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The Original Bat Chain Puller Leaves God's Golfball (RIP Captain Beefheart 1941-2010) [Dec. 18th, 2010|02:16 pm]
jerry snook
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[mood |artistic]

 RIP Don Van Vliet 1941-2010
RIP Don Van Vliet 1941-2010

"The largest living land mammal is the absent mind." - Interview from 1971

Don Van Vliet is known to music-lovers and musicians world-wide as Captain Beefheart, a man with a voice that could shatter microphones and whose challenging, difficult compositions catered to a crowd interested in seeing how far the rock medium could go.  From late 1960's-era blues/rock singer to avante garde superstar to commercial "sell-out" to rejuvenated poet-singer, his musical output spanned less than 20 years but inspired enough musicians to last several lifetimes.  To his bandmates he was often a tyrannical megalomaniac who used cult-like group think to force half-understood songs into a violent existence.  To the rock press of the 1970's he was a friendly, charismatic god whose ability to generate an amazing quote meant that any article featuring him would guarantee readership, and improve the stature of the "rock journalist" in turn.  To his friends he was a constant voice and companion who often called in the middle of the night to ask them to write something down in case he wanted to remember it later.  To his wife Jan he was simply "Don."

I came to learn about Beefheart and his music the same way most others of my generation did: through his work and rivalry with Frank Zappa, a somewhat similar contemporary in that both had monstrous egos and musical visions created through sheer force of will.  While Zappa had a genius-level knowledge of composition and musical technicality, Beefheart was an abstract idea-generator who relied on his musicians' slavish dedication to the work to bring those ideas about.

"If there has ever been such a thing as a genius in the history of popular music, it's Beefheart... I heard echoes of his music in some of the records I listened to last week and I'll hear more echoes in records that I listen to this week." - John Peel [1]

Like many other Beefheart fans, I'd heard that he was "just as weird as Zappa, but more bluesy..."  One look at the Trout Mask Replica cover was all I needed to pick it up at Know Name Records in Minneapolis (then at the corner of 4th Street and University Avenue):

To say it was a shock to actually listen to the album was an understatement: Zappa's music was tightly arranged and immediately recognizable as highly proficient, while Beefheart's music was completely out-of-control, disjointed, noisy and hard to listen to:

To this day, "Trout Mask Replica" is an album I love but rarely listen to, in fact, I tend to prefer the 2003 release by the members of The Magic Band "Back to the Front" to hear the instrumental versions of the songs, if for no other reason than the sound quality dispels the notion that they are just "faking it" (well, not to mention the fact that they hit all the right notes more than 20 years after the original album was recorded.)  Still, people looking for a taste of Beefheart should seek out "Moonlight on Vermont" as it perfectly captures the incredible musicianship and powerful voice heard on that record in a way that remains somewhat accessible.

In recent years, Magic Band members have been more open to describing the tyrannical, cult-like, and oftentimes mentally and physically abusive environment that produced "Trout Mask Replica."  They describe months spent eating little, earning no money, slaving away for 12 hours a day on band practice and compositional marathons, only to see the album recorded quickly and with their own credit for the work diminished in favor of the larger-than-life figure of Beefheart himself.  

When I was younger, I tended to fall into a trap that many music-lovers do in thinking that these people are "like us, but better": Smart, creative geniuses who do no wrong and would be us if only the chips had fallen in our favor.  Now that I'm older, I realize that the music I love is often created by people who are not nearly as nice as I thought they were; they have sides to them that shatter the crafted images we hold dear.  There's no doubt after reading so much material by his friends and contemporaries that Captain Beefheart had a public persona that was funny, smart and intellectually creative, while in private he could be petty, abusive and insecure.  To me that doesn't diminish the work, rather, it's likely that the work would not have turned out as it did were it not for both the good and bad sides of the life in which it was created.

One of the most important things that happened to Beefheart in his career was to make the front cover of Rolling Stone in 1970, as that article elevated his personality to public awareness, and described a world very appealing to the music-lovers and musicians of the time. 

