DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
captain beefheart: magie voor eenzamen of voor het volk? 
from OOR 19.06.74
HOLLAND fortnightly music magazine
by bert jansen, with thanks to jumpin' johnny
is article / 030674 interview
note: this is the second half of a center-page special about the musical switch of captain beefheart and gives the other opinion.
captain beefheart: magic for lonesomes or for the people? 
the floor of the clinical tiled toilet-room is covered with a few centimeters deep layer of water, which suspiciously smells like urine. the lavatory exists of the familiar row of pumpships with those half-high partitions. we're standing next to each other and i just glance aside - how much he has changed! that all new hair-do with those locks on each side of his once bizarre head, the neatly trimmed moustache and the clean-shaven face: almost a friendly bear.
while i zip my trousers i softly sing in front of me: 'gimme dat harp boy, it ain't no fat man's toy....' surprised he looks aside and grants me a grateful smile. from outside his wife calls: 'don, hurry up; the taxi's arrived!' carefully we step to the washstands; in fact it is no use, my shoes already are soaking wet anyhow. we clean our hands with a minuscule piece of pink soap and then vainly search for a towel. outside again a voice sounds, this time it belongs to manager andy di martino: 'hey, don, what are you doin' there inside? for god's sake, we've gotta get the plane!'
i just wipe off my hands on my trousers, he follows my example. we walk out, the band already stands by with the trunks in their hands, his wife checks the content of her hand-bag for the last time. he looks at me, grabs my hand, a firm warm clasp, lays his other arm on my shoulder and says: 'see you in amsterdam; then we should talk further.' he makes off and follows his wife out, turns around once more and raises his hand. a bit dazed i'm left behind, from far-away comes the music of cockney rebel: pinkpop festival 1974. and a moment ago i was pissing with don van vliet, who's better known as captain beefheart.
pinkpop 1974. an empty ice-hall serves as a sort of artists room, the canteen with yellowed pictures of ice-hockey actions as the bar. on the deserted track without ice a middle-aged man is listlessly sweeping the ring. torn-up papers, pieces of cardboard, plastics, empty packages: remains of a temporary sleep-in. the lodgers now stand, sit or lay on the festival ground. i don't envy them: it rains, and not that softly too. just during captain beefheart's performance it was dry all the while, but at the end of his show it started raining again - as if the devil was in it. that concert of beefheart was better than i ever had dared to hope, and deeply impressed i strolled into the greenroom in order to give it a cautious try to exchange a few words with him.
standing away of the other band members beefheart gloomy stares in front of him, smoke from a filter cigarette is curling around his head. somewhat lost i'm watching him, not knowing how to get in touch. all of a sudden he sees me and smiles; with a look of understanding, i think for a moment. the same look which i imagine to have seen earlier: half an hour ago, right in front of the stage, when beefheart stood behind a microphone and at times helplessly looked into the audience, seeking for contact. his smile has encouraged me, i walk up to him and feverish think out what to say. it isn't necessary.
i saw you in front of the stage; how did you like it?
his voice is soft, but has the same gravelly intonation which i know from his records for many years.
the concert swept me off my feet, i liked it very much.
well, í didn't like it. i even couldn't hear myself: the monitors suddenly failed - and then worked properly - without any warning! no, it was terrible; really. i felt like a blind bat.... there was no contact, i stood on stage and merely sang. it was as if i was doing a playback. did my voice even come from the p.a.?
you came through very well, really.
you're sure? or are you just saying that to please me?
no, believe me.
[note: in holland 'jan' is a very common name, but always used for males. so a long-time confusion had been created two years earlier, when a reviewer suggested the song 'blabber 'n' smoke' was co-written by 'his brother(?) jan'. - t.t.]
at that moment an enthusiastic fan joins us. his eyes are beaming with happiness and without warning or proceeding he bursts off. 'it was a ferry fine concert, and ay leek your last elpee ferry mutch, you know: uncodisional... uh, uncadisio... oncodis...
the fan nods and beefheart softly growls 'thank you'. then at once a photo camera is pulled out, two girls he brought along are installed on both sides of beefheart and the camera gets prepared. the captain clearly is embarrassed, he laughs in a apologetical way and wraps his arms around the girls who respond to it by high giggles. the click of the camera brings relief, beefheart sighs deep and looks far-away in front of him. the fan isn't finished yet, his next question hits hard:
'uh, huw's your brother jan, ain is he here?'
the captain looks amazed - 'puzzled' they say in english - and then helplessly looks at me. i explain that jan van vliet is not his bróther, but his wife. the fan slinks away.
we carry on with our talk. a conversation that isn't so easy to reproduce on paper; about relations, marriages, people and mouth-harps. a talk with dón as well as ján van vliet. a conversation that impressed me for days and which i won't easily forget; and hope to continue in three weeks. it's a clear human contact. how does such a thing happen? why can i speak out myself more to beefheart in half an hour than to my girlfriend in a week? musicians contact or something like that? or is it still in force for everyone: "fifteen years of music and still blots in the sheets"? [reference to a dutch essay about the differences between the development of pop music and the puberal level of journalism - t.t.]
many years ago i bought the first lp of captain beefheart and his magic band, safe as milk. a record that is closely stuck in my mind through all years of pop history. even when more or less i lost track of the captain, and productions like 'trout mask replica' rather confused me. with 'unconditionally guaranteed' i have found back the trace and the concert in geleen confirmed my surmises: captain beefheart does want to make it! or more precise: a certain commercializing has occurred around the beefheart-happening.
the symptoms are there: five days before the big tour the magic band knocked off. in great haste substitution was sought, and a new magic band was formed by some studio musicians: guitarist dean smith, guitarist fuzzy fuscaldo (ex-curtis mayfield), keyboard and piano player michael smotherman (ex-buckwheat), bassist paul uhrig (who accompanied bobby gentry), drummer ty grimes (ex-rick nelson's stone canyon band) and saxophonist/clarinetist del simmons, who once played with charly parker in olden times and can be heard on the 'unconditionally guaranteed' elpee.
the music of beefheart has become better approachable, friendlier and more simple, another symptom.
my music wasn't open enough. there were only a few people i could reach totally. now i've opened all the doors, everyone can enter and the threshold has been pulled down. intentionally the lyrics are simple, at least they can be noted that way; and for anyone who thinks there's more behind it, there is.
you might give the impression you have commercialized.
who wants to think so, go ahead. fact is that i have invested an awful lot of money in the magic band and it never paid out at all. let me put it this way: now there is a much better chance some money will be left over than in the old way. and money, that's what you need. i'm a painter, you know. besides, you just told me you've been on an art academy yourself, so you know what it all costs.
painting is your first love?
yes, music is a poor second every time.
(this interview was improvised. honestly, i wasn't prepared for it and didn't have a recorder or even pen and paper. it's just what i can remember and that's a pity, because beefheart's sentences are full of literary surprises with dual explanation. and it's impossible to stock it all immovable into your head. i could partly remember the above statement, we have been talking so long; till i opened the melody maker of june 1st and read the statement above the article 'interview with beefheart'. then i knew what it had been.)
why didn't the old magic band come along?
five days before the tour - a tour all over the world, starting in america - they just dropped me. it was terrible, awful; i learned them the music note by note at the time, and just before such a big tour they cut the collaboration because they think they are essential. i like this new band very much. these guys already could play from the start, that's important.
HAPPY LOVE SONG
i think you've changed a lot, not only for your looks, but perhaps also mentally.
people always considered me as a personal property, like a home poet you could send for whenever you wanted. someone who - as part of his image - should be poor too. a secluse who needs chastening to increase his performance. they would not like it if i made much money with my music. and that's bullshit. partly i'm a musician and partly a painter. to you i'm a musician now, for you just saw me as such and because you told me a moment ago you have been one yourself; so our touching points are in the field of music.
the songs on your last elpee sometimes cause a lot of emotion to me. i discover more feeling in it. for instance: 'happy love song' thrills me.
this time the captain doesn't answer, but at once grabs my hand and looks deep into my eyes. for as long as a minute he holds my hand. at this very moment i imagine or think to remember a certain feeling flowed through my hands. the word 'vibrations' is too cheap for it: it more has to do with experiencing something together. but i get embarrassed though and in fact i'm glad jan suddenly asks something to beefheart, so that he does let go my hand.
the moment to say goodbye approaches. the captain - he doesn't want me to call him so: 'for you i'm don' - again assures me he likes to continue our talk in amsterdam. then accidentally we go to the toilet at the same time and in a strange and fast follow-up the taxi arrives and before i realize it well don has disappeared outside. i'm left behind and now i notice that the music which i heard on the back-ground for some time, is that of cockney rebel. a group in which i'm very much interested too, especially vocalist steve harley. so i sprint back to the festival ground and watch the closing part of the performance.
much escapes my attention, as my thoughts still linger on captain beefheart alias don van vliet. the rest of the following days he is dominating my mind: do i really have too mad a contact with that man or does he just play games and tells me what i want to hear? has he become a commercial charlatan, or has he really changed that much? that honesty which comes close to timidity. if i'm not mistaken the latter is true. when i'm wrong anyhow, i'll be made to look silly and shall be very disappointed; and then i will smash up 'unconditionally guaranteed' in the proper way.
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