DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
CONVERSATION WITH CAPTAIN BEEFHEART
from OUI vol.2 #7
by eliot wald
is early 1973 interview
part 1 - THIS is PART 2
did problems with the group crop up while you were making the record?
the group had a difficult time relating to me because i had these - err - ideas. they just wanted to play what felt good. i should have stuck with them because they were right. where your fingers go is where it is. i had this idea to pull a wild hair out of the sky, or something like that.
you know, thinking about that album: i used a theremin on it - that's an electronic-impulse instrument invented [in the twenties - t.t.] by this dr. theremin. the guy who played it on the album was a friend of dr. theremin's, also a doctor - a psychiatrist. now this was six years ago, and people thought i was out of my mínd for using a theremin, and this fellow walked into the studio and did 'spellbound' - which is an old record - a beautiful, eerie thing full of sea-foam-green imagery. this fellow was able to relate to me because i wrote out what i wanted like a graph - i don't write music - and snap, first cut, he did exactly what i had been thinking of.
'trout mask replica' was also pretty weird. what were you trying to accomplish with that one?
i wasn't doing the art statement on 'trout mask replica', but it wás a little bit outrageous. i mean, we were flinging so much paint that it took people this long to get into it. that album is getting popular nów. i guess i díd do my art statement on 'trout mask replica'. we gave them everything we had. we flung all of our paint, all the colors. we've all grown. we got into this house and stayed there for three and a half years. i didn't go out of the house for three and a half years.
what i remember most of all is a pair of male and female eucalyptus trees. we would play music to them, and they were really thriving, although they hadn't been when we got there. but it started raining terribly and i was really worried about them. i suddenly decided: 'god, i've got to get something done about this'. so i went out and got eight tree surgeons and we sáved thóse trées.
then we had this whole weird thing with that zappa cat and herbie cohen from straight records because i got eight tree surgeons and billed it to straight. well, what do théy care about eucalyptus trees?
listening to 'trout mask replica', you sense a relationship to certain forms of free jazz. were you influenced at all by people like john coltrane and archie shepp?
no way. there is just no way - even though i've always believed that everyone is colored or else you wouldn't be able to see them - that us little cream puffs could ever feel the repression of being the 'chosen color on the hit parade' in this silly world of bullshit. there's no way that i could have felt what any of those people felt, so i just didn't pay any attention. i just told the group to let out who théy are - what would you call it: middle-class apple turnovers? we just got together and stirred it up.
you mentioned the incident with the tree surgeons before - stories of your run-ins with record companies seem to abound. was the first hassle with buddah records?
it was really corny. i should have known better, right? they réally have their nerve. i mean: the ídea of what they've done. i should have had five million dollars in the seven years i've been in this business. i signed with buddah because bob krasnow was there. when i brought 'safe as milk' to a&m [alpert & moss - t.t.] in 1965, jerry moss said it was too 'negative'. can you believe that?
krasnow was the only person who didn't get shook up at the idea of using a theremin on the album, so i recorded with them. buddah turned out to be so wrong.... do you know that in all this time since 1967, i've never even received a royalty statement from that album, much less any money? that album was a smash in england, but nobody here dug it. they didn't push it. it was a very ecological album. i was just checking to eke out a little logic.
badly disguised captain beefheart
detail of illustration by gilbert stone
the next album ('strictly personal') was on blue thumb. did that go any better?
oh, god! i even námed blue thumb records. bob krasnow, who became president of blue thumb after leaving buddah, didn't. í did!
all right: i'm over in england (in may 1968 - t.t.). we mixed the album 'strictly personal' before we left on tour. krasnow had produced, i produced, and alex st. clair helped with the production. now, while we were gone, bob krasnow went in and re-mixed the album! we get back from europe and my cousin, the mascara snake [victor haydon] - who later played clarinet on 'trout mask replica' - walks in the door with this album. i ask: 'what's this?'. i had just gotten back and he'd had my car, a big old jaguar that he'd take out and run around like you would a greyhound.
so he hands me the album, and there's the album cover i did, with the stamps and manila envelope. everything just as i did it. so i put the album on and, my god, it's not the same album! he had put psychedelic bromo-seltzer all over the tapes we had made - you know: phasing, whooooosh. the music - there are diamonds in the rough under there, but it sounds like some kid's got a hold of a mona lisa. a mean little kid. all of a sudden i find this album a shambles with psychedelic bromo-seltzer all over it. i didn't know what to do.
that's when the group broke up. the other people, who didn't want to do so much of an art statement, said: 'forget it, we've had enough'. i just said: 'man, i agree with you'. what could i say? he's gonna make me commercial! now, maybe he had good intentions, but i still haven't gotten any money for the album.
what did you do after the demise of that group?
i retired for a while. i had to put together another group, so i was looking for people. getting away from krasnow to another similar person who i didn't éver think would be that way.
you're referring to frank zappa?
did you know that i picked up frank on the street in my '49 oldsmobile back in 1958? i couldn't help it: he looked so woebegone. zappa wanted to pretend that he had done 'trout mask replica' - on which he had done nothing but go to sleep at the mixing board. it was wáy over his head - not really over his head, just too unstructured and telepathic for him, because he's so formed and regimented. these guys had only been playing for six months when they did that album.
you know, krasnow did that, zappa did that - it's all these guys wanting to cop a feel off don van vliet. tears ago, i was taped by frank zappa, and a lót of ideas on a lót of his records started out with me. like 'suzy creamcheese, what's got into you?' and 'brown shoes don't make it'. 'hot rats' is my title, 'lumpy gravy' - i was referring to the ups and downs of life, the lumps in the sperm and the gravy.
if you had this tremendous battle with zappa, why did you record 'willie the pimp' on hís album?
i just thought to myself: 'all right, man, you had your hand in my album and messed it up - i'm gonna come over and do a song for you as good as i can do it, and maybe that'll show you the difference'. i wanted especially to show him that bygones could be bygones. i couldn't believe that he could do what he did, frank zappa sent me in the night to warner bros, and i didn't even know it. i'm talking about the way the indians were sold on the reservation. i suppose that's what you get for dealing with old fools you meet in the desert.
in other words: when zappa started his label, it wasn't part of warners?
no, it was just straight records. bizarre and straight, actually - two separate entities. and then, after promising me that he would not, he put me on the same label as wild man fisher, the g.t.o.s and alice cooper. i said: 'i don't want any part of those people'. i've heard of this alice cooper using live animals in his act, throwing them into the audience. chickens! do you know how disgusting that is: using an animal for sensationalism? i think that's just disgusting.
i mean, i'm an animal lover. i'm an ánimal. a human animal, but the animal may be better than the human in my case. it's the animal that paints, the animal that makes music. the human part is me losing one of the best groups that ever was by being an art-statement-oriented fool!
yeah, i think captain beefheart is really nude!
do you feel that being into the art statements had something to do with your hassles with the record companies?
definitely! i was a chump. when you're playing what feels good and they try to get it away from you, you say: 'uh-uh'. when you're doing the art statement and avant-garde - you know, the cold place where they sometimes find icicles on the clouds - they say: 'what's that?' and 'he's weird!'. they don't want to hear you, but they get the money. and that's how they did it to me. the group kept telling me: 'come on, let's play', but i guess i had some kind of an ax to grind due to having quit art when i was thirteen. i'm telling you the truth.
i guess today i feel better than i ever have. i have this group together now, but í don't have it together: théy're really together. i'm just out there playing the harmonica and singing. i'm ín the group - rather than being captain beefheart with the group - hiding behind the cape of the mystery man. now it's called captain beefheart and thé magic band, instead of hís magic band - that was never my idea, anyway - and i'm glad of it. i don't want to lead the damn group, i just want to blow.
do you think you were naive?
oh, yeah, i still am. and i will retain that naïveté if naïveté is just loving other people and thinking: 'well, why would they want to step on mé?'. i got rid of naïveté to some extent, so i guess i've paid my doo-doo dues. if i had the money now that i should have, i would be doing a lot of good things. i swear, i would make my ink sing for everybody.
now i'm getting hip to this, but i'm not gonna get bitter and i'm not gonna get hard. they're not gonna get me into that fucking army they've created. they look out and point and say: 'he's a chump!' they can think i'm a chunk, but i'm an artist. théy're the chumps because they don't go to the toilet easy like i do, and they don't breath easy like i do.
i will not be a party to this country's bullshit: all the regimentation. that cartooning of animals, like disney, where he makes the timber wolf into the big bad wolf. there's nowhere in history where a timber wolf has ever attacked a man. no way, i looked it up. that's disgusting! or they'll have a cute little animal like a sloth with a machine-gun. or a kángaroo with a machine-gun! hell, they would pee on a machine gun, they wouldn't know what to do with one. i ain't buying that shit! i don't want to be a selfish asshole who sits in his lavatory and goes to the toilet in color, like zappa or ány of those flamboyant blunt erasers - those blunt instruments!
are you totally disillusioned with the business end of things?
when i was in the house so long, i wrote thousands and thousands of things. not out of spite - i've written hundreds of pages every day for the last seven years of my life. i've got it all in 'beacon van & storage' and as soon as i find an honest publisher, i'm going to put it out. but i want some money for it, and do you know why i want money for it? so i can have some ink to write some more, that's all. i've got a company, god's golfball productions. it may not score a hole in one every time; it might make a few divots; and it might not bounce as high as the washington monument. it's the human kindness i like. i don't mind doing straight-out fifty-fifty business if you can breathe in it. i'm not looking to start another little america with skyscrapers.
any thoughts on the state of music today?
well, i was just thinking - did you know i used to wear a dress onstage? five years ago in england, we used to dress in what they now call drag. i think that's where it's all coming from. they saw us doing all these things, and here they come again, see? just like they copped chuck berry.
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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo