<font face="Comic Sans MS">captain beefheart interview - an artist, a heartist / the don van vliet interview revisited (usa november 1977)</font>
captain beefheart electricity


history - interviewflits

an artist, a heartist

from usa 1 march 1978 FUTURE #3
by greg prevost
is 3 november 1977 interview

* text reprinted as captain beefheart - the don van vliet interview revisited in usa 1 january 2003 OUTASITE #4
* main part of text reprinted as don van vliet: an artist - a heartist (a conversation with captain beefheart) in usa 1 december 2017 UGLY THINGS #46
* includes corrections and additions from the later versions


as we approached captain beefheart for an interview, he was remarking to a small gathering of fans seeking photos:

i wish i was an octopus, i really do. i mean, could you imagine standing there octopied like that? (standing on one foot, one arm outstretched holding a cigarette, the other arm out holding a drink, imitating an octopus.) no, i mean man, that's beautiful, really.... i love dolphins, octopuses... animals, everything.

at the same time, a woman walked by with a piece of paper and pen and asked the captain: 'captain, can i have your autograph?'

well, no. but i cn dip my cigarette in your drink, if you want....

he wasn't being malicious, just off the wall and he did give her an autograph after the levity passed.

we met the captain (don van vliet) in the parking lot, between concerts at the red creek inn here in rochester (new york, usa - t.t.) recently, during his north eastern tour. we recorded the following interview:

greg (photographing carl and the captain holding a 'trout mask replica' album, leaning against a white station wagon): have to stand back a bit further. - snap! - did it work?

carl: yeah.

i thought you said for us to stand back a bit further. i mean, that's asking a bit too much.... im-pos-si-ble.... but no, it is possible to go right through the car. right through the wood, metal, upholstery.... i hve done a lot of things like that. (carl and i laugh.) no, i mean, i hve....

what is your favorite album that you recorded?

the one i just did. the name of it is bat chain puller, and i'm serious - and that isn't for publicity reasons - and it is, man, it is gd! i got to hear every little note. i wrote every little note - of course, i always have - but i got every little note right on the tape.

do you write your music down?

i don't write it down. well, i do write it down sometimes, but the way i write it most people can't read it. like paintings. i actually do, like in 'electricity' (from 'safe as milk'): the theremin fellow that played that was about sixty-five, had a little pencil thin moustache, conservative suit, black, very, ummm... - (in the background someone is yelling at a dog to stay out of the kitchen of the club the captain is appearing at) - leave him alone! let him go, man!.

club employee: in the kitchen?

sure, let him go get something to eat. (returning to subject:) no, what is it? bela lugosi - no: boris - ummm, bela lugosi: 'tonight we fly' (waving a pointed finger toward the sky). no, he looked like that, played a theremin and was an apprentice of dr. theremin (the russian inventor of that instrument - t.t.). and i wrote it on a blackboard and he played it note for note. i mean, i wrote it advanced music - and he played it note for note. i am talking about shapes: he did it note for note, and he didn't miss what i thought. i mean, he was fan-tas-tic.

were you originally a musician, or a painter?

i was a sculptor, a child prodigy sculptor. when i was thirteen, i had [been offered] a scholarship to europe from 'knudsen's creamery', and then my folks moved me to mojave near the high desert, where they put the oriental people during world war two, which was real sick. so here i was in mojave, a marine base, no, an air force base; i mean, in order to keep my mind the way it is, they didn't like my eyes you see, so i had to defend myself. i mean: i had to every day. five people at a time. i mean, all you can do when people jump you like that is punch your way out - i mean, who would want to punch someone out? but if you don't punch, you get poked. and i never got poked.

that was terrible, leaving that art area in los angeles. i used to go to the park zoo, i used to know all the animals, sculpted all the animals, they were all friends of mine, and that's about all i knew were animals. then: bom! here i am in mojave. my folks moved there, i couldn't get away. i ran away many times. i never went to school in my whole life. if you want to be a different fish, you've got to jump out of the school -- stp! stp!

captain beefheart / don van vliet - rochester, new york, usa 3 november 1977 - picture by carl mack
the heartist (and greg's hand)
picture by carl mack from the outasite version

stop the interview?

no! stp chewing that gm! it is driving me crzy, i cn't stand it.

want me to chew quieter?

no! get rd of it! i can't thnk with that noise.

