Sad Farewell to Captain Beefheart

Approximately twenty years ago, Captain Beefheart was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and on 17 December 2010, at the age of 69, he passed away and left the music industry with a legacy that is reflected on with fondness and awe by many musicians. His music was unusual and unique, and he is said to have influenced many celebrity bands, such as The White Stripes, Nirvana, Nick Cave, Beck and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Now with his passing, his contributions to the music world are again in the limelight, paying tribute to an iconic musician and talented artist.

Born 15 January 1941, Donald Glen Vliet grew up in an impoverished neighborhood in California, and later changed his name to Don Van Vliet. In his early years he had a significant meeting of Frank Zappa while attending Antelope Valley High in the Mojave Desert. This meeting lead to a long and rocky friendship between the two – a relationship which only they understood. While at school they began exploring their musical talent by forming a doo-wop band and making a film called Captain Beefheart and the Grunt People. After school, Van Vliet held down a few jobs, including that of a vacuum machine salesman, and only embarked on a professional music career in his late twenties. Finding an opportunity in the music industry was not easy, as not many people understood his approach to music, which was a mixture of free jazz and swampy blues, and band members worked extremely hard to achieve the sound that Van Vliet was looking for.

He released a few albums during his career. His most noteworthy was Trout Mask Replica, which featured twenty-eight tracks, receiving a variety of mixed reviews. Due to the fact that his music sounded like instruments were being played in opposition to each other, some critics gave extremely negative remarks, while others were quoted saying that the albums was “the most astounding and important work of art ever to appear on a phonograph record” (Langdon Winner). Others said “It’s a Beefheart trademark that his music sounds like nobody’s playing in time or in tune with each other.” But no matter what critics said, Captain Beefheart inspired many musicians, and in the late 1980s he retired from the music industry to pursue a successful art career. He leaves behind Jan, his wife of forty years, and an extraordinary music career that will never be forgotten.