I’ve been listening to loads of Captain Beefheart in the past month, moved to review and re-appreciate his work after his recent death. He was a titanic talent, in both the aural and the visual arts, and his passing has moved me. During a spin through Trout Mask Replica this week, I was reminded of a piece I wrote a few years ago, also inspired by the ways in which Captain Beefheart touches my psyche, at a primal and subconscious level. I reproduce it here, in homage. And later this week, maybe I will be calling a musical instrument rental company in Albany, because perhaps the time is now . . .
When I dream about performing music, it’s rarely a pleasant experience. Generally, my musical dreams are of the variety where I’m suddenly, unexpectedly, inexplicably onstage somewhere, with a huge audience in front of me, holding an instrument that I can’t play, with my solo coming up in three . . . two . . . one . . . . go! If I’m lucky, I wake up at that point. If I’m unlucky, I actually get to experience what it feels like to self-immolate in public, and it isn’t ever a nice feeling.
This precedent made the pleasant musical dream I had a couple of night ago all the more memorable. As in most of my musical dreams, I found myself suddenly, unexpectedly, inexplicably onstage somewhere, this time holding a bass clarinet in my hands. Which is odd, because in the real world, I don’t believe I have ever actually touched a bass clarinet, although I quite like their sound. In the dream, the curtain went up and this big shambolic band in which I found myself started to blow . . . and we ripped the roof of the place, playing some spectacular free jazz where everything just clicked and the whole experience felt just boom bang great.
In the midst of the dream, I wondered how I was able to pull off this stunt, and my dream logic explanation was that my bass clarinet skills came from listening to Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica so many times over the years, whereon the untrained Captain and his even less-trained cousin Victor Hayden, a.k.a. The Mascara Snake (that’s right), tootled some rightous bass clarinet tones on some titanically scary, complex and atonal numbers. Then (in the dream), I also remembered that John Coltrane’s band featured bass clarinet on some of the improvised numbers on his epic Live in Seattle albums, while contemporary jazz titan Eric Dolphy also played the bass clarinet, and noted that this knowledge, too, clearly gave me the magical bass clarinet powers that I had acquired and deployed over the course of a ripping dream set.
When I woke up the next morning, the dream lingered. And then when I got up, I walked to my home office, got online, and started to look for a used bass clarinet on Ebay. I’m watching a couple of them to see where they price out, and also put a call in to a local music store to get information about rent-to-own programs. I could have one in my non-dreaming hands, one way or the other, in a week or two, if things fall into the spots, price-wise.
I believe in the power of dream, and (to a lesser extent) in my own musical abilities. I can generally produce something of worth from most of the instruments I’ve owned or handled over the years (typically in the string, keyboard, electronic or percussion families), so figure that this was just a way for my subconscious to tell me that it’s time for me to branch out into the woodwind family.
Old dog. New trick. In B flat. That’s right . . .