What You're Not Listening To

What You're Not Listening To

Polarizing Without Bears: Trout Mask Replica

May 14, 2020

A half hour overview of quite possibly the strangest and most awesomely un-listenable album in history. #captainbeefheart #troutmaskreplica

Polarizing (usually spelled polarising in the U.K.): according to the Cambridge dictionary, “to cause something, especially something that contains different people or opinions, to divide into two completely opposing groups.”

In this 30 minute program, you will have an opportunity to hear exactly what this means in terms of 20th Century music: the third album by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, Trout Mask Replica. By and large, an album you have never heard but somehow ends up in the top 100 greatest albums of all-time lists.

The album cover, which even after over five decades is like nothing else ever created. Image created by Calvin “Cal” Schenkel and Ed Caraeff.

A double album released in 1969 containing 28 tracks and released on one of Frank Zappa’s Warner Brothers distributed labels, it is an excursion into sound truly like no other, containing elements of Rock, experimental music, odd time signatures (sometimes three different instruments simultaneously playing them in the same track), Delta Blues, Free Jazz and genuine raw ambition.

If Sgt. Pepper is psychedelic, Trout Mask Replica is psychotic.

Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, composed the songs on a piano, an instrument he didn’t know how to play, then spent a year in a house with the band, cultivating a truly brutal and controlling cult-like atmosphere with his fellow musicians living hand-to-mouth with money given to them by their mothers and grandmothers. Things were so bad financially that several of the band members actually were busted for shoplifting food, an incident that caused Zappa to bail them out of jail. Vliet would later claim he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia during this period in his life.

It is the ultimate expression of the avant-garde in terms of what a Rock and Roll album could be, and probably never should be. It was such a radical departure from the odd Blues-soaked garage rock of their previous two albums as to create a whole new fanbase who didn’t even know any of their previous work. It wasn’t the type of “art” where dilettantes stand around in galleries dressed in black in run down parts of downtown and use one word exclamations like “oxygen” and then pose in pseudo-disgust while eating all the crab puffs.

Captain Beefheart (far right with top hat) and The Magic Band. Back row: Zoot Horn Rollo (Bill Harkleroad) and Jeffrey Ralph Cotton. Front Row: Rockette Morton (Mark Boston) and Drumbo (John French). Photo by Ed Caraeff

This is the kind of music that will always cause extreme opinions. Its multiple juxtapositions of every conceivable type also make it the most it ironic album ever without even attempting that goal, which is an irony in of itself. In terms of “Rock as Art”, if Sgt. Pepper is psychedelic, Trout Mask Replica is psychotic.

Why would anyone want to own what is considered the most un-listenable album in history? Every person will have their own answer, with no real consensus. For myself, it’s funny as hell, and I listen to it when I just want to tell the world to go away and leave me alone, because no album clears out a room faster than Trout Mask Replica. There is never enough said about an album you can just be in utter chaos and clarity away from everyone else.

First Part

* Frownland* Pena* Old Fart At Play* When Big Joan Sets Up* Pachuco Cadaver* Neon Meate Dream of an Octofish