Music

Captain Beefheart’s “Dachau Blues”

Captain Beefheart wasn’t a Jew, but he was the perpetual outsider whose life and work could take a semester of college to understand and appreciate. Read More

By / December 20, 2010

Don Van Vliet, the musician and visual artist better known as Captain Beefheart, passed away Friday.  Beefheart was a cult figure, and his DNA is all over punk, post-punk, and commercially successful bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Captain Beefheart wasn’t a Jew, but he was the perpetual outsider whose life and work could take a semester of college to understand and appreciate.

My first experience with Beefheart actually came in college, when I first heard the album Trout Mask Replica.  The person playing it for me announced that “every song on this album is poetry, and every note has meaning.”

While I’m not totally sure if that’s true, I was instantly captivated by the song “Dachau Blues,” mostly because it was the only song from the peace and love generation that I had heard (long before I heard songs like The Fugs “Kill for Peace”) that didn’t seem to advocate peace with the common “peace, love, dope” message coming from many artists of the time.  Instead, Beefheart used the imagery of the Holocaust as a way to emphasize the horror that is war, and ended up creating one of the best pleas for peace I’ve ever heard.

Dachau blues those poor Jews

Dachau blues those poor Jews

Down in Dachau blues, down in Dachau blues

Still cryin’ ’bout the burnin’ back in world war two’s

One mad man six million lose

Down in Dachau blues down in Dachau blues

Dachau blues, Dachau blues those poor jews

The world can’t forget that misery

‘n the young ones now beggin’ the old ones please

t’ stop bein’ madmen

‘fore they have t’ tell their children

’bout the burnin’ back in World War Three’s

War One was balls ‘n powder ‘n blood ‘n snow

War Two rained death ‘n showers ‘n skeletons

Danced ‘n screamin’ ‘n dyin’ in the ovens

Cough ‘n smoke ‘n dyin’ by the dozens

Down in Dachau blues

Down in Dachau blues

Three little children with doves on their shoulders

Their eyes rolled back in ecstasy cryin’

Please old man stop this misery

They’re countin’ out the devil

With two fingers on their hands

Beggin’ the Lord don’t let the third one land

On World War Three

On World War Three