Lick My Decals Off, Baby review by Terry Byrnes

This review is one of four reviews of Lick My Decals Off, Baby originally published in the 10th December 1970 edition of Rolling Stone. This was very kindly sent to me by Jim Flannery.

It’s probably a tribute to the literary conscience of Reprise Records that they decided to include a copy of Beefheart’s lyrics. Within a year, some lovely young thing with a doctorate in English will have transformed Beefheart into a demiurge, thereby glorifying herself to a freshman comp class at a state institution. Fortunately, the sheet of lyrics can be overlooked; no great feat, because the sense that comes out of them tends to rearrange itself with all the life of the infinte number of monkeys in the old joke about the infinite number of old typewriters.

If anything, Beefheart’s word-collection is just as anti-lyrical as a computer’s wet dream. But, it’s just as clear that that’s what the venerable Captain had in mind. His personal lyric tradition is as thoroughly grounded in amoral nonsense as Bob Dylan’s is fixed in moral conviction. The sense of Beefheart’s lyrics is contained in the fantasy of taking the “real world” into the Hall of Mirrors and discovering that you can’t tell the difference between the reality and the distorted reflection. If Beefheart is linked to anything it’s to an updating of a circa-1940 Walt Disney cartoon version of the March-of-Progress. My favorites, not surprisingly, are the nonsense syllable lyrics: “Woe-is-a-me-bop/Om-drop-a-re-bop-om,” and running a close second is one of the most terrifying images since Bosch: “I bumped a mama spider and the babies begin to fall/Off a my broom/Now I’ve gotta keep sweepin sweepin/Before they fill my room.”

To posit an activity compatible with listening to Captain Beefheart’s Lick My Decals Off, Baby, look up Dadaism in the Children’s Britannica or The Art of Loving and mark the pages with snot or jism. Paint the cover with Day-glo sprayed through your nostrils and put the book back where it belongs. Do the dishes that have been collecting in the sink since last winter. Spatter the record with formic acid and analyze the resultant variation.

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