Doc At The Radar Station

In 1980, as I took my own first forays into the wilds of electromagnetic schizophonia, bouncing twisted walkie talkie tracks between two battered Superscopes, Captain Beefheart released an album that would deeply impact my understanding of the wired up human voice and its seductive tangle of paradox and possibility: Doc At The Radar Station.

Ashtray Heart?

Suddenly, here was a fully charged songbody that contained within its convoluted nervous system the same double edged vibe I was sensing both on tape and in the air: the lucid paranoia of the electrified persona, with its modulating potentials for revelation, wounds or oblivion; the juiced immersion with some other entity, some other ethereal field, floating somewhere close to the gods — though maybe it was just some scrambled cipher left behind by an unscheduled sparagmos.

I had been listening to the Magic Band for many years before then, with a transistor radio tucked beneath my pillow, Trout Mask Replica, cross rhythmic incantations for the shocked disembody —  but song/poems like Telephone took signature Beefheart out-thereness and injected it straight into the bone marrow of the lone schizophonic self. At the radar station, the rips and crackles became very personal, no longer out there, but in here.

And I strangled

And I ripped the cord

And I saw the bone

And I heard these tweetin’ things

N twinkling lights

N there was nobody home

Where are all those nerve endings coming out of the bone?




Creep the Ether Feather

Don Van Vliet , aka Captain Beefheart, died yesterday at the age of 69.

2 Responses to “Doc At The Radar Station”

  • I didn’t know you are a Captain Beefheart fan, Gregory. I never heard much of his music. But there have been many tributes to him and his band since he passed away remarking on the originality of his work and its deep influence on a whole range of people. He and Frank Zappa seem to have been brothers in the sort of music they were making.

    I don’t think I appreciate this sort of music as it should be appreciated.

  • Jim, for me Beefheart represents the persistence of the carnal within the rhythms of the machine. His backing trax are intensely mechanical, and he insisted that certain rhythms be exactly out of sync, like two machines ever so slightly out of phase. Yet the “beef” in his voice, so red and wet, balances the electrified metal, and makes it all very personal.

    He also represents the importance of personality in music, as it is the distinct persona that will carry the sound above all the surface noise. I place van vliet among the luminous/sonorous individualists that American culture produces now and then to compensate the world for all the low end hot dogs and stewed schmaltz: brilliant outsiders like antheil, parch, crumb, two monks (meredith and thelonious), sun ra, and a few others.