DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
history - interview
AMERICA IS BULLISH ON CAPTAIN BEEFHEART
from usa 31 january 1972 warner / reprise CIRCULAR vol.4 #4
back here you get the black snow outside and the pink aerosol in the room, rumbles the good humored voice on the phone. the voice belongs to captain beefheart. the view belongs to a cambridge (near boston, massachusetts - t.t.) holiday inn where the beefheart family and band is poised between concerts. the rug is so thin compared to the plush ones you get in other places, he continues, enjoying the feel of the words, that you jump and jar your brains when you take a step.
he's specific about vague things and vague about specific things this evening, relishing details and avoiding vistas in the midst of the most successful tour of his career.
i heard that the new york concert was just sensational.
i wish you could have heard it. i did 'black snake blues' (a john lee hooker original - t.t). i dig that song.
you did some things a cappella, didn't you?
yeah. my voice is really there.
fortunately for lovers of the long view, this publication is not without its new york contacts, one of whom furnished this report of beefheart's triumph:
captain beefheart and the magic band made a rare concert appearance in the big apple (is: new york - t.t.) and performed a truly magic set before a sell-out audience of beefheart connoisseurs (on 15 january - t.t.). after an exceptional performance by the great larry coryell, the curtains in the old but funk-filled anderson theatre rose to the apocalyptic bass solo of the one and only rockette morton.
morton was shortly joined by the captain, zoot horn rollo, ed marimba and winged eel fingerling who, as a collective unit, proceeded to work the 'citizens for beefheart' - sponsors of the concert - into a veritable frenzy with their blues-flavored excursions into the outermost reaches of the cosmos.
after providing the audience with an hour-long high, the captain responded to the pleas of the cheering throngs ('more! more!') with an encore of - what else - 'more', which he whistled, unaccompanied.
further affirmation of captain beefheart's impact on new york may be found in the fact that his management found it necessary to schedule a second concert in that city, an appearance which, they were pleased to report, had to be added because of popular demand. that date is set for february 18 at the academy of music.
most of this would hardly be news except for the fact that it has taken beefheart something like six years to reach this heady plateau - not six comfortable, reassuring years, but six years of privation and discouragement, six years during which anyone less original and less tenacious than don van vliet, for that is the captain's private name, would have given it all up for a newspaper route.
what did you do today?
today? today i had a lobster. i love lobster. don't you?
where did you eat?
i ate at - aside to jan, his wife: what's the name of that place? - jimmy's. a big lobster place. by the way, i spent five days with ornette coleman in new york. he showed me some gorgeous movies that he took on his african tour of him playing with people right in the street. the sounds those guys were getting! it was one of the heaviest things i've ever heard.
is artie (tripp, aka ed marimba) enjoying the tour ?
he loves it. he's been playing pool. he made a hundred dollar the other night. he's a pool hustler.
are people coming backstage and talking to you?
oh god yes. i did a lot of interviews and they all remember me and they all bring me presents.
are they asking you good questions?
yeah. i've been talking against hard drugs.
somebody said that the opening act for at least one of your concerts was some chimpanzees.
yeah, the guy's name is sabo. isn't that it, sabo, jan? and he has this húge chimp and the thing, he says, is as smart as a fourteen-year-old child. it trained a le-o-pard. that's their natural predator in africa. the leopard preys on chimpanzees. but this thing has got this leopard together. he's a big chimp.
what does it do when it comes on stage?
to be perfectly truthful, i haven't seen it. i have seen it from behind the stage and i can't figure out what it ís doing. i can see these hairy hip silhouettes from behind the curtain.
is it just one chimpanzee or is it a group of them?
no there's - to jan: how many chimpanzees
are there? - ... one big hairy hump and three little hairy humps. it signed
an autograph for us, the big chimp. it's really hip. he takes care of the
whole show plus training the leopard.
how's the band doing?
all i know is that this group is playing better than i ever heard a group in my life. sounds like howlin' wolf back in '54. elliot (ingber, aka winged eel fingerling) has just gotten so good and he's really in with the band now, with bill (harkleroad, aka zoot horn rollo) and mark (boston, aka rockette morton) and artie. artie is on. you should hear them now. they've loosened up and they're playing really flat down on the table. copper floor stuff.
what are your audiences like? can you see them at all?
oh yeah. they're all really nice. they come up and apologize for any hecklers that might be in the crowd and they say that they're sorry that i have to play under such conditions, the p.a. (short for 'public address system', which supplies the sound - t.t.) and what-not. because the p.a. isn't that good. it's really too bad.
are you playing any instruments on stage now?
yeah. i'm playing the harmonica an awful lot. and i'm playing the horn very briefly at the end of the performance, with ed marimba. the name of the song we do is 'spitball scalped a baby'. it's a funny thing. the kids like it because it reminds them of school.
is it an instrumental?
very bluesy and kind of open and strictly an instrumental, but recently i've been... - you know that commercial on television? artie starts out and he plays kind of hoofbeats and it says: 'merrill lynch (a wealth management bank - t.t.) is bullish on america', so i recite that through my horn. that's all i say other than an instrumental thing.
what are you doing with your time off? is it all interviews?
yeah, and i'm writing. i wrote the new album last night on the way over to yale (university, in new haven, connecticut - t.t).
in a car? you wrote the whole album?
the name of it is 'brown star'.
is there a song on it called 'brown star'?
yeah. i've got that written and i've got..., let's see, what else did i write? i can't remember the names of any of them. they're sure good. i've written about sixty to seventy pages for a new book. just a very odd one - a snatchy thing.
there was talk of a book of poetry.
'singing ink', yeah. i'm going to put that out. i'm looking for a backer on that. i want to make sure it gets out and i get some money for it. it's a book of poetry. and there's a novel called 'old fart at play'. i already have it written. now i'm working on a book, but i'm not sure of the title yet. the novel is really good. it will replace 'tom sawyer' (famous book by mark twain - t.t.). not only that, i've got ten more full-length novels written. i wrote forty pages a day for five years. i could fill your office with the stuff.
what else should we talk about?
well, you might mention ornette coleman's album. and that i might do a tour with him. he wants to do a tour with me and i think that would be excellent. the name of his new album is 'science fiction'. i've heard it and it's fantastic. it will be out real soon.
the conversation dwindles easily into good wishes and stray remarks, both of which beefheart invites and fosters (and p.s., please pay attention to his fine new album 'the spotlight kid', because he and circular both think it's his best yet and he's an artist of incomparable bests), when he remembers an incident which closes the interview on a pure beefheartian note and which will similarly end this piece.
i'll tell you one funny thing that winged
eel said. we were driving along, going into worcester, massachusetts (to play two shows on 21 january - t.t.), and
all of a sudden he - he doesn't talk much, you know - pops up with: 'i
wonder what those lights are suspended on?' and it was oncoming traffic
that he thought was a string of lights. doesn't that sound like a bluesy
thing to say? it's so far back. if he talks like that when he does talk,
i can't complain.