The magic is gone. An American original, the musician and painter Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart, has died. He was 69.

Melding swampy blues, herky jerky rhythms and an absurdist sense of humor, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band never sought out mainstream fame, but nevertheless profoundly influenced many performers who found it, from White Stripes to Nirvana to Tom Waits.

Born in Lancaster, Calif. and raised in the Mojave desert, Van Vliet was an artistic child who, as he once told David Letterman, did not attend school beyond a half a day of kindergarten, though even that may have been too much.

"If you want to be a different fish, you gotta jump out the school," said the musician, who clearly succeeded.

Van Vliet eventually hooked up with Frank Zappa before launching a singular musical journey that combined the blues, psychedelia, free jazz and something indefinable on releases such as Safe as Milk, Trout Mask Replica, Doc at the Radar Station and more.

Van Vliet gave up music in 1982 to devote himself to painting.

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