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THE DUTCH INTERVIEWS
translated interviews


 

DON VAN VLIET
beefheart special

from COPYRIGHT art-magazine #5 spring 1991
DENMARK quarterly art magazine
by lars movin
is 30.01.91 denmark telephone interview

note: beside the danish text the writer published the original english version (with some wrong dates corrected by me - teejo):

part 1 - THIS is PART 2 - part 3

*

whereabout in california is this desert you are living in?

it's not a desert. somebody told you that i was living in a desert, but now i am by the ocean. i'm happier here.

do you live close to the hot streams in the ocean?

no, it's cold enough to make you retrieve your toes! the surfers, god bless them, they get eaten up by white sharks. yet they still go!

not the ones that have been eaten!

wel, he, he, he, they may be soul-surfin' out there, hu, hu, hu. they haven't been heard of...

have you seen any surfers being eaten?

no, i have missed that moment; which pleases me - but why do they do that? i mean, they wear suits that look just like, on a surfboard from under the water, look just like a seal - so it's no wonder: the natural prey of the white shark is the seal... even a few walruses thrown in.

why is it that you like isolated places? is it the isolation itself, or is it because you want to get away from people?

i find isolation better because of the fact that i can paint.

you could't paint if you were near people?

i'd rather not... he, he, he... new york, for instance, it's so lud. have you been there?

yes.

isn't it lud?

yes, very. you used to play some music that was pretty loud yourself.

yeah, but as long as i composed it, i created a space that was pretty silent. rather selfish... he, he, he... i did music exactly the way i wanted it.

today you seem to have even bigger success as a painter than you had as a musician - does that surprise you?

mmm... no, not really, because i had planned on doing that. i had been doing some paintings on album covers, so i thought that it would end up that way.

can you tell me how you got into the art world, how you got in contact with these big galleries, and who's taking care of your business?

michael werner is, fortunately, who i got in contact with. he came here with a (german - t.t.) painter named a.r. penck: he is a wonderful man, he is a great painter.

and he also wrote a text for one of your catalogues?

yes, he is a great writer too, hu, hu, hu, he is a great painter, a good writer, and he danced here new year's eve two years ago. he danced all night, hehehe, he can even dance...!

he is just good at everything...

he seems to be. he is a good drummer too.

so how about you two making some music together - do you want to do that?

mmm... not really, i want to paint... he, he, he... i made music for so long that it's time for me to paint.

i remember seven or eight years ago i saw an interview with you right after your last album 'ice cream for crow', and you seemed very optimistic about music, and you were telling that you had so many new songs, and that you wanted to keep on doing music - but, then, what happened?

well, i decided to paint. it was my choice, and i took it. do you like music?

yeah, i like music a lot, i like your music...

thank you, i'm flattered...

your music has meant a lot to me.

that's good. what about 'trout mask replica'?...

i love that one...

that's a good one.

that's one of your favourites, isn't it?

i think i like 'lick my decals off, baby' actually the most.

yeah, that's great, too...

you've heard it?

of course - i've got all your records.

you d! god have mercy - you sound like you know all about it!

(...)

what that music is going at, is complete absence.

that's the way you see it?

that's the way i did it. you can't think about that music. that music is moving so fast that if you think about it, it's like watching a train go by and counting the cars. it's better to hear it without the mind so active, because the mind is active naturally, and if you don't try to think about it, you get a lot more fish, hu, hu, hu...

yeah... is that what you are singing about on the 'shiny beast' album: 'be the monster tonight..., is that about not thinking too much?

yeah, i think a lot of people have had too much to think, and they should send their mother home - it's from 'flash gordon's ape' (from 'lick my decals off, baby' - teejo), that's a funny song! they are all hilarious. what about [sadam] hussein..., how could he do that: spill all that oil? is worse than the one they had in alaska. what a dis-gus-ting individual... how near are you to all that?

well, fortunately i'm quite far away... i'm at the other end of --

me too. i'm happy with that. but it sure makes me feel bad to see all these animals, that had nothing to do with that...: mn... he, he, he...

it is, like, teevee is your main communication with the world?

h, h, h, you got it! that's true. i also listen to the radio.

when you are painting, are you then thinking about an audience, are you thinking about communication?

when i'm doing a bad painting, i've been thinking too much. then i paint over it and get a clear spot, then i paint again.

do you think that paintings do really affect peoples lives, or do you think that most people just consider them some kind of unique expressions of a savage soul?

he, he, he... he, he , he...

do you think so...?

he, he, he... you know, i don't have any idea, he, he, he... what about the fact that some people think they have an idea?

i think that most people would like to think that they've got an idea...

well, i'm sure that my mind thinks that i have an idea, but sometimes i fool it, and get my best stuff!

do you like hats?

i lve hats.

how come?

hu, hu, hu... that's a good question... probably some absurd idea of theatrics. i like the shape of a fedora. if you have ever seen a photo of me i was probably wearing a fedora. they are good. they are good for hearing too. i mean, i can hear through the hat, i can hear every instrument. that helps.

don't you miss doing music?

hmmm... i think i did about what i wanted to do.

is that a nice feeling?

yeah. i really didn't do music for money, so i surely didn't get disappointed. there isn't that much money for what yu like. i was doing selfish music.

along the way you seemed to have a lot of trouble with record companies...

oh, they are awful. i recommend anybody who is gonna embark upon a musical career to get a damned good lawyer, that doesn't bite, he, he, he.

when you had your first album out, 'safe as milk', can you remember what kind of reactions you got?

yeah, hu, hu, hu... they were quite unusual. i'm saying: 'singing you to me / thunder bubs coffee easily [i would suggest: 'thunderbolts caught easily' - teejo] / shouts the truth peacefully / electricity'..., and i was shocked by the fact that they didn't think that it was the right thing to say.

yes, you went to a&m [with demos of that record], and they didn't like it...

they turned me right down.

it was too negative, right?

yes, can you believe that! i am saying: 'go into bite [hide] / find the light / and know that friends don't mind / just how you grow' - and they think that it's negative.... what on earth is psitive? they are cute.

do you like any of today's music, like the dance music?

you mean that rap music, is that what they call it? not at all. it's too basic. i think it's too redundant.

you have said something about the beat of rock music being fascistic...

it is. i think - over and over and over, pounding the same spot - that's dangerous. i tried to avoid that. now. i'm happier painting although i think it is extremely difficult.

what is the most difficult part of it?

hmmm. let's see... hmmm... all of it..., it's all hard.

as a painter, do you have any inspirations... what are you trying to do as a painter?

i'm trying to turn myself inside out on the canvas. i'm trying to completely bare what i think at that moment, yet i put a lot of thought into what i'm doing... it sounds like a contradiction, but ... --

well, er, to get back to the music: an album like 'trout mask replica' is considered to be one of the most important influences on some kinds of rock music. today, can you understand why it was so important?

because the fact that it is breaking up the, erm, mind, in many different directions, causing them not to able to fixate - this is what i was trying to do.

is it true that you made most of that music in eight or nine hours?

eight and a half.

that's true?

yeah. on a piano. boy, all the strings were popped!

and it took the musicians almost a year to get the music together...

it took six months, which is, i think, pretty quick for the different kind of music - they had never heard any music like that before.

it was produced by frank zappa. how important was he to that album?

not very, he, he, he...!

(*)

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