DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
history - interview
ER BESTAAN TWEE CAPTAIN BEEFHEARTS
from holland 15 april 1972 LIMBURGS DAGBLAD vol.54 #89
as well as the full version
IK WIL HUILEN ALS EEN WEERWOLF
from holland 5 may 1972 ALOHA vol.3 #1
THERE ARE TWO CAPTAIN BEEFHEARTS
when people asked me formerly: 'who's captain beefheart?' i steadily answered: 'he's the man who made me yelp for a record for the first time.' recently the captain at once was in holland to give two concerts and a press conference. to my surprise i found out at this meeting that there appear to be two beefhearts on this earth clod.
the first one is the supreme god of the freaks, the martian; also the man who once refused to come over to holland because the sun wasn't in the right constellation.... pure nonsense of course, but beefheart was entangled in it over and over again, just as his quarrel with zappa was discoursed at large. apparently everyone had forgotten that there also existed a beefheart who, when most of us were still a-sleeping, in 1965 (!) already made an elpee against the environmental pollution or a beefheart who made six completely unique albums.
most remarkable on the captain was his great kindness (everybody got a hand and after each talk he said 'nice to meet you') and the very personal, almost rogerian way he deals with people. however he also quickly pokes fun at something and that perhaps explains the phenomenon of the first beefheart. often used expressions are: 'do you know what i mean', 'i'm not very serious' and 'i'm just teasing'.
the following interview originated at this press meeting but the most clarifying part was recorded at his hotel room saturday night after the gig, between half past four and half past five. the captain was very tired then and his voice was heavily affected. that he still allowed a conversation under such circumstances, i think says more about the person beefheart than any interview would.
how was the tour warner bros organized for you last year?
a great success, financial as well as for the response of the audiences.
how does warner treat your material?
much better than straight did.
some people wonder whether your photo on the cover of 'the spotlight kid' fits to the music on the record.
it was my way to push warner bros to promote my album.
before you made records you had a teevee show with rodrigues, in which you made sculptures. why did you decide to enter the world of music?
too much money was invested in sculpture and they tried to assign me to a certain group. i didn't have enough freedom any more 'cause they wanted to arrange me, give me a place in history. in music you're more free as long as you don't use written music; for there's no way to compose such music.
the word 'captain' is a very unusual name for a musician. did you perhaps choose that name because you felt you had to lead people to a certain goal?
oh no, it was a joke - you know what i mean? the only leader is in your backbone and moves your feet. i don't want to lead people to a goal. for a goal means competition; and because i know everybody already knows it. i just wanna play music.
when you write a song, what kind of things do you try to tell to the listener?
do you want me to speak the truth? yes? well, i believe i really have no message at all. i like to play for an audience, look at them - and they like to see me. i give them something and they return something to me. i wish i could say i had a message, it probably would do my case well.
then what kind of feeling do you give your listeners?
i'd be glad to give them every feeling i have myself, because i believe that you must impart any feeling you have. i am an artist and have the chance to transfer all my fears in a way the public likes. in former days i sometimes was afraid of that - but that's no good.
A LOT OF SORROW
the press is asking you questions for years now, but are there questions they never asked but which you think are still important for your music?
they have never asked me yet whether i have complete control over my music. for in fact i don't have full control, because the conditions under which i have to work limit me. my voice covers seven octaves but the microphones can't record it. that gives me a lot of sorrow, you know, for i want to let my audience feel what i really feel. i want to express myself completely: i wanna howl like a werewolf.... but i have to restrain myself all the time. can you imagine what that means to me, always having to repress myself?
your new elpee 'brown star' will be released this summer. what sort of music is on it?
it includes a song called 'big eyed beans from venus' which deals with the young people living in harmony with nature and who see everything without blinkers.
does that elpee resemble 'the spotlight kid' or any earlier record?
nothing i've done till now sounds much like
'brown star'; it's - i hope - the warmest elpee i've ever made. the band is
more played-in to each other now, they sense each other better than ever
before and i believe that's the gorgeous feeling on this album. we now
also have a good engineer, ted templeman.
A WHOLE LOT
do you have much material that hasn't been released yet?
for 'the spotlight kid' we recorded thirty-five songs at the studio, ten of which are put on the album; but actually i'd written about four hundred songs to get those thirty-five. at home i still have some thousand songs on tape, but they're not of studio quality.
you've got about a thousand songs that haven't been brought out?
some thousand, yes. i know it's a lot.
oh, i believe you, don.
i'm always busy with it when i'm at home, you see.
do you have any idea about the development of your music since 'safe as milk'?
the last five years i've tried to get a group of musicians who are honest and don't compete - like in a war, the competition system i mean - and i think i have such a band now.
musically, that's what i meant.
oh, that's right. musically i haven't really changed; myself, i mean.
what did you want to say with your albums?
i wrote 'safe as milk' to warn people that the mother breast no longer is safe for the baby; that they should stop using d.d.t. because that venom will turn up in the mother's milk and thus in the baby. it had nothing to do with hard drugs - as some people thought. i hate hard drugs. with 'strictly personal' i meant: this is a [very] personal message, more than music. what i wanted to say with 'trout mask replica' was that i never wanted to see a war again. do you remember the song 'dachau blues'...?
what exactly does the title (trout mask replica) mean?
i wanted to say with it: don't forget the fact that even fish have a life, they exist, they live; do you know what i mean? with 'lick my decals off, baby' i wanted to tell everyone that they should throw away those labels that divide people into categories. lick those decals away! like a mother is licking the baby to life.
i thought 'lick my decals off, baby' also meant: forget all the bullshit that has been written about you.
yes, forget all that false publicity about me.... 'the spotlight kid' is meant as a jest: didn't you notice the more relaxed atmosphere on this record? a jest by way of: look at me, after all these years i made it anyhow. but i had to do that all on my own.
do you have any idea about your future development?
yes, i wanna help the animals and the people. all i can do to help the people is to try and raise the level of art. actually, when the level of the art is raised it helps everyone, so the sea and the animals too. with 'art' i mean real art: without words, without a real meaning, only feeling. for instance: i want to take care that the fellows of the band are happy on stage, happy with each other and like each other completely, because it's good for people to see such a thing.
which things direct you on the writing of compositions?
trees, flowers, animals, nice people and good food. organic food without d.d.t., that's very important. you know, i have a garden and we eat a lot of sprouts, all sorts of sprouts (laughs). do you remember 'sweet sweet bulbs' off 'trout mask replica'?
yeah; what in fact does 'fasten bulbs' [should be 'fast and bulbous' of course - teejo] mean?
it means go round and lighten everything, like the sun; fast but not too fast.
friday you told me that the black high hat you used to wear is an 'alice in blunderland' hat. perhaps you can explain it a bit?
oh. that's a joke. it doesn't mean anything at all.
i also asked you how you discovered man is ruining nature. you said: when i drank my first cola. was that a joke too?
no; when i drank my first cola, i realized with a shock that the bottle had the form of a woman - do you know what i mean? when you grab the bottle thus with your hands: the shape is very sexy, but the content is poison.
what are you doing at home, on a normal day, i mean?
we go outside, watch the sky, the ocean; our house lies by the sea. we watch the animals, and yes, i smoke - what i shouldn't do. and often i write, or paint or make music.
your wife jan told me yesterday both of you never watch teevee or listen to the radio or records.
are there musicians whose music you like?
i like many musicians. i love ornette coleman and many blues-singers such as john lee hooker, muddy waters and son house.
you also wrote stories, like 'old fart at play' and -
and a poetry album 'singing at home' (or something that sounds similar - jeff).
is there any hope they'll ever get published?
sure. my biggest problem was to care that my albums came into the right hands. warner bros is good and soon i'll have a good publisher too. actually i must take care that my work comes through as it really is and that people don't think i'm a martian (laughs). you know what i mean? did you know there will be an exhibition of my paintings in amsterdam?
captain beefheart seeks in his papers and finally calls his wife who lays in bed behind us. she doesn't answer and on my urge not to wake her up, at last it's almost half past five in the morning, he stops his attempts.
is there something special you'd like to say to our readers?
yes, tell them i'm very sorry the sound was too loud this evening. next time i'll have my own equipment brought along. i'm really sorry.
i just keep waiting for a while to drink my beer and ask him whether he can arrange me the two singles 'diddy wah diddy' and 'frying pan'. he writes down my address and promises to send them. at once he asks: 'shall i write a poem for you?' when i eagerly snap at it, he seizes a piece of paper and pens down a poem about birds and words which ends with 'eye love fails no birds'. when i leave five minutes later i have his home address, the vow he'll write me and he also has promised me to send his latest elpee with the autographs of all the band members. this is don van vliet, alias captain beefheart.
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