In 1980, as a 15-year old I had been reading Lester Bangs’ articles about Captain Beefheart in “Musician” magazine (which turned out to be amazingly accurate and descriptive), and was quite interested to learn more about what this supposedly amazing music sounded like. However, I didn’t have the money to actually buy the records – and believe me, noone else in Sparta, Illinois had them to loan to me. One night I was interested to notice in our T.V. Guide that Beefheart was playing on that night’s “Saturday Night Live”, a show which my parents wouldn’t let me watch (although they did watch it themselves). Remember, this was before VCRs were common – I had no way of seeing the Captain’s performance that night, but determined that I would get as much information about it second-hand as I could from my parents and whatever friends were able to watch the show.
The next day, I asked my parents about the show. They told me that it had been particularly terrible, and that I really wasn’t missing anything funny by not being allowed to watch it. (This was a common reaction to that particular show; it was later mentioned in print as being the all-around worst show aired to that date). I then asked them what they had thought of the musical guest, Captain Beefheart, and what his performance was like.
At the very mention of Beefheart, my parents reacted with dismay. They told me that he appeared to be a madman, and that he had assaulted their ears with his “crazy” music not once but twice during the course of the show. They expressed to me in no uncertain terms that his music had no value whatsoever, and that you probably had to be on some kind of drug(s) to get anything out of it. (They frequently stated this opinion during my teenage years about music which I was playing that had abstract or artsy tendancies about it). Beyond that they refused to speak of it. They were clearly not happy to know that I had any interest in this rather shocking maniac, much less that I was seriously inquiring about the characteristics of his music. Unwittingly, the Captain had violently offended their sensibilities.
Years later I got the records and made my own decision. When I finally saw the Saturday Night Live footage for myself, after years of studying Beefheart’s music, I was blown away by its power; it’s a brilliant performance the likes of which has rarely graced American popular culture. Were the seeds of my Beefheart obsession sewn on that fateful day when my parents reproached me for even knowing who the Captain was? I don’t think so. But who knows.