Saturday, December 18, 2010

‘Fallin’ ditch ain’t gonna get my bones’

The Yummy Fur played one of their reunion shows last week in Glasgow. It sounded great, even if the band are a whole different proposition now with the de-geeked, rockin’ out John / Jackie McKeown. Maybe I’m mis-remembering, but I’m sure he used to rock in. Before the show I played The Fire Engines’ ‘New Thing In Cartons’ to A., and watched the same bemusement I felt when I first heard it a year or two ago. ‘It’s the same!’ she exclaimed, meaning that as well as ‘New Thing In Cartons’ by The Fire Engines, it is also ‘Sexy World’ by The Yummy Fur. As far as I know, it isn’t also a Captain Beefheart song, but it is certainly true that without him The Fire Engines (and Big Flame) couldn’t have sounded like they did. That guitar sound, regimented to within an inch of its life but in directions which make no obvious sense, until they get inside your head and take it apart. I hated Trout Mask Replica when I first heard it. ‘China Pig’ was funny, but the rest... there was nothing to hold on to. Annoyed at having shelled out £15, I thought I may as well use the damn thing for samples, which you can hear at the end of Planet Sunflower’s ‘The Black Hole’ (drums from ‘Ant Man Bee’, saxophone from ‘Wild Life’). A few years later I fell for Doc at the Radar Station, still one of my favourite albums, and worked my way back.

An image for you: Chris and I on holiday in Salzburg, at the end of the ’90s. A. had been surprised that he would want to read Hitler’s Willing Executioners on such a trip (which also took in Munich), and was herself a little embarrassed to be seen with Slaughterhouse 5, which she was reading for Uni. Bladdered on weissbier served by an over-doing-it Scot in a kilt at the backpacker’s hostel (he stood on one leg to pour, and made a big deal of swilling the dregs), we staggered across the city, bellowing the words to ‘Dachau Blues’, he dressed in a Remembrance Day wreath acquired en route. What he was really after, though, was the Austrian flag which flew high up on the bridge over the river Salzach. He could just touch it with his fingertips if he stood on tip toe on the hand rail. And – he didn’t die! Or get the flag. We already miss you so much, Don.

Many fond tributes (including that ‘Fallin’ Ditch’ quote) here.


Anonymous said...

I first heard Beefheart in about 1990, when John Peel set about playing one track of Trout Mask Replica per week. The first song I heard was Pena, which I recorded on a scrappy old C60 cassette and played to anyone who came near me. After about two weeks of this posturing, it finally got beneath my skin - from where it shows no sign of shifting - and like you, I over-paid for a copy of Trout Mask Replica (£18 for a US CD, HMV in Dundee). It baffled me, slightly, then; but makes me feel warm, happy, and grateful, now.

I shan't even attempt to mount a defense of my ill-chosen reading matter in Germany that summer! But do you remember that I actually bought that Goldhagen book at Munich Hauptbanhof, having exhausted my small stack of holiday reading material ("The Professor" and Ray Monk's Wittgenstein biography)? It really didn't deserve a place in that company.

That was some strong weissbier. I'd like to think that you'd have draped the flag on my coffin had I plummeted to a watery death. And maybe even played "Fallin' Ditch" as I descended a second time.

Chris said...

Yeah, sorry, this post was a bit below the belt! But somehow all those events are part of why Beefheart matters to me. 'Dachau Blues' itself appears wildly inappropriate even without that context. 'Dachau blues those poor jews' is bad enough, let alone the couplet about 'ovens' and 'dyin' by the dozens'. And the squall of the music... how can it be anything other than a holocaust pisstake? And how can that be anything other than a bad thing?

The answer is something to do with Beefheart's humanity, his curiosity, and his refusal to simplify or straighten things out. It's transgressive, sure, but it's also incredibly warm hearted and genuinely furious. I think that trek across Salzburg wasn't a bad tribute.

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