DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
history - story
BEEFHEART AND HIS MAGIC BAND.....
(and some more news on the adventures of the great gnome of rock 'n' roll)
aka THE GREAT GNOME BIOGRAPHY
kit usa mid june
1966 LEONARD GRANT & ASSOCIATES
'here's the list,' said the great gnome of rock 'n' roll, 'take your pick.' the great gnome passed the list of names to the disbelieving group of young men and then vanished in a spiral of white smoke, threading across the high desert of southern california, far over the horizon into regions far beyond the reaches of the mind. he rarely stayed long, the great gnome. he had such work to do in every hamlet, village, town and city across the world. for didn't all rock 'n' roll inspiration start and finish with his influence? he was there in the pen of buddy holly and at the cross-roads when parker met presley. he was there when john, george and paul sent for ringo and he was close at hand when harry hog met myrtle lump. that was some good day.
alex st. clair and don van vliet watched the hunchbacked gnome pass beyond their comprehension and looked down at the greasy parchment he had left with them. it was like something from a mediaeval food-to-go bag. it had seen much service. 'he might have left us something cleaner,' muttered the massive van vliet clenching his head, for that was one of van vliet's habits when he was angry. 'never mind,' grunted the mild alex. 'let's see what's left.' their eyes scanned the names. most of them were crossed out, 'animals' had gone, 'archers' too. 'beatles' of course had a thick ink line through it. it was the same all the way down. 'all the best names have gone,' growled van vliet, as he removed an enormous stone from his boot. sure enough, they had. the great gnome had warned them. 'it's late in the day for names,' he had whined in that unattractive way he had, scratching his hump.
alex ran his thumb down the list. there were no more than thirty-five names left. peter and the groovy gates, jack louse and the unpleasantness, harry quirk and the manxmen. 'lousy,' said van vliet scratching his ear with a razor. 'there's only one i like.' 'what is it?' asked alex inquiringly, as was his wont when he was curious. 'captain beefheart and his warts,' said van vliet through compressed lips, for his breath was short from climbing the stairs to the plateau of dirty blues which the great gnome had insisted on as a meeting place. 'here's another,' said alex st. clair, pointing a bandaged finger at a space between all the smudged erasures. van vliet read slowly, for the sun was going down and it was growing very dark: 'ethel higginbottom and her magic band,' he read. 'leave that for a girl group,' he said. 'you never know. the supremes may want a name-change when motown goes out of style.' 'why not combine the two names,' said jerry handley who just happened to be passing by on the way to the bookmakers.
and lo and behold, it came to pass that 'captain beefheart and his magic band' was formed out of a rescue operation grafting the best phrases out of each name. it was 9:27 p.m., very approximately, on february 30, 1965; and thus did a very good group come into the very rough and extremely tumble arena of popular music with a determination to play great blues and to make captain beefheart and his magic band a household name, more or less, as the case may be. as it were, taking into account this and that, all eventualities, and making allowances for the weather, the time of day and the direction of the wind. plus unforeseen mishaps, snags, draft problems and, well, you know how it is.
captain beefheart and his magic band. the group said it aloud. captain beefheart and his magic band. they said it again and it sounded good. they said it again and again and it sounded first better, then best and then it became the greatest name they'd ever heard. now, when the group is asked how they came by their name, they snigger lewdly and say the story is too rude for polite ears but they are merely complying with the great gnome's wishes. anonymity, he claimed, was essential in his line of business. but i am determined to unmask this goblin of music as a wicked monopolist in a free capitalist society, which is why i have taken so long to tell you this story. if you want it simple and straight, then start here.
....... somewhere in the late winter of 1964/65 alex st. clair, a very talented guitar-player, was working as a key-man in a casino in lake tahoe. this was, as you can imagine, a delightful job for a sensitive man - just wandering around with a bunch of keys to the slot machines, watching the human race indulging themselves in most of the seven deadly sins, with particular emphasis on greed and envy. the claw-like hands grasped the handles and the wheels whirred and spun and shuddered to a stop and either the claws won or the claws lost. either way, the claws were there day and night. and so was alex st. clair, just watching and generally undigging the unmusical scene. 'mainly i was there rattling my keys to see that everything worked smoothly,' he says. 'i was ambassador to slot machines. anyway, i didn't think it was something i wanted to do until i was sixty, so i came back to lancaster in the high desert, where, i supposed, life would be better.'
lancaster, his hometown, offered him refuge from nostalgia for a day or so. but being familiar, it also bored him and for a month or so he did nothing. 'i had played in bands for quite some time but there was just nothing happening in lancaster when i came home. so i decided to make something happen and i phoned don van vliet who was just plain don vliet then, just as i was alex snouffer. we changed our names because the police were after us for smuggling sponges into nevada.' when alex phoned don, he said, simply: 'they tell me you can sing.'
'they're right,' said don with a momentary
pause as a token gesture to modesty - an unnecessary pause since his self-belief
glowed like a beacon of hope to frustrated alex. 'then let's make music,'
said alex, more or less and within a couple of days there was a group which
is now known as captain beefheart and his magic band. and about time too,
said the great gnome a few days later when he returned to recover his parchment
from beneath the stone of harps on the plateau of dirty blues. the gnome
incanted a brief blessing on the group and they haven't seen him since.
but his job was well done, for it was no time at all before the quaintly
named group was doing very well in their own area. alex st. clair was generally,
and tacitly, acknowledged as leader though it was clear that don van vliet,
as lead singer and therefore frontman, would be captain beefheart. and
who would have it otherwise?
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW THIS ENDS, CLICK CLACK TO PAGE TWO