captain beefheart electricity

the interviews


fast 'n' bulbous

from NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS 090886 england
by kristina mckenna
is 07.86 usa interview

note: reprinted as this is your captain speaking in australia 081186 juke


captain beefheart? wow...: he's still going out there, these days preferring to slap paint onto canvas rather than wax. our reporter spends a while or two with the reclusive and ultra-influential captain (aka don van vliet) and finds out what he's been up to so far this dirty decade.

to describe don van vliet as a rock star would be a gross simplification of a highly complex creative mind, and it's a label that van vliet - better known as captain beefheart - would surely object to. an astonishingly inventive composer whose musical innovations are touted by everyone from ed ruscha and woody allen to laurie anderson and johnny rotten, beefheart has spent the past 20 years flinging a wrench into the star-maker machine and he's still got a surprise or two up his sleeve. who'd have guessed, for instance, that the captain would succeed in infiltrating one of the art world's holiest inner chambers, the mary boone gallery?

it didn't surprise van vliet, who has been painting since he was a small child. nor did it surprise his pal julian schnabel, who's had a considerable hand in helping launch van vliet's second career, which got off to an auspicious start last year with a solo exhibition at the michael werner gallery in germany. it makes sense that the germans, drunk on the 'sturm und drang' of neo-expressionism, would be the first to accord van vliet's turbulent paintings the attention they merit. a.r. penck, a leader of the german neo-ex movement, wrote a laudatory catalogue essay for van vliet's show, which sold well and led to a december exhibition at mary boone.

needless to say, van vliet encountered some resentment on the highly competitive streets of manhattan, where snotty reviewers tended to dismiss him as dabbling rock star. none the less, this show also sold well and luminaries from stage and screen turned out to pay their respects. 'i wasn't surprised to see people like diane keaton and richard gere at my show because they're pretty smart so they're probably as bored as i am,' he observed.

'richard gere came up and quoted some lyrics from an album i did many years ago, so i guess he's been following my music for a while.' and, as seen in 'thrills' recently, van vliet travelled to london to install an exhibition of new work at the leslie waddington gallery, then on to cologne for a second show.


born on 15 january 1941 in glendale, california, van vliet knew from the time he was a wee toddler that he was blessed with a vivid imagination and an uncommonly strong sense of himself.

i had my parents trained from the time i was a baby. i used to tell them they were my gas station. i remember one time i branded my mother. she used to wear those mule type shoes... you know, she'd clip-clop across the room. one time, i was about three, i put a piece of toast under the rug. she shuffled into it, went flying and landed on the heater. it branded her with an 'H' that's never gone away....

van vliet has an inexhaustible supply of anecdotes like this and is a very funny man. the most extraordinary thing about van vliet, however, is the fact that he moves through the world in a naked way, free of the screening/editing equipment the rest of us use to buffer ourselves from life. when van vliet sits in a room he notices - and is often overwhelmed by - everything in the physical environment that surrounds him. sounds, smells, objects - he takes them all in so completely that his circuits frequently overload.

now look here!, he's apt to enthuse, let's stop for just a minute and really look at this moth! i mean, look at this moth!!

yes, it's a jam-packed world that don van vliet lives in. herewith, a few of the things he has noticed in it lately:


harvard is a hell of a college. i enjoy their reports. they turn some real thought. it's pretty obvious to me that man is basically evil and things really get scary when man 'gets it together'. efficient jerks are the worst. you know, i really did not go to school, ever. i educated myself by osmosis and by knowing that you can't defy gravity. and also by remembering that the thing that makes a person wise is to have an open mind and stay aware of the fact that it's impossible to shut it. i knew when i was two years old that there's no stability. it's always been one earthquake after another. one time elsa lancaster was on johnny carson's tv show and he said to her: 'what about that big earthquake the other day?' she replied: 'yeah, i felt like a button in a shoebox'. what a great comment!


there aren't too many men in this world. too many of them believe in that greek stuff, that adonis crap. a nude man is not very interesting - believe me, i'm a man and i've been nude and seen what i look like, and it doesn't look anything like a dolphin, which is a beautiful thing. women spend most of their lives babysitting little boys - i'm a man so i know this is true. woman is the superior sex, indubitably. what makes them superior is the fact that they have to have a man. i have enough woman in me to know these things, and yet i'm not gay. i don't dig rockets that are made of flesh.


how about those kooks in tibet that get high and everybody thinks they're holy? they get high and think they're flying. the dalai lama is cute as hell though, and i even like lhasa apsos, those tiny dogs from tibet - little tidbits from tibet. supposedly they used to be real big and they'd stand guard in front of the shrines.


boris karloff was on blue morphine all along. he had a lot of money and so does ray charles. who the hell would not be a heroin addict once they got on it? you can't quit that stuff. can you stop being on the rockpile? can you defy gravity? i can't. yet. i have to eat, drink, think and sleep and i'm a slave.


