captain beefheart electricity

the interviews


the big fight
(round one)
the brittle yarn of a group's liquidation. the split wasn't amicable

from NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS 190775 england
by kate phillips
is ±05.07.75 interview

counterpart to the opinion of bill harkleroad ('duck harkleroad') about the split of captain beefheart and the magic band


the captain isn't looking well.

he reminds me of my uncle arthur, the way he sits there listening so half-intently to what you tell him, his swollen red fingers, old man's hands, fumbling among the mass of documentation in his lap. and returning, when you've finished, so inevitably to his own preoccupations.

nick kent? i'd like to spank him. last time he saw us, he wrote about my wife that she made mousy comments. she had laryngitis, she couldn't even speak. why would he do that?

jan (don's wife - teejo), echoing, reinforcing, in monