DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
history - interview
'GUITAR IS LIKE THUMBING YOUR NOSE AT THE ANGELS'
from england 29 november 1971 FRENDZ #16
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.'
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.'.
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?'
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?'
ART TRIPP ed marimba
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.
everything gets in the way. but some currents are stronger than others. perhaps it's time to draw up a chart of the tidal