captain beefheart electricity


history - interviewflits


from england 29 november 1971 FRENDZ #16
by laurie gane
is second half october 1971 usa interview

* the 'ooom...' headers are editorial additions
* all pictures by laurie gane
* the additional pictures were published in england 1 march 2011 MOJO #208


the hollywood franklin motor motel is a monument to many things american, but few of them hold any charm for captain beefheart. 'you see, i don't regard myself as being in a motel. i couldn't do that. if i did, i'd probably go mad. you know what i mean?'

beefheart is constantly asking you if you know what he means. he is not just making jokes. he is not simply a verbal battering-ram as some have suggested. he is not just playing games with words (although this is certainly a part of it). he also happens to mean everything he says. he has something to say and he wants to be taken seriously. his misfortune is that few people seem to be either able or willing to take him seriously.

psychiatrist: 'so. he does not regard himself as being in a motel. we see here the beginnings of the delusional system frequently associated with certain forms of psychosis.'

                        beefheart / don van vliet - hollywood,
                        california, usa october 1971 - picture by laurie
DON VAN VLIET captain beefheart
caption: presenting for your entertainment...: it's captain beefhart (er, beefhárt? - teejo)...

so much for sanity. the tyranny of language, of descriptions, of labels, is something beefheart has always fought against - perhaps more successfully than any other living american artist. 'i am not a musician,' he says. to underline the point he will tell you about a book of his poetry soon to be published, and a film project he hopes to do if he can find the money.

'but i've been in this music business for ten years.' of course, he's made no money from it. why should people buy music they don't understand? on tour he rents a car. his main items of property consist of a portable teevee, a hi-fi set which someone recently gave him, and some suits which his manager bought for him 'to attend business conferences (at warner records - l.g.). otherwise i might have frightened some of those guys.'.

                      beefheart / don van vliet - bill harkleroad / zoot
                      horn rollo, don van vliet / captain beefheart -
                      hollywood, california, usa october 1971 - picture
                      by laurie ganeadditional picture (bill and don)

he doesn't need to point out how they frightened him. 'you know, those guys think i'm over the hill. and i think they're over the hill.' such people have called beefheart 'surreal' and 'dadaist'. this only confirms his view that they are 'over the hill', for there is something very odd about an attitude which describes reality as 'surreal'.

yet he is not a bitter person; a little sad maybe, but not bitter. sad also because: 'as soon as anyone (zappa? dylan? - l.g.) gets enough space around himself, he usually doesn't use it.' i suggested the unoriginal solution that nothing inflates the ego like success. 'yeah, but how can anyone who is really intelligent think he is more intelligent than anyone else?'

the problem of how to make good use of any space one can make for oneself is a difficult one, and beefheart is the first to admit it. for him any medium one chooses - whether words, sounds or images - will always 'get in the way'. take music: 'the guitar is a ridiculous instrument. you play guitar? guitar is like thumbing your nose at the angels. you know what i mean?'

                        horn rollo / bill harkleroad - hollywood,
                        california, usa october 1971 - picture by laurie
BILL HARKLEROAD zoot horn rollo
caption: ... and zoot horn rollo...


if you've got to play an instrument a bass would be better: a bass doesn't try so hard, so it won't fail so badly. but every instrument fails more or less. it is not an accident that beefheart's first instrument is his language. it gets in the way, of course, but not too much. one reason for this might be that he never went to school (as don let his listeners believe - teejo). if anything can get in your way, school can.

when he was five, his father presented him with a gun, in true american style. 'i never forgave him for it,' he said. in spite of this, beefheart's deep affection for living things, whether animal or plant, has survived, as his poetry will demonstrate. his dislike of walt disney is for what he did to animals. when nature itself is made to wear trousers, drive motor-cars and become moral, things are really getting bad.

when milk is no longer safe, we begin to get angry or maybe depressed. so we take up surfing or religion or dope (the three most popular west coast pastimes). to which beefheart responds: 'why fill your head with all those things, when it's so full already?'

ed marimba / art tripp -
                      hollywood, california, usa october 1971 - picture
                      by laurie ganeART TRIPP ed marimba
caption: ... and last but not least the amazing bill (er, bíll? - teejo)

the problem, of course, is how to discover how very full your head is. the captain has shown us that this discovery can be made. the trouble is that most of us refuse to throw off our old trout masks: we are still swimming strongly upstream against the current.


between west hollywood and beverly hills, at third street and la cienega boulevard lies the record plant. just one more recording studio with a couple of million dollars worth of equipment for transferring sounds onto magnetic tape. from three to nine am every night and morning for a week the band sat, playing and listening ('the spotlight kid' - t.t). of course, it sounded good in a way. if you're into frequency response, zero harmonic distortion and stereo effect, then it sounded terrific. but possibly the best track on 'trout mask replica' was 'china pig' - and that was recorded at home on a domestic cassette player.

                      beefheart / don van vliet - hollywood, california,
                      usa october 1971 - picture by laurie gane
additional picture

everything gets in the way. but some currents are stronger than others. perhaps it's time to draw up a chart of the tidal flow?

click clack back to the history or return to the power station

flits captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo