DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
history - interview
people talk about
from england 30 may 1968 RECORD MIRROR #377
note: without title and credits reprinted in liner notes to 1998 bootleg cd out here over there
most people who play pop music and seem to be successful (judging by the conventional criteria of success) seem to have a little musical talent and plenty of glorious superlatives hung on to them by their manager / publicist / record company - that cast of thousands every money-making pop act grows around them.*
captain beefheart and the magic band are made of sterner stuff. their conventional success is not very great. they have never had a hit record of any sort anywhere, they have never played at the albert hall nor the shea stadium nor the royal variety show. they have (to my knowledge) no thriving fan club, sending out richly-informed monthly bulletins, and their faces are unknown to readers of magazines like '16', 'jackie' and 'fabulous'.
yet beefheart's magic band is undoubtedly successful. they are one of the best-known american groups in britain and whatever they play, massed audiences attend. and what is truly important: people talk about beefheart, and many of them wonder what he's all about.
the captain (real name don van vliet) was roused from a state of sleep to talk to me, and surrounded by the newly-wakened magic band (three aware musicians) i learned more about the group whose first elpee 'safe as milk' is counted among the best underground records for years.
we try to tell the kids to watch out. it's something that started years ago when i was about sixteen and i was stopped and searched by a cop because he didn't like the way i looked. this is in a free country. it's getting closer to [george orwell's book] '1984' when a television set in your room will register a change in your facial expression. the kids have to watch for the men in grey flannels, and this generation of young people is completely different to any other generation. they are more aware, and this has been caused by their attitudes, mind-expanding drugs, and most important of all the music they listen to. music is the most important medium of all of the art forms because for the kids it is the easiest to understand - it gets through to them.
you can write a poem, and use the word 'yellow'. ok. but if you put music to it, you add another depth to the word yellow, and this conjours up pictures in the mind - and that's where it's all at, in the mind. this is why bob dylan put his poems to music, and very successfully too. i can admire dylan - he's a god in the states.
the important thing to the group is to communicate. there's really only one song on the 'safe as milk' elpee that starts to put across this message, and that's 'electricity'. if you asked that guy downstairs what i meant by electricity, he'd think about the plug in the wall. our next lp will be full of these type of songs. next to telepathy, music is the best form of communication. we get kids in britain who stand and watch our act and afterwards say to us: 'don't change a bit'.
we want to have ears that will listen to
us. i can't express these ideas properly in words. i'll have to play you
our new elpee when it comes through, that's better, and points towards
the aim, the ideal. there aren't many other groups trying to do this, putting
across this type of message.
the byrds? no, they only hinted at it when they reflect dylan. nor the beatles, although they have certainly brought some fresh air on the scene and done a lot of good. but 'she loves you, yeah, yeah'? they are better now - a bit better. the mothers of invention? yes, they're nearer to it than anyone else, but as i say, i haven't heard many other groups.
'ANYONE OVER THIRTY...'
anyone over thirty isn't capable of understanding what this is all about, and this is the big gap between the generations. the kids of thirteen nowadays - the ones who see us - they're the kids who are really going to get this message. george orwell who wrote '1984' knew what was going to happen, and now this is nearer, but it was pretty near even when he wrote that book. people are brought up in a completely protected atmosphere, but it isn't for their good, it confines them, they're restricted by these conventions.
like if a guy wears grey flannel and those square gold-rimmed glasses, then he's ok for president. also he'll have a few million, so everyone will say: 'he must know what it's about if he's got that money'. as for actor ronald reagan...: i can just see his wife - she's the real governor - saying to him: 'comb your hair thÝs way, dear'.
i said goodbye to the captain and his band after remembering their first british ally peter meaden to them (who introduced the band to john peel who has done so much for them) and wandered off, hoping that some of their message would get through to you, without the aid of poetry, or music, or telepathy.