annie ross... annie ross... did i say that? that's such a nice name that i want to enjoy it for a second. she was the hippest singer of all. her mistake was enjoying herself too much. she should've died on the rockpile like she was supposed to. nina simone is very good too. she's a very realistic singer and she's also very angry - and i don't blame her. aren't you angry? i am....

and jimmy reed was good. i love his songs 'better take out some insurance' and 'little rain'. and etta james - miss peaches - is a totally underrated singer. and billie holiday. she's a hell of a lot better than diana ross. i've been listening to some howlin' wolf and ukelele ike, but i don't listen to music when i paint. it's silent, other than what's going on in my mind. there's music in there that i can't shut off. maybe i don't want to shut it off.


people believe the bible and all that damp bedsheet crap, but i'm not convinced. i think it was a real thoughtless hot night in the sheets that put me here. the world is pure biology and we're just deluding ourselves with all these spiritual notions. some people are capable of higher emotions but those people aren't very happy. myself for instance, and a few people i've met, just a few chosen people.

and i don't mean to imply clap-bang-bang-clap, i'm really great, shine a badge for me for knowing that. because regardless of what you do or don't know, the whole thing is fucked. this world's just a fucking rockpile. it's so brutal. it's a puzzle that can never be solved and it wasn't meant to be. the only way to make peace with it is to get a piece of the rock. the ad-men who came up with the slogan 'piece of the rock' were very intelligent. that's so much farther ahead than the bible! there are some smart blokes on madison avenue. i appreciate good business and consider it correct mathematics.


elizabeth taylor once said that a little success is the best deodorant. she's pretty cool.


if you ever smoke, smoke cigars like tallulah bankhead. she was hip - a little nasty though to show her private parts to men the way she did. why the hell would she do that? she must have enjoyed it, and it's great if she did. and how about jean harlow, the way she was always rubbing her breasts? i loved that.


it's very expensive to be a friend to someone who speaks the truth. most people are chicken-shit, but to me the truth is like nectar.


i like dead people mostly. i mean, after seeing man ray, anyone who wants to call himself an artist had better get busy. and i've seen van goghs that were no bigger than baby-size that were just outrageous. there's one he did in 1890 of his postman's daughter called 'baby marcelle' that really knocks me out. the last time i was in new york i saw his painting ' starry night' and i looked at it a lot. it's really good. and i like the way franz kline handles space. it's pretty easy to breathe in the universe he paints.

and i like mondrian (aka piet mondriaan - t.t). his paintings are clean and sloppy at the same time. they're pretty sentimental. modigliani, léger and matisse are good too. matisse did this thing called 'rose marble table' - that i really like. god, what are they doing in that painting? i just couldn't get over it when i first saw it. you know, my wife jan can paint incredibly well but she has no interest in doing it - which i think is real hip. she just doesn't want to put herself through that and would rather read. i wish i felt that way.


my conception of hell is that crappy third-generation muzak that you hear in grocery stores, or being in line with young children that just want candy.


painting is a damn good exercise and it really tears me up. i've been in a hot period for 24 years now and the people who buy my paintings don't know what they're in for. i may have to do five paintings and scrap them in order to get one that i'm satisfied with. i destroy a lot of my paintings because i don't think it's a good idea to keep things that are bad around - although i know that the world thinks it's a good idea. if my paintings don't disturb me i scrap them and i hope that when other people see them that the paintings hug them and shake them because people need to be provoked.


as far as my career in music, i think i'm in pretty good stead and that i did what i wanted to do - which is not to say that i'm finished with music. the only thing that stops a composer from thinking about music is: rigor mortis - and i still compose all the time. i've been writing some pretty wild stuff too. but i'm definitely finished with the rock star scene - although i never thought of myself as a rock star for a minute. many people tried to turn me into one but i fooled 'em. i haven't worked with my band for a while so people seem to think that they've split up, but they keep calling me and saying: 'let's ride'. and i tell them...: soon.

i have no idea when i'll get around to making a record, though. for the time being i'm really enjoying painting. getting out of rock 'n' roll improved my life a lot and i'm much more at peace when i'm painting. you know, i never felt the drive to communicate with any music audience, so why did i do it? that's the slingshot that really tears me up. the entire process was torture. i must admit though, i do love music - i suppose that's kind of corny of me. but really, music is just amazing. unfortunately, they've slaughtered it as far as i can see, and it seems like it's getting worse. all the dead people are great though, and hearing cats howl is pretty wonderful too. now there's the sound of the lovers.


the music press likes to convey the impression that it reveres me - but they're really revering themselves. they're jacking off and most of them don't have the slightest inkling of what i'm trying to do. can't you see that i could easily crush them!? i'd hate to have to prove that i'm harmless. i could crush them because my approval would mean something to them, whereas i don't need or want their approval. i've always known you have to ride your own animal life. (laughing...) gee, i sound philosophical. maybe i should start a research centre.

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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo