout Mask Replica.
Despite being ranked #60 in Rolling Stone magazine’s top 500 albums of all time, Trout Mask Replica is one of the most written off albums in recorded history. Described by Mojo magazine as a “consommé of free jazz, avant-garde, sea shanty blues”, the album, to virgin ears, certainly does provide a challenging listen. I, myself, am ashamed to admit that a much stupider, peach-fuzzed version of me all but freaked out as track one, the warped blues-soul clatter that is “Frownland” finger-fucked my earhole for the first time. I recovered just barely enough to make it to track four, the wonderfully absurd “Ella Guru” before I panicked, lunging toward the turntable to shake the needle from its grooves, destroying my cheap Chinese made stylus in the process. The noise was awful, cynical and to my wet behind the ears, it wreaked of poor musicianship.
“The situation was cultlike.”
For those eight months, the Magic Band rehearsed Van Vliet’s scattergun compositions, often under extreme duress. Van Vliet ruled his musicians with an iron fist, asserting complete artistic, emotional and sometimes physical domination over the band. He would berate particular musicians for days on end until they would eventually collapse in tears. The musicians were starved too, living on no more than small cups of soybeans for months on end. Band members were banned from leaving the house other than to make food runs and were forced to practice for 14 hours per day.
“Intensely selfish people are always very decided as to what they wish. They do not waste their energies in considering the good of others.”
I would now like to speak to those of you who have not yet embraced the calamitous beauty that is Trout Mask Replica.
Hi. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.
Get your heads together. Show some class and for once in your self-centred lives.
Show some goddamn respect.
You owe these musicians your lives. They fought for your musical freedom. They blazed trails for you. They cried, starved and bled for you. For god’s sake, they didn’t know what they were getting themselves into; they were young and naive, but by god they showed some grit and discipline by sticking out the eight month ordeal so you didn’t have to.
This album is the Gideon’s Bible of experimental music. If, in the space-time continuum, The Bible was replaced by Trout Mask Replica in every hotel room bedside drawer, then perhaps us humans might be able to spread our wings and fly. It would rain black label whisky, men would be able to fellate themselves and Donald Trump would be every single birthday pinata in Mexico.
Look at the album’s cover. It’s Captain Beefheart waving at you with a fish for a head. He’s waving at you, man! He’s being friendly, sociable. He wants to hang with you and you jocks refuse to because he’s a little bit weird and doesn’t play sport. This ain’t high school, man.
“We should all rise above the clouds of ignorance, narrowness and selfishness.”
Booker T. Washington
The Magic Band was so well rehearsed over this eight month period that when it came time to record the album in the studio, the entire list of 28 tracks took just 8 hours to put down. This was a well regimented battle-hardened outfit.
Trout Mask Replica subconsciously guarantees you that tracks such as “Ella Guru” “Moonlight on Vermont” “China Pig” and “Dali’s Car” will restore your lacklustre libido, improve your sex life and lower your blood pressure. It’s musical Viagra. Your lady or man will thank you profusely.
And they did it all for you. How does that make you feel?
Now that you’re ready to put your ego aside and give Trout Mask Replica another listen, here is a comprehensive guide to help render the experience a delightful and comfortable one:
1: Take an opioid.
2: Remain standing, do not sit or lay down at any cost. Doing so may result in seizure.
3: Be patient. You will be tempted to change the record to your favourite Springsteen album, but don’t. These men didn’t suffer and sacrifice for nothing. See the album through. Let the opioid be your buffer.
4: Wait 24 hours.
5: Rinse and repeat. Listen to the album again, this time with a reduced dose of opioids. It’s time to wean.
6: Wait 24 hours.
7: Listen again; this time you will not need any opioids. You will feel a bit sweaty, a tad irritable and nauseous. This isn’t opiate withdrawal. This is the adverse effect of Trout Mask Replica. Stay strong. May I suggest locking yourself in the shed while you listen.
8: By day 7 you will be cured of all selfishness. Trout Mask Replica will be one of your favourite albums of all time. Amid the chaos, everything will start to make sense. The air will be cleaner, trees will be greener, food will taste better, girls will be prettier. You will now be able to tolerate, understand and empathise with other experimental and avant-garde acts such as Nurse With Wound, Psychic TV and Igor Stravinsky. You’ll even be able to understand what the hell James Reyne is singing about.
So there you have it. Life now is easy breezy. No need to thank me. I’m just doing my job. But do the world a favour, pass on this vital information to the less fortunate, teach the children and make a difference to your planet Earth. Remember, these boys fought for our freedom.
“There is power in self-sacrifice.”