DON'T ARGUE THE CAPTAIN
THE RETURN OF... THE ZIGZAG WANDERER
from ZIG ZAG #80
by kris needs
is 22.11.77 interview
extracts reprinted as (main content of) close encounters with the captain in england 010209 record collector #359
pictures by erica echenberg
THIS is PART 1 - part 2
háááárrrm!!! captain beefheart's amazing throat lets out a ferociously powerful blues-roar, which in the 'relaxed atmosphere' of the montcalm hotel bar has a resounding effect on the surrounding clientèle. be-suited businessmen glance frowning out of their hushed conversations, fur-coated blue rinsed biddies tut at their neighbours and elderly gents choke in their drinks. look at that little bit of freedom, chuckles the captain.
beefheart's suddenly unleashed noise was one way of releasing the pent-up happiness and joy he is revelling in since his new magic band played a storming gig in front of several thousand ecstatic froggies in paris a couple of days before. he just can't stop enthusing about the band, can't sleep because he's so excited, and wanted to communicate his pleasure with zigzag magazine on a one-day stop in this country before flying back to the states for more gigs.
don van vliet has been one of my heroes since i first heard john peel play 'electricity' over ten years ago (before it was trendy to have no heroes). and he was the very first zigzag hero too - the song 'zigzag wanderer' from 'safe as milk' gave the magazine its name. see, beefheart is tailor-made for hero / cult or legend status because he isn't like the normal bloke on the street, isn't like anybody. he is unique, carving a name for himself by being totally uncompromising (except for one bleak period of his career) and original. he is called eccentric, a genius and both, whatever, he's got an amazing gift to make the bizarre work and sound compulsive rather than boring or self-indulgent. he's also got that amazing voice, four and a half octaves of raw throat-power which can literally tackle anything.
he is just the sort of bloke music needs to inject humour, creativity and unpredictability into its everyday routine. and like other innovators beefheart has been badly ripped-off, taken advantage of and deprived of his rightful acclaim outside the restricting cult status over the years. i know it has been said before, but this time the ingredients seem ok: the right band, right management and hopefully the right record company - and don van vliet on top form and as excited as he has ever been.
i went along to the hotel with erica echenberg - who was gonna take some pictures - with the intention of interviewing don. it was the first time i'd had the chance and was pretty excited because there were lots i wanted to ask. of course i should have known better because doing a straight interview with don is about as easy as a non-swimmer doing cape horn in a rubber ring - and much less fun than beefheart's own course, which is basically answering a question but letting whatever comes through to him at the time come out: observations, jokes, stories - and he likes showing you his possessions, like his new gloves or drawing books. anyway we all got on great and i came away with five pieces of autographed beefheart paraphernalia (how uncool!).
first person we encountered at the hotel was beefheart's new manager harry duncan, who also plays harp and sings 'the blimp' with the new band. he went up to fetch the captain. minutes later the lift bell went, doors opened and out stepped this familiar-looking figure clad in casual work clothes and boasting a bushy walrus moustache. he shuffled over and suggested we go and sit in the tea lounge. we sit down and immediately captain beefheart is away...:
they are releasing 'strictly personal' and 'safe as milk' again. i have never received a penny from any of my albums. never.... free music! just touring makes me money.
don adds that a record deal is being fixed up at the moment after he left virgin records in not-so-friendly circumstances. he's got a long history of record company hassles, which have either been reflected in the way his records eventually emerge after meddling by other people or just shitty deals. more later.
erica asks if she can photograph don while he talks....
oh, i should have told you i'm just a piece of meat. i run six miles a night. have done for a long time. have to, in order to keep gravity away. got to. it has been difficult to find a running place here, but i have a trampoline kind of thing which you can jog on, but it's a lot better for you because it doesn't jerk your brain or your back. it is dangerous to run on the ground or cement.
don produces a book written by a friend of his - a dr. langer wenner (should read: langdon winner - t.t.):
my biographer, he dedicated a lot of it to me. he is a political scientist and we are trying to do something to stop this automation: so dangerous.
what have you done?
project jonah ['save the whales' - t.t.]. one time i came over here and talked about whales. ever since i was born i have been talking about stopping killing of animals. first me alone, you know - 'get back, get back' - now they have done it to almost every animal. not very many animals left.
don wanted me to print the title of the book, i wrote it down - but have lost the bit of paper. i'll try and find it! he brings out a pair of knitted gloves made for him by a woman in newfoundland and proudly passes them around. all the fingers are the same length! i asked don what he had been doing since his last visit over two years ago.
well, i have a new band that's fantastic. the best band i have ever had. the nicest people i have ever met. i am real happy now, i mean réal happy. i played paris and the people were dancing and everything to this far out music. it's amazing: people dancing to avant-garde music, or whatever they call it now.
who are in the band?
there is jeff moris tepper on guitar, regular guitar, and sometimes bass, denny walley on slide guitar and regular guitar, sometimes accordion and sometimes bass. eric 'black jewel kittaboo' feldman is on keyboard and synthesizer, and then there's robert 'wait for me' williams on percussion. he is fantastic. have you ever seen ed marimba aka art tripp?
yeah, at the albert hall in london in '72.
you saw that? well, this guy is 21 and he sure doesn't lose. he'll win but he'll lose - there is no win or lose, but he won. i tell you, to me this guy is the freest percussionist i have ever met. he used to watch artie, he was an appreciator of the music that we had been doing. he saw artie and obviously enjoyed the fact that artie was ambidextrous, but hé is ambidextrous too. i mean: he is very, very, very good.
what sort of music are you doing?
uh, i expect you have probably heard that album that has been floating around on tape - you know: bat chain puller? (no, i haven't!) oh, we'll play it for you, you are the first person who hasn't heard it. somehow virgin - a name i don't like at all because it's against womankind, it's such a pretentious name --
i don't agree with that, says erica.
you don't?, replies the captain, growing visibly rankled at the mention of his former record company, well, i'll tell you what. they took my baby, my tape that we sent them to hear, they took my baby and spread it all over - it is strewn halfway between here and probably tibet. there's no way they should be doing what they're doing.
have you said anything about it?
just now i don't care to see them. i'll see them in court.
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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo