ZAPPA STOLE MY IDEAS, SAYS THE CAPTAIN
from england 1 april 1972 DISC and music echo
by caroline boucher
is 23 march 1972 interview
text reprinted in all versions of england book THE LIVES AND TIMES OF CAPTAIN BEEFHEART
captain beefheart (real name: don van vliet - t.t.) is talking about his home, eureka, where the snails are thís big - he indicates about nine inches with his hands - and the rabbits run at two miles an hour. the house has redwood trees behind it and the ocean in front, and some days the captain and his old lady watch the whales rubbing barnacles off their backs against the rocks out at sea. so coming out to do all this touring, he says, is a bit freaky. but then, he adds, he has almost completed with his task in america of smashing his image as a freak, which is what he set out to do this tour.
i am not a freak, says the captain vehemently, and then he dives off into his particular picture language to tell you why.
all that image was created for me by frank zappa, he spits the name out. he used me, and he was trying to keep the artist in me back. he stole my ideas from me in the desert. 'hot rats' was my title; so was 'lumpy gravy'. he used me for publicity purposes for himself; all this bit about being friends since we were young - i only met the guy about twenty-five times in the whole time i've been alive. i would never have said anything, but i don't like to have my heart deluded.
he grumbles on about never getting a penny royalty from 'trout mask replica', another grudge he lays on zappa's doorstep. "he stole all my facial expressions and my movements too," and he fixes you with a baleful stare remarkably like zappa's. the captain is wearing brown suede trousers, black leather coat, shattering al capone silk tie against a black shirt. his shoes are red suede and black patent with tassels, and cost seventy-five dollars because the captain likes to treat his feet well. his hair is slicked back.
for a man who hasn't done very many appearances, and whose albums don't sell phenomenally well, the captain is a hero to his followers who are staunch to the death. he is a living legend, built about with stories and anecdotes, some of them undoubtedly put about by frank zappa, some by friends and first-hand observers. there's the tale of beefheart's telephone ringing seconds after he announced it was and him knowing who was on the other end before picking it up, and his method of writing music by crashing a fist down onto the piano keyboard, taping it and getting his band to work out the notes later. hundreds of little whispers and facts which build the captain into a most extraordinary person.
i am a genius. i was born with my eyes open - i didn't wánt to be born - i can remember deep down in my head that i fought against my mother bringing me into the world. but i have a very high i.q., you know that? but i néver read books, and i never went to lessons at school - i couldn't take that. school makes you focus so sharp that if somebody came up and threw something your eyes would shatter.
the captain is very into eye-consciousness today. it is tied up with his perturbation of the music business, and how it is taken much too seriously. he is happy that people actually get up and dance at his concerts now.
otherwise i am embarrassed the way music is now, the same way with sex - almost anything that's available is soon scalped. i think most of the people are so eye conscious. i expect at rock 'n' roll concerts to walk up to somebody's ear and see an eye looking out at me.
eye-consciousness - that is the inability to look further than first glance - destroyed marilyn monroe, continues beefheart.
she was thought of as a cow that should go out and graze by the whole world. now whére is that at? if she would have been flat-chested, then it would have been a different story. people never got over eye-consciousness with her.
when captain beefheart was five years old, he was a very good sculptor and rich ladies were patting him on the head and treating him as a child prodigy.
ugh, and whére was thát at? i got out, right out, although at the time i thought my folks were mean pulling me out.
he still does some sculpting and lots of painting.
i did thirty paintings in three days before i came over here. it's just like combing your hair really: you can't get interested in it otherwise you would just end up watching yourself. i run away from mirrors.
uncredited picture by michael putland
music..., there's a lot in it, but i don't dwell on it and marvel at my spectacular compositions. most people only do one thing in their lives, they don't get past the first change. look at rock 'n' roll, it never got past the bang bang bang beat stage.
captain beefheart has always been pretty hard up - mainly because he has pursued his own particular brand of music for the past seven years, regardless of whether or not anybody else liked it. he has done the odd tour, and is particularly in demand nowadays, but there have been periods in his career when he has spent a long time closeted in his house with the magic band around him and only the occasional local gig to do. well, it doesn't cost much to live, he says, and he does like good shoes and rolls royces. there is no point driving one of those awful aluminium cars.
two years ago the captain got married, and he takes his wife round with him wherever he goes.
i can't leave a woman at home watching the steam come out of the pot, oh no. my wife is really good, and she's good at painting. on the whole, women don't like me, you know; they sense the woman in me. i have that inner core, that intuitive inner knowledge that women have. if i didn't have such big bones i would be one of thóse, you know (rolls his eyes).
the current line-up of the magic band is: winged eel fingerling (aka elliot ingber - t.t.) on guitar; oréjon (roy estrada) on bass; rockette morton (mark boston) and zoot horn rollo (bill harkleroad) on guitars - they've both been with the captain three years and rockette used to play bass - and ed marimba (art tripp) on drums.
the band is very complicated now and we're into a lot of telepathic things - but it's harder to put that out, it just furthers this freak element i'm trying to escape. and the great thing about it is that nobody has to tell anybody to go: they all want to go like crazy - which is unusual. their energy is so nice, after that honesty i don't know what will follow; they scare me occasionally, if i'm not honest i feel kind of out of place.
there have been a fair number of comings and goings in the magic band. winged eel fingerling has left and joined several times over the past few years; and at one point the captain's cousin, the mascara snake (victor hayden), was in the band, and he found the captain's house in eureka.
one guitarist i had (jeff cotton aka antennae jimmy semens) made bird noises. he walked into the bush at full moon and ate bread. i thought that was rather artistic. sometimes you couldn't understand the bird noises too well, but otherwise he was pretty normal - a lot more normal than a short-haired human anyway.
one reason the captain wants to shake off the freak tag is that he wants to do some things with ornette coleman, the jazz trumpeter: he's a great painter with that horn.
now i'm free of that tag i'd like to go on tour with him. the first thing i said to him was: 'do you like lullabies', and he said: 'no, i don't: they're dangerous'. and that was it. lullabies are dangerous, you know.
the captain wrote the next album during a car journey on the american tour. it is called 'brown star' and there is to be a beautiful percussion and horn track ('spitball scalped a baby' - t.t.) between ed and the captain.
i shall play a lot of horn on this album. last year i felt like a harmonica, so i wrote 'the spotlight kid' (and not 'spangled', caroline! - teejo) on it, and i played it a lot. a lot of people try and analyse my lyrics; i don't often write very heavy things. 'space age couple' on the 'lick my decals off, baby' album meant something. so did the title of my album 'safe as milk' - i was talking about the dangers of d.d.t. (an insecticide - t.t.) in the mother's milk then, but everybody thought i was on about l.s.d. (a psychedelic drug - t.t.) - the freak thing, you know.
and i wrote a good song called 'it's not worth getting into the bullshit to see what the bull ate'. when music becomes something to have over somebody else - a superiority thing - then it becomes nothing. you have to be very careful of that. but all the time i have to explain myself to people - i actually have people trying to get me to explain why i have a right to be on this planet. hundreds of people a day (sighs).
recently he struck up a friendship with ian anderson, of 'jethro tull' (on one of the usa tours of this english pop group - teejo), because he found he was intelligent and could talk to him. that all came about because jethro's bass player, geoffrey hammond hammond, took the captain's 'trout mask replica' hat from kinney's (beefheart's music representative - t.t.) offices. an office boy gave it to him, which enraged the captain who had left it there for safe keeping. but since meeting jeffrey he has forgiven him, and spent one night last week lecturing ian on the perils of the music business.
there is only the slightest movement of the fingers that makes the v-sign different from the nazi salute. always watch that, the captain nods wisely.