When I was young and easy in the mercy of life’s means (and my privilege), a friend of mine and I, if we were hanging out with women and having a great time, would occasionally and quite perversely test them by throwing some Captain Beefheart on the turntable, hoping they would stay but doubting it seriously. If memory serves, that test was passed only once, and we were so deliriously happy about it we were in no shape to pass our test when the needle floated out of “Veteran’s Day Poppy” and into the outgroove.
I was moved to recall this after listening to The World of Captain Beefheart Featuring Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas. I’d bought it with some trepidation; more than a few times, producers have forced great singers (usually women) into misbegotten, undignified musical straitjackets, and I was having a hard time imagining Ms. Hendryx, of “Lady Marmalade” fame and more, comfortable with a Van Vlietian setlist. Yes, her partner in crime in this enterprise is one of the most passionate and skilled adherents of the Captain’s Way, but, I thought, why would a black singer even have an interest in wrestling with such wracking rhythms? Well, shame on me for having that thought; I’m just being honest. And, in fact, Nona sounds not only completely at home and familiar with the material (just play the opener, linked above), but like she’s having a blast. As she does live, having the choice and choosing “Tropical Hot Dog Night”!
But, to the point, it finally occurred to me that, perhaps, it was much more accurately surprising that a woman was digging, and digging into, the Beefheartian repertoire. Shame on me, again, for underestimating folks when I’m old enough to know better, but I sure hope there is more of this to come! Especially with Lucas’ guitar propelling her forward, backwards, and side to side (and grabbing this listener by the throat, as he usually does), this woman passes the test!
The Fall: I am Kurious Orange (Check the guy’s track record!)
The Fleshtones: It’s Super Rock Time! The IRS Years (and it is!)
Jean Grae: The Orchestral Tapes