While searching on YouTube for Smithsonian-related clips, I found this video of the Captain Beefheart Song “Smithsonian Institute Blues” set to swaying computer-animated dinosaurs and velociraptors smoking cigarettes. It’s a little bizarre, and the music is an acquired taste, but I like it.
Sure, Beefheart might not have been a stickler for accuracy (it’s the “Smithsonian Institution,” and the La Brea Tar Pits he keeps mentioning contain plenty of mammoth bones but no dinosaurs), but I’ve got to give props to the Captain for his love of paleontology and the Smithsonian.
In another YouTube clip Beefheart says he was inspired by the La Brea Tar Pits in Southern California (which actually aren’t part of the Smithsonian). When the Captain visited there, he says he ran out of the car and tried to dive into the sticky tar, excited to “see an actual dinosaur, or maybe a dire wolf or a saber tooth tiger if I could get it on the way down.”
Captain Beefheart was known in the 1960s and 70s for his outrageous, avant-garde rock music (and that’s saying a lot for music from that era). He released this song on the 1970 album “Lick My Decals Off, Baby,” along with other gems like “Japan in a Dishpan” and “I Wanna Find a Woman That’ll Hold My Big Toe Until I Have to Go.”
It all seems a little kooky, but I think there might be a message among the xylophone and ear-splitting guitar of “Smithsonian Institute Blues.” When Beefheart sings “the new dinosaur is walking in the old one’s shoes” toward being mired in death trap tar pits, he’s warning that humans could face extinction unless they change their ways. Or on second thought, maybe I’ve just been listening to too much Captain Beefheart.