R.I.P. Don Van Vliet, Captain Beefheart

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A bolt-from-the-blue collection of precise, careening, surrealist songs with clashing meters, brightly imagistic poetry and raw blues shouting, “Trout Mask Replica” had particular resonance with the punk and new wave generation to come a decade later, influencing bands like Devo, the Residents, Pere Ubu and the Fall.

 

 

Mr. Van Vliet’s life story is caked with half-believable tales, some of which he himself spread in Dadaist, elliptical interviews. He claimed he had never read a book and had never been to school, and answered questions with riddles. “We see the moon, don’t we?” he asked in a 1969 interview. “So it’s our eye. Animals see us, don’t they? So we’re their animals.” (via NYTimes.com obit).

R.I.P. Vic Chesnutt

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Singer and Songwriter Dies at 45: Vic Chesnutt, whose darkly comic songs about mortality, vulnerability and life’s simple joys made him a favorite of critics and fellow musicians, died Friday in a hospital in Athens, Ga., a family spokesman said. He was 45 and lived in Athens.

He had been in a coma after taking an overdose of muscle relaxants earlier this week.

Mr. Chesnutt had a cracked, small voice but sang with disarming candor about a struggle for peace in a life filled with pain. A car crash at age 18 left him partly paralyzed, and he performed in a wheelchair.

The accident, he has said, focused him as a songwriter, and it became the subject of some of his earliest recordings. “I’m not a victim/Oh, I am an atheist,” Mr. Chesnutt sang in “Speed Racer,” from his first album, “Little,” produced by Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and released in 1990.

In a recent interview on the public radio show “Fresh Air,” he told Terry Gross: “It was only after I broke my neck and even like maybe a year later that I really started realizing that I had something to say.”

Although he never had blockbuster record sales, Mr. Chesnutt was a prolific songwriter who remained a mainstay on the independent music circuit for two decades, making more than 15 albums.

Musicians flocked to work with him: he recorded with the bands Lambchop, Widespread Panic and Elf Power, as well as the jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, and in a recent burst of creative activity he made two albums with a band that included Guy Picciotto of Fugazi and members of the Montreal indie-rock group Thee Silver Mt. Zion.

Because of Mr. Chesnutt’s fondness for simple guitar chords — after his accident his fingers could no longer form the jazzier ones, he has said — his work was often described as a variant of folk-rock. But the sound of his albums changed with their revolving collaborators, from stark recordings of Mr. Chesnutt alone to finessed full-band arrangements.

…He sings about suicide in “Flirted With You All My Life,” from his recent album “At the Cut,” describing death as a lover he must break up with because his accomplishments in life are incomplete:

When you touched a friend of mine I thought I would lose my mind

But I found out with time that really, I was not ready, no no, cold death

Oh death, I’m really not ready.

(New York Times obituary)

R.I.P. James Gurley, Big Brother Guitarist

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“James Gurley, who played guitar in Big Brother and the Holding Company, the psychedelic rock band that brought Janis Joplin to fame, died on Sunday at his home in Palm Desert, Calif. He was 69. One of the central groups of San Francisco’s fertile mid-1960s rock scene, Big Brother and the Holding Company took blues-based songs on long, strange, electric trips that often featured Mr. Gurley’s protracted solos. In an interview in 2007 with The Desert Sun, in Palm Springs, Calif., Mr. Gurley said that his approach was inspired by the music of John Coltrane.” (New York Times obituary)

R.I.P. Jeanne-Claude

Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Christo’s Collaborator on Environmental Canvas Is Dead at 74. “Jeanne-Claude, who collaborated with her husband, Christo, on dozens of environmental art projects, notably the wrapping of the Pont Neuf in Paris and the Reichstag in Berlin and the installation of 7,503 vinyl gates with saffron-colored nylon panels in Central Park, died Wednesday in Manhattan, where she lived. She was 74.” (New York Times obituary)

R.I.P. Claude Lévi-Strauss

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The renowned anthropologist is dead at 100: “His interpretations of North and South American myths were pivotal in changing Western thinking about so-called primitive societies. He began challenging the conventional wisdom about them shortly after beginning his anthropological research in the 1930s — an experience that became the basis of an acclaimed 1955 book, Tristes Tropiques, a sort of anthropological meditation based on his travels in Brazil and elsewhere.

The accepted view at that time held that primitive societies were intellectually unimaginative and temperamentally irrational, basing their approaches to life and religion on the satisfaction of urgent needs for food, clothing and shelter.

Mr. Lévi-Strauss rescued his subjects from this limited perspective. Beginning with the Caduveo and Bororo tribes in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil, where he did his first and primary fieldwork, he found among them a dogged quest not just to satisfy material needs but also to understand origins, a sophisticated logic that governed even the most bizarre myths, and an implicit sense of order and design, even among tribes that practiced ruthless warfare.

His work elevated the status of “the savage mind, ” a phrase that became the English title of one of his most forceful surveys, La Pensee Sauvage (1962).

“The thirst for objective knowledge,” he wrote, “is one of the most neglected aspects of the thought of people we call ‘primitive.’ ” (New York Times obituary)

As an anthropology student before I went into psychiatry, I was an ardent follower of Levi-Strauss and La Pensee Sauvage one of my bibles. I don’t think, however, that Levi-Strauss’ contribution was to elucidate the ‘pre-scientific’ logic of the ways tribal people make sense of the world. Our ‘scientific’ ‘objective’ worldview is just another exemplar of the ‘savage’ ordering methodology, it rather seems. For me, this was far more important than the intricacies of structural analysis of any particular myth system, and it informs my “cross-cultural” approach to my work with psychotic patients to this day, if that makes any sense.