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Beefheart: Through the Eyes of Magic Hardcover – 11 Jan 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 880 pages
  • Publisher: Proper Music Publishing Ltd (11 Jan 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0956121217
  • ISBN-13: 978-0956121219
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 4.6 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 435,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


This book tells one of the most incredible sagas of 20th century music. --Mojo

Book Description

Few names carry such formidable mystique and rabid cult status as Captain Beefheart, who led various lineups of his Magic Band to make some of the most startling, ground-breaking albums of the last century. In 1982, he retired to concentrate on painting, leaving the mythology he’d stoked himself to grow untamed over the years.

John French is better qualified than anyone to talk about Beefheart, joining the Magic Band in 1966 at the age of 17 just before recording their Safe As Milk debut album, finding himself plunged into a tyrannical regime which would dominate his life for the next 14 years as he played a major role in eight subsequent albums, including translating the mindblowing avant-blues assault of 1969’s Trout Mask Replica into readable music for the Magic Band from the Captain’s piano poundings under torturous conditions he likens to a cult.

Spanning nearly a thousand pages, French’s remarkable memoir starts with a vivid description of the rarely-documented early 60s Lancaster garage-rock scene which also spawned names like Ry Cooder and Beefheart’s childhood friend and later nemesis Frank Zappa, whose appearances in the book will enthrall his own legion of fans. As his spellbinding, often shocking tale unwinds, he encounters names including jazz giant Ornette Coleman, Jim Morrison and Paul McCartney, writing with dry, sometimes surreal humour and disarming honesty about his old boss and even himself, occasionally bringing in his old Magic Band comrades to jog his memory.

The book is packed with new revelations, many previously-unseen photos and enough anecdotes to keep the Beefheart faithful ruminating for years, French finally crystallising and bringing to life over 40 years of legend and speculation in what has to be the ultimate book on the mercurial genius of Captain Beefheart.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Damian J. Waters on 16 Mar 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a great book that explodes many of the myths perpetuated about Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band (most of which were spread by the Captain himself). It is a frank, illuminating and entertaining read of the formation and evolution of the group, containing interviews from many of the major players and several more obscure ones too, largely tied together from author/drummer/arranger John French's personal perspective. He pulls few punches and is extremely candid about his experiences and opinons, but it is all balanced with a sympathetic hindsight approach that makes this book much less of a bitter rant about the poor treatment and seemingly unending bad luck of a superb musician who deserves so much better, and more of a healing experience which doesn't fail to move the reader.

The main reason I've only given this four stars however is because it could have done with some thorough proofreading (there are a lot of typos and punctuation errors), and also possibly some textual editing - John's writing style is very conversational, which is great, but over the course of the book it seems that many sentences and recollections are repeated. This increases the further into the book you get, giving the disconcerting impression that you've read the book before. I would hope that maybe a second printing would address these issues.

Also, whereas John has gone into great detail about the background and roots of the group, shedding light on people not often mentioned in relation to The Magic Band (such as various contemporaries of the early/mid 60's Lancaster scene), it mentions almost nothing of the so-called 'Tragic Band' era, between the Magic Band splitting from The Captain in 1973 to Don joining Frank Zappa's band in 1975.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By marshlander on 12 Dec 2010
Format: Hardcover
I have just finished the main text of the book this morning and most reviewers have already covered the main points. A serious editing job could probably have hacked a couple of hundred pages out of the text with little loss of information and left the remainder displaying greater attention to details of spelling and grammar. Drumbo could have used his extensive interviews to create more of a narrative rather than simply reproduce transcriptions of the interviews. In his own commentary he is often side-tracked away from the subject, but eventually this becomes part of the charm of the telling of a story about which I knew little. The book, interesting as it is, rambles and one is left wondering whether the intention was to create a biography of Don Van Vliet, John French, a history of Captain Beefheart and His/The Magic Band or an account of some amazing music that had its origins in and around Lancaster, California. Drumbo brushes all these aspects and more, but ultimately fails to satisfy fully on any of them. Within these hundreds of pages many characters are introduced and a glossary would have been helpful as an appendix, as would other contextual information, such as musician "family trees" or even maps of the region for those of us who live in other lands. The omission of an index in such a massive book is a particular shortcoming. Finding any single piece of information for future reference is going to be a major undertaking.

Having followed the music since the release of Safe As Milk I had previously only read interviews and magazine articles in the music press, most of which perpetuated the popular myths without question. This book makes a serious attempt to address those questions and to get at a truth, which I suspect can never really be known.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By neonmeatedream on 10 Feb 2010
Format: Hardcover
Exhaustive and concise is one way to describe this book, distressing and an exploder of myths is another. John French casts his mind's eye back, WAY BACK and valiantly records the birth of Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band right through to the incredible Trout Mask Replica and beyond.

Although there were many strange and hazy myths surrounding the birth of TMR, John blows away the smoke, literally, and reveals the cult like environment that eventually took over in the house. Don Van Vliet was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, probably brought on due to excessive LSD use, who would terrorise and intimidate the band members until they breathed, ate and slept the way way he wanted them to. It sounds insane, but they stuck with it and eventually they produced one of the most extraordinary albums of all time.

The book goes into to incredible detail and is a truly rewarding read. I would also recommend this to Zappa fans as there is a lot of entertaining facts about the birth of The Mothers and how Zappa grew up and eventually collaborated with Beefheart.

Overall an excellent book, definitely the DEFINITIVE Beefheart book to date.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Toman on 9 Feb 2010
Format: Hardcover
I received Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica on CD for Christmas years back when I was about 14. Being long-haired and 'into music' I had written a list as long as an unrolled toilet roll with a list of albums I had never heard, but was aware were 'must haves'. It took me a long time to appreciate Trout Mask Replica but it now stands (along with their debut Safe as Milk, the follow-up Lick My Decals Off Baby, and Clear Spot) as one of my all time favourite, endlessly-listenable albums.
The responsibility for this album actually being made possible lies with the author of this book, drummer John French (who was, I think, nineteen at the time?).
Drumbo relates anecdotes of his own experiences working with the Captain, of tours and working odd-jobs, and his interests at the time, augmented by his position as author thirty years on. He interviews previous Magic Band members (from every version of the band) to fill in the gaps or add to his own memories. Needless to say its a well-researched and thoroughly honest work. At times there are a (very) few punctuation or grammatical errors that probably should have been picked by an editor, but these only attest to the authenticity of this tome.
The long cast of characters are portrayed as they presented themselves to John and to others (with the addition of hindsight) including Don Van Vliet himself, who comes across as both a raving, sometimes deluded, egomaniac, yet one the most charming, sweetest and talented human beings ever to grace the planet. French does not shy away from criticising or from praising anyone, including himself.
If you only own one Beefheart record, this is still a must have (and will no doubt encourage you to pick up more). Other fan(atics) already know that it is.
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