captain beefheart electricity


history - interviewflits

on front page: beefheart, self-confessed genius

from england 1 april 1972 SOUNDS
by steve peacock
is 23 march 1972 interview

* text reprinted as beefheart is alive in 1977 and as th' interview in 1980 and 1982 england book BABYLON BOOKS * the lives and times of CAPTAIN BEEFHEART
* all pictures by spud murphy

THIS is PART 1 - part 2


the stories, nay legends, abound concerning captain beefheart - some of them funny, some of them terrifying, some of them just a little weird - so it was good to have the chance to talk to the captain. we covered a lot of ground in just over an hour, but i could have done with three days - there was so much to talk about. still, in these troubled times, we can't really devote three whole issues to him. editing explains some of the non-sequiturs in the following interview - the captain's thought processes the rest. we pick him up talking about the disadvantage of living with a legend.

when i was in boston [january last year], the writers were afraid to come see me - thought i was a mad freak, you see. so i got on the phone and called them. 'come on, let's talk,' i said, 'what the hell is this?' i came to town - i didn't know where to go, and the musicians, they wouldn't come round because they're all so fucking jealous: why, i don't know, but they are.

this man i met the other night, ian anderson (of the pop group 'jethro tull' - t.t), he's a nice man, really nice - but he's not like a musician, you know what i mean? there are musicians that fight each other on stage and all that sort of thing. other than ian anderson and ornette coleman (american jazz player - t.t.), who are the nicest people i've met in music, there's only a few.

do you meet many other musicians?

yeah, i do, but all i meet are these people who compete..., and competition destroys art. i've been competed with by a lot of people and i haven't fought back, so i haven't been known until recently. i'm not a fighter, i'm a painter, i mean i'm not gonna get into a prize fight just because of earning a living - that's crazy. all those people saying: 'well, i'm sure glad jimi hendrix passed away, because 'm the best now.' that's what all that shit is - i won't put up with it in my group, but they don't do it anyway so i don't have to put up with it.


is that why you haven't been gigging much until recently?

that's the biggest reason, because i'm not willing to go out and get into a battle of the bands - i'm not afraid of the competition, mind you, because i don't believe in it, so i couldn't possibly be afraid of it - but it does disgust me that people are going back to the twenties with .38s and the wide pointed shoulders, like the tanks and things.

i see a war emulation in the youth, and i have always seen it in the older people. on the stage, in music, and photography and painting and writing - everything. instead of being here right now, they are going back in their minds and they bump into people. and that's war.

how can america... - for instance: for twenty-four years they didn't even acknowledge millions of people in china, then all of a sudden: boom, they acknowledge them. where the hell is that at?

you see what i mean: competition breeds cataracts on their eyes. with these competitive schools, children are enrolled in these schools to receive cataracts - where is that at? that's just insanity, like somebody sticking their hand over your lens.

you go to school for a camera and they stick their hand over your lens, and it says their name on it, and they'll spread their fingers a little bit for you to see through the camera; but they spread their fingers or you wouldn't be able to see to shoot it.

now i'm with a [record] company [reprise - t.t.] that doesn't tell me what i'm going to play, and nobody's ever told me that they were going to turn me on - not 'the beatles' or nobody. that disgusted me, when i heard: 'i would like to turn you on' - man, i have never been ff: the minute i hit air i was 'on', as well as every other human being on this planet. i don't like stuff like that - i thought that was corny.

captain beefheart / don van vliet - london, england 22 march 1972 - picture by spud murphy

but that's what record companies told me, they said: 'we'll turn you on to this', and i said: 'you will not turn me on. i am on; can't you see me? don't you know that you're in a white light? why did you turn your's down?' when the record companies turn up to my light, that's it.

but i still played as much as money would allow - but i am realistic about it. now i'm here of my own volition. it's better, it feels better. if i walked in here with a thousand people from sourbuck records or something..., do you think anybody would really listen? it would just be one of those fish fries that they call a musical thing.


you have suffered quite a lot from the music business....

not at all, not at all. no way man - do you really think that they could make me suffer? are you kidding? am playing, they are wrking. i don't suffer.

but for instance, what happened to 'strictly personal' after you recorded it?...: the music suffered.

well, i told krasnow, i said: 'i hope you had fun, but i think that you should start playing yourself, so that you don't have to do that to mine'. it didn't make me that mad at krasnow, because he just wanted to play. he wanted me to make it - he didn't do it vindictively or maliciously, he just wanted me to make it - and he thought that my music was so heavy that if he put that phasing on it, that fizz, that people would think it was jizz or something. jizz with the fizz?

he didn't mean, he wasn't mean when he did it, he wanted to help me. he says he is sorry now, but i said: 'man, don't be sorry. hell, i've got years to go, i can make a million albums, what the hell is one little record? all that significance on one little record....' that's crazy, to put all that significance on a disc; all that significance on that plastic disc, is why people don't know there are flying saucers all over.

because they concentrate too much on little details.

right, that's right. you got it. what do you think about this..?: i'm doing an album now. i wrote it on the way from yale to boston, and this album is called 'brown star' (but eventually turned into 'clear spot' - teejo), and on this album i have a song called 'big eyed beans from venus' and i think you will like that over here..., like 'hullo old beans'.

but there's people around man, that have big eyes and are from venus, as opposed to being from what they try to make out as paradise. this is a paradise, what are they talking about? not once have they ever convinced me that this wasn't it - i don't have to go nowhere to know that this is it. and i'm not going to fall off it to find out that this was it later. i can dig this life, why should i be reincarnated?

a fellow asked me a while ago whether i believed in reincarnation, and i said: 'i think it's a milk product of america - carnation milk, have you ever heard of it?'. or pulled out of the ground like a screaming root boutonniere, you know, a carnation has been used as a thing that you stick on a man's lapel.

i love it in the ground, i don't wanna pull it out of the ground like that flower power bullshit. but for a better - what is it - evolution, we'd have been maybe plucked out of the ground, so you kind of think about pulling a flower.

the maharishi (a popular spiritual leader - t.t.) with all those flowers backed off and stuck around him - you know what i mean? where's that at, man? but i know that the man definitely has a lot of good ideas, no doubt about it.

can i ask you about the first album 'safe as milk' - the cover didn't have the personnel - who the musician were? ry cooder was on it, wasn't he?

ry cooder was on it - although he was on it less than another fellow. there was a fellow called alex 'st. clair' snouffer who had six fingers - he didn't, but he did - and he was the backbone of that album. he was the guitarist.

captain beefheart / don van vliet - london, england 22 march 1972 - picture by spud murphy

and the bass player was named jerry handley - he was english. the drummer was drumbo (real name: john french) - he played on every album man, and then he left after this album [the spotlight kid teejo], why i don't know. he is not playing music now - i don't know why he would want to leave my group. or hs group: because it's not my group, it's all of our group. and what could be better than what we are doing for him?

does drumbo have other names?

he is john french. now, ed marimba (art tripp)...: instead of on marimba, he is on drums.

there was one other guy on that other album - there was a fellow that did theremin..., i can't remember his name (samuel hoffman). he played the theremin on 'electricity' as well as 'autumn's child'. he's the same fellow that did 'spellbound' in the thirties.

and there was one other guy named russ titelman, who was ry cooder's brother-in-law: he was a producer at warners or reprise, and he played guitar on 'autumn's child' and 'where there's woman'.


when were the tracks that came out on 'mirror man' recorded? were they about the same time as 'strictly personal'?

a little before. they blew the sequence, didn't they?

yeah, because they sound a bit like 'strictly personal' that hasn't been messed about with.

look, you gotta hear that album. some day i'll re-mix it, because man, they are so heavy. they didn't know at the time what they heard, they still don't. now i have an engineer, who i am sure is going to be able to get the clarity and not leave the feelings off.

because very few people realise feelings - they realise the overtones of what i'm striving for, and they go for somewhere near off of the centre. i am going for overtones, they are going for somewhere near off of the centre - some of them try a bull's-eye, but that is a little bit stiff. i want the edges - that is what i'm doing, that's the way i do my music: for the edges.

they didn't know that, and i didn't know how to work that damn thing - i do now, but realistically it takes a long time. you see, i have not been in the business that long, i have probably only been on a stage a hundred and ten times in my whole career - that's nothing. i can't hardly even get a pilot's licence if i were an air-plane pilot.

do you find it difficult to work in recording studios, or did you?

i find it difficult to play....

yeah, sorry, wrong word.

oh no, not the wrong word. they want to work, and i want to play, and i have to convince them that there's a way to work and play. so when i get in there, it becomes a doctor or an analyst and his patient, and they lose their patience. they don't have patience to begin with.

now i have found one who does, i'll be able to do it, which is really lucky because you find them very seldom in a life time. now 'the beatles', they were very lucky to have had who they had - you know that, they were very, very lucky.

i heard you weren't happy with the zappa-produced 'trout mask replica'.

well, he's a worker, and i'm a player. i don't believe in working, and he makes a task of what he does - small, you know..., thoughts. like you said about details, he's missing 'the detail'.

but you were friends at one time, were you not?

well, you know, it's a chemical thing. he is the kind of person that's interested in presenting himself to be some kind of genius, and there's nothing i can do about it. and i think nothing of it - i want to be a human being, not a genius. if i used my mind for school work and things like that, i would be walking along with my head way ahead of my heart, so the thing is that i just got my self together to be a human being.

i don't want to be walking around with spyglasses - that's crazy. like (albert) einstein (physicist who developed the relativity theory t.t.), what did he do? he blew it. look what he did, he discovered that terrible thing and gave it to more terrible people - if he really was a genius, do you think he would have given that thing away like that?

pencil-necked geek - the beatniks used to say that, you remember that? they had it together, they smoked marijuana, not (slyly) ma-ri-ju-a-na! - you know what i mean. but i don't, i mean they should legalise marijuana. if there's that many people using it, they should legalise it and stop that ridiculous sentencing. but hard drugs: that's another story. anyone who is ridiculous enough to take that poison.... -

where would you put l.s.d. (quite heavy psychedelic drug - t.t.) in that?

i would say that it's an awfully over-rated aspirin (breaks into gales of laughter), and very similar to the old people's disneyland....



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flits captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo