DON'T ARGUE THE CAPTAIN
THE CAPTAIN INVITES YOU TO DANCE
from MELODY MAKER
by steve bradshaw
is early 02.72 usa interview
note: notes have been corrected
the spotlight kid is coming to booglarize you. yesterday, friday, don van vliet - alias captain beefheart - opened his long-awaited british tour at bristol's colston hall. veteran of six albums and numerous magic bands, the cap (vocals, reeds and harp) will be accompanied by zoot horn rollo and winged eel fingerling (guitars), rockette morton (guitar and bass), oréjon (bass) and ed marimba (percussion). in new york recently, he talked to steve bradshaw.
when you visit england, will you bring the band that's on the record?
yeah, and the unusual thing about the band at the moment is that we're using to lead guitarists. and that's véry unusual. what we want to do is avoid all that useless paranoia that would ordinarily happen because they'd be bitter enemies, jealous as hell, behave like a couple of snakes. but in this band, man, they just sóund like a couple of snakes. the idea of having two is to make them more conspicuous within the band - i mean we consider a guitarist should be someone who could serenade an angel....
you like playing england? you remember all those great early dates at the middle earth in '66 and '67?[you mean: january and may 1968, isn't it? - t.t.]
sure, the middle earth - jesus, i'll never forget that! i think we played there four times on different tours.... i really regret the passing of all that scene. there were some very colourful characters there, and the crowd was incredible. i felt like i was one of the crowd while i was playing. now they just sit back and say: 'entertain me!'. that happens on both sides of the atlantic, but you would get it worst maybe at the 'speakeasy'. once i played there, i played ten minutes of complete silence and no one complained. can you imagine that! the band was going along, and i was out front and just moving my fingers - there was no sound coming from what i was supposedly playing at all. nothing. and they didn't care, they didn't complain.... no-one even asked me why i did it!
well.., through the days and years, people change constantly - but the scales of the frozen elements over their eyes defeat that. people's eyes get hardened at that age, way back. they should turn over and look again, but they don't realise what's happened to them. it's ridiculous! there's a new car that has headlights that help you go round corners - most cars can't do that. it's the same with people and music. most people are driving cars with headlights frozen straight ahead of them. there's no way they can see round the corners. everyone is frozen in their attitudes..., i mean, everyone is too ultra-cool and ultra-hip. i mean i really loved them to dance. now they don't, most places. they're neglecting the body and cultivating the head. the human head has gotten to be the largest living land animal! the largest mammal: it's not the elephant, it's the absent human mind - and that's so vulgar man!
in england as well as in america?
yeah, same thing, england became india, then it became america. but it was only in england i ever could really play like i wanted to. in the states they didn't want me to. it had a lot to do with zappa, who wanted to keep me back until he could put a firm label on me. i really could go on about that for a long time. a lot of those titles - 'hot rats', 'lumpy gravy' - were mine: the ones he used himself!
so you feel you have been ripped off?
no, ultimately, it's zappa that's been ripped off, by all that.
are you doing much writing now?
yeah, as much as ever. i could fill the middle earth five times over with everything i've written in the past five years.... i just wrote an album on the road from boston to yale, it's a really headlining album. it's going to be called 'brown star'. our best yet.
i'd like to get back to what you were saying about the way the scene has dried up: do you consider that all that is inevitable, that it was in the whole thing to begin with, that it would go that way?
yeah, it's the whole history of the whole continent. people could always accept the bird that's on the land, but the bird that's on the land and free to be in the sky continually too: that's another matter i mean, the indian is the example of that - the first one maybe. he was free on the land, and in the sky too. he was too far out for those souls who had to cross the water and carve their initials in the sand. and on skin. and then man, they even tried to carve their initials in blood - and you can't do that, i mean: it..., uh..., it returns to its source..., er..., you know the word i mean?
you mean it's too flexible if you get that far into it....
yeah, yeah. if you get that far into that process of exploiting people, what you've done doesn't reflect any credit on you in anyone's eyes: because it has no permanency.
and that is the same pattern that has made the movement so ultra-hip....
yeah. i was telling my road manager last night that... - hey, what was it, bob? - wait a minute, man; i can't remember it now.... bob'll remember what it was i was saying, i said..., oh yeah, that's it...: listen, you must have happy times right now or you'll retreat into the security of fear. that old inner fear. and if that happens, you have to soup things up. if that happens with art or music, then you have to start doing the whole commercial bit with it. like warhol: souping it all. all those soup cans? did he get advertising fees for all that? it really was commercialism, all that stuff he was doing, it was exactly what it managed to ignore. and because of all that stuff that happened with warhol, a whole lot of good art got by-passed. a whole lot of good artists got ignored.
you want people just to enjoy themselves again, to get up and dance?
i made a guest appearance at the spectrum (in philadelphia, usa in early february - t.t.) last night, doing this 'blacksnake' blues thing, with a kind of field holler going. there were these young girls there, who hadn't stiffened their shoulders, none of this re-stepping into those hard-shoulder yokes and brassieres yet. that's what i want it to be all about. give my love to john peel and derek taylor - you've seen him lately? no, the audiences: i'll soften them up, man.
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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo