Many people likely will not know who Captain Beefheart was. He had no hits, none of his albums went multi-platinum or even gold or even cracked the top quarter of the Top 200 albums in the United States. I only heard of him while reading about obscure musicians from the past . As it happens, though, he has a small but definitely noisy fanbase and a surprisingly vocal group of people who cannot stand him among those few who have heard of him and know of him. One of my coworkers, for example, knowing my fondness for writing about acts unfairly excluded from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, commented on Captain Beefheart, and was surprised that I had heard of him, although I had not heard any of his music. Receiving a couple of recommendations on which albums to listen to, I became a bit familiar with his music to see what was it about his career that was so polarizing, and found out that he was about as hipster as an artist from the 1960’s and 1970’s could be–his music was an acquired taste that had a rabid but small base of fans who cheered on his inside jokes about bulbous and fast, and others who had listened to the music and thinking that only pretentious snobs enjoyed it. As is often the case, the truth lies in neither extreme.
The Influence Of Captain Beefheart
Captain Beefheart, whose given name was Don Glen Vliet, was influential in several ways. One of them was through his long collaboration with the equally weird Frank Zappa. Whether in his own weird music or in his collaborations with Zappa, The Tubes, and others , Captain Beefheart’s career was spent out of the mainstream but he has been regularly cited by alternative musicians and artists from other genres as being one of the greatest musicians of all time , a genius and an artist of the highest order. As is the case with others of great cultural influence , he was a person who was hard to work with. His abusive perfectionism and the unacceptable working conditions he put his musicians under in his Magic Band meant there was a lot of turnover among those supporting him. Still, his concept albums and the sheer weirdness of his musical approach, and his desire to shock his audience out of their complacency, were all important aspects of the later punk and alternative genres that he helped pioneer.
Why Captain Beefheart Belongs In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
There are many artists who have made worthwhile careers making melodic and tuneful music that was popular with the masses. Beefheart was one of those rare and difficult geniuses who made music deliberately difficult to listen to. There are plenty of albums that are bad because they are lazy, bland, overproduced, and performed without passion. The music of Captain Beefheart is intentionally bad, musically challenging, intensely complicated, and deliberately unpleasant. Everything about Captain Beefheart, from his stage antics to his nasty and abusive personality to the music that he made was purposefully unpleasant. Even if that is not the sort of level that most of us would aspire to, it is hard to think of the popularity of first punk and then grunge and alternative without the work of Captain Beefheart to show the way of how someone can make a career, and be a well-regarded artist, by deliberately seeking the unpleasant approach. There is a sort of accomplishment in that, even if his albums didn’t sell (his “Trout Mask Replica” was considered by the Rolling Stone to be one of the most important rock & roll albums of all time, though). One does not have to be successful commercially to be important and influential artistically, and Captain Beefheart was self-consciously a deliberately difficult and obscure artist.
Why Captain Beefheart Isn’t In The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Given the high regard that the Rolling Stone magazine has for Captain Beefheart, and given his longstanding regard among the cognoscenti of music history as being immensely influential in punk and alternative music, it is surprising that Captain Beefheart has not been inducted. Perhaps many of the voters have simply not heard of him, or perhaps he has fallen victim to a particular partisan cultural battle between those who find his deliberate awfulness inspirational and those who find his demanding and abusive ways and the fact that his music is terrible as off-putting and find those who cheer the artist so reverently as repellent. At any rate, Captain Beefheart may inspire the hipster in many critics, but his lack of mainstream appeal has meant there is no horde of angry fans demanding for his induction.
Verdict: There is plenty that is terrible and repellent about rock & roll music, especially among punk and grunge bands, and like it or not, Captain Beefheart was greatly influential in legitimizing that among musicians and artists in general. That deserves to be recognized, even if one disapproves of it.
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