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Captain Beefheart, Art-Rock Visionary, Dead At 69

Sad news out of California today for the avant-garde and experimental rock world: Rocks Off has learned from multiple online sources that Don Van Vliet of influential rockers Captain Beefheart passed away today at the age of 69 after a battle with multiple sclerosis. Van Vliet's management confirmed his death to Rolling Stone.

It's hard to gauge just how much Captain Beefheart meant to rock music, because the band encompassed so much to so many people. Over the span of 12 albums from 1967 to 1982, Van Vliet and his revolving cast of oddballs, including good friend and artistic double Frank Zappa, helped warp modern music.

Van Vliet quit music entirely after the 1982 album Ice Cream For Crow to become a full-time painter, and earned many accolades for his work. He was going to turn 70 on January 15, and two days before some of his biggest followers and former band members were planning a retrospective of his work and life in Los Angeles. Now that event will be a celebration of a fallen icon.

If you are looking for an introduction to Beefheart, you no doubt start with 1969's Zappa-produced Trout Mask Replica. The double album is a sprawling mash of freako acid-rock, jazz expanses and Van Vliet's trademark nonsense, almost Dadaist lyricism.

Be sure to pick up their 1967 debut Safe As Milk, the proto-grunge of 1980's Doc At The Radar Station, and 1972's Clear Spot, which of course featured "Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles" from The Big Lebowski soundtrack. That film was partly responsible for most of his latter-day popularity amongst younger listeners, not unlike ourselves.

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Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty