DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
history - interview
usa autumn 1969 'STRAIGHT RECORDS' PRESS INFORMATION
THIS is PART 1 - part 2
a listening to captain beefheart's 'trout mask replica' does not prepare one for a meeting with the band. a visitor would expect to enter a house designed by lewis carroll (author of 'alice in wonderland' and 'through the looking glass' - t.t.) where a step through the rabbit hole door would bring a confrontation with nonsense and a brush with madness.
no other impression is possible. the music bombards the senses and carefully-clung-to concepts of sounds: barrages of tangled verse, overloaded imagery, fantastic poetry, searing instrumental work, saxophones darting in and out without apparent pattern, rasping guitars, 'noises' colliding and ricocheting off like a surrealistic group of carnival bumper cars, and the coarse, meat-grinder voice of don 'captain beefheart' van vliet.
the music is a tonal dali (= surrealistic fine art work by salvador dali - t.t.), with the real and the unreal tumbling violently together. like locking john coltrane, howlin' wolf, stockhausen, albert aylers, ornette coleman and bob dylan (all sorts of music makers - t.t.) in a room filled with instruments and then turning on a hallucinatory gas.
but incredibly, captain beefheart seems almost normal except, of course, for the fact that i found him sitting alone on his bed, in total darkness, staring at a telephone in the middle of the sleeping set.
for five years i've lived without a telephone. i just had this one put in. i wonder if i should have. it is a terribly demanding instrument, you know. i've had óne call on it. it rang and i picked it up. i didn't know whether i would answer it when it rang, but i did; there didn't seem to be anything i could do about it: it rang and i reacted.... it's kind of frightening.
don van vliet is a stocky man of twenty-eight, with ear-covering neck length hair and a pointed van dyke [beard]. he is affable and enjoys conversation. he uses to end his remarks with the query: 'do you know what i mean?', but after the first negative response, a visitor tends to nod affirmatively, knowing that any clarification is as esoteric as the original statement.
he has been a professional musician for about five years, and until recently it had been a frustrating time. beefheart has now recorded three albums - 'safe as milk', 'strictly personal' and 'trout mask replica' - but he feels that only the latest one is truly hís music. the first two records consisted of the blues-rock now cropping up everywhere. only in 'strictly personal' was there a hint of what was to come.
none of us in the band can read or write music (all right, if you say so.... - teejo), and i like it that way. written music comes up as a controlled plan and i can't see it. i want to play as if i were a child. i have been playing my kind of music for a long time - in my head.
but the guys i had before were musicians and couldn't break away. it was frightening to them, the idea of not being controlled. they wouldn't even try it. i had to do what i did on the first two albums because i wanted to play. nobody else would play my kind of music. my musicians fought me, they wanted to do traditional blues.
i explained that i wanted them to see if they could play, you know: p-l-a-y, like children, before being taught how to play restricted, without the concept of the written line. such lines are squares and i wanted them to play circles. but they could only accept the squares.
(remark by teejo: to make things easier don just forgets to tell that two of the players on 'trout mask replica' had been such 'bugged musicians' earlier: john 'drumbo' french drummed on both previous albums, and jeff 'antennae jimmy semens' cotton was one of the guitarists on 'strictly personal'....)
captain beefheart has never referred to himself as a dadaist.
i don't even know what that means. but if it means breaking away from forms, than that's me. i'm not deliberately trying to break down any concepts. i just think it would be a lot better if people could abandon those old controlled things. i want to get away from forms so i can go in new directions or even no directions at all. if there is a form you can't possibly actually be playing.
a child goes into a
garden and starts to play with the flowers and he has no special way to
play with the flowers. and i'm sure he would never touch the same flowers
the same way twice unless somebody judged him. my music doesn't have total
freedom from form yet, but that's what i'm striving for. i think that when
my music does have this complete freedom from form it will be pure and
have the innocence of that child.
beefheart doesn't like to refer to himself or his band as musicians:
the term 'musician' brings up images of forms and written music. written music goes only to a certain point, then it stops because anything written must stop sometime. i'm not interested in stopping. the idea of stopping is death and i'm not that masochistic.
i've never been willing to stay within a set of musical bounds. it seemed sort of offensive to me. it was as if you would be playing and you'd have to stop playing and say: 'now, what do i do?'. it's like saying there's a door in your mind shutting off certain areas to you. i don't believe there are doors in a man's mind.
if don van vliet's music is startling, so are his lyrics. some are deceptively simple, others incredibly complex. it is maniac poetry, free association incantations, assaulting the brain. the lyrics are in a way unlike the music, with its dazzling anarchy and jolting abruptness, but very much like van vliet himself: in turn gaily optimistic and gloomily stoic, and always with sad tenderness under an often tough veneer.
despite his cement-mixer voice, his songs are filled with humanity and thus are a reflection of the man.
i'm not a political person by any means, but i guess i do like to think of myself as a humanitarian. i do think the usa constitution is a beautiful document and i wish everybody would live by it. i'm patriotic if that's being patriotic. i love what america could and should be.
i don't want to attack anything in my lyrics. those lyrics just seem to come through me and i have somebody write them down as they come out. as i said, i'm not really political. i don't think this government should be completely torn down. i just think we should all agree on the constitution. put away greed.
captain beefheart's songs reflect his irrepressible faith in mankind, and his optimism:
my smile is stuckand a chronicle of man's inhumanity to man, coupled with a warning:
down in dachau blues, down in dachau bluesthat cite is from beefheart's 'dachau blues', a song of which a yippie ('anti-establishment activist' - t.t.) leader said it would be a classic if it had been written by a human. but despite the freakish exterior, don van vliet is very human. his respect for life can be encountered in his intense, almost obsessive love for animals.
we're all animals, aren't we? animals never judge. i have seen some mighty beautiful animals and some mighty mean people. that's a judging on my part, but...: man can reason, but what does he do with that power? he tries to exterminate his own species and then he points to the animals to say he is a higher form of life.
why are humans so guilty? what are they guilty of? what did that, i wonder about that. our political and social institutions have done so much to cripple people. but they were created by people, so it is a case of people crippling people.
i don't think the church should be in politics. no organized religion. a man should organize himself. what is god? i don't know if i have one - maybe an elephant or a rhino or some corn when i'm hungry.... that's my god.
the captain and his band live in a modest house in the san fernando valley, california, high on a hill in the midst of jungle-like foliage. he likes it because animals are around. he regularly feeds raccoons that wander onto the grounds. and he even leaves sugar outside the house for the ants.
i love all living things, and i don't think we should kill them.
ecology is one of beefheart's great concerns. the smog man has created, the wars he has perpetrated, and the senseless killing of animals and all wildlife, man's insensitivity to life - the thought of it all has the power to make him physically ill. and it shows in his music. for instance, there is 'wild life':
wild life along with my wife
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW THIS ENDS, CLICK CLACK TO PAGE TWO