captain beefheart electricity

history - interviewflits

a study of captain beefheart

from usa 19 march 1972 CRAWDADDY #7/72
by patrick carr
is 15 january 1972 interview

note: with some dates and facts set straight, and a few editorial adaptations

THIS is PART 1 - part 2 - part 3


'there's one waterhole. there's one drop of water which makes up the ocean. and i'm just one of those drops of water. i would like to color that drop of water out and just let it break into the sunset.'

'new york is a slow turtle with diarrhea,' says captain beefheart, alias the spotlight kid, alias don van vliet.

the anderson theater is in that area of new york now known as the lower east side. once it was called the east village, when flower power sowed its stone fields with the waifs and strays and prophets of the new america. even if it is no longer a cool and groovy place to live, let alone hang out on a saturday night, some junior entrepreneurs chose the anderson for the scene of captain beefheart's recent sell-out concert (on 15 january, opening the usa tour - t.t.).

perhaps a winter evening of freaky follies amid the wizened ghosts of east village freakdom in such a classic (vintage) setting was not the optimum opportunity for trite appreciation of captain beefheart, spirit child of the earth: whatever, it could not have been more suited for the exposure of the spotlight kid.

the spotlight kid has emerged from the cocoon of captain beefheart's inner world; simply, that means that the good captain has finally decided that he wants to be heard and seen by his fellow humans, some of whom may easily have been alienated by the much-publicized weirdo mystique which has grown up around the man. beefheart has taken tentative steps towards those people with his new album.


no, it's not a compromise, he says from the cushioned depths of a warner brothers armchair. i got tired of scáring people with what i was doing. i mean, people were bácking áway. i realized that i had to give them something to hang their hat on, so i started working more of a beat into the music. it's more human that way. you know, i wrote four hundred songs for this album?

be not misled, though. 'the spotlight kid', compositions from which were performed at the anderson, is about as far away from humdrum old rock and roll as eureka, california (where don is living - t.t.) is from east 50th street on manhattan island, the scene of my last meeting with captain beefheart. like anything the man turns his hand to, his latest album is, er, sómething élse - the creative product of a truly unique artist and four of the most 'advanced' musicians currently occupied with the pursuit of musical communication.

beefheart's music is earth music, but not in the sense that term is most often used to apply to any gutsy basic form of rock and blues. beefheart's music includes the animals, the sky, the sea, the plants, and all else that conspired to form his extraordinary vision.

captain beefheart / don van vliet - new york, usa mid january 1972 - picture by ed gallucci
picture by ed gallucci

as the most commercial of his albums, 'the spotlight kid' may just get the word around. what is the word? well, that may take some time to explain in little mechanical words drummed out from under several thousand tons of masonry here in necropolis, 1972, chinese year of the rat...

almost exactly one year ago i walked into a holiday inn motel room and met the man whose reputation had prepared me for an interview of the strangest sort; the word was out that the good captain was endowed with powers of which your average journalist has little experience. my ridiculous paranoia was allayed within minutes: beefheart was kind, open for ideas and willing to reveal his own. over the course of four meetings, he treated me as a friend and ally. in short; beefheart is a good man.

briefly, don van vliet was born in 1941 in glendale, california. from an early age, he rejected the molds and false premises of american culture, preferring to learn the world in his own way by recreating the range of nature's creatures in clay. likewise, he refused to restrict his imagination to the conventional boundaries of the english language. his parents, fearing that they had produced some kind of freak - and they had - took him away to the desert, away from the influence of 'corrupt’ artistic acquaintances (like the sculptor who introduced him and his art to teevee audiences
[agostinho rodrigues - t.t.]).

i’ve seen man's heart in a large filing cabinet, the captain remembers. i've seen the smile of the buick riviera. modern man keeps wanting to graduate, but they graduate in the areas that seem to be so solitary instead of the kind areas, like dolphins graduating across the horizon into the sun. man graduates with no sand and sun and water. i think more children should play with mudpies, but that's out now.

beefheart had committed himself to graduation in the kind areas already, though, so his parents' ploy was not successful. in lancaster, california, he began to listen to and play with music, developing a taste for delta blues and the jazz of coltrane, ornette coleman, and other 'kind' beings. he met and befriended frank zappa in lancaster, and after a brief stint at art college and various unsatisfactory forms of paid employment, he began a professional association with zappa which at that time produced no tangible results.

when zappa, before he would join the mothers of invention, had been sent to jail for a while due to 'producing un-allowed films', beefheart assembled his first magic band and proceeded to wow the natives as very few performers had ever done; in 1965, the magic band was, to say the least, únusual. playing a revolutionary blend of delta, rock, and jazz, all worked into beefheart's incredible five and a half octave vocal range and performed in all-black leather outfits to the accompaniment of the captain's humorous worldly / other-worldly wisdom, they soon attracted the attention of record company talent scouts.

and thus did beefheart's career in the music business begin. thát saga reads like the story of a good martian trying to make it in the garment district, never quite sure of how he got there or why he stayed. alice in blunderland.

i could have made it many times, but i had to make my creative contribution, you know?



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