DON'T ARGUE WITH
21 august 1994 INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY #238
by ben thompson
is summer 1994 fax interview
part of what also was an article on his career as musician and painter
text of the feature reprinted as captain beefheart in england 2001 book BEN THOMPSON * WAYS OF HEARING
don van vliet is probably the only full-time painter who used to be a mythical figure in music. once captain beefheart, he is soon to exhibit in brighton (for the 0309-131194 'stand up to be discontinued' art tour - t.t.). at his new york gallery they said that their man preferred not to talk on the phone, because he was likely to ramble on for hours and then not be able to concentrate on his painting. a brief exchange of faxes was agreed upon as the best solution. it proved - at least in terms of the unyielding pithiness of the responses van vliet dictated for his wife jan to type up - cruelly successful. he asked for the answers to be printed verbatim.
what are the distinctive characteristics of your speaking voice, and what are you wearing?
i'm wearing black accordion baggy type pants that are held up by black oxfords. i am wearing a buffalo plaid shirt, red and black squares. i sound partially interrupted by chewing on sunflower seeds - beautiful, sunflower - black and white.
is there anything particular on your mind today?
the thought of diagnosing your question and then sifting through what i think about it.
the idea i have of where you live is of a very isolated place - is that right? please describe it.
a painted birdcage above a hack-saw ocean with lovely redwood stalks with zillions of raindrops, falling.
did the pressure of people being interested in you make you move there, or would you have lived somewhere like that anyway?
i would have lived somewhere like this anyway, but a prod of the feet of humans made me do it sooner.
does living where you do make you feel cut off from the world, or more able to see it clearly?
cut off just enough to feel well tailored.
do you have a working routine, and if so, what is it?
is it possible to work too hard, and would you if you could?
answering your question as asked: i would not like calluses, i would rather have the hands of a fine painter.
picture (from summer last year) by anton corbijn
what was the first picture you can remember painting and how do you feel about it now?
it probably doesn't even remember me.
who are the other painters who have given you the most pleasure and inspiration, and why?
inspiration is a crutch word.
someone told me you had had some trouble with an allergy to paint. is that true? i hope not. if so, did it change how you feel about what you do?
do you find it more satisfying to express yourself in paint than in sound? what are the most striking differences between the two forms of endeavour?
one you can physically drown in, being paint. the other you can mentally drown in. i prefer swimming in paint.
do you still make music for your own pleasure, and do you have any interest in your musical legacy?
i'm not doing music now and it's personal. legacy sounds more like the fitting of a boot and i hope they don't fit me with any bootlegs or stupid compilation albums.
do you consider yourself to have a special way with words?
funny you should ask, you seem to be of good hearing.
have you ever thought you might become a writer?
are there any animals for which you have a particular fondness, and what do you especially like about them?
the inhuman quality of animals.
is 'man' the best or the worst part of nature? if you ever go to a place where there are a lot of people, do they make you feel hopeful or frightened?
they make me miss animals.
if you could listen to a song or look at one picture, which would it be?
art is close as you can get to perfection without getting caught up in the wink.
click clack back to the history,
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as felt by teejo