DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
history - interview
from england 28 april 1972 FRENDZ #26
* text reprinted as rough trade from venus in england book THE LIVES AND TIMES OF CAPTAIN BEEFHEART
* all pictures by pennie smith
the conversation carries on with everyone present totally subservient to the eloquence of the captain. someone attempts to take him on in a word game but fails miserably.
"let's not play marbles," says beefheart good-naturedly, carrying straight on into a wild rap about the bisexual capabilities of the hyena. "the hyena - man, that creature is one of the most highly evolved on this planet. it can change its sex at will. did you know that? a male hyena can have babies. isn't that amazing?"
beefheart is very involved in the idea of breaking down basic sexual barriers (though he stresses that he and the magic band are all men with good healthy sexual appetites playing music for women). however, when the name of alice cooper is mentioned in this context, he retorts:
"sure, what cooper and his band are doing sounds good, but they're exploiting the concept. throwing little chickens into the audience - i think that's despicable. if i saw cooper again, i would spank his arse. that band - they go into the woods with their guns and kill animals. they're all sick."
one of the projects beefheart has tentatively
planned once he gets hold of some money - 'the spotlight kid' is doing good
business in the states, having broken through the top 100 - is to help
curb the killing of rare animals in africa. he, and his ideas - like his
view on politics (he has none) and pollution (a sincere "i think it should
be stopped right now" was all he could manage on that topic) - become
another project he hopes to finance is the construction of 'a female
building' in london, which goes underground.
"you won't have to have an air-raid to go into it, and it won't be scary. maybe all the other buildings will fall into a hole, where they belong. then they can see all the mountains and oceans without all the male-blood in their head and the red-faced erection. tut! tut! people won't be afraid of the opposite sex."
his current relationship with record company warner/reprise
is an amicable one. he has total artistic control.
"if they don't let me
do what i want, then i'll be on another label - you can be assured of that.
nobody tells me what to do."
his next album - brown star - though yet
to be recorded, is completely worked out in beefheart's head. it was written
during an eight-hour car journey between boston and yale (five weeks ago - t.t.). amongst the numbers
to be featured are 'big eyed beans from venus' - "which says you don't have
to go back into the past. all the past in the world doesn't go to make
up a man of the present" - and 'happy blue pumpkin', written by jan van
vliet, don's wife and constant companion. [but eventually the album changed to 'clear spot' - t.t.]
now that the link between artist
and record company has strengthened and become comparatively stable, beefheart
intends to release far more material. he writes an average forty to eighty
pages of words a day and spends up to ten hours at a stretch working out
tunes on the piano:
"i could release twenty albums a month, easily."
beefheart believes that basic communication
is one of the greatest if not thé greatest art form.
more of an art form than music, in fact it's probably the best one. music
is just like a worm crawling over a razorblade - no, a word crawling over
a razorblade. that's it!... what do you do as a writer? i guess you do
what you can within the restrictions: the human mind, ear and eye. the
next time an artist tells you that a writer doesn't make it, just tell
him that he should be doing soup cans like warhol."
"i'm a writer myself,
i've got two books coming out: one of them is called 'old fart at play'
- that's a novel - and the other one is a book of poetry called 'singing
ink'. listen, i want to get the tape of what we are saying here now: i
want to sit back and listen to the music we have been making...."
is planning on using some of the tapes of interviews he has made in this
country for inclusion on 'brown star'.
i do apologize for roughly interrupting the exciting story here,
an original composition by don van vliet, commissioned by frendz magazine
the talk turned to rock music and the market
he was now establishing himself in. chuck berry - "one of the greatest
poets ever: a true original" - and jimi hendrix were rated as geniuses;
the rolling stones didn't fare so well, mick jagger was dismissed contemptuously,
but beefheart had some kind words to say for brian jones whom he had once
"he was a fine man - he seemed very interested in what i was doing.
you know, i've got the feeling that he wrote 'the last time' and 'satisfaction'.
i know these songs are credited to other people, but...."
the beatles are attacked vehemently except
for mccartney who also met beefheart ("he was always the creative one
in the band"). lennon is not one of van vliet's favourites:
"i'll tell you
one thing, to this day i can't understand what happened. i personally sent
a telegram to john lennon when he was doing his campaign for peace and
told him that captain beefheart and his magic band had some definite ideas
for gaining peace without violence or blood-letting. and i didn't get an
answer. now i don't know what happened, but telegrams usually get through,
right? but how could he ignore someone like me on a topic as important
as that? and believe me, i have a few things to say about peace."
lennon also thinks of himself as a genius
(if there is such a thing). "so lennon is an artist now?", says beefheart,
laughing to himself.
"i'll tell you one thing i didn't like: the beatles
saying that they were going to turn you on. i have never heard anything
so ridiculous in all my life. no man or woman can turn another person on:
the minute you hit air, you're 'on'. like i said in 'flash gordon's ape':
'jump in the air and hit your eyes / try to go back and there wasn't none...'.
the idea of trying to turn someone on - that's the biggest concession stand
i have ever heard."
maybe they meant well, someone suggests.
"you mean: mint well? mint as in money... in which case it's true. people who mean anything, have bad breath."
"there has to be a change," he continues,
flying off on a tangent. "how can things just stop? like a cowboy stabbing
his spurs into the prairie to stop the ball rolling; or putting a bird
on a leash. why not fly a kite so you won't have to fly a bird?"
didn't have much time for bob dylan either:
"bob dylan? oh, you mean robert
zimmerman. he's no genius. quote me any of his songs and i would pick out
the origins of all his imagery. he steals his stuff from real geniuses
like robert johnson."
beefheart wouldn't accept the proposition that maybe dylan used the essence of the work of the old masters in order to create original statements himself....(*)
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW THIS ENDS, CLICK CLACK TO PAGE THREE