Wednesday, November 13, 2019

My Head is My Only House

AM was not meant to be collective nostalgia. A loyal follower commented that we'd been stuck in the 50-years-ago theme. There is no doubt of that. And yet, AM's dwelling on the past is misconstrued in that we don't look back so much nostalgically, but as the 60s being the catalyst for what we hold near and dear today. The late 60s for this writer are a starting point. Yes, we look back further, but it was the Summer of Love that gave us Sgt. Pepper, The Mothers, The Moodies, Captain Beefheart, The Doors, Cream, Jefferson Airplane and Love. Many of these bands would peak right there in '69, some would capture a sound and run with it, some wouldn't yet hit their stride; among these are the critically acclaimed and often forgotten Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. Everything about Beefheart points to Trout Mask Replica, but real aficionados reflect more on Lick My Decals Off, Baby as the more profound statement.

While I'm entranced by both key Beefheart LPs, it's 1972's Clear Spot, superbly produced by Ted Templeman (choirboy lead singer of Harpers Bizarre turned studio wiz), that I go on and on about (so there: 46 years ago instead). And the song that spins over and again in my mind is the seminal "My Head is My Only House Unless it Rains." Listening to, "Dachau Blues," "Pachuco Cadaver" or "Neon Meate Dream of a Octafish" on Captain Beefheart's surreal 1969 masterpiece Trout Mask Replica would hardly incline one to bracket Don van Vliet within the great balladeers. Yet here, barely three years later, he came up with as achingly beautiful a song of love and longing as one could wish to hear. The Magic Band (largely intact from the crazed Trout Mask sessions) are in fine form, featuring the fluid lead guitar of Zoot Horn Rollo (Bill Harkleroad) in counterpoint to rhythm guitarist Rockette Morton (Mark Boston) and bass player Orejón (Roy Estrada). And that's percussionist Ed Marimba (Art Tripp) on, appropriately, the marimba.

From experience, I can recommend reciting the lyrics to this song at a wedding. "I won't sleep until I find you/ I won't eat until I find you/ My heart won't beat until I wrap my arms around you" – there will not be a dry eye in the house. As much as I've wallowed in the Beefheart version, it's really the cover by the underrated Tubes that rings most true in my ears. Fe Waybill's heart-wrenching rendition was supposedly recorded with the band up on mushrooms, and I can envision that image as a vignette for the song. In it our stoned hero's heart won't beat, he'll take a train or a bus or a plain until he finds her; indeed, the man's head is his only house. The sequence intersperses these lyrics of intense ennui with visions of the lost/estranged love; all in hues of purple and gray. It's what poetry is supposed to be.

If you're a Beefheart fan, but one that's never ventured beyond Trout Mask Replica, listen to "My Head's" tonight with headphones. Not a fan, listen to The Tubes' version – might turn you on to Captain B. Mushrooms, of course, may help as well.