captain beefheart electricity

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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

part 1 - THIS is PART 2

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that's the hardest part of this kind of gig. considering the vast number of people; you just try to hit as many of them as you can. i feel that people have kind of lost touch with the spoken word unless it's got something in back of it. some kind of musical thing to give it credibility. that it doesn't mean as much as the same word that someone would sing.

yeah, i know what you mean. play more field hollers.

hmmm... that's a fine idea.

well, i'll make an album of poetry and send it to you. a spoken album.

i think that would be very good.

i'm going to do that soon. i'd like to do that. i think i should do that.

would you do it just spoken word or would you put some background in it?

i think i would just speak it, and let the people put their own images on it. their own images and mood. temperatures and climates or whatever.

i'm starting to lose my focus on conversation right now. let me play robert pete williams.

that would be nice, yeah.

this is a song called 'rolling stone' which is at least partly traditional and partly robert pete's own tune.

oh! i could say something right now. i did an album called 'safe as milk' and, for instance, i never got any money for doing it. i never got any royalties either from europe, across the pond, or in this area or any area in the united states. and waterman, the fellow that takes care of robert pete williams - uh, i did 'grown so ugly' by him on 'safe as milk' - he came up when i was playing a date with fred mcdowell, and asked me why i wouldn't give the money that was owed to robert pete williams for the song i recorded. i told him that it was because buddah didn't give me my money, you see?

is there any chance of speaking to buddah and getting an accounting?

well, i mean: i have to. my lawyer's working on it.

that record must be...-

six, seven years old.

well, it finally got issued in 1967, i think. [you're right, michael - t.t.]

'66. early '66. [he's wrong, but i don't dare to argue him - t.t.]

that was their - buddah's - very first record, wasn't it?

i think it was. and their last too, as far as i'm concerned.

i would assume that they never have accounted for 'mirror man', either.

oh, of course not. and i went even so far as to give them some original poems for the back of the album when they released it. they told me that if i gave them the poems they would let me mix 'mirror man'. also, they told me they would let me remix 'safe as milk'. they didn't do either of those things. so as far as i'm concerned, they're in trouble.

let's play robert pete williams' 'rolling stone'...

primal blues now hits the airwaves, and these in turn are followed by the captain's own 'blabber 'n' smoke' from 'the spotlight kid', and then 'i'm glad' from 'safe as milk'. this is another aspect of beefheart's music: the blues. one time, a man who bragged that no white man could éver sing the blues came to my house, and without him knowing, i played him 'i feel like i said' [as the real title is - t.t.] from 'strictly personal'. the aficionado in question was stunned, and besieged me as to who it was he heard. i told him that it was a rare arhoolie reissue of blues 78's and the artist in question was named deaf michael earwax and his zoot soot slickers.

for the next week he went on a blind tear trying to find the record, and naturally couldn't. finally he asked me if i would sell him my copy of the record, and i told him i would - for $2. he was over that night, $2 in his hands and the look of eternal friendship on his face. imagine the shock at me giving him a still sealed copy of the record i picked up that day from the cut-out bins.

but that's the point. beefheart's vocals style owes tremendously to names like robert pete williams and sunnyland slim (his personal favorite). it's the sound of emotions unhindered, and that's one thing you can't deny of captain beefheart's own four octave range.

now as for 'i'm glad'...: that's somewhat different from anything that's been on any other album, isn't it?

yeah, that and something off that same album: 'autumn's child'.

i'm just looking at the little sounds that come through. it happens now and then.

what's that?

they're playing something in the next room over and it comes through the glass.

like cognac - it comes through the glass.

oh yes. someone was asking why there was no sax on the new album. why were you just playing harmonica?

no sex?

no, no sex. saxophone.

sex. i just felt harmonica. i play it on stage. i'll take it up on the next album. we do a thing, ed marimba and i, called 'spitball scalped a baby', which is just drums and saxophone, soprano.

you play harmonica too, live?

oh yeah. i don't rehearse the saxophone, you see? nor do i rehearse my voice, or the harmonica or anything. sometimes i don't feel the saxophone, sometimes i feel harmonica. it's the first time i've felt harmonica since 'gimme dat harp boy' on 'strictly personal'. it was this album. i'm digging it now.

i would think without rehearsal, it would come across a whole bunch more natural. more free anyway.

uh..., yeah. well, this group that i'm in... - rockette morton and zoot horn rollo, they rehearse an awful lot. i think they rehearse about eight hours a day now - but they used to rehearse 14, 15, 16 hours a day. but they come through very free and natural. so i don't know if that has that much to do with it. i just think it's up to the individual. ed marimba, he doesn't rehearse at all.

so there's no answer which is the best answer?

i don't know. i don't know if there's an answer or even a question to that thing.

however it works best is how it works... this is the first time you've done live gigs in a long while, this tour. is this the start of it?

uh...: no.

so you're spending a week in philadelphia.

and i'm enjoying it. i enjoyed what we were doing today.

what? the luncheon? that was fun.

sure was, man.

i'm hardly ever up that early.

well, i hardly ever get to meet disc jockeys and writers and painters and that many people at the same time. i even got to meet a woman disc jockey today.

well, they walk on two feet too.

sure they do. you know what i think? i think that women are becoming disc jockeys and getting into things like that because of all these erect male buildings. there's got to be something underground, you know what i mean? like regressive.

foundation, partly.

uh-hmmm... well, it's about time they start doing things underground now. and i'm not talking about underground media. i'm talking about buildings underground to counteract the erect society that we have now. it's about time women were noticed. maybe that's the answer right there.

well, it's kind of like roots too, isn't it?

true, but people don't need roots. only plants need roots. should i recite my poem about that?

sure.

one nest rolls after another / until there are no longer any birds / one tongue lashes another / until there are no longer any words / i love fails / no birds [also the text of one of the poems on the back cover of 'mirror man' - that is: before the printing error - t.t.]. you see, the thing is that there's all these houses, all these buildings, all these upright males - it's just ridiculous, you know? all so hard and rigid.

well, do you think that's also: where you have all these buildings in this environment, people are just naturally much closer together than they would naturally be?

well, i think people flock.

the question that i was trying to get at is: do people still have enough room to feel comfortable?

i would think they would feel a lot more comfortable if there were things underground. then we would get over that fear of mother earth. the death thing. then they could come out and look for a long way, and see the whole curvature, as opposed to having it all right there in their face. then they could also see the trees.

i hadn't thought of that, equating underground with burial.

i think that's probably why, don't you? the erect phallus symbol... i usually don't talk this much. i'm usually out in a corner or out somewhere.

do you spend a lot of time with drawing and writing?

withdrawing? or with drawings? (chuckles.)

doing drawings.

every day. when i'm up in eureka [california - t.t.], where i live, i draw at least every day. i have to. i would like to paint right now. it's getting weird on the road, not painting. i've been drawing. i've done about four hundred paintings on the road.

then paintings must be some kind of way of keeping you normal.

it's keeping your blood thin.

let's play this muddy waters record: 'just to be with you'.

ah! that's a beautiful thing. i think it's a very beautiful painting because he calls his mother-in-law 'honey' and he crawls home on his hands and he fights a shark with a toothpick. all of those deeds that he does just to be with the girl....

words are like paintings, aren't they?

oh, of course!

do the sounds of words carry a whole lot by themselves for you? just the way they sound?

sure. there's nothing like the unrestricted human scream. the human voice...

after muddy waters, the tape fades off to 'the smithsonian institute blues (or the big dig)' by the captain.

*

we've heard little from either captain beefheart or don van vliet and his lovely, long suffering wife jan from their california desert outpost for a couple of years, but after a visit with him in memory, i think it may be time to draw him out and update our friendship.

one last memory: when the 1971 captain beefheart - ry cooder caravan played the main point in bryn mawr, at the end of the beefheart set, the crowd kept screaming for more. the captain came back out alone and he gave them more. actually, he whistled 'more' (tune of a tv program - t.t.) into the microphone for the encore and then left the stage.

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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo

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