captain beefheart electricity

THE DUTCH INTERVIEWS
translated interviews


 

DE VOORUITZIENDE BLIK VAN CAPTAIN BEEFHEART
de terugkeer van the spotlight kid

from OOR 19.11.80
HOLLAND fortnightly music magazine
by bert van de kamp
is 02-041180 interview

THE FORESIGHT OF CAPTAIN BEEFHEART
the return of the spotlight kid

THIS is PART 1 - part 2

*

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, SOUL SURVIVOR FROM THE MOJAVE DESERT, ENLIGHTENED THE LOWLANDS

you picked me out, brushed me off / crushed me while i was burning out/ then you picked me out / like an ashtray heart

since the 'new wave' has considered him as a big inspiration, he is allowed to join in again. don van vliet alias captain beefheart, one of the most brilliant artists in rock history. painter, sculptor, poet and composer - his many-sidedness is as striking as his originality. an unique case.

the at present 39 year old beefheart ('39 years of gravity') recently made a come-back on the dutch stages after an absence of five years, in which he mainly was troubled with problems in the business-financial field. at first nobody seemed to concern about him, but when he wanted to release a record again after a long time, two record companies dashed at each other about the rights to release it. warner against virgin - the latter won on account of an old contract which beefheart once had signed partly under the influence of much bad brandy. the beef-sound all at once seemed to be marketable again.

that also showed out at the four concerts he gave here, where a great deal of people showed up - particularly in amsterdam and rotterdam. with a new magic band ('the best batch yet'), which consists of eric drew feldman (guitar, bass and keyboards), jeff moris tepper (guitar), richard snyder (guitar) and robert williams (drums), he performed songs from almost every phase of his musical career. it was a happening of the first degree that will be talked about for a long time. three days we trod beefheart and his lads upon their heels.

some hours after the boat crossing from england to holland we meet him at his hotel in the heart of amsterdam. 'how are yu?', he informs, as if he knows us for years. his charm is disarming, the man has style. we ascertain, with the title of one of his songs [wrong, bert - t.t.], to deal with a hard working man, 'hard working fucking man'.

later it will turn out that van vliet almost constantly cites passages from his own works when the situation asks for it. he continuously makes word-jokes too. 'i'm just kidding', he says then, 'i'm teasing, i love to tease.' the man is creative 24 hours a day. besides the unceasing play with language, he also is nearly non-stop making drawings. everywhere he goes he wears his sketchbook under his arm. even on the stage. 'when i feel i'm getting bored, i look at my drawings', he explains. don van vliet, full-time artist.

'ROCK & ROLL IS AN INSULT TO WOMAN'

what does he think, to be in the spotlights again - so all of a sudden?

i suffer from photophobia. i really can't stand light. i like the dark better.

thereupon he makes clear he hopes that the increased interest for his works will finally enable him to carry a lot of things into effect which he plans for years: films, novels, poetry, paintings. matters which went by the board for a long time because the means failed. not only the money, but also the space.

for years van vliet and his wife jan live in a sort of caravan in the mojave desert, about an hour or three driving from los angeles. he'd like to have the space again to be able to make oil-paintings and sculptures. he owns about one-third of a hectare of coastal land in the north of california, where he hopes to built a house in which he also can place a piano, for example.

i finally found the right manager. ling lucas, a terrific woman. you should get to know her.

ling didn't come along, but her task is taken over by gary lucas who now and then reads van vliet's poetry during the performances and in the fine 'flavor bud living' proves he can hit it off nicely with a guitar too.

gary lucas: that house has gotta come there, it's a shame this man can't even work properly, isn't it?

gary, who has been writing for the american magazine 'crawdaddy', is a supporter of beefheart's works for long years. he tells me that he showed the author jerzy kosinski the lyrics of 'trout mask replica' on an university workshop a few years ago. kosinski never had heard of beefheart, studied the texts for a while and then testified: 'this man is a very sophisticated lyrist'.

thanks to all those new-wave groups you are entirely back in fashion, we pose, whereupon the captain bursts out in a roaring laugh. then serious:

that 'new wave' is an old pony, i think.

next he denies that the track 'ashtray heart' ('case of the punks') deals with the fact that so many of those bands abundantly avail themselves of material beefheart hands them.

it is just a poem. it doesn't have anything to do with them. i don't even notice them. somebody had too much to think. i don't take thought about that sort of things. i just do what i do, but indeed there is an aim: there are various meanings, making the night more interesting.

there is a number of matters that are difficult to talk about with van vliet - where you can only get to know something about by choosing detours, like the substance of his works, but also all kinds of matters which relate to the past. he is not interested in the past and like in much other cases, here he has an aphorism at hand too:

you don't have to go through the bull-shit to see what the bull ate.

captain beefheart / don van vliet - at home, mojave desert, usa october 1980 - picture by anton corbijn / corbyn
picture by anton corbijn

'I TOLD MY MOTHER THAT 'MOTHER' WAS A COLD WORD AND THAT SHE WAS 'SUE' AND I WAS 'DON'.'

i don't know how i do it, i don't know why i do it, i can't explain it. an artist is some-one who kids himself most gracefully.

a nice description, which implies that in this life everybody fools himself.

oh, yeah, almost everyone i have met, but i do think they should have bound up the rupture instead of deforming it. oh, we just happen to be here, and this is it. cultivate the grounds, they are the only ones around. space-age couple, flex your magic muscle!

whoever spends a few hours with don van vliet, gets numerous of this sort of small gems added unto him. matters such as 'the human shortcoming' or the question of survival on this planet never are raised in a whiny or weighty way, but always with a positive artistic dash. besides it, his expressive faculty is impressive and his sense for relativity not less. 'everything's wrong at the same time it's right; the truth has no patterns for me tonight' (from: tropical hot dog night).

it is impossible to talk about the past. we don't have a time-machine with which we can jump back in time. i don't like looking back, it only slows you down.

nevertheless we manage to get him to talk about the past now and then. when did he find out he had a special gift?

i already was aware of it when i was three years old. i told my mother that 'mother' was a cold word, and that she was 'sue' and i was 'don' and my father 'glenn' and that we would be friends for the rest of our lives as long as they wouldn't step over that line. i wrote it in a baby's book. my mother showed it to me and my wife about six years ago. it was written in a funny handwriting with a lot of those big curls: rococo letters.

school was an impossibility for young don van vliet. he was convinced he had nothing to seek there and he let nature educate him.

school lays a veil on the human ear. if you want to be a different fish, you gotta jump out of school. if you got ears, you gotta listen.

from that moment on don makes common cause with nature. animals, trees and plants are his best friends. who does harm them, can be assured of his everlasting hostility. van vliet not only is fiercely set against vivisection and all other forms of animal cruelty, but also against the use of pesticides, the cutting down of trees and the picking of flowers.

the human being has to protect the animal. in case of a further evolution we could well be picked like tiny flowers ourselves. that's why we should not pick flowers, but enjoy them. outside they look much prettier than at home in a vase. flowers are prettier when they die than people. dead flowers are magnificent, whew! i don't like the chopping of trees; anyhow here i am: sitting on a wooden chair right now.... it's all contradictory, it's hard.

it is van vliet's philosophy that mankind is privileged. 'we don't have to suffer, we're the best batch yet', he sings on his new record 'doc at the radar station'.

i believe that we can be it - when we want and try our best for it.

van vliet eats fish, so isn't a total vegetarian. he disgusts meat and sometimes eats nothing but fruit for days.

from my twenty-fifth till i was twenty-six and a half i couldn't sleep. i just couldn't stop. i had a mental fast. i had to free my-self from all the tensions of my youth.

(*)

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW THIS ENDS, CLICK CLACK TO PAGE TWO


click clack back to the power station


captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo

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