One of my favorite strange musicians is Don “Captain Beefheart” Van Vliet, so I knew I had to get Mike Barnes’ biography of him. Barnes goes into great detail on the eccentric musician and his works. One thing that’s made clear is that his persona was not an act-van Vliet was truly eccentric and difficult to deal with, to the point where it’s quite understandable why he left music and spent the rest of his life as an artist, where he had much more complete financial and creative control.
Everything from Beefheart’s struggles with the labels to struggles with the various “Magic Bands” to his lifelong on-and-off friendship with Frank Zappa is covered here and covered well. Also covered is the very origin of the nickname, coming from a bizarre film project known as “Captain Beefheart vs. The Grunt People”.
The book is strangely at its weakest when it gets to the music itself. In part this is because any description in text of Beefheart’s music fails to do its” quirkiness” justice, but Barnes makes it seem particularly dull, which it is definitely is not. For instance, the description of “Kandy Korn”, my favorite Beefheart song because it manages to mix his weirdness with genuine melody, is long, pretentious, and doesn’t give a good impression of the music. That being said, this book isn’t bad as far as musical biographies go.