DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
OLD FART AT PLAY
from NEW MUSICAL
EXPRESS 010674 england
by nick kent
is late 05.74 interview
note: text reprinted in book 'new musical express greatest hits 1975' as captain beefheart. the problem of keeping bands - and staying psychotic
wowee, don - pretty scary. be that as it may, here's an exercise in deja-vu surrealism that is just like fellini or somebody. armadillos at the ready? then let CAPTAIN BEEFHEART tell you all about how to stay wild and give the world a great big hug...
mellowing out? did you say mél-lów-íng óut???
nope, not me, don. the guy who wrote that 'funny' review you were just mumbling about. hé said it.
but i'm nót going to mellow out! i mean: look at my éyes! aren't they wíld? i mean, aren't they?? they are psychotic! listen, i would like... - you tell that guy that if he furnishes me with a soprano, i'll come over to his office and play for seven hours! and he will hear the wíldest music he has ever heard. mellowing out - huh! just look at these éyes!
captain beefheart is a regular hoot. every time the guy taking the photos goes for the shutter switch, the big b fixes his gaze at the lens and pulls off an impromptu psychotic stare. hardly in the class of your barretts or your mansons, mark you, but still impressively spontaneous - especially for a guy who looks like some unlikely off-spring of orson welles and an overweight pixie.
and it was thát band that is the cause of it. five days - fíve days, man! that is all they gave me, just before we were due to go out on the road. i knew it was going to happen though. i told them after 'trout mask replica' that it would happen.
our hero is of course making specific reference to the last chapter of the magic band: the zoot-horn-rollo/rockette-morton/art-tripp conglomerate that left the captain high and dry, so to speak, for reasons that still remain unclear. various music periodicals mentioned something about them all being too interested in going surfing.
well, i think they are too interested - (pause) - i think they áre 'surfs'. i don't even think they need to go near the water to be that either.... i taught them every note they have ever played, choreographed every move they ever made, and thís is how they repay me! five days, man - fíve dáys to find a whole new band....
like, zoot horn rollo: he was good. in fact he was getting to be one of the best, but when you get wickedly good, you not only get wicked, you get just like a wick. you know what i mean? don't you?... and he'll never be able to play like that again without me to look over him. no way. do you know that one of them is a teacher now? he has two pupils. can you believe that: twó púpils?! art tripp is teaching them drums. you can't teach the drums. you can only ínfer the drums. ha!
i think it's amazing, man! you can know people for years - they had the sun on their backs and they just turned around and spat the moon right out of their mouths. amazing! i mean, if they were concerned about being puppets, they should have spoken up about it instead of leading me on to believe otherwise. but then again, who the hell is a better puppeteer than me? huh?
they just weren't that honest, and that's terrible because i just happen to be about the most naive person in the world. in other ways, i'm not but...-
ok, ok! enough of this garrulous gaff for a second. one should, i suppose, check one's proverbial bearings if only for the benefit of you, dear reader, and point out that this conversation between yours devotedly and don van vliet alias captain beefheart is taking place in a rather swanky hotel off the bayswater road and is being witnessed by a photographer, a young fellow from virgin records, and a motley assortment of the establishment's clientele.
everyone, that is: except van vliet's spouse jan - as always by hubby's side - but who keeps determinedly quiet, hiding behind a copy of j.d. salinger's 'raise high the roofbeams carpenter' at all times, refusing to comment even when rigorously interrogated by don: 'what do you think, jan?' 'what?' 'huh?' (a reticent, mouse-like one-syllable retort is eventually dragged from the lady and beefheart grunts in approval.) can't blame her myself. i mean the old fellow keeps putting out the same spiel on just about every interview hew ever does and it must all get a shade wearisome after a while.
like, i recall just over two years ago sitting back in starry-eyed wonder as i listened to beefheart recount how he reckoned john coltrane hadn't done anything new 'because no man can play the scales like the armadillo' - or how he was in direct communication with the whales every time he played the saxophone. truly, entertaining word-spews, if nothing else - but here i was thinking that they were one-off blasts of eccentric inspiration, and i discover he is trotting them out over and over again.
even ian macdonald, he of the 'funny review' (which stated that beefheart had mellowed out to his own artistic detriment) got the self-same earful of jangling from the looming boomer during his interview last year. not to mention the captain's amazing contentions concerning vincent van gogh's ear, which make for a regular party piece at interviews, viz. "i don't believe that he cut off his ear. do you know: i think some journalists just made that up!"
suddenly jan van vliet actually speaks up of her own accord:
(jan van vliet:) i think he díd cut it off, but it was because he wanted to give it to someone as a present.
beefheart beams back:
yeah, that's probably it. i mean, what could be nicer than an ear as a present? what a fine gesture! and then again, he might have cut it off while he was shaving. i have cut myself before, shaving, you know! that's real surrealism: shaving. don't you think so, jan? huh? yeah!... the apes grow their hair out all over their faces. i mean, the mandrill - now there's a handsome creature if ever there was one!
shit, he's pumping away at all that animal stuff again! better get back to talking about the magic band break-up and this new bunch he's got together. like, were the zoot horn rollo combo rebellious pupils, perchance?
