DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
PAS FOU, CAPTAIN BEEFHEART?
from ACTUEL #28
FRANCE monthly magazine
by john vetebey
is late 72 usa interview
NOT CRAZY, CAPTAIN BEEFHEART?
a raw cry from a wounded gorilla: 'aaah! quick, close the curtain and hide that horror i don't wanna see!' the manager lays himself out: we draw the curtains - impressed with bamboo leaves in a discrete and greenish relish - at the suite of the americana hotel. twenty-fifth floor, new york: captain beefheart may re-enter the room. he can't bear the sight of the patchwork of buildings, sad concrete and blackish bricks drowning in a see-green, polluted fog. the captain doesn't like cities, he prefers his cot near canada, in the large forest of the state of washington.
a reclusive retirement: he cuts wood there, avoids killing animals, only eats fish under many excuses, writes book after book, stage-play after stage-play and doesn't have telephone. in the evening, near the fireplace, his young wife lulls his majesty to sleep with a monochordal reading and quietly he dozes off. at day he walks on this loam the americans disdain. 'they only care about money and washing their hands fifteen times a day.' he talks about pygmies, hears the forest crackling and right there discovers his amazing rhythms.
once, about five years ago, you risked a riot when you played a beefheart record. 'dachau blues' irritated the ear; only a few freaks - the most reckless ones - enjoyed themselves by listening to the captain. misunderstanding? the captain prefers ecology to surrealism: 'i don't even know what that is...' his favourite friends: the baboon from the los angeles zoo he brought havanas as a child 'before the dirty blockade of cuba', some children - 'i'm thirty-one years old, i was much more creative when i was five' - or the mascara snake, a painter like beefheart.
often, beneath the rude, the star shines; with lightning à la dali, astonishing and disquiet. a child prodigy of sculpture, who appeared on television at the age of seven, beefheart was - in spite of all - left with a certain swank and a decisive haughtiness. he scribbles down small sketches on squared paper, signs them and declares: 'keep them, they'll become expensive....'
he runs wild: 'compare an artist of my calibre with zappa, how horrible!' all the while drinking a big glass of chartreuse, that healthful alcohol brewed in other woods by other recluses. he doesn't really like freaks: 'san francisco, that's a disneyland for wall street.' politics? 'they should have to respect the constitution....'
he listens to himself with pleasure, like dali, surrounded by a respectful clique. he enlarges on some very cryptic aphorisms: 'an architect is some-one who wants to crawl up your penis, pull down the shades, turn off the lights and type all night. the psychiatrist only thinks of dying in another one's life.' understand who wants to. the album sleeves serve as manifests: 'with 'lick my decals off, baby' i mean: down with the labels. 'trout mask replica' - the mask of the trout, killed by detergents. 'the spotlight kid': the derision of success.'
however, success is here at last. the town hall is crowded while rockette morton, rhythm guitarist with the head of a musketeer, walks about the stage, the captain unfolds his bat cape ('that so much gifted animal'), zoot horn rollo - the guitar player - balances in his interrogations, art tripp beats like a galley's kettle-drummer. and roy estrada stays as cool as all good bassists do. the music displays itself in its surprising twists and ruptures in the scansion - chaos organising itself, simplifying and getting closer to the blues, and fascinates more and more, which worries the captain a little - 'they are taking me serious...' - but doesn't displease him.
you are more commercial now?
it seems so. myself, i don't know. i still have the impression to play free music.
you don't think that american rock is losing speed?
i don't like rock. i like chuck berry, or bo diddley. all others just have copied them. and even those first ones haven't influenced me. i prefer the true african rhythm. i like the real percussion, when the whale hits the ocean with its large tail, when the sequoias are cracking in the wind. (someone rings: comes in a man with very large moustaches and a round belly, the stature of a mexican general for italian westerns.) well, that's art tripp, my drummer. alias ed marimba. he played with 'the mothers of invention'. zappa wanted to organize his play at any price. he prefers to bang in his own way, like a savage.
blues hasn't influenced you at all?
no. i love the blues, and i have the blues, that's all. you know, i think that no-one really has influenced me. i can reach seven octaves with my voice. not bo diddley, does he?
in 1965, did you play the same thing as nowadays?
yes. and even well before. i had started to learn saxophone, and i've tried to get into a local group, 'the almonds.' from the first song i began to improvise on their syrupy music. i was sacked immediately: 'you're too weird, man'; they have amused me when they announced that from that moment on they were going to 'rehearse'! you can't rehearse your feelings: music is inside you - or else it isn't yours.
do you practice from time to time?
i never do. the bánd does, yes. they like to do that to get used to my music. i would prefer that everyone does his own but they wanna play my music. i give them tapes i sang, whistled or played on harmonica. as a matter of fact, i've never heard music before the age of thirteen. at that time i was a sculptor. when i was seven i was considered a child prodigy of sculpture, and i was granted an art scholarship in europe. there even have been television programs about me, you didn't know that?...
did your parents agree?
no, they wanted to arrest me. i was supposed to study maths, business, become a change merchant or something of that kind. at thirteen, i had enough of people who tapped me on my shoulder, repeating: 'what a fantastic little boy, he'll get far.' so, from then on, i haven't done anything. i quickly quit school. from my thirteenth to my twenty-fourth i did nothing but paint and sculpt. i've had exhibitions in liverpool and rotterdam. i landed in the music because i was fed up with monologues. i wanted to share my emotions, express them publicly.
you started making music when you met zappa?
frank - has he told you he learned mé music? he says that by time and while. each time we spoke about music, he mentioned to me that i hadn't visited a musical school, like he had. he played in the college orchestra. a poor affair! for me, studying music puts you, if you want it or not, in somebody else's tracks.
however, frank isn't mediocre.
bullshit! stravinsky, varèse, all right, but him? what did he invent? i have too much pride to get my inspiration from someone else, do you know what i mean? i haven't seen zappa for three years; and all together i didn't had to meet him more than fifteen times.
how have you met him?
i was driving an old 1949 oldsmobile coupé, he was walking on the sidewalk with the face of a sub-accountant he then had. i said to him: 'wanna have a lift? you're gonna use up your shoes walking in that way.' he didn't have a very clear view on things. too square, a pusher. he's a good financier, a good planner, i suppose.
in 1967, were you part of the psychedelic culture in california?
in 1967 i was feeling well, free and happy. i thought it was gonna continue. then it all got very medical: too many narcotics. they drink, take pills, drink again. i prefer the clear use of my head. there's the impression of assisting on an enormous psychiatric experience organized by the order of medics or the pharmaceutical industry.
you've never taken acid?
i like broccoli better or yellow peas. i once have taken some, by accident, there was a bit in a punch and that didn't suit me. i felt like i was lost, i had a fever. i also try to stay away from grass; perhaps it's less dangerous than tobacco, but often it is bad - psychologically spoken. people use it as an excuse to let pass what they don't like, or to do nothing at all.
do you know 'dada' or the surrealism?
no. i've been told that certain ones of them have shaven the left side of their skull in order to astonish, but that's all i know about it. van gogh did cut off an ear: he was far ahead. i understand him: it's so annoying to have two ears all the time. but i prefer to keep my blood in my body. i don't think van gogh was mad - and if he was, then i'm a lunatic. my wife has read me his letters to his brother theo. they're superb. pity that i end up falling asleep when she reads.
you don't read?
no, i've never read a book. i don't read at all. i listen to people speaking, i watch them moving. i don't like to sit down, but i write all the time: on parts of tablecloths, everywhere. i've written millions of lines. for three years i practically didn't leave my house, at my cabin i did nothing but write. that was from 1967 to 1970. one or two gigs, the (french) actuel festival (displaced to amougies in belgium, on 28 october 1969 - t.t.), some concerts in san francisco, point. the big tours, that was before - and after. i'll send you my books. i've written about fifty books, forty to fifty television series, three thousand stage-plays, fourteen thousand songs....
the manager: 'that's true.'
it's ridiculous, i nearly wrote hundred pages of manuscript each day for years.
the manager: 'a cup of coffee in a bar - and there are three songs.'
i write everywhere. people regard me as impolite: i'm in the company of some-one..., and start to scribble. i am a writing-junkie. i much like to paint, sculpt, make some music, but what i prefer is: to write.
what are you listening to?
son house, a blues singer. he really knew to express his feelings. sonny boy williamson too. classic music: varèse, stravinsky, ornette coleman. i like new sounds. ornette isn't a jazz musician - a restrictive category. he is a composer. i like his symphony.
when you started playing, did you know free jazz?
i liked charlie mingus, ornette coleman. eric dolphy and mingus played together, wow! - one of the greatest memories of my life. i also know an amazing bass clarinetist: the mascara snake, who has played on 'trout mask replica'. three days earlier he had never touched a saxophone. he played just like he'll never do. later the memory meddles with it, and you mix, you sweeten, you degenerate. better never have heard anything. when i start to remember stereotypes on an instrument, i drop it. that has happened to me five times: with the alto sax, the soprano sax, the bass clarinet.... you always find yourself back on the same roads. nowadays i mainly play harmonica.
do you have telephone in your shed?
are you chopping wood?
yes! i also fish, with rubber lures. i eat fish, but it is annoying me. i need to do something right after it, or else i suffer from culpability. you don't take a life without creating another form.
i didn't think you would talk with me seriously. usually, in the interviews you only produce elliptical or evading answers.
perhaps it is because you are smarter than the reporters from 'rolling stone'. they take me for a freak and don't know how to address me. you, you're a realist.
so you're no freak?
i have refused to play for a long time in order not to be seen as a walking psychiatric experience. i am a realist, like you. but when i meet imbeciles, i show myself off.
not merely. we leave the americana in cortège and the captain climbs into the hired long black cadillac waiting for him and of which the stiff driver resists to tickles like an old-time horse guard. the captain turns off the radio, he hates it. but he notes: 'the '72 cadillac has better shock absorbers.' we head towards prince street in the village, to the studio of ornette coleman to whom the great names of rock, beefheart or soft machine, pay tribute on sundays when in new york.
he also prefers a visit to the museum of modern art. 'you can't escape culture, whatever you do', the captain sighs, adding: 'my dream: go to arles (city in south-france where van gogh once lived - t.t.) in a citroën maserati, gorge myself on courses with gravy, smoke some of those havanas which are banned and visit the van gogh museum.' the recluse also knows of the life, saint antonius is put to the test by the bon vivant he wants to deny. he well risks not writing two hundred novels anymore in the years to come.
an alain chauvat / gorillacrow trancelation ©150198
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