DON'T ARGUE THE CAPTAIN
YOU GOTTA PLAY BACH
conversations with the captain - part 2
from NEW MUSICAL
EXPRESS 210473 england
by ian macdonald
is 05.04.73 interview
together with part 1 reprinted in england 010311 UNCUT #166 as [untitled]
last week captain beefheart talked about the varying complexity of his albums. here he continues on that theme, with occasional digressions...
'the spotlight kid' was very well received both here and in america, but i thought there was something wrong with it.
what was that?
you and the band didn't really seem to be making the same album. it came across as rather melancholy and slightly untogether.
i know what you mean. the band wasn't into what i wanted to do at the time. they wouldn't let me be there, you know what i mean? they failed miserably on 'the spotlight kid'.
was 'alice in blunderland' devised as a way for them to let off steam?
i wrote that to showcase winged eel fingerling (elliot ingber - t.t.) because i knew he would leave soon and i wanted people to hear him. i thought he was really good.
were you aware of a certain relief on the part of your audience that you had left the experimental 'trout mask replica' phase and returned to the blues on 'the spotlight kid'?
yes, i noticed that, but i don't think i was ever away. i mean, i hate the restrictions that people put on music. it seems like they desperately need it to be safe. i can't believe that this is as far as they've got. they've never gotten past the heartbeat, most of them.
that's what i was trying to do - take that group pást the heartbeat. that's why i got musicians who had never played before. to get them past the heartbeat, past the 'i' consciousness, you know? that endless 'me, me, me'. or do-re-mi, whatever that stuff is.
i'll tell you this: most classical music is played in clássical situations.
you mean you are not really hearing someone like bach until you're recreating what it was to be him?
right. and bach was a wíld man, you know. at least, they say he was a wild man; i think he was just a man. i think he was really emotional and i'm not so sure that his music's ever been played.
have you heard gustav leonhardt play bach?
yes, i heard him in amsterdam (must have been around 8 april 1972 - t.t.). right after i had heard him, i went to the art gallery and saw the paintings of van gogh - and, do you know, i completely forgot about that music. he was really some painter, van gogh. what do you think of his stuff?
(struggling, on the spot:) angry. they seem to be the expression of an aesthetic misfit.
you think he was angry because with society for rejecting him? i don't think he was angry with them. i don't think he ever saw them. that stuff they say about him cutting his ear off - i don't think he did that. at least he could have done it, but it would have been an accident and it got blown up into something else.
i don't think he was angry. but i think he was misunderstood. i think they did to him what they're trying to do to me. i mean, i'm not like they say i am. some funny people like to...: put me up, you know?
but have you read van gogh's philosophy, man? his letters? no? shoo! they go right ínto the pictures, man, it's unbelievable. my wife, jan, read them to me. i had never read a book in my life till real recently. the first book i read was called 'sting like a bee'.
about mohammed ali (later name of famous boxer cassius clay - t.t.)?
that's right. and if i'm an artist, hé's an artist. but then again i'm not considered an artist - well, i am in some places. but artists are considered - in this day and age - to be really, really slight of bones.
well, i was a sculptor for a long time and i'll tell you: you've got to be really hard to be an artist. robust. and i'm not confining this to physical things only. i've found this to be true in all friends of art. it's true in music.
when i say the people in this band are strong, they're strong in every respect. mohammed ali is strong, too, but not in the sense that he needs physical strength for fighting, because an artist knows no competition. he fights nobody and he likes everybody until such time as they become..., you know: bad nutrition. until it becomes a choice for survival.
and that's the other important thing an artist should have: a keen awareness of survival. he develops certain faculties for the protection of his survival. semantic faculties - my music has a lot to do with semantics - and the other kind of expression. facial expression. i don't know if you have noticed it but my face seldom does anything. (suddenly he pulls his face through a quickfire sequence of expressions - surprise, conciliation, concern, mockery - before allowing it to relax into its former immobility.) i stopped doing that kind of stuff years ago. i don't need to do it now.
how do you rate the band these days?
they're good. i mean réally good. i asked roland kirk and ornette coleman to come and see the band while we were in new york two years ago and they were astounded. ornette calls rockette morton (bass player mark boston - t.t.) 'superman' - did you know that? sure they're good and i think this will be a really good tour. i hope it is. i think it will be.
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