DON'T ARGUE THE CAPTAIN
EXTRA TERRESTRIAL MAN
from NEW MUSICAL
EXPRESS 180982 england
by kristine mckenna
is 07-080882 usa interview
* complete intro and some parts of the interview later used in 011282 usa musician sonic sculpture in the mojave
* pictures by kate simon
THIS is PART 1 - part 2
beginning with his 1967 debut elpee 'safe as milk', and continuing through ten subsequent albums, captain beefheart has been sprucing up the world with astonishingly original music. his unique style marries rural folk tales, free association, punning and ecological propagandising to a spectrum of sound that stretches from charles ives, jazz, blues and stravinsky to the natural sounds of the mojave desert, where he's lived in a mobile home for the past seven years.
careening from a wistful, dark vision of american life evocative of randy newman, into some atonal, primordial mind-frame, beefheart makes jolting leaps in rhythm and mood. disjointed and vulgar, lyrically poetic, ominous and euphoric all at once, his music jumps out at you and hollers boo, then whispers something sweet and funny in your ear.
a freewheeling and wild soprano saxist, beefheart has a five-octave vocal range that allows him to slip into diverse characterizations as he ruminates on his pet themes: the wonderfulness of women, ecology, man's stunning stupidity and spiritual sloth, and the splendour of every damn thing in the galaxy from haley's comet to a rusty nail.
often dismissed as a charming eccentric, mistakenly described as a modern delta blues man (due to his gruff, growly voice), beefheart has never fared too well in the marketplace. a major shifting of perceptual gears is required to even héar his music, much less figure out how to market it, and his last album, the brilliant 'doc at the radar station' died on the vine, a fate suffered by many of its predecessors.
though still with virgin records in the united kingdom, beefheart recently signed in america with epic records (his eight label), which will distribute his new album 'ice cream for crow'. although he feels it's one of the best albums he has made, he remains sceptical about its commercial potential.
having decided to retire from touring, beefheart intends to promote his new album with a video, so on august 7 he and the magic band gathered in the desert, performed the elpee's title track and had daniel perle, the cinematographer who shot 'texas chainsaw massacre' film it. plunked in the middle of the mojave, with nothing but joshua trees and sand as far as the eye could see, they filmed from sundown to sunup, and i spoke with beefheart during the interminable waiting periods that are part of filmmaking.
beefheart makes unexpected conversational segues that parallel his music, and conversing with him can be like struggling with a jigsaw puzzle. he's a funny man with a remarkable memory who's had to wage a fierce battle to preserve and protect his music, and he's rightfully. defiantly proud of the work he has done.
a child in many ways, he's apt to find the task of ordering his lunch befuddling, yet he's incredibly wise when it comes to the big issues.
many of the themes and much of the imagery in your music is distinctly american. how do you feel about this country?
i really don't give a damn. i'm from this place but i think it's ghastly - although i'd rather be here than anywhere else due to the fact that they don't even know i'm here.
are artists allowed to get away with more in america?
i think so, although i don't find that many artists trying to get away with anything.
what's the most significant change you've observed in america over the course of your life?
they've begun to try and pass it off as the name of something, almost like an adjective or generic brand. but it was more america when i was a child than it is now. if you don't use a thing the way it's meant to be used it deflates. and there's no restraint. they're gonna ruin this planet if they get a chance.
from left to right:
JEFF MOR(R)IS TEPPER white jew
RICHARD SNYDER midnight hatsize
DON VAN VLIET captain beefheart
CLIFF R. MARTINEZ
did you grow up in a liberal environment?
i must have because i wouldn't be here if i hadn't. they'd have probably shot me.
was there music in the house that you grew up in?
my aunt used to play a lot of the current stuff like glenn miller. i thought it was wonderful then and i still like that music. he's almost sculpting that stuff. i'm wilder and like to tear up more than that, but for the instrumentation he used i think he really did it. amazing. my aunt also played a lot of al jolson. i heard that stuff in my bassinet as i lay there being rocked back and forth.
what was the first record you bought?
a record for teaching a parakeet to talk. you know: 'say hello, tweetie'. i thought it was pretty hip. i got it when i was about five. years later i took it to a party with a bunch of cholos, you know, heavy mexicans, bad cats, women in angora sweaters, the bunny shoes and stacked hair. i took that record and slipped it into the stack of 45s - and they just couldn't take it!
what were you doing at a party like that?
did you like the women's style of dress?
i thought it was humorous. an over-emphasis on being a goldfish, the way their skirts were pegged.
you've commented on numerous occasions that you believe women to be the superior sex. in what way are they superior?
they're able to tolerate more - and it's a drag that they have to. the way women have been treated all along is an effrontery to my eyes. women see more irony than men do - i mean, there's certainly irony in the fact that they'll get a big circle which gets bigger and bigger and then they have an infant! sex leaves a human in them like a suppository! amazing, just amazing.
have you ever considered using a female musician in one of your bands?
i wanted to have ruth underwood [connected with 'the mothers of invention' - t.t.] and was going to use her on this album until cliff martinez came along. she's probably the best percussionist i've ever heard. she was in one band that was just atrocious though. she was just used as a kind of hood ornament - and you know who i'm referring to: that guy who looks like a fly's leg... - zappa! he's not even as hip as a fool.
have there been pivotal episodes in your life that shaped you as an artist?
i don't think so. it was more a case of: 'hey you! it's time to get up and write this down! now, paint that! now sculpt this! get this down!' why?! what the hell! why do i have to do this?
what step in the music-making process do you most enjoy?
probably giving it to somebody else and hearing it back, getting as close to the initial flash as possible. if the initial flash burns out to the edges and it gets up close - wow! i do enjoy the collaborative part but i don't enjoy collaborating with an audience. i'm there doing what i do and it has nothing to do with an audience. i'm not enough of an exhibitionist or voyeur to enjoy audiences and they're mostly just a distraction. that sounds horrible, doesn't it? i sound like a real jerk, but maybe artists áre jerks: selfish and inconsiderate.
how has living in the harsh, aggressive desert environment affected your work?
i haven't paid any attention to it and have nothing to do with it. i guess i'm just buried in what i do, whatever that is. i've been out here in the mojave in a damn trailer for seven years! the only way to stay cool here is to use this thing called a swamp cooler, which is like an air conditioner that sprays out water. moisture! i need it!
your music suggests that you feel an unusually strong bond with nature. why do you think that is?
i suppose it's because i know that i'm an animal - and i don't have to work to remember that. i don't think there's any way i could possibly forget it.
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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo