DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
history - stories
"PROBABLY ROCK 'N' ROLL'S ONLY GENIUS"
BBC 2 * THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS CAPTAIN BEEFHEART
england 1994 bbc
2 television documentary 19.08.97
repeated without film 'some yo yo stuff' 29.08.99
real surprises come unexpectedly. like the documentary about the artist who, when he was part of the rock 'n' roll circus, demolished the musical rules and created a new and daring sound: don vliet alias captain beefheart. during his 1964-1982 musical period but few people realized how unique his music would proof to be - and he even met greater recognition in other countries than his culturally narrow-minded land of origin, the united states of
americahamburgers. so it really isn't a surprise that the only report ever made about the lives and times of the captain comes from the european continent, which has delivered a book (not to mention mine about the cover versions), four biographies, a fanzine and all those vinyl and cd bootlegs.
on the other hand it is quite a wonder the special has been broadcast anyhow. because originally it was planned to be a part of the bbc's "late show" programs in autumn 1994, but that art series simply stopped (in 1995) before the beefheart item was shown. it looked like no-one would ever see the expected visual report - as well as the including don van vliet/anton corbijn co-production "some yo yo stuff". the fact that this short film was shown by anton corbijn on dutch television last year, made clear that the bbc presumably had given up all plans for the documentary. how it turned out to be wrong! when we all had lost hope, there came the unbelievable message that on 19 august 1997 their second channel would bring a program called "the artist formerly known as captain beefheart", followed by "some yo yo stuff".
so all the hastily warned clans of beefheart fans who could receive that program (in the u.k., ireland and the lucky netherlands) of course stayed up late to watch it. after just five minutes they were completely stunned - and out of their minds for at least a week. hell, why? because the 'show' is so fantastic, marvelous, great and amazing it leaves the viewer paralysed and speechless. i'm glad i did survive this enormous moment and meanwhile have restored to life enough to tell all the poor folks who had to miss this milestone in beefheart-land, about it. [nevertheless they really gotta see it!!!]
"THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS CAPTAIN BEEFHEART" IS A POETIC CHRONOLOGICAL REVIEW OF DON VAN VLIET'S STRUGGLE WITH ART AND LOWER CIRCUMSTANCES. THE ONE HOUR DOCUMENTARY HAS THE WELL-KNOWN FAMOUS BBC QUALITY AND ENTHUSIASM. NOT IN THE LEAST BECAUSE THEY FOUND THEIR VIP JOHN PEEL DARING TO PRESENT THIS PROGRAM, AND DON'S PERSONAL PHOTOGRAPHER ANTON CORBIJN WAS WILLING TO CO-OPERATE WITH THEM. THE RESULT IS PURE OVERWHELMING MAGIC AS THEY ALSO DUG UP A TREMENDOUS LOAD OF CRAZY FILM MATERIAL.
OF COURSE THE DOCUMENTARY INCLUDES RECENT INTERVIEWS WITH FORMER MEMBERS OF "THE MAGIC BAND" AND A COLLECTION OF OTHER MORE OR LESS INTERESTING PEOPLE: * not at all: one or other executive from the record moloch 'virgin' (soft sponsoring?). * a bit: a few painting experts. * QUITE: BRUCE FOWLER and ERIC DREW FELDMAN. * NATURALLY: MATT GROENING - cartoonist of 'the simpsons' - AS THE ADDICTED FAN. * VERY: THE INEVITABLE FRANK ZAPPA; AND JIMMY CARL BLACK (the indian of the magic band) IN THE NICE ROLE OF JUDGE ON THE BEEFHEART-ZAPPA QUESTION ["frank is good, but don is the real thing"]. * EXTREMELY: RY COODER, DOUG MOON. * EXTRA-ORDINARY: JOHN FRENCH.
SOME OF THE TRUE STORIES THEY REMEMBER, ARE UNHEARD MEMORIES OF: * DON'S TEENAGE YEARS IN LANCASTER. did you know that frank zappa, when his high-school was out, spent most of his time at the parental house of don [who already had wisely dropped out] to drink pepsi and listen to rhythm and blues records till deep at night? * THE BEGINNING YEARS: HOW THE "LOCAL HEROES" TRIED TO ACT AS A MARKETABLE POP GROUP! * MYSTERIOUS 1967 HAPPENINGS WITH VIOLENT CHANGES IN THE BAND LINE-UP. troubles around the 'safe as milk' recording and why they didn't perform at the monterey pop festival: because of don's flashes of anxiety that let him think he had heart-attacks. * TROUT MASK CAPTIVITY: THE ENDLESS REHEARSALS AND THE DAILY MEALS OF ONE CUP OF SOYABEANS. * BONGO FURY TOUR: DON PRODUCED THREE THICK SKETCHING-BOOKS FULL OF DRAWINGS OF FRANK (got you…!) IN EACH THINKABLE FORM. a very funny story. * AFTERWARDS. about the PAINTER VAN VLIET; and his health.
AS A BROADCAST WITH ONLY TALKING HEADS IS QUITE DULL, THE TEEVEE STATION ALSO SEARCHED FOR MEMORABLE PICTURES AND SHOTS OF THE PLACES WHERE THE LEGEND OF 'CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & HIS MAGIC BAND' TOOK ITS SHAPE - AND THEY MANAGED TO LAY HANDS ON AMAZING STUFF LIKE * PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE YOUTH OF DON IN GLENDALE, HIS TINY TOWN OF BIRTH. shots of birthday parties with his family, also showing that he once was very proud on a glimmering cowboy outfit he got (yes, he has been innocent too). * THE (MODERN) TOWN OF LANCASTER AND THE MOJAVE DESERT AROUND IT. * COMPLETELY UNKNOWN PICTURES OF THE VERY FIRST MAGIC BANDSAND POSTERS OF SOME OF THE EARLIEST LOCAL CONCERTS. * HIS PARENTAL HOME IN LANCASTER, THE 'TROUT MASK REPLICA' TEMPLE (also see this picture), a trailer like the one he lived in during his self-chosen desert loneliness AND THE CURRENT VIEW FROM HIS WINDOW ON THE CALIFORNIAN COAST.
BESIDES MOVIE SHOTS FROM EXHIBITIONS THE DOCUMENTARY CONTAINS TINY BITS OF INTERVIEWS WITH CAPTAIN BEEFHEART/DON VAN VLIET ABOUT QUESTIONS SUCH AS: * MONEY. MUSIC. ART. LIVING IN THE DESERT. * WHY HIS (1972) PAINTINGS ARE IN WHITE, GREY AND BLACK. answer: because they are more dramatic than coloured ones - PEOPLE SHOULD USE THEIR IMAGINATION TO COMPLETE THEM. * THE ELIMINATION OF THE "MOMMA HEART-BEAT". * HOW HE DRILLS THE MAGIC BAND: BY WHIP…!
TO HARDCORE FANS SOME OF THAT MATERIAL IS KNOWN FROM THE NOT SO OFFICIAL, USUALLY OF BAD QUALITY "IF YOU GOT EARS…" VIDEO - BUT THÉSE TAKES ARE OF AN EXTREME BEAUTY! WHICH ALSO GOES FOR THE LIVE AND OTHER FOOTAGE THAT WAS FOUND. A PART OF IT ONCE HAD AN OFFICIAL STATUS OR BACK-GROUND: * LICK MY DECALS OFF, BABY. the end of the banned tv spot from 1971. * ICE CREAM FOR CROW. the 1982 promo clip that was his farewell greeting to music. * "OLD GREY WHISTLE TEST" SONGS: 'upon the my-o-my' (1974), 'big eyed beans from venus' (1973; very short flash). * I'M GONNA BOOGLARIZE YOU BABY. from a 1972 german TV SESSION. * LIVE PERFORMANCE IN THE TRAGIC YEAR 1974. * A 1980 REHEARSAL OF 'THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTE BLUES' song from 1972. * THE FABULOUS SESSION FOR THE FRENCH TV ON 7 NOVEMBER 1980. 'BEST BATCH YET' AND 'BAT CHAIN PULLER'.
THOUGH I HAD EXPECTED SOME OUTTAKES FROM TWO AMERICAN TV SHOWS [THE WEIRD SESSION FROM EARLY 1971 AND THEIR APPEARANCE ON A 1980 'LATE NIGHT SHOW'] AND PERHAPS THE FABULOUS "INSTRUMENTAL FOR FEET AND FINGERS", I WAS MISTREATED AT THAT POINT. BUT I REALLY DON'T HAVE TO COMPLAIN, FOR THEY COMPENSATED IT WITH A STUNNING LOT OF OTHER MIND-BLOWING MOVING PICTURES EVERY BEEFHEART FAN WILL CHEER ABOUT FOREVER. ALL THE LIVE FOOTAGE IS IN COLOUR FOR INSTANCE [mind that i've left out all the tens of exclamation marks that are placed behind each item]: * FROM THE BATACLAN, PARIS PERFORMANCE, 15 APRIL 1972: 'CLICK CLACK'. * ROME POP FESTIVAL, ITALY, 4 MAY 1968. without the accompanying sound, because it is shown during the 'trout' episode (small error, folks). * CANNES, FRANCE, END OF JANUARY 1968. INDEED, THE VERY FAMOUS BEACH CONCERT!!! INSPIRED, SWINGING VERSIONS OF 'SURE 'NUFF 'N' YES I DO' AND 'ELECTRICITY'.
OF THE SAME HIGH DEGREE OF SURPRISE ARE * ANTON CORBIJN'S PRIVATE VIDEO SHOTS OF DON AT HOME IN 1990. in black & white of course. BUT THE SUMMITS OF THE DOCUMENTARY ARE THE "CLIPS" FROM THE SECOND HALF OF THE 60'S: * DIDDY WAH DIDDY FROM 1965. A NEVER HEARD-OF PLAY-BACK REGISTRATION OF THEIR FIRST SINGLE AMIDST DANCING BEACH VISITORS. REALLY GREAT AND HISTORICALLY MOST IMPORTANT. in black and white, but that doesn't matter at all. * AUTUMN'S CHILD (1967) WHICH LOOKS LIKE IT WAS TAPED FOR A LIVE TV POP SHOW. * CAPTAIN BEEFHEART PERFORMING A "COMPOSITION FOR SILENT FINGERS". around 1969. * TROUT MASK REPLICA. UNBELIEVABLE SHOTS from the home videos which cal schenkel (their album designer at the time) made OF THE BAND NOT REHEARSING, AND an example of superb strangeness: CAPTAIN BEEFHEART PLAYING ON CLARINET IN HIS 'TROUT MASK REPLICA' DISGUISE…. this last shot even is in real colour.
YOU UNDERSTAND THAT THIS ALREADY LEGENDARY, FULLY OVERWHELMING DOCUMENT IS A HOT WANT FOR ALL THE BEEFHEART SPOTTERS IN THIS UNIVERSE. ALTHOUGH NONE OF THE SONGS IS REPRODUCED IN ITS ENTIRE LENGTH, TRUE ADDICTS WON'T CARE BECAUSE THEY KNOW IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO 'BE FART' IN 55 MINUTES. SO WHILE WE ARE SECRETLY HOPING FOR A NEW MAGIC EVENT: AN OFFICIAL RELEASE OF A HIGH QUALITY VIDEO WITH ALL THE KNOWN BEAUTIFUL PICTURES, WE GLADLY ENJOY "THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS CAPTAIN BEEFHEART". OVER AND OVER…
AS A SORT OF EPILOGUE TO THE PROGRAM THE BBC SHOWED THE SHORT FILM WHICH DON VAN VLIET AND ANTON CORBIJN SPECIALLY MADE IN 1993 FOR THIS TV BROADCAST: SOME YO YO STUFF. FORTUNATELY I ALREADY WROTE A REVIEW ABOUT IT A YEAR AGO, AFTER ITS APPEARANCE ON A DUTCH TV CHANNEL.
note: the repeated showing of the documentary on 29.08.99 did nót contain this film!
MY CONCLUSION: ASTONISHING. BRILLIANT. MAGNIFICENT. PERFECT.
MY ADVICE: DON'T EVER TRY TO SEE THIS!!! IT'S SO BLUSTERING AND GREAT IT CAN VERY EASILY DAMAGE YOUR MIND FOR GOOD!.
070997 theo tieman
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