(after i spit out my gum:) what other kinds of bands or music do you listen to?

i don't. i mean: i don't. i have this one that suits me just fine.

i'll tell you who has been on this tour with me - and i wished he was here tonight. his name is sunnyland slim [real name: albert luandrew - t.t.], a black blues pianist. the most fantastic. listen, i thought i had heard it all, but man, i hadn't even begun. this fellow is a genius. there's no doubt about it. i mean, this man is brilliant. brilliant. brilliant. i mean: brilliant.

just a grand piano, and a drummer, and man he did 'tin pan alley' for me the other night and i was crying my eyes out. i almost fell off, in buffalo, new york (four days earlier - t.t.). i was standing there, and denny walley, our slide guitar player saved me, because i was falling backwards - like that, man (captain demonstrates) - and he saved me. i was falling down a hell of a flight of cement stairs. i mean he just took me. i swear i was off the ground, i think he did levitate me. i mean, i mean that. you've got to hear him, man. he is fan-tas-tic.

the captain's new drummer approaches:

and here is the percussionist, and his name is:

robert williams: robert williams.

and he is the best i have ever played with, and i have played with a lot of them.

what label are you on now?

i wrote 'lick your labels off, baby', and i'm having a little trouble getting back on a label, because they know i believe in it. but we're in negotiation with several companies: epic, capitol....

when you were with frank zappa's label straight / bizarre, what did you think of like wild man fisher?

that guy - that is not art.... wild man fisher is not an artist. like man, i'm an artist, a heartist, an artist, a heartist, an artist, a heartist. wild man fisher is not an artist....

when you went to mercury records, your style changed drastically....

'trout mask replica', 'lick my decals off, baby', 'the spotlight kid' and then 'clear spot' - the steps down, because i like people, i like to play, and i want them to play to me, wth me - you see. and the point is that then i did an album for the group, because they weren't making any money.

they lent me their hands to do 'trout mask replica', 'lick my decals off, baby' - i didn't want to do 'clear spot' at that time. i went down a little lower like that for the group and did 'unconditionally guaranteed'. they left me after that, and left one with some monsters. i got these people who they could relate to, and then they gave me... --

robert williams: the shaft.

-- one, two, three, four, fve days! and i gave them six yars! they gave me five days with their audience, and with their fans as well as my fans. in europe, england, everywhere, holland, switzerland, germany, america - a tour, a big tour, and they gave me five days to get a group together to do my music. that's what you get: 'tonight we fly' (once again pointing a finger toward the sky).

but ths group! i have looked for this group for twelve years! we all love animals, the whole group, complete consciousness, we know that the largest living mammal is the absent mind....

i've been getting these record negotiations out of the way, so i will be completely clear for publishing books and things like that. i mean, i really have a lot of novels, and a lot of poetry.

is any of that available now?

it will be. as soon as the end of this negotional things that's in doing. i have exhibits of paintings available now if you have a plane ticket. they're back there (california - g.p.). i would like to do an exhibit in new york.

this concluded the interview with the captain. the band (captain - sax, lead vocal, harmonica; robert williams - percussion, drums; jeff morris tepper - guitar; denny walley - slide guitar; eric 'black jew kittaboo' feldman - bass, keyboards, synthesizers) went on to do the 10 pm performance to a packed house. they played cuts from the new album and various classics from the captain's earlier works. the band performed with amazing accuracy and enthusiasm along with the captain's inimitable, charismatic personality.

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