The magic has gone: Captain Beefheart
Relieved to get the new issue with the Beefheart tribute in it (The Wire 324); I was worrying that you had slipped off the Radar, Doc and were at the Station of lost souls. Not enough tribute in my opinion. What an influence that artist has had, not just on myself, my music and way of thinking, but on so many. Not really being into bands like Deerhoof, I cannot comment on what you call ‘Beefheart rock’, but surely it has become an overused term?! I remember back in the 80s hearing loads about him in Zigzag and more mainstream press, as well as bands such as Bogshed, Big Flame, Stump being compared. Not to mention others like Yat-Kha, who attracted me because of reference.
Spent a few years gradually digesting all the LPs, from the ‘promise-fulfilled’ tracks like “The Past Sure Is Tense” and “Sure ’Nuff ’N Yes I Do”, to the amazing and deeply influential ones like “Golden Birdies”, “Electricity” and “Owed T’Alex” (that’s three from around 50?!). Just so much of it, although of course took me a while to get to grips with Trout Mask Replica. Decals is incredible too, perhaps in some ways more effective, as I also find Flowers Of Romance to be over Metal Box, for example. And the reason you have had so much dosh off me over the years and been pestered is probably down to the Captain, as I was forced to subscribe in 1998 when you were running a feature (The Primer, issue 170).
Some Scream by Day, some Scream by Night, but I scream all the time, baby! Thank you very much for existing, Don, you made my musical existence complete, twisted and surreal. You were always on a different plane to yer mate Zappa who do not rate at all. And hoping that The Magic Band may play a few more times again before they are called to that cabin somewhere out there in the phantom trees. I look forward to many more references in the future. Andy Duncan via email
The Browndirt Cowboy
Given your magazine’s brief, it was only natural that anybody would guess this month’s issue would have some tributes to Don Van Vliet. When I picked up the magazine, I was sure that whatever eulogies contained within would only dwell on the positive aspects of Don’s legacy. Folks expect a bit of reverence in a person’s passing, I guess.
My firm belief is that the innovative lessons of Van Vliet and The Magic Band’s music remain largely undigested, and out there. Believe it or not, I also contend that the day will come when cultural enzyme will break down the Magic matter for all to feed on. Some might think that some punk/jazz crosscuts have tried to gather something of that matter. Still, it’s very clear that the most cutting Magic-music exudes an utterly singular character that might not be far from an exclusive grasp. An amount of this individuality obviously comes from the very negative heat that the music was born under. Some will find the following lines hard to accept or understand. I would claim that ignoring Don Van Vliet’s mean spirited and barbaric treatment of the Magic Band players does his (and thus the music’s) legacy a grave disservice. That’s really regardless of his inability to object anymore. His complicit and longstanding silence threw away his chance. A little part of me still likes to think that Don eventually recoiled from the music world in remorse for his behaviour. As none of the Magic Band players has received any recompense, it’s really only a very tiny part of me!
This inevitably leads to a sorely missing and rather colossal strand of this music’s legacy. The people responsible for making those blinding records are entitled to accreditation, and all that implies. Even if the framework of the composing was Don Van Vliet’s vision, he did not constantly create entire pieces. Some of those Magic Band players filled in many blanks! John French, Jeff Cotton and Bill Harkleroad – these are only the names that readily come to mind; I’m sure there are others. It’s clear that Don himself put less than muscle into the work that was done to achieve the unprecedented work on Trout Mask Replica. It’s really important to highlight all the talented people that worked that band! Don Van Vliet couldn’t have gotten experienced virtuosi to bear his carry on for long. He was lazy, and rather a-musical. He spent a couple of years excising all the older Magic Band members in favour of keen teenage apprentices. It’s clear that he had a particular game plan in place. To this end he had examined some psychological tracts on mind control. Anybody reading this far has some manner of idea of just how far Don Van Vliet was willing to go in order to control those minds. The stories of brutal Hubbard-like ‘accounting’ sessions, and the violence and the starvation that these young men had to endure, all highlight the incredible dichotomy at the heart of our expectations of artistic processes. Adherents of The Magic Band way have all had the growing conflicted conscience that abided as the rumours grew, after the cruel ringmaster abandoned the stage. All that bad stuff isn’t rumour anymore. If anybody can find a thornier predicament at the heart of ‘art-suffering’, then I’d really rather not hear about it! I’m writing in the hope that the apprentices that gave so much to forge this visionary music could actually see some reward for their unprecedented labours. Ergo the need for a missive like this; perhaps particularly at a time like this. John Byrne Cork, Ireland
All screwed up
I look forward to your magazine every month and as usual I’m enjoying the new issue (324) – especially the insight into ive
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Or better still, take out a subscription: for details turn to page 88 or point your browser at thewire.co.uk/subscribe the mind(s) of Hype Williams, who make a number of very insightful and thoughtprovoking comments during their Invisible Jukebox interview. Although I have to take issue with Dean Blunt’s comment, “With DJ Screw, you can hear that this guy is just wasted and really just fucking around. He’s made I don’t know how many tapes. But to make an entire genre off of that is pushing it.”
I think that is missing the point somewhat, and putting too much emphasis on the thought behind the music. Screwed and chopped music, and the music of DJ Screw in particular, was (as I’m sure everyone knows) created to complement the slowed-down mood and hazy feeling brought about by drinking codeine cough syrup mixed with soda – ‘syrup’. Screw’s music was originally made to be enjoyed while high on drugs, nothing more, nothing less. The high volume of his original output wasn’t because of his need to create a market for it, it was simply to give him and his friends something to get high to – you don’t want to listen to the same tape every time you get stoned.
DJ Screw himself was never trying to ‘make a genre’, just attempting to complement the feeling he was getting off the syrup, a thick, sickly sweet, drooping kind of music to zone out to. The fact that other people have since taken the sound and developed/used it (DJ Michael Watts of Swishahouse, various other hiphop acts, the likes of Britney Spears, etc) is an afterthought and, admittedly, often a gimmick.
Perhaps I am missing the point myself, but the comment just didn’t sit right with me, and I thought it might give an inaccurate representation to some of what screwed up music is actually about. Paul Murrell via email
Mastering the format
It strikes me as typical of common misconceptions regarding the difference between CD and vinyl that your reviewer suggested that the vinyl reissue of Kevin Drumm’s magnum opus Sheer Hellish
Miasma (The Boomerang, The Wire 324) can’t match the ‘high fidelity’ of the original digital version, precisely because it’s vinyl. When the updated CD version was issued in 2007, I was indeed struck by the CD’s unusual pristine sound (for a Noise album), even when played on a shoddy alarm clock CD player. But to intimate that vinyl is by default not capable of reproducing that purity of sound is to make a groundless claim. On my turntable at least (for those who are interested in this sort of thing, it’s a Nottingham Analogue Ace Space Deck with an Ortofon 2M Bronze phono cartridge. And yes, I do think that being a Noise aficionado doesn’t preclude an interest in high end stereo, for there is a difference between musically relevant noise and random crackle and hiss), the LP reissue of Sheer Hellish Miasma lives fully up to its title and, to my mind, surpasses the CD in clarity and depth: I hear more overtones and more bass. To talk of ‘warmth’ is a purely subjective value that the listener attaches to it. Objectively, it all depends on the source file and the mastering (which in this particular case is second to none): typically, a vinyl record these days is based on a higher bit source file which is more adequately reproduced on the analogue medium of an LP than is possible for CD, for which, whatever the source file, the bit rate will always have to be downsampled to the standard 16-bit 44.1 kHz, meaning less sonic detail. And the more detail, the better the noise, which is thus often, but not always, better served by vinyl than by CD. For my money, this particular LP, stupendously cut at Dubplates, only heightens the sheer transcendental quality of this masterpiece. Dennis Schulting London, UK
Many thanks for Rob Young’s meticulous review of the Mariner’s Way CD (The Wire 324). His words captured the spirit, smells and squelch of Devon and Dartmoor perfectly.
Rob raised a couple of questions with regard to the connection of “Kistvaens”
and “Reindeer Moss” to the hills of Devon. Kistvaens refer to the ancient burial tombs (Neolithic) scattered on Dartmoor, and reindeer moss is a beautiful lichen which can be found on the granite stones on the moor. There is evidence that reindeer moss has been used in Scandinavia for the manufacture of alcohol! Maybe we should leave that secret with the Mariner? Chris Caldwell via email
A gentleman and a player
I was very saddened and somewhat shocked to read of the death of Mick Karn in The Wire 324. What I found equally disconcerting was the reference to ‘Mike’ Karn in the Bitstream article. Is this a moniker that he had otherwise used? I think not.
Mick Karn was without doubt one of the finest fretless bass guitar players in the world, and his highly unique sound crowned the magic that was Japan. Karn played an aluminium neck Travis Bean bass on all Japan albums up to Gentlemen Take Polaroids. In 1981 he moved to Wal basses, purchasing two Mark I instruments, one with rare African tulipwood facings, the other a cherry solidbody. Karn recorded Japan’s last studio album Tin Drum with the Wal and had continued to use these, along with a headless Klein K-Bass. He also played wind instruments, including the saxophone; on Tin Drum, he played the Chinese suona (credited as ‘dida’) for the authentic oriental sound.
I sincerely hope that The Wire, as it has sensitively done with another one of my recently passed heroes, Captain Beefheart, pays tribute in a future issue to this immensely talented and now much missed artist. Sheer Zed via email
We all make mistakes, but it was unfortunate to say the least that you didn’t manage to get poor Mick Karn’s name right in your short obit in the last issue. Inevitably, the success of Mick’s band Japan meant his solo career was always overlooked in comparison. For those who don’t know, Mick continued to make great albums long after The Wire – for no apparent reason that I can see – lost interest in him after his cover appearance in the early 90s (issue 122). For those of us who do know his later work, it remains hard to define, but is never less than interesting and is at times startling. Anyway, the next time your news page is dealing not with a new release or tour, but someone’s death, then please check you’ve got their name right. Sorry to sound like a grouch. Richard Smith Tunbridge Wells, UK
Sincere apologies to all concerned for getting Mick’s name wrong. By way of tribute, the cover story that Richard refers to is now online at thewire.co.uk – Ed
You crack me up
A quick note to say, firstly, thanks for publishing my letter in the The Wire 324, and secondly, thanks for what was surely (?) an intentional juxtaposition of the Chromeo and Kraak Festival ads on page 78 of the same issue [yes, it surely was intentional – Ad Manager]. Setting aside the generally dubious content of your average, common or garden local newspaper’s ‘Personals’ section, I don’t think any classifieds have ever given me quite the (admittedly drunken) belly laugh as that did. Many have tried, but as many have failed! Andrew Brett via email
Corrections Issue 324: In Soundcheck, the label that issued Bryce Beverlin II’s Seizing Fate By The Throat LP should have been listed as Taiga Records, not Dekorder.
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