"Uh oh, the phone," Captain Beefheart mumbled as he placed his tarnished soprano saxophone in its case. "I have to answer the telephone." It was a very peculiar thing to say. The phone had not rung.

Beefheart walked quickly from his place by the upright piano across the dimly lit living room to where the telephone lay. He waited. After ten seconds of stony silence it finally rang. None of the half dozen or so persons in the room seemed at all surprised by what had just happened. In the world of Captain Beefheart, the extraordinary is the rule.
- Rolling Stone, 1970 [2]

Within a few years of "Trout Mask Replica" being released, Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band began making far more accessible music, still challenging but with more stripped-down, approachable beats, and featuring Beefheart's blues side more prominently.  For many, these are the albums we put on when we want to listen to the group: catchy, funny and downright cool songs backed by a band with weird names and a funny stage presence.

"They can catch a straight line, but they can't catch a circle. I don't work in straight lines."
- Beefheart in a 1972 interview

People looking to check out a more approachable side to Captain Beefheart should listen to "The Spotlight Kid" and "Clear Spot", which remain available on one CD at many of the better record stores.

Unfortunately, by the time "Clear Spot" was released, The Magic Band had had enough of Beefheart's overbearing personality, and were simply starving and broke despite years of incredibly dedicated work.  They left, leaving Beefheart with a nice record contract with Warner Brothers but no one to record his albums.  In came a steady series of studio musicians who frankly couldn't cut it.  They wanted to do well, but lacked the willingness to go through the same process of creation that the previous bands had, and to some extent lacked the technical proficiency to play such challenging work.  The following two albums, "Unconditionally Guaranteed" and "Bluejeans and Moonbeams" are Beefheart's attempt at commercial success, but are extremely disappointing albums to listen to for most of his fans.  I never blamed him for looking at contemporaries like Dr. John and thinking he could both do it better and do it commercial, but the end result left many of his fans feeling betrayed, and it took years for his avante-garde rebirth to happen.

Eventually it did, and we got the third and final phase of Beefheart's musical output.  "Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)", "Doc at the Radar Station" and "Ice Cream for Crow" are more angular, more harsh-sounding and almost pseudo-punkish albums that feature a rebirth of Beefheart as a poet.  He sings on the albums, but is far more likely to deliver Beat-like poetry over a cacophonous bed of guitars, keyboards, bass and drums.  These albums never reached the commercial success of "Trout Mask" or "Clear Spot", but in hindsight stand out as albums created by a musician for music's sake.

"The way I keep in touch with the world is very gingerly, because the world touches too hard" 
- Van Vliet,  speaking to Anton Corbijn in 1993's documentary "Some Yo Yo Stuff"

After the release of "Ice Cream for Crow" in 1982, Captain Beefheart abandoned the world of music to live a new phase of his life as a painter and sculptor under his "real" name of Don Van Vliet.  His decision makes sense to people who have followed his life and read various biographies about him; he had always been a person who shunned large crowds (despite his stage persona), and had been painting since he was a teenager.  The reason was also likely financial as he by all accounts did quite well for himself selling paintings that generally start in the thousands of dollars and go up from there.  He also received a level of artistic renown among the avante-garde art world that was both similar to his musical renown, and different in that it was more "intellectual", which appealed to his personal mindset.  

I've always wanted to buy a Van Vliet, here's an example of his work:

Van Vliet's death was not surprising, as rumors about him suffering from multiple sclerosis had been stated as far back as the early 1990's, but it is always sad to lose a visionary.  My outlook on life and music has been shaped in no small part by my love of Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band, and I've long said that if I could travel back in time one of the things I'd do would be to see the group in person.  Thank you Captain and crew for making such great music.

- Jerry Snook, December 18th, 2010


People looking for more on Beefheart should read:
  • Mike Barnes' biography "Captain Beefheart", released by Quartet Books in 2000 (ISBN 1-84449-412-8)
  • John French's autobiography "Beefheart: Through the Eyes of Magic", released in 2010 (ISBN 0-9561212-1-7)
  • Bill Harkelroad's autobiography "Lunar Notes: Zoot Horn Rollo's Captain Beefheart Experience", released in 1998 by Interlink Publishing. (ISBN 0-946719-21-7)
For albums, I'd recommend:(Oh, and get them on vinyl if you can find them, they are meant for that medium!)

Finally, the absolute best resource for just about anything Beefheart and Magic Band-related online is the web site Beefheart.com.

Here's one of the last videos of Beefheart outside of Corbijn's short documentary (which actually features few views of the man, it's very avante-garde in its production...)  Beefheart on Letterman in the early 1980's

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12 Halloween Recommendations: Movies You May Not Have Seen... [Oct. 29th, 2008|06:34 am]
jerry snook
[Tags|, , , ]

Hi everyone!  Okay, so I came up with this list after being asked for some horror flick recommendations by my wife Sarah recently.  I've seen a ton, a ton, of horror movies.  If you read a lot of "Halloween" lists, you'll see the basics:  Alien, The Omen, The Exorcist, Psycho, Halloween, Friday the 13th, etc.  We've seen all of these!  So, what else is out there?

I've decided to put together a list of recommendations for Halloween that you maybe HAVEN'T seen.  Here's the list:

All of these movies are linked to IMDB.com with synopsis taken from IMDB/Amazon.com.

Good Movies:

Don't Look Now

A moody, very cool looking thriller-chiller shot in Venice.  Starring an occasionally quite naked Donald Sutherland.  This one's creepy and cool.  Highly recommended!

An American architect living in Venice, Italy with his wife on a getaway after the death of their young daughter, begins to question his sanity when he begins having a series of disturbing and fragmented premonitions which coincides with a series of murders in the city.

Suspiria/The Woods

Evil witches in all-girl boarding schools=fun!

Suspiria is a total classic by Italian bizarre film director Dario Argento.  Gory and "far out", this one is probably best viewed by people who can handle so-called "weird" movies.  This is one of my personal favorites, despite the fact that I'm not generally a gore hound or into slasher stuff.  The music by Goblin is great, Jessica Harper's totally awesome in it (and quite good looking, too).  There's some very odd deaths in this one.  The cinematogrphy alone is a reason to see this, neato art deco stylings. 

For people looking for a similar movie that's maybe a bit more "mainstream", I'd recommend the woods.  This one's directed by Luckee McGee as a follow-up to his hit "May", which is also a pretty decent horror flick.  In some ways, this movie totally rips off Suspiria.  But it's good too, and since it was made pretty recently, it might be easier to find in the video store. 


By Don Coscarelli, who did "Bubba Ho-Tep" a few years back.  Pretty much a classic as well, with some neat visuals and a well done plot. 

From Amazon: 
The Original Classic From The Director Of THE BEASTMASTER and BUBBA HO-TEP Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury star in the shocker that started it all, in which two brothers discover that their local mortuary hides a legion of hooded killer dwarf creatures, a flying drill-ball, and the demonic mortician known as The Tall Man (an iconic performance by Angus Scrimm) who enslaves the souls of the damned. More than 25 years later, it remains unlike any fright film you’ve ever seen. Reggie Bannister co-stars in the heart-stopping classic from writer/director Don Coscarelli that launched the most uniquely chilling series in horror history and is still hailed as one of the scariest movies of all time.

Black Sabbath

This is one of my personal favorites.  I love horror "trilogy tales" movies, a series of shorts, essentially.  Great black and white photography, very moody direction by Italian horror maestro Mario Bava.  Here's the description from IMDB:

"A trio of atmospheric horror tales about: A woman terrorized in her apartment by phone calls from an escaped prisoner from her past; a Russian count in the early 1800s who stumbles upon a family in the countryside trying to destroy a particularly vicious line of vampires; and a 1900-era nurse who makes a fateful decision while preparing the corpse of one of her patients - an elderly medium who died during a seance."

The Thing

This is probably the best "Alien" ripoff outside of Alien itself.  Also maybe John Carpenter's best movie.  Kurt Russell trapped in Antarctica with an alien that likes to shape shift.  Very cool!

The Haunting

DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT ACCIDENTALLY PICK UP the awful modern Hollywood remake of this film.  You will hate yourself forever if you do!

This is one of the classic "haunted house" stories, and movies.  Based (somewhat loosely) on the Shirley Jackson novel The Haunting of Hill House.  It's the basic "let's investigate the haunted house" story, but told from the perspective of a mentally frail woman.  Great black and white photography, directed by Robert Wise.  This is probably my pick for people who want to see something with the family. 

The Innocents

Another older pick for people looking for "classic" spooky flicks.  Based on the Turning of the Screw.  Ghost kids!

Fright Night

80's overload!  This is one of the most "1980's" films you are ever likely to see.  The fashion, the music, everything - this one screams "child of the 80's".  It's also a totally funny and great horror flick about a horny teen who finds out his next door neighbor is a vampire.  There's even boobs!  If you love the Lost Boys, Goonies and other 80's flicks, this one is highly recommended.  Great underappreciated flick!  The special effects are also quite good.


Monsters in the sewers of New York!  This is another 80's classic.  It has some genuinely creepy moments, surprisingly effective given the subject matter.  It's also funny.

Necromancy - also known as "The Witching"

Good luck finding this one.  I saw this as a kid and loved it, found it in an asian video store back in college as well.  A classic of the "the whole town's a bunch of satanists!" genre (see: The Wicker Man).  Orson Wells even slums his career in this one!  I remember this for its groovy pagan themes and very early 70's feel. From IMDB:

"Orson Welles plays the head of a witches' coven in the town of Lilith, where he needs the powers of Pamela Franklin to raise his son from the dead."

Burnt Offerings

Another non-gore-based haunted house flick.  Moody and interesting.  From IMDB:

"Haunted house chiller from Dan Curtis has Oliver Reed and Karen Black as summer caretakers moving into gothic house with their young son. The catch? The house rejuvenates a part of itself with each death that occurs on its premises."

Session 9

David Caruso in a totally under-watched movie about a haunted abandoned mental hospital...or is it?  This one has some genuinely creepy moments.  It's violent and well done for being a low-budget film. 


Other recommendations:  Dead End, The Gate, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The People Under the Stairs, Watcher in the Woods, The Mist

I'll try to post up my list of good B movie recommendations later this week.


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Jerry gets arrested. no, not really but sort of. [Sep. 8th, 2008|07:46 pm]
jerry snook
As you probably know, I was up in the Twin Cities all last week covering the Republican National Convention for the news wire I work for. It was a long and interesting week. I'm glad I was there as it was an interesting experience, but it was also an incredibly long and tiring week. To top it off, I got cited and detained by police!

the elephant welcomes you.

There were basically two conventions going on, one inside and one outside. The one inside was very quiet on Monday due to Hurricane Gustav, which basically meant that most of the delegates spent their time either doing hurricane-related volunteer work or outside in meetings and other get-togethers. During the rest of the week they were busy with luncheons and the like during the day, and attending the big floor sessions in the late afternoon-evening. Afterwards it was time to drink, the exodus out of the RNC was huge every single night.

the prez speaks

Outside, it was chaotic. Protesters frequently marched and there were some run-ins with police. Largely, the protests went off fine, with people speaking their mind. However, there were also a ton of arrests and many protests that clashed with police. By the end of the week more than 800 had been arrested. Lots of press and public watching. Many of the businesses reported down sales this week, but the streets were very, very busy with police, protesters, the media and everyone else.

protester 1

So, about that arrest. I was covering a large protest on Thursday. The group did not have a permit to march and by that time police had become quite aggressive. For what I suspect were many reasons the police decided that the group on Thursday would not be allowed to march to the designated protest area outside of the RNC while John McCain spoke to delegates. After getting into a few standoffs with police on a bridge and on a street, the group essentially broke away and began marching in the streets. If they couldn't get to the RNC, they were going to march wherever. Things went fine for about a half hour until the group approached a busy intersection marked by commercial businesses including a Sears and a bank.

Next thing I know, tear gas, smoke bombs and flash grenades were going off all around me. A flash grenade went off right next to my foot as a crush of protesters screamed and fled from what became an intense 10 minute crackdown. I got it on tape! Most of it, anyway, as I accidentally clicked off the recording just after the blast went off by my foot. Got the bang on tape though.

Anyway, I was covering the protest legitimately as a reporter. I was not allowed at all to get past the quickly-constricting police line that included officers on horseback as well. Soon, me and 18 other journalists, including television crews, bloggers, print journalists, AP reporters and others found ourselves on a bridge with hundreds of protesters and a police blockade on either end. It was announced, "If you are on the bridge, then you are UNDER ARREST."

Why was I there? Once things got crazy, it was too late. The police were not letting me or any other member of the press get out of their police line. I was swept up with the same violent abandon as everyone else by the police. I have been told that at least one cameraman was shoved to the ground, and witnessed with my own eyes an officer threatening a mace canister to the face of a reporter who was saying things like, "I'm with the press!"

I ended up sitting with my hands on my head for about 45 minutes before I was handcuffed, brought to an area where they were setting press folks aside, then transferred to a curb, then brought into a paddywagon, then taken out to a parking lot where I and the other members of the press were cited for Unlawful Assembly, statute 609.715, a misdemeanor, and released. Eventually, towards the end, someone cut my cuffs (they were the plastic kind used for mass arrests). Left a mark along my wrists through early the next morning. The entire process took about three hours.

I got back to the Xcel Center and was questioned about it by numerous members of the press. I won't name names, but at least one person at a major TV network mentioned that they always wanted to get arrested for doing their job. Really, the entire incident was unbelievable. I witnessed some pretty questionable and crazy things on all sides. I was there for work. The fact that the police were so willing to arrest the press was pretty frightening. After all, I have a right to be there! Very chilling stuff.

So, the hope is that the prosecutor's office dismisses the charges against the press. If they don't, I'll have to fight it. Basically, a citation is similar to a traffic ticket, it'd be on my record and I'd have to pay a fine. But I will not pay a fine to do my job! It's not right, I tell ya.

I'll update you with how the citation thing ends up.


Looks like the city of St. Paul finally realized that they shouldn't have arrested all of us journalists after all...here's the news release:

Mayor Coleman Announces Policy Not to Pursue Certain Misdemeanor Charges Against Journalists

SAINT PAUL - Mayor Chris Coleman announced today that the city will decline to prosecute misdemeanor charges for presence at an unlawful assembly for journalists arrested during the Republican National Convention. He made the announcement after consultation with the city attorney’s office, which recommended the city not pursue misdemeanor prosecution of these individuals.

“This decision reflects the values we have in Saint Paul to protect and promote our First Amendment rights to freedom of the press,” Mayor Coleman said. “A journalist plays a special role in our democracy and that role is just too important to ignore. At the scene, the police did their duty in protecting public safety. In this decision, we are serving the public’s interest to maintain the integrity of our democracy, system of justice and freedom of the press.”

The decision will only affect people identified as journalists who face the misdemeanor charge. Recognizing the growing media profession in print, broadcast and the Internet, the city attorney’s office will use a broad definition and verification to identify journalists who were caught up in mass arrests during the convention. It is not known how many cases this decision will affect.


Still, the St. Paul Police Department should be embarassed for the way they treated journalists (and protesters, for that matter) that Thursday night at the RNC. It was shocking to see basically peaceful people get pelted with smoke bombs, tear gas and flash grenades. Not to mention the time spent in handcuffs for trying to do my job.

Anyway, I'm definitely glad that I won't have to deal with this any more. I was starting to get worried since I'd been calling the court info hotline for the past two weeks and still hadn't seen my citation filed. Whatever...I guess I can just count this as a life experience and move on. Nice way to start the weekend, fer sure!

police 1

Anyway, here's a link to the entire picture file at Flikr:

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hey [Aug. 16th, 2004|09:56 am]
jerry snook
Pics from Sarah and my vacation up north can be found at www.pbase.com/jerrysnook. I'm also trying to guage whether anyone is actually reading this. If you are, send me a comment or email to let me know to continue this. Otherwise, I might put this page to rest.....
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Til later! [Jul. 29th, 2004|09:55 am]
jerry snook
Hey all - getting ready for my trip up to Minnesota. See (hopefully) as many people as can make it Saturday at Kelly and Tesha's!

