DON'T ARGUE THE CAPTAIN
CAPTAIN BEEFHEART part 2
'the michael tearson interview'
from TERMINAL! #19 010685 usa
by michael tearson
is early 02.72 radio interview
note: with addition of text from the missing first part, from the book captain beefheart. the man and his music by colin webb
THIS is PART 1 - part 2
what we have here is the second half of a radio interview i did with captain beefheart, aka don van vliet, over several hours of my radio show on wmmr radio in philadelphia one night in the early 70s (the exact date has been lost to posterity - so was the first half of the interview - but i believe it was 1972).
it can be terribly intimidating just to face the prospect of interviewing the captain, but i never felt it. we had met a couple of times before this, so i had had some personal experience at close range with how his mind works, and i felt a bit prepared for some dangerously elliptical thinking.
now i never found the captain to be frightening. he is really a pussycat who hides in big cat clothes. he knows well what a different kind of person he is than, say: the average musician, and he takes no small amount of delight in the arm's length of space his persona creates with most media types and music fans. that's how he gets room to dance about.
the last time i saw him was when he played the late 'emerald city' [two shows on 261180 - t.t.]. when i got to the club i found don in the club's office acting rather the prima donna. he was bitching about the monitors. he was always bitching about the monitors. i think that was how his stage freight manifested itself. when he saw me his face lit up and joy entered his eyes in seeing a friend. almost magically the staging problems vanished and the latter day the magic band put on a brilliant, exhausting show in which playfulness was the order of the night.
somehow this memory flashes me back to when i first met the man. it was a press conference / luncheon at pub tiki - a gaudy, imitation polynesian restaurant. it was a perfect setting to meet captain beefheart. you had to figure he would love the fakery of the place.
it was a long table and when he arrived don sat in the middle. i sat close by. rock journalists were no less fatuous than they are now and i can remember the captain answering questions with great non-answers. as i screwed up my courage, i started to pipe in some snappy repartee on his level of non-sequitor. at one point after a particularly sharp line which i can't remember, he turned to me and said: 'cut that out'. i still take that as a high compliment.
[text of the first part:]
let me ask you a question: were you making music before you were actively listening to it?
how do you mean? in sculpture? hmmm, yes, i think they are the same thing... a little quieter...
it's maybe a bit more tactile, feeling with fingers as opposed to ears?
oh, i used to do it by ear.
that old 'strictly personal' album, that caused a lot of heartache?
well, not, not really. i just didn't like the idea of a brontosaurus dumped on it, you know, all that sssshhhhheeeewwww.
yeah, the new album ['the spotlight kid' - t.t.] - what you've done since then is an awful lot cleaner sound.
yeah, a lot more clarity in the sound.
you can hear it better.
i like this album better than any of the others i've done really for feeling, although i like 'trout mask replica' and 'lick my decals off, baby'. i like them all, it's just that i think i'm getting more into - err - getting it together on clarity, you know. i have a hard time focussing my mind, i mean: all of a sudden it's studio day, and all of a sudden the sound gets cut into quarters and, you know, it's ridiculous.
do you, at this state, have any difficulty translating the parts that you write down into the way the magic band plays?
no, because we're getting so telepathic now that it's very easy.
do you feel it's getting near to the point where you won't have to write down the things so much?
it's getting there. it's really getting there now.
who are in the band, is it the same as it has been?
err, ed marimba [art tripp] went over onto percussion, and on drums - drumbo [john french] left - winged eel fingerling [elliot ingber] is with me on guitar now, zoot horn rollo [bill harkleroad] is on the other guitar.
the twin necked one?
no, zoot horn rollo is a tall cat, and you know he plays the steel appendage and all that stuff. and now rockette morton [mark boston] is the bass player - who you were talking about, who has the double necked instrument. we're playing good now, man. real good feeling. music is not that important now. you see, the feeling is coming out - which is what i've been striving for: the feeling. as opposed to the music.
you really live way out in the country, do you have any problems coming into the city?
well, the rabbits up there like i said go two miles an hour. the whales are out cleaning their barnacles off, i can look right out of my window.
i've never seen a whale.
oh man, they're brilliant. very intelligent.
you've seen a flying saucer. i have heard a little about that.
it wasn't me ducking for some dish either, it was actually there.
well, what did it look like?
well, there's really no way to describe it. it was, err, just energy. but i saw four of them... i wasn't using any narcotics or anything like that either. or drinking.
were there any living creatures that came out?
well, i don't really know because after that i had really trouble getting my automobile started. i really didn't think about this after that for about - err - seemed like a couple of weeks.
so it was just as if the saucer absorbed the car's energy?
hmmm, it was very, very... - err - i think it was nice.
somebody asked about the lyrics to 'electricity' on 'safe as milk'. would you mind giving it to them again?
oh, it's - err: singing through you to me / thunderbolts caught easily / shouts the truth peacefully / midnight cowboys stain in black / read dark roads without a map / to free-seek electricity / electricity / go into bright / find the light / and know that friends don't mind / just how you grow / electricity / electricity / high voltage man kisses night / to bring the light to those / who need to hide their shadow deed / lighthouse speaking straight ahead / straight ahead across black seas / to bring seeking electricity / electricity... [as heard on the tape with interview fragments which exists - t.t.]
i love listening to your voice. it's got great tones...
hardly come across a voice that sounds like that in the east, must have been the desert.
the desert did it.
the desert did it.
yeah, the desert did it. well, the desert was didding it a long time before the...- ha ha!
well, that was when it was underneath the water anyhow.
well, man, you know being underneath the water all that time you know.
has to absorb something?
yeah. really, when an ocean is wounded it takes the whole world to heal. i think we'll have another desert someday. people have been wounding the ocean.
gouging the land.
it takes the ocean all day to wave.
that's pretty... do you read any?
no. i'm not very good at reading. i haven't ever read a book in my life, but my wife reads to me now and i find it real enjoyable.
what kind of things? science fiction stories?
well, no. no, no, the truth! like science fiction is true usually but the other night she read me something, well, i had known this for some time but i re-read it for instance, that the wolf is still sought after. and the crow, you know. the crow is brilliant, you know, a brilliant bird. it seems like - i don't know, but people ought to cut it, man. i mean, imagine that: a creature like the wolf which mates for life and all these wonderful cultural habits they have that people don't. but people won't watch them - they would watch them really rather than shooting them.
were there any wolves near where you were in the desert?
oh, they were gone by then, man. yeah, they ran them all out. they are only in canada and india, and russia probably - they have bounties on them in russia. but there has never been a record of a wolf attacking a human being.
but that sounds bizarre probably to most people.
never, never been a record, man. maybe they are too artistic for people. the largest living land mammal is the absent mind.
as what we have opens, we have just missed a serious discussion about an album columbia had put out on the cries of the wolf. beefheart has always considered wildlife in nature as the best musicians on the planet and i had gifted him with the wolf album, a humpback whale album, and one of african animals. each time we meet, he tells me how much he loves those recordings. i hear a lot of them in his later music:
i was just thinking that the wolf... - maybe the wolf is kind of like a land-bound dolphin.
yeah. well, that's a shame about the dolphin too.
the dolphin...: the people that swim.
beautiful things. i dig the design more than i dig the human design, don't you?
it's more streamlined. it's much more adaptable for its environment.
well, we'll play some ornette coleman...
an unidentified tune by ornette coleman comes on the air. always one of the captain's favorite artists, his methods of free improvisation revolutionized the jazz world in 1959. they also had affected the captain. compare the early works of beefheart up to the release of 'trout mask replica'. see especially the free blowing style of captain beefheart's sax and harmonica work heightened by the seemingly free-form orchestrations of the magic band. it's an illusion, both coleman and beefheart are well trained composers. and this comes all the more clear with what is played next: 'i love you, you big dummy' by beefheart from 'lick my decals off, baby'. this is in turn followed by 'werewolf' by the forgotten holy modal rounders.
that was the holy modal rounders and we got some things to take care of...
a commercial for live concerts featuring headliner redbone (!) with nils lofgren & grin and opening attraction the steve miller band, then another show with headliner t. rex (not mark bolan & ...), mahavishnu orchestra and jackie lomax. kind of brings things into some perspective, don't it?
we're talking with captain beefheart who is playing until friday night. do you want me to play another record?
(on the phone:) well, i'll tell them... i'll tell them about the record... well, thank you... take it easy... good night.
what was he asking you?
well, he wanted to..., uh, was there a station called d-a-s? used to be?
there still is, yeah.
well, he says that he wanted to hear more that's party night. he wanted to hear more like thirty minutes of the led zeppelin, thirty minutes of me and thirty minutes of another group, so that he could follow into the thing - to dance i guess. i know what he means. he doesn't have a stereo himself so he listens to this to..., uh, you see.
excuse us as we veer off on another-tangent radioland. these things happen. do you find things happening? that was one that disappeared before i could get it out.
i think everybody has to have their own opinion of what they want to hear. at least he called and said what he thought. which is something - you know what i mean? a lot of people just sit back and smolder.
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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo