captain beefheart electricity

the interviews



from england 17 march 1973 NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
by roy carr
is 24 february 1973 usa interview

* text reprinted as the captain's rising ('they're beginning to dig me at last') in australia 31 march 1973 GO-SET vol.8 #13
* text reprinted as nme march 17 part of 'i get happier all the time' feature in england 1 march 2016 the history of ROCK #9 (year: 1973)


when, in all seriousness, captain beefheart describes mohammed ali [aka cassius clay, famous boxer - t.t.] as his favourite percussionist and talks of him being 'probably one of the greatest living musicians', he isn't referring to some previously unpublicized facet of the man's life. this is your captain speaking specifically about ali's pugilistic artistry in the ring.

but then, the beefheart view of the world has always differed somewhat from that of us mere mortals - because he then goes on to add the name of vincent van gogh [famous dutch painter] to his personal hall of fame. he explains this bizarre coupling thus:

everything these gentlemen ever did was done with a great flair for rhythm. you see, one doesn't really have to play an instrument to be a musician..., just a natural grace in the creative use of timing and rhythm. and this is a quality that both these men possess.

in britain it was mick jagger [singer of the rolling stones] who distributed hundreds of albums among those who would listen (is this really true? - teejo), and john peel, via his innovative 'perfumed garden' programme on radio london, who first exposed the music of captain beefheart and the magic band to impressionable ears.

indeed, amid the heady aroma of incense and dope and the wall-to-wall jangle of beads and bells, the 'safe as milk' sound was the only new positive energy not emanating from pepperland [fantasy land of the beatles] that made sense and made you want to dance in the psychedelic smashed summer of '67. and that, as they say, is owning up.

yet in spite of beefheart's stature as the underground cult hero of [film maker] antonioni's 'swingin' london' (sic) and the endorsement of just about anyone whose word was worthy of respect, the man seemed unable to get off and running stateside.

along with wild man fischer, the g.t.o.'s and alice cooper, the talent of the amiable captain was misinterpreted as being nothing more than yet another musical clown in uncle frank zappa's nasty little freak show. when i last paid my respects to the good captain - almost a year to the day - he impressed upon me: 'i've had my fun..., now i'm going to make myself far more accessible to the public'.

not that beefheart intentionally schemed to aim his music over the heads of his audience. but, like most innovators - and make no mistake about it: beefheart s an innovator - public acceptance can take an awful long time a-coming.

some people think i'm surreal. others that i'm a dadaist. well, i think not. my art is abstract and therefore people have just got to realize that i'm just who i am.

finally, however, the american public may be coming around to the captain's way.

they're beginning to dig me at last, (bellowing:) but it sure is late for them. they have always been much more hip in europe. over here, they still have to rely on their mothers to tell them what to like.

and, for once, he wasn't talking about frank zappa [his former record producer].

looking back over the last twelve months, he lets out another laugh and continues:

with the 'clear spot' album, i went completely in reverse, didn't i? funnily enough, i don't know why i did it. though, of course, i'm glad i did.

as everyone knows, i have never been influenced by what record company people term 'the market'. 'clear spot' wasn't supposed to be a commercial endeavour on my part, though people say it was. my opinion is that anything that sells is commercial. and the only thing commercial about 'clear spot' is that it's selling more than any of the other albums.

beefheart, in fact, is willing to accept a large responsibility for his years of hardship. the fact is, annual visits to europe aside, the captain has never hit the road in the states [that's not true - teejo]. only now is he beginning to pack his bags for a coast-to-coast tour of his homeland.

sure, we have played a few gigs in this country, but we haven't undertaken a tour like this before now simply because i didn't think that anyone really wanted to see us. in europe, audiences knew what to expect when we don't know what to expect because they hadn't heard of us. thankfully, once we have played for them, they seem to enjoy it and embrace the group.

captain beefheart / don van vliet - usa early 1973 - england 170373 new musical express

'clear spot' - which the composer affectionately refers to as 'my love album', but didn't think it was an appropriate title to have embossed on the clear p.v.c. sleeve - has proved to be the artistic clincher in terms of mass beefheart acceptance.

the captain suddenly springs on me:

in one sentence, what do you most like about 'clear spot'?

off the top of my head i reply:

ehh, it's full of total energy and happiness.

(laughing:) you said the magic words, roy. you see, i'm a lot happier these days, because i've been married to my wife jan for three years and i just get happier and happier all the time. and it's because of this that my music has gotten even more spontaneous.

(in a tone of confidence:) did you know that i wrote all the material for 'clear spot' in just two and a half hours?

he turns and calls out to jan, who's in another room:

i know it was when we were driving between two college towns, but can you remember where i wrote 'clear spot' [although it had the working title 'brown star']?

there's no reply.

(bellowing:) jan, where did i write 'clear spot'?

jan: between boston and new haven.

of course, now i remember. we were driving to yale in the station wagon when i wrote the songs. so, as you can see, it's a pretty spontaneous little album, perhaps even more than any of the others.

like just about everything i do - writing, painting or making music - i like things to be spontaneous. so when i feel that it's time for me to do a new album i always put the material together as quickly as possible, and get it in the stores so as it's reflective of what i'm doing at that point in my career.

at the moment, i'm putting a new album together - trouble is, i've got at least fifty things i would like to use, but there's just no way i can fit them on one album. i guess i just don't get to do enough albums.

when i get inspired i tend to work very quickly, and when i get into the studio i'm one of the least expensive acts to record. so i guess that's some kind of compensation.

you may well ask from what fount of knowledge the amazing captain derives such inspiration. i ask and i am informed:

animals. i think i've gotten all my inspiration from watching animals, though i have to admit that the inspiration for 'clear spot' came from women. i suppose you could say that album is really for all women.

i thought that women were getting neglected. i guess up until that album i had been kind of selfish. you have to understand that before i got married i didn't realize i wasn't the complete artist i thought i was.

i never was with women. i mean, i was wth women, but there was never that close relationship, and that makes the big difference. for a man needs a friend to run through life with him.

indeed, there are times when i wonder what i was doing before..., you have heard all that stuff that i did. what i'm doing now is much nicer.

i have now realised that the real test of an artist is to make his work accessible to everyone, and that's what i am now attempting to do. and because of this, i think my band will help a lot of people and, if i make some money, a lot of animals. i want to open up an animal park where no one can get in, and let the animals get on with it all by themselves. i think it would be a terrible world if kids grew up without ever seeing an animal in its natural environment.

it's an exacting task to keep up with the captain. he's prone to re-direct his conversation without prior warning.

i'm amused by this new flash gordon make-up cult that has suddenly sprung up. i did that over five years ago in london, when i appeared at the middle earth club wearing blue lipstick and red nail polish.

well we all have skeletons in our closets.

(musing:) seems that i've always been ahead of the times, but it's only now that the public and i are catching up with each other. but i'm glad i got out of that thing when i did.

today, i'm being realistic in my role as a human being without having to contend with all that bullshit. remember, it's not worth getting into the bullshit to find out what the bull ate.

ah, but what about the big eyed beans from venus?


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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo