The good Captain was someone I struggled with for decades, as his music kept me guessing as to whether he was putting me on with the trash compactor surrealism of the lyrics, the swooping, howling, icon-smashing bark that constituted his singing, or the time signatures, which seemed a rhythmic approximation of what traffic might like in a universe that had a trillion miles of road , an equal number of cars but no traffic lights or stop signs. or if he was indeed the genius his supporters claimed he was, a self-starting savant who employed every tic, gesture, sound, click, rattle and hum that caught his attention and assembled them in ways that amounted to a careening challenge to a listener expecting something more down home.
He resembled no one so much as Ornette Coleman, the jazz player, and composer who kept people guessing through his long decades as a music maker, and in the case of both artists, I am leaning toward the side that consider them major musical forces of the 20Th century. What likely confounded the music fans of the time, perhaps, was the lack of obvious virtuosity in the playing--no extended guitar solos, no unpunctuated drum essays--and the lack of straightforward beginning, middle, end structure on which a band's gratuitous catalog of chops can be displayed. His music was about sound, about the layering of tones and textures, sweet blues juxtaposed against inverted jitterbug temps and "free jazz" dissonances ala Albert Ayler and the lithe, sliding alienation of a single blues note resonating from a cheap amplifier under one of the Captain's (nee Don Van Vliet) aqua-urban nightscapes.
All ths in service to a man who was truly one of the very few poets to lead a rock band; while the notable likes of contemporaries Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Tim Buckley or even the Beatles never quite transcended the sense that there was some serious contemplation to the words they would employ to render their "poetic" effects, The Captain was a natural word drunk, a cross between Tristan Tzara, Kurt Schwitters and Howlin' Wolf; a prankster, a conjurer of mood, an organically generated underminer of literal meaning.
Three Months in the MirrorThree months in the mirror
- let's go to the kennel honey
and get one of those cute little moth pups
they flap their little wings
and fly around a light globe
and you can keep 'em in the closet
and feed 'em socks -
six months in the mirror
- honey let's go out naked tonight
with our moth puppy
don't forget the socks and the light bulbs
make sure it's not too warm
you don't want to burn his lttle wings -
the lights are soft, streets soft, skies soft,
the mirrors soft