captain beefheart electricity

the interviews



from NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS 180982 england
by kristine mckenna
is 07-080882 usa interview

* complete intro and some parts of the interview later used in 011282 usa musician sonic sculpture in the mojave
* pictures by kate simon

part 1 - THIS is PART 2


rock critics often lump you in with the delta blues singers. do you think there's any truth to that?

no way! that's just ignorant thinking. and the idea of thinking itself! i mean: it's extremely difficult to think about something somebody else is doing. i have a lot of compassion for anybody who's got that job. i wouldn't have the nerve to do it! pin something on me and i'm another way a minute later. yeah, lumping me with the delta blues - but they already did it. i wouldn't go over somebody else's painting. how could they think i would?

you know who really moves me as far as blue singers go, is lightnin' slim. ever heard that song of his called 'bed bug blues'? 'lord them bed bugs sure is evil / they sure don't mean lightnin' no good / they thinks they am a woodpecker / they mistakes me for a chunk of wood'. isn't that nice? that's fríghtening. a really good sculpture. i like lightnin' hopkins too. and martin luther king. he was a funny fellow - a good blues singer.

do you think of yourself as a religious person?

no. religion is ok as long as it doesn't get too lively.

do you work better amidst calm or chaos?

chaos, and believe me: it's all around us.

in past conversations you've mentioned numerous people you admire: wyndham lewis, shakespeare, lenny bruce, franz kline, stravinsky. is there a common quality those people share?

yeah, they're all sensitive and honest. they have no choice other than to do what they do and don't try to fool around about that. they just do it. and they suffered for it.

it's a popular theory that an artist must suffer to do great work. do you think that there's any truth to that?

yeah, to do the kind of work i like to see. van gogh for instance. man oh woman oh man!


how do you explain the adversary relationship that seems to exist between artist and audience?

it's true that people either seem afraid of artists or they love them in that 'ooh, that's wonderful' way. i saw people doing that to a van gogh painting that absolutely put me on the floor! i started smashing my head against the wall and all these people were calmly saying: 'ooh, pretty'. i don't know that they meant any real harm but i don't think they could even see the painting. but then, when van gogh was alive he wasn't treated too well, so maybe people do mean harm. they'll squash a spider! god, spiders are great. talk about mathematics! those things are funny.

is today's audience more intelligent than the one you addressed ten years ago?

yeah, but they're also more tedious. my records sell better than they used to, but that's just because i'm becoming 'popular', like a hood ornament or something. it's been my experience that people who initially just ran away in horror from my music have come up to me later and were really ready to be there. i guess those are the people who are really hearing it. and when i meet people like that, i ask: 'well, what do you think?'. i want to know what the hell they think of it - because it's just me going to the bathroom....

what's the chief pitfall an artist need be on guard against?

if they even have to think about it, or think they have a choice about what they do, then they're not an artist. and i don't think there are too many artists. there are many different kinds of things, but i sure don't think there are too many artists.

then what in fact are the many people who refer to themselves as artists?

courageous and guilty.

has your work forced you to live an insulated life? it seems that for a period you were attracting extremely obsessive fans who worshipped you in a rather unhealthy way.

that's true and it's something that concerned me to the point that i didn't even want to see it. they were using me for an excuse, which is ridiculous. what i'm doing isn't even comfortable.

captain beefheart / don van vliet - music clip recordings august 1982 mojave desert, usa - england 180982 new musical express - picture by kate simon

do you still get obsessive fans making their way to your door?

yes, and that's part of the reason i'm moving. they've got a lot of nerve. you know, i love the way muddy waters said nerve: nóive. i can't imagine what they want from me. you would think all the records i've made would be enough for them. greedy. i wonder what they get out of it? i sure wouldn't go to somebody's house like that, even if i wanted to. isn't it funny, all these people who think they have the right to anything they want? they just really think they're correct. if they had any idea i'm sure they'd run.

what advice would you give someone who admired you and wanted to travel a path similar to yours?

grow up. but what an idea! and people actually do try to do that, don't they: model themselves after someone else! that's crazy!

what steps do you take to edit the input you get from the world?

quick steps. the world, let's say it's a pear. that's a hip shape you know, all that water at one end. kind of like a schmoo shape. that word - schmoo - that's from those old popeye cartoons. those were great cartoons. max fleischer was a wonderful artist. hey, have you read 'the forest people', that book about pygmies by turnbull? i really enjoyed it.

what struck you as the most significant difference between the pygmies and contemporary americans?

pygmies have a sense of irony that is worn away by all the commercials we have to endure here. some commercials are pretty funny though - actually, a hell of a lot better than most of the music played on the radio these days.


what aspect of the future is most frightening to you?

the fact that man seems intent on getting rid of nature. you see pine trees that have been shaved until there's nothing left but a little poodle tail on top and you just know that somebody had an awfully bad christmas.

so man is taking out his personal disappointment on his environment?

looks like it to me.

what's the most overrated idea currently popular in the western world?

stability. in attempting to hold it, people don't get stability - they just get rigor mortis.

when you find your will and inspiration are flagging what do you do to revive them?

scratch my dog, i guess - but i don't have that problem too often.

how do you intend for your music to be used? what effect do you hope it might have?

i hope it gets people up and makes them move like i have to. i do it out of irritation - that's my drive. i háve to do it. it's like sandpaper on a shrimp.

are there days when you don't feel that drive?

i can't recall ever having a day like that. you know, i hear so damn good - i can hear through anything. no, there's never any silence. of course: if there was, i'd start screaming....

what's been your biggest disappointment in life?

that i even had to move. do you know what it takes to move a body?

what's the biggest obstacle you've had to overcome in your life?

you're asking some pretty deep questions. the fact that i can't feel something someone else is feeling exactly the way they're feeling it. for instance a man and a woman - the idea of feeling what a woman feels for a man is a hell of an obstacle because it's totally different.

is there any way to bridge that gulf?

trust, love and blatant insanity.


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captain beefheart electricity
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