DON'T ARGUE THE CAPTAIN
CAPTAIN BEEFHEART SINGS
'... i can do anything'
from ROLLING STONE
#125 040173 usa
by david rensin
is late 1972 interview
note: reproduced in usa 2007 (book+4dvd)boxset ROLLING STONE * COVER TO COVER 40 years of rolling stone 1967-2007
north hollywood - striding into the small but copiously equipped warner brothers recording studio like a bull dressed for a chinatown parade, captain beefheart extends his middle finger and with eyes now narrow, demonic slits, offers it to anyone watching his grand entrance. a hush descends.
'ah ha,' he chortles, buttoning his chinese silk dress shirt and straightening a miniature coolie's hat: 'i'm not really like that, folks.' he smiles, breaking the spell. 'it's just what people expect of me, so why disappoint them?'
it was a balmy / smoggy night in north hollywood when don van vliet (also known as captain beefheart) and the magic band gathered to cut a short track for his album 'clear spot', a collection of music and things that nobody expected - at least not from the captain. a clear departure from previous beefheartian machinations and an extrapolation of the changes found in 'the spotlight kid', the new release is more accessible for the average, uninitiated listener, but imaginative enough to keep beefheart purists in the fold.
'i'm lyrically less turbulent now,' explained van vliet, pulling on his wispy goatee, 'i'm like a woman, because i have my periods - if you know what i mean. every once in a while i get the cramps and do something far out.' beefheart now insists he is far more interested in reaching more of an audience than he is in throwing out multi-images. 'i know this album is going to make it for me,' he predicted, 'i can already feel all the fans blowing on me and i don't mind a blowjob - if you know what i mean. do you know what i mean?'
beefheart arrived late, so we had a chance to hear a few of the basic instrumental tracks already laid down for 'clear spot'. even without lyrical accompaniment, his music contains less random rambling and odd bars of time that irked many record buyers to the eternal mystification of the critics. beefheart realizes he will likely be caught in a whirlwind of criticism ranging from accolades to cries of 'cop out', but he 's not having any of that. 'with my voice [a seven octave range] and my band i can do anything,' he insisted, 'believe me, i'm not compromising one damn bit on this album. sure, the changes will ruffle some feathers - but i'm fooling them all because i enjoy playing this stuff more than 'trout mask replica'.'
beefheart also claimed that 'clear spot' was designed basically for women. 'this album needs someplace to go, you know? so i sing with a definite woman in mind - not like those groups that have men on their mind.' playing to men, he feels, is both intellectual and chatty.
although beefheart's return to normalcy - to borrow a phrase - is basically self-imposed, he shares the credit with producer ted templeman, who managed to help the captain convey the essential beefheart yet remain on an acceptable commercial level for at least a few cuts. templeman, too, is responsible for co-producing both 'tupelo honey' and 'saint dominic's preview' with van morrison as well as little feat's 'sailing shoes' and the doobie brothers' 'toulouse street'. 'i have searched seven years to find ted,' said the captain, 'and that's how long i've been in the music business.'
beefheart accused other musicians of ripping him off during those years and diluting his music down to muzak. 'like a little satchel with a handle, polluting it. but now it's my turn," he exclaimed, "now i'm going to pollute myself.'
audiences often walk out on his shows in apparent frustration, but it doesn't bother him. 'sure, i find that a lot of people run out one night and then back in the next. i really admire someone who had the guts to split after paying his money rather than sit and suffer when he couldn't get into it.' the recent tour was fortunately not surrounded with such ignominious audience desertions. unlike the 20 or so concerts he did in the last four years, his recent dates often were sold out.
beefheart emphasized that his magic band, consisting of regulars zoot horn rollo (real name: bill harkleroad - t.t.), ed marimba (art tripp), rockette morton (mark boston) and new addition oréjon (actually bassist roy estrada, late of 'little feat'), is 'untouchable by anyone on this planet. they have spent four years in a house practicing and shedding all of their available 'buy me' shingles,' said beefheart; 'what's more: they've gotten together and done something on their own that's different.' rumor has it that beefheart's method for choosing his band members is a bit different, too.
after the short session during which the captain recorded 'golden birdies' - his famous 'webcor, webcor' sequence, we moved to the mixdown room where van vliet deposited his bulk in the nearest chair. over fruit juices and assorted cheeses he revealed the underlying motivations behind his recent changes: 'above all, i'm trying to tell people that they don't have to use narcotics to feel. drugs are like a carnival, and when you go home you have to start living again. unfortunately, people don't have the bodies or brains left to function. i want my mind the way it is: the way i was born with it. i don't want to alter my consciousness with a 'mode-o-day' dress with a peace sign on it. do you think i buy that crap?'
'i would just as soon play the music on the new album, because when i see all those people out there taking acid to get into my music, then i don't want to play that kind of music. i don't want to make people think they've got to use some sort of elevation to get into what i do. if i did that, what kind of artist would i be? just another phoney asshole.' van vliet's face was set in serious lines: 'we've got musicians actually saying 'choose your narcotic'. it's ridiculous and stupid.' he began to chant: 'choose your cocaine, fry your liver and kidneys, burn out your brain...'. 'i just hate to see a bunch of people poisoned because of a fad. i'm not going to rub cocaine on my cock just because rudolph valentino did. i want to feel the whole thing, you see. i've had my sanity all along!'
would he consider doing a carson or cavett show? 'never. they would do me.... appear on my show at my house..., do you know what i mean? i really wouldn't want to hurt their feelings or give them gastric colitis, but do you think they could keep up with me? if i'm not the peacock's tail, then who is?' we shrugged an answer. he bellowed his in return: 'shit, are you kidding? they can't even get past primary colors. i hope i'm not being too pompous, but a fact's a fact.'
everybody was preparing to leave, but beefheart had a few more choice words on the state of the world. 'you want to know where it's really at? i've got friends up north that drive ten-inch spikes into redwood trees marked for cutting down, so that when the fuckers come to level them, they break their goddamn saws.'
beefheart has a healthy, almost reverent respect for nature. he has nursed eucalyptus trees in the san fernando valley. he adores the beauty of his home in eureka. 'trying to save this planet is what's happening man, not somebody who takes drugs and goes crazy to listen to something as sane as my music. anyway, with 'clear spot' the message about drugs will be so up front nobody will have trouble divining it....'
while we alternately laughed and listened intently to his oratory, van vliet noticed his lucidity was causing a certain reaction. 'listen kid,' he said reassuringly, 'i know there's nothing as frightening as an interview for anybody - for both parties. if i had to interview me, i would probably forget it. besides, i don't care about asking myself questions. i stopped that a long time ago when i found out that getting behind my various personalities was making me lose my hair....'
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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo