SUGAR AND SPIKES
odds and ends
eleven straight hours in a desert denny's with captain beefheart
from READER vol.2
#31 300580 usa
by nigey lennon
is 03.75 meeting
notes: outtake. of course, five years later one can only remember the general tenor of a meeting...
part 1 - THIS is PART 2
next he confessed to us that once, in hawaii, he had taken lsd (a heavy soft-drug - t.t.) against his knowledge. 'i met this violet-eyed girl at a party,' he said, skipping over what he was actually doing in hawaii in the first place. 'she looked like elizabeth taylor - now how could i not trust someone who looked like elizabeth taylor? she was really bored - i think she was a timber heiress.' he went on to describe how she had slipped the lsd into his drink at the party when his back was turned. 'man, i was ón for three days,' he grimaced, shaking his head. 'some of the stuff i saw...-'
quickly, he returned to the subject of elizabeth taylor - the real one. 'god, is she ever beautiful. except that she wears those damn fur coats. maybe she's got a pússy problem that makes her want to wear leopard skins, you know what i mean?' (an ardent conservationist, beefheart dedicated his last album, 'shiny beast' to 'all conservation and wildlife organizations everywhere'.)
after throwing the real liz around for awhile in a most amusing manner, beefheart ordered more hot water for his rapidly de-hydrating teabag, sketched some lyrics on his napkin in a crabbed, cantankerous style, then looked over at us blandly and inquired: 'what was that you were saying a minute ago?'
range of conversation: six minutes and maybe six thousand miles. multiply that by eleven hours and you'll get a reasonably accurate picture of what our visit was like. while we talked, beefheart had been sketching constantly in a large black notebook, using a felt pen to execute rapid, sumi-like drawings: abstract doodles like picasso, exotic-looking flora and fauna, disembodied people. at one point, he flipped back few pages in his notebook to show us some drawings he had done while staying at frank zappa's. they were easily the best drawings of zappa i had ever seen - witty caricatures of don's old high school buddy playing the guitar, be-ponytailed, one shoulder hunched up higher than the other. 'man, some of the stuff he plays on the guitar,' van vliet said, 'it's faster than a speeding oldsmobile at midnight.'
beefheart told us that he was back in los angeles again to look for musical work. he had been living in various parts of northern california since 1971, but like many others, had discovered that - as nice as it is in the shady glades of ben lomond and the mighty redwoods of humboldt county - for the moola one needs to survive, one must direct one's steps back into the smog-glutted inferno of los angeles. ('lost angeles', van vliet had called it on a previous visit when he had been through on tour, shuddering as he gazed down on hollywood from the top floor of a holiday inn.)
don's dislike of his native part of california seems to be well-known. back in 1969, when 'rolling stone' gave beefheart a special mention in its annual music awards, it bequeathed him the 'entire city of los angeles' with the comment: 'kill it, don!'.
specifically, beefheart told us that he was once again embroiled in musico-legal disputes. never a suspicious soul, he said he had recently fallen in with bad company - two sharks with whom he had signed a management contract (the dimartino brothers - t.t.). under their horrible influence, he said, he had recorded a couple of 'commercial' albums for mercury records - albums that he could no longer bear to hear. the critics had lambasted him for 'selling out'; the albums hadn't sold well; and on top of everything else, he believed his managers were skimming whatever meager profits were to be had right off the top.
so he was here in southern california to throw himself upon the tender mercies of his old friend frank zappa. again - because their partnership during '69's 'trout mask replica' had ended bitterly, amid - you guessed it - musico-legal squabbling, always van vliet's downfall. when i first sought out van vliet in 1970 (hoping perhaps to join his band), he had nothing but harsh words for zappa and even zappa's production on 'trout mask replica'.
to those unfamiliar with beefheart's character, it might seen self-serving that he was willing to bury the hatchet in order to possibly secure gainful employment in his old enemy's band. but this was not the case. beefheart is simply subject to sudden, erratic switches in attitude. it is hard to tell whether he is aware of how bizarre this appears to others: most likely, he isn't.
additional picture by rick burian
from book nigey lennon * being frank
don and nigey during another rendezvous (probably early spring 1971)
i recollect one night in 1972, for instance, when beefheart and the magic band were playing a concert in long beach. i hadn't seen beefheart for a few months at the time, but i was totally unprepared for my reception after the show, when i went backstage to say hello. beefheart seemed literally not to know me. 'hi, don,' i said, walking up to shake hands. he mumbled a hello, but looked right past me.
puzzled, i walked around to his other side, as though to enter by another door and start over again. 'hi - it's me, nigey, you know.' i thought he was playing a strange, zen-like joke on me. but he wasn't; he really seemed not to know who i was or what i was doing there. finally, i walked right up to him and waggled my index finger under his nose.
'you dó know who i am, don't you?' he looked almost frightened. 'of course i know who you are.' with that, he shuffled away nervously, leaving me staring after him... (he later excused this behavior by saying that he had been in 'a trance' for a period of time, owing to problems he was having with his landlord in santa cruz, as well as personnel problems regarding the magic band.)
now, in a characteristic about-face, van vliet was high on zappa once again. he told us that he, beefheart had gone over his whole relationship with zappa in his mind, and that he had decided that zappa was not only a profound genius, but a highly superior person as well. in fact, don was now even ready to accept the words of zappa almost as a sort of gospel: 'frank once told me that i had a selfish view of the universe,' he explained earnestly. in his tone there was no hint of irony, even though zappa's view of ethics can sometimes remind one of a cartoon that once ran in 'the new yorker'. it shows a young woman and an older man sitting in a bar, drinking. the woman, with a dazzled expression, exclaims to the older man: 'you mean, you have your own prívate moral universe?' beefheart, however, had apparently taken zappa's projection at face value.
'at first, i thought he was full of shit*,' he went on, his felt pen describing strange squiggles in his notebook. 'but now i realize he was right. i would've gotten down on my hands and knees to him, (- this would have been quite a sight indeed, for in those days beefheart was an extremely weighty personage, although he later lost most of his poundage -) but he forgave me anyway. he really has a lot of good in him.' (beefheart had just joined zappa's band, the mothers, on a sort of probationary status, we discovered.)
van vliet began comparing zappa's music to that of bela bartok, but my husband lionel, ever the traditionalist, sternly forbade such a comparison. finally, we'd had enough: even beefheart had had enough. the sun was beginning to pour hotly through the thick plate glass windows, and its rays tickled the tips of the spikes of a missile base on a neighboring hilltop. the muzak had gradually sunk down into a dull roar, barely audible. i had been to the ladies room three or four times too many.
don van vliet yawned mightily - quite a sight - and closed up his notebook. tucking his cigarettes into his shirt pocket, he picked up the check and slid majestically out of the booth. he paid at the cashier's desk and we slipped out of the coffee shop's air-conditioned embrace into the sudden close sticky heat of the morning. or afternoon - which it was.
in the parking lot, van vliet admired our old citroen. 'man, those were great cars,' he said respectfully, properly placing the tense in the past. 'well,' he said, 'i've got to pick my wife up in the valley.' somehow, this matter-of-fact admission, coming from beefheart, brought the whole surreal scene to a surreal close. he shook hands with both of us, admonished me to take good care of lionel, jumped into his sky-blue volvo with its symbol of male virility on the radiator grille and its zappa-wings in the trunk, and disappeared in a cloud of dust, leaving both of us rubbing our eyes and wondering just how much of the last twelve hours had really happened...
* that must have been in 1970, when he declared in an interview ('me and beefheart at manteno'): ...and then not too long ago [frank] told me i had a selfish viewpoint of the universe. and the thing is: where do you get a viewpoint of the universe? i mean: there's no point. if that was true, stars would cut your eyes out, right? i laughed at him...
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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo