Don Van Vliet, the avant garde 1960’s rocker who was a pal to Frank Zappa and so many other experimental conceptual music artists, has died at the age of 69 from complications related to multiple sclerosis. Billing himself as Captain Beefheart, Van Vliet managed to get critical acclaim for producing some bizarre recordings such as TROUT MASK REPLICA. Van Vliet and Frank Zappa had a long association.
The strange story behind the TROUT MASK REPLICA recording is a fascinating one. Although the music sounds like a bizarre and disordered mess, it was actually carefully planned, practiced and recorded over a month long period in a house where the musicians became virtual prisoners. In fact, two of the musicians were so hungry that they sneaked out of the house and were arrested for stealing some food from a grocery store, so Frank Zappa had to bail them out.
As unusual as Van Vliet’s music was, artists as diverse as Kurt Cobain to Joan Osbourne were either influenced by it, and some even did cover versions of songs written by Van Vliet.
From 1964 until his retirement from music, Van Vliet produced a number of critically significant albums that ranged from SAFE AS MILK(1967) to ICE CREAM FOR CROW(1982). But some his albums during the 70’s such as CLEAR SPOT were dismissed by some long time fans as being more commercial sounding compared to the far more inventive material around the TROUT MASK REPLICA era.
Van Vliet continued his love for art during his reclusive retirement years since his 1982 retirement from music. He was such a self-critic of his own art that he used to destroy any art of his his that he didn’t feel that met his self-set standards.
All musicians are loosely called artists. But, few like Dan Van Vliet truly were an artist.