captain beefheart electricity


history - interviewflits


from england 2 june 1972 TIME OUT #120
by connor mcknight
is 24 march 1972 interview

* text reproduced as blabber 'n smoke in england book THE LIVES AND TIMES OF CAPTAIN BEEFHEART
* second part of text reprinted in england 1998 book TIME OUT INTERVIEWS 1968-1998

THIS is PART 1 - part 2


beefheart is an incurable jester. he has often said that it is important that his music is played in an unselfconscious, playful way and on his recent tour he interspersed wisecracks and surreal little bits of dialogue with the songs. most of these episodes have great significance. 'meditation soothes the mind and body', which beefheart proclaimed, was a slogan that the maharishi used in los angeles, and the gabbled bit of spanish that oréjon (aka roy estrada - t.t.) replied with, is what all the mexican kids use to beg a bob or two off american tourists. get it?

anyway, talking to him is just like that and all the interviews that show him docilely waiting for the question to end, were either a different guy or a faulty cassette machine. one of his favourite tricks is to ignore questions so that a backlog builds up, from which he will then choose one, and then, in the middle of answering that, he'll start answering another. whew.

so what follows is an attempt to capture the feeling of talking with a luminous intelligence, but as well a twinkling, humorous player (his talk is constantly punctuated by winks and little smiles that he employs to reassure the listener that he is just playing and not to get too upset by the apparent illogicality of it all).


while the usual preliminaries were being gone through, bill shumow, the group's road manager, put on 'the spotlight kid'. the captain asked whether i minded the music playing while we talked.

not if you don't mind talking over it.

wasn't there an album on before? who was it?

leon russell.

no wonder it was so insignificant, i couldn't even hear it. ugh, i can't make that cat.

what, musically?

he stole my hat, you know. he wears a hat exactly like mine.

well, there is a similarity of hats, but i had always thought of beefheart's hat as the pilgrim hat featured on the cover of 'trout mask replica'.

what happened to that hat?

ah, hammond [a member of the british band 'jethro tull' - t.t.] has that one. geoffrey hammond, he got it in new york. but i like geoffrey, i don't mind him having it.

the hat in question has a mighty peculiar brim, like half of it is missing. is it a beefheartian illusion, allusion or what?

oh, i made it like that, with just two bits sticking out. well, all of a sudden that cat leon russell appears with my hat, the top hat, dickens hat or whatever: that dickens got my hat, you see, wore a hat like mine. now where's that at, you know what i mean? he's too thin to wear a hat like mine.... no, i'm just kidding. no, i'm not really.

what? too thin?

yeah, up here, mentally. (kind of bores his finger into his temple and gives a little wink.)

well, where do you suppose he got the vest from?

oh, jimi hendrix, or somebody else like that.

ed marimba / art tripp - outside 'the spotlight kid' tour england 1972
ed marimba / art tripp waiting outside

i asked who the fellow called bermann was who had been credited with co-authorship of the songs on 'safe as milk', the captain's first album.

the bearmann did you say?

the birdman.

that's about it right there.

alice in bearland.

you said it.

...- who co-wrote some of the songs on 'safe as milk'.

well, he was a fellow that i met up in the desert; he was a writer and i sort of collaborated with him on some of the songs on the album. he didn't really write that much, but what he did write was nice. i got together with him because at the time the group that i was with wouldn't listen to a thing i said, and i thought that if i was with what they thought was a professional writer, they would listen to me. you see, my stuff seemed too far out for them.

but it didn't work out: they still wouldn't listen. as a matter of fact, they came over here [in 1968 - t.t.] and we played at the middle earth and they really dug it, you know, everybody was really there, you know, we were there, but they - the group - weren't there. i mean: they were still over in america thinking that nobody wanted to hear them.

so that's why i have the group i have now, it took me five years to get this group together. they're honest men and they don't look down on people, they look straight across at them. which is important to me. honestly.

well, honesty certainly hasn't been evident in the way the business has treated the captain. i had been rather puzzled by the absence of lyrics for either 'trout mask replica' or 'lick my decals off, baby'. both albums contain some of the captain's most potent images. take this, for example, from 'the buggy boogie woogie' on 'lick my decals off, baby': one day i was sweeping down by the wall / i bumped a mama spider and the babies began to fall / off of my broom / now i gotta keep sweeping and sweeping / before they fill the room....

there weren't any lyrics over here? oh, the bastards...! the bastards...! why do they do it to me?... oh why?... the shits!... and if you want man, i'll sign that. you send that to me and i'll sign it. was that put out by thát mán (a reference to frank zappa)?

the captain feels that zappa was not at all interested in his music and that this explains why the magic band were promoted as 'one of the animal crackers' by zappa's label - along with other 'weirdo' groups like the g.t.o.s and alice cooper. i thought it only fair to point out that if it hadn't been for zappa 'trout mask replica' - an astonishing creation - would never have got made.

oh shit, man, he did nothing. the boys did all the work, they were great. that man just curled up in the control room and went to sleep. anyway, i don't want to talk about it.

at this, some of his composure returned and that little devilish smile that he finds so hard to curb, returned as he added:

i did it, man; i did it. i put myself in the music business, so they naturally gave me the music business' trademark: the bum's rush.



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