rebellious pupils - ha, that's great! did you hear that, jan? did you hear what he said? isn't he right? yeah - i think they are more like dilated pupils, you know. but the thing is - i'm not sorry, because i think this new band is so much better, i'm almost wondering why! (huh!)
the new band is indeed the current apple of beefheart's eye. put together by andy di martino, the captain's current producer and confidant, it features a motley selection of musicians culled from previous corporates as diverse as rick nelson's stone canyon band, bobbie gentry's backing group and one of charlie parker's old combos. the latter distinction resides with one del simmons, whom beefheart is particularly proud of acquiring. he is a clarinettist, 50 years old or more, whom dr. john is trying to seduce into his ensemble to little avail, and whom beefheart claims is just about up there with the armadillo.
man, i tell you, if you like the clarinet, just look out for this one. whew!... now thís band - they wánt to learn. i'm going to teach them everything i know. this slide guitarist i've got - he's good now and i will show him everything. he could well become one of the best.... but the thing with this band is that they really care about people. i mean, they really cáre! and they're good. we've only had four rehearsals, but it has been really good.
that other band: they didn't care! and there were the ego problems! oh, my god, yes! do you know, i wanted winged eel fingerling to play on this album and they wouldn't let him. can you believe that? now, i think winged eel fingerling is one of the great guitar-players - you know, he might just be the greatest there is - and they wouldn't let him play! in fact, i wanted winged eel fingerling to come over here with this new band, but he wanted to stay in the desert.
but i tell you this: i sure-as-hell am going to eat, and i sure-as-hell am going to paint. i'm not going to suffer anymore. i didn't even know i was suffering when i was. do you know that?
don't you feel though, don, that when you pick up on these weird guys and turn them into musicians...-
you mean like fellini does?
well, yeah, but fellini just uses his freaks for one camera frame or something. you...-
yeah, but that's what i'm going to do from now on. just like fellini. like, i want to get across to the people. i want to be commercial. i want to play rock 'n' roll. do you know, this new album is the only one that has paid itself back and thén done some! none of the others did. you see, i think éverything is commercial. i thought 'trout mask replica' was a very commercial album, didn't you? there was a lot of humour on that album that i thought people would pick up on.
that's the only thing i give zappa credit for. he was asleep most of the time at the controls, but if it hadn't been for him, that album probably wouldn't have come out. also, he free-associates, there is a song on zappa's last album i like. it is called 'montana' - i just like that title, you know, 'montana'.
he gurgles with delight for a second. hey, but how did he feel about the gargantuan cult status he has acquired for himself over the years?
cults? hate them. don't want anything to do with them. i mean: who needs another cult? it's like: who needs another highway, you know - they're unhealthy.
"like manson?", someone offers. beefheart leaps at it.
exactly. i mean, wasn't that terrible? wasn't it! did you hear that, jan? huh? yeah! i mean, you knów that, right! yeah! i tell you, i don't want to be involved in any sort of cult. i want to hug the world.
presumably with this new brand of rock 'n' roll you have concocted?
right. like, have you noticed how much weight i've lost? i mean, look at me. and do you know why i had to gain all that weight in the first place? it was because i needed that in order to project my voice in the right way. now i don't need that. i knów i have the most exciting voice of anyone. period. i knów that!...
that sounds, umm, non-modest, but put me up there and put everyone else up there and you'll see. no sweat! i'll also tell you one guy who i think makes the most of what he's got and that is rod stewart. hell, yes! mick jagger too. i like him - oh, i líke him. he's got a lot of nerve.
so what kind of rock 'n' roll do you like these days then, don?
oh, i like that stylistics' record 'betcha bye golly gee whiz': that is a great, great song. also the stories' 'brother-louie'. also, i really like dylan's new album. i mean, i think that is the most representative dylan album there is. you know that song 'i'll be your baby tonight'? incredible. really advanced music.
kind of mellowed out though, don't you think?
well, what's wrong with mellowing out? it is a fine state to be in. now í've not mellowed out: i think i'm wilder than ever, you'll see. you tell that guy who wrote that review to come down to one of my shows, stand right next to the speaker, and then come back and tell me i've mellowed out! ha!
point taken.... the conversation drifts on in fine fashion, encompassing such diverse subjects as 'flash gordon's ape', aldous huxley ('i used to go for walks in the desert with him. he wasn't doing as much of those things as people say.'), dr. john ('he jammed with us in boston. he wants to record 'abba zaba' - did you know that? and the thing. he comes from new orleans, you know.'), civilisation, and shoes.
finally the fellow from virgin records recounts an interesting tale about how he was involved in a car accident while playing the 'unconditionally guaranteed' album on his cassette recorder. the car was a write-off, but he and the cassette were left unscathed. beefheart's eyes sparkle.
have you told them that? the record company, i mean. that could be used as an advertising campaign - do you know that? were you using a safety belt? no? boy, that's great. tell virgin records to do that. something like: 'safer than a safety belt'. what an idea. that's remarkable. did you hear that, jan? huh? what do you think?
jan just half-smiles benignly, and hides under her hair. she turns the page of her salinger book and pretends nothing is going on.
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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo