DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
history - interview
from france 1 june 1972 ROCK & FOLK #65
note: all pictures by jean-pierre leloir, taken at the 15 april 1972 bataclan, paris concert
the concert at the bataclan has just ended. the audience can't decide to leave the venue: it is dumbfounded. the performance had been lashing: it hadn't provoked an intense enthusiasm - but rather a kind of stupefaction. beefheart and his magic band had shaken the public: it was shocked. backstage beefheart meets the poor gang of male and female groupies looking for the super-star. up-stage roy estrada, leaning on the case of his guitar, patiently waits till all has finished.(*)
the interviewer from 'pop 2' (radio program by the french broadcasting company o.r.t.f. - t.t.) was defying captain beefheart's answers. the questions, the interviewer himself, didn't please beefheart: he gets excited in an aggressive, even violent way. is he kidding, playing his role of extravagant person? he points: 'i refuse to be a product of history'; he strongly addresses to the interviewer: are you with the c.i.a.? an icy silence occurs. it is over and out!
beefheart is wearing his stage clothes: a large black cloak over the shoulders, his red silk trousers, his head covered with a strange bonnet. there, on stage, he assumes one of his personalities, because - as he uses to say - it is impossible to fix, to congeal someone definitively: he wants to be multiple. he says to me: 'i've noticed you in the hall; you seemed to enjoy the music. you liked it, that was obvious! come along to the hotel.'
the p.l.m., a new complex of hotels at
the boulevard saint jacques: beefheart and his magic band have a remarkable
entrance. long lugubrious corridors, false tinselly luxury. while we cross
the streets of this artificial market town with its 'french' café,
its shops, its restaurants, beefheart admires neck ties, a pair of shiny
black shoes; all crocodilian objects fascinate him.
BILL HARKLEROAD zoot horn rollo
the bedroom: designed as a strongbox; beefheart, his wife jan. it's the moment of descend, the fall out of the stored energy for the concert. the contact begins to establish. we evoke tristan tzara. beefheart....: 'i don't believe i know him. wasn't he a painter too? didn't he shave one side of his head?' the interview has begun....
is the work on the lyrics based on the words or the sound?
both at the same time, i think. sometimes the words pull out the image - or the contrary happens.
when we read the texts of your songs it seems as if they already have some rhythm - without the music.
yes, more people have said that. but you know, everybody has his own rhythm. percussion is very important for the actual level of speech. everybody walks in a different rhythm; for me it is a special way to express myself. in fact, i've never learned the english language, i don't have any kind of schooling, did you know that?
i have never read a single book. although i've written a lot myself i have never read what others wrote, which may seem quite selfish. but actually, in my view, it isn't a selfish attitude. during a very long time it was difficult for me to express myself in the way i do nowadays. i couldn't work, when i lived locked up in my house for about five years. i think that during those years i never saw the sun. i wrote around eighty pages a day. what a horrible place this hotel is! the design of the chairs is really unbelievable - you could say: poodles with their heads cut off...
at the time of the recording of 'trout mask replica' you said in an interview that you preferred to work with musicians who don't know how to play their instrument, who have a spontaneous approach.
yes, and it's in that spirit that i've picked up zoot horn rollo (bill harkleroad - t.t.) and rockette morton (mark boston) then: both never had played before they met me. that's why i wanted to have them for 'trout mask replica': they didn't have any musical pretension, they weren't coming from a school with pretended religious principles, principles of a dusty classic music. i have always preferred musicians who haven't had contact with the instrument before, because professional musicians wear glittering shoes and snap their fingers (gestures)..., you know what i mean?
as to art tripp (ed marimba), there has been so much music in his life, he has played so much that he's able to go beyond the music, so-to-say: to forget it. he can return to very elementary structures. as a matter of fact: what i'm doing is very elementary although maybe very intellectual too, specially on a record like 'trout mask replica'; it was the first time i played piano and the language is extremely open, very free. we made that album with the group, after having lived very close to each other for some time.
have you chosen musicians without any musical education in the hope that they would invent something new?
it sure seems to me that that's what they have done! distributing that album ('trout mask replica') and letting people listen to it, can help them to free themselves from the learned music, the learned rhythm. most people stay attached to their mother by an umbilical cord for years, sometimes their whole life through; as to music: it's a bit the same.
listening to your music, we always get the impression of some 'lack': a bit of bumpy-bump music, based on dissonance and which doesn't follow a straight line?
that marks my will to find back a more natural rhythm, more healthy, less bombastic one.
you use your voice rather as an instrument than as a vehicle for words.
absolutely! thát, by the way, is what seems new to me.
the way in which you use copper instruments reminds of that of the free jazz guys. there has been talk of influence from eric dolphy in your play.
eric dolphy? i have never heard eric dolphy, but indeed i was often told that i have been submerged in his influence. actually, i specially like the sound of the bass clarinet: because it reminds me of the screaming of wild geese - and that's what i try to imitate, you know: the wild geese when they fly over in large numbers, it's so extraordinarily to hear them pass. i told about it in one of my songs: 'steal softly thru snow' from the album 'trout mask replica'. with the bass clarinet i can reach those screams.
what do you think about the evolution of rock and where do you place yourself in relation to that evolution, the context of it?
that's of no importance for me. i don't believe to be directly concerned: hard drugs don't interest me that much; i don't insist on 'power to the people' like certain others; neither do i want to be an idol like the majority. i only wanna have fun in playing, and that people start to listen to me; i don't have a need to let them shout 'fuck' to excite them. that's not the way to create energy, it should be transmitted by the sound. just like my music shouldn't be something 'safe' it shouldn't give an impression of cruelty too: it has to be 'smokeless', to the measure of the human spirit. the human spirit is 'smokeless': it burns, it lightens without smoke.... as a matter of fact, i came with a message....
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