Here's some links:

Latest on the strange creature in Maryland being linked to Chupacabra!


One more reason to love Alaska:


Another link:

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Cafe Camerata, Spiral and Drinking Donuts [Jul. 21st, 2004|10:26 am]
jerry snook
[music |Captain Beefheart - Grow Fins]

My band Motosota is playing at the Cafe Camerata in Anderson, Indiana tonight at 9pm. Free show, all ages, downtown. Check us out online at www.motosota.com, where you can hear an mp3 of one of our songs.

Also, reading Spiral. It's the book sequel to Ringu, the movie made into The Ring. Good stuff, funny translations, though (it was written in Japanese).

Also, you can now drink nasty Krispy Kreme donuts. and with this praise, you know it must be good!:

>> "We feel our expanded beverage offerings will provide tremendous growth opportunity for both the company and the Krispy Kreme brand," <<


Also, some deluded radio people say you listen because of the wonderful morning DJ's:

>> "If they want to listen to nothing but music, they'll go to iPod," said Power 105.1's Michael Saunders. "People are entertained by the radio . . . that's why you have huge morning personalities."

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Turn that plus into a minus!!! [Jul. 13th, 2004|10:43 am]
jerry snook
[music |Sonic Youth - Nurse]

Hey all - I just hope the Earth doesn't change polarity until after Ken Jennings finishes his Jeopardy run:


Are you watching Jeopardy?!? If not, now's the time.

GIGSPAM - If you're not doing anything July 21st, consider checking out Motosota at Cafe Camerata in Anderson, Indiana. 9pm.
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the Master Computer has me!!! [Jul. 12th, 2004|11:22 am]
jerry snook
[music |Ozric Tentacles]

Hey all -

not too much to report. Just working, etc. Went up to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore this weekend with Sarah - twas cool. Also had to do a bunch of laundry so I checked out two movies to watch while I was hanging around the house. Saw Tron - which I hadn't seen in forever. Man, what a groovy and cheesy flick that one is!!! Extremely funny stuff.

Also - watched the Triplets of Belleville. If you like animation it's a must-see. Music was good, too.

I was finally able to track down a copy of Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare off of Ebay!!! Hope to watch this fine piece of cinema this week. "Phil can't be dead....or he would have called."
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Bubba's [Jun. 30th, 2004|02:28 pm]
jerry snook
Man, the Motosota news just keeps on coming. In one week we've been approached to do four gigs. Tomorrow (Thursday) we're going to be the band that gets to play for the grand opening of an all-ages jazz and rock club in Indianapolis. Local press will be there, and we'll be the inaugural act (along with an acoustic guitar player). That's pretty cool. If you'll be around:

325 S. College Street

Show starts around 7:30

Cover: $5 (Kids 12 and under free)

Non-Smoking venue

Pool, bowling, beverages!
Beer and wine available for 21+!
Food! Munchies!

Wish us luck!
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15 Minutes of Fame Times TWO!!! [Jun. 25th, 2004|02:47 pm]
jerry snook
[music |Sonic Youth - Sonic Nurse]

Hey all - nice big news to update with.

My band Motosota has our first gig this weekend! We're playing a bar called Tailgators in downtown Indianapolis, opening for three other bands on the list for the night. The original fourth band cancelled and since one of the organizers is a friend of our drummer he asked if we could fill in at the last minute. Of course we can. It'll be about a 30-40-minute set starting around 9pm. If you're in Indianapolis, check us out!

In other Motosota band news, our web site www.motosota.com should be up tonight. It'll evolve over the weekend.

We also have a gig scheduled for a punk-alterna cafe in Anderson July 21st called Camerata. Cool stuff.
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