Image Credit: Jan Persson/Redferns/Getty ImagesAvant-garde rock legend and visual artist Don Van Vliet, who performed under the name Captain Beefheart, passed away today at age 69. A representative of New York City’s Michael Werner Gallery, which showed his paintings, confirms the sad news to EW. Van Vliet died of complications from multiple sclerosis at a hospital in Northern California this morning.
Born in California in 1941, Van Vliet dubbed himself Captain Beefheart and began experimenting with eccentric rock’n’roll sounds in the mid-1960s. His first two releases with the Magic Band drew positive notice from some connoisseurs but failed to connect with the wider public. Van Vliet next forged a close creative partnership with Frank Zappa, a former high school classmate, who signed Beefheart to his Straight Records and produced 1969’s Trout Mask Replica. While the bizarre double album was not a major commercial success, it quickly became a cultural landmark. Van Vliet effectively redefined the frontiers of popular music, singing snatches of surreal imagery in disturbing tones over music that drew on blues, jazz, psychedelia, and a thousand other subgenres. Trout Mask Replica is still cited today as an essential art-rock document.
Van Vliet continued recording as Captain Beefheart with a rotating group of Magic Band members through 1982. (Read about his five best albums.) In later years, he shifted his primary focus to creating visual art, a world in which he won some acclaim. The Michael Werner Gallery displayed his work for decades, with their most recent Van Vliet show occurring in 2007. Earlier this month, one of Van Vliet’s paintings was reportedly being offered at an asking price of $40,000.
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