[alert_box type=”info”]This article is one of four reviews of Lick My Decals Off, Baby originally published in the 10th December, 1970 edition of Rolling Stone. Kindly sent to me by Jim Flannery.[/alert_box]
In a twilight region which separates laughter from terror and precision from chaos, five men walk along a musical path with a purpose they disclose only in their smiles.
Zoot Horn Rollo, a fortunate refugee from the Land of Drugs, carries his lead guitar between a thumb and one glass finger. He speaks through his instrument with a voice of gentleness, restraint and lyricism. To a large extent the success of this expedition rests on his shoulders. For it is Rollo’s job to catch the melodies which the Captain throws out, transform them into definite musical statements and to teach them to the others in the group. His dedication to this task along with his inspired playing keeps The Magic Band from wandering off into the darkness of the void.
At Rollo’s side is the soft-spoken and debonair trickster, Rockette Morton. Oblivious to the notion that the bassius-o-pheilius is an instrument to be plucked with sexually seductive suave, Rockette strums it with a comic viciousness. When the Captain announces that the safari is approaching Bellerin’ Plain, Mr. Morton (unaware of the dangers ahead) struts forth and plays a brief outrage. “This reminds me of the desert,” Rockette exclaims as he does the cha-cha back and forth across the stage.
The most thoroughly educated member of the trek is Ed Marimba, alias Art Tripp. Once stunted by the authoritarianism of his teachers, Marimba has now decided that freedom is preferable to a Cage (or even a Zappa) and that it is better to be a giant than a dwarf. On this journey he carries much of the weight — drums, bass marimba, broom, and heaviest of all — “Japan in a Dishpan.” In this peculiar collection of travelers, Ed is certainly the strangest. For unlike the others, he knows exactly where he’s going.
On each of his three previous excursions the Captain had always taken Drumbo along with him. This pilgrimage is no different. The veteran Drumbo is a quiet and pensive man, but at the same time a ferocious master of ironic Beefheartian rhythms. He knows the yellow brick road backwards and forwards. As the others walk and dance along, Drumbo punctuates each step with bursts of explosive energy. Lightning, after all, really needs thunder.
Last in the motley collection of travelers is Captain Beefheart himself, a man pleased with the fact that he no longer has to pretend he’s The Leader. Beefheart insists that this time he is accompanied not by His Magic Band, but rather by The Magic Band. He knows that at long last his players can reach the destination with their eyes closed and with no dictator at their heels. As they march forward, the Captain sings, bellows, blows, spouts, moans, toots and laughs at the band for being so incredibly good. After years of fighting to point the way, all he has to do is saunter along, play his horn and offer an occasional cauliflower to the stegosaurus.