EARWORM: Trout Mask Replica For Dummies

Captain Beefheart was an enigma wrapped in a riddle: a blues-braying Tasmanian Devil, industrial-strength surrealist, poet, painter, visionary, and charlatan. Stirring together the primal, blacksnake moan of Delta trance-blues and the free-jazz headfuck of John Coltrane and Charles Mingus in the burbling psychedelic cauldron of ’60s West Coast pop experimentalism, Beefheart’s music was the stuff of spells and incantations, fire-walking and levitation. Safe as Milk, from 1967, remains the ideal starting point for Beefheart beginners, with all the trademarks of his sound pitched in perfect tandem: proto-garage snarl, menacing blues, Martian poetry, exotic rhythms and extraterrestrial sound effects. Purists point to Trout Mask Replica as the pinnacle of the Captain’s canon, though only a small percentage of those who sing its praises actually listen to it for pleasure. Harsh, cryptic and moving sideways, backward and upside down all at once, Trout Mask’s free-jazz-skronk-as-interpreted-by-rock-instruments remains a forbidding totem of post-hippie hieroglyphics. Those who manage to break its code are granted entry to a secret society of blissed-out noiseniks where, as legend has it, they are privy to all manner of esoteric knowledge (the ability to fly or make yourself disappear completely, that kind of thing). — JONATHAN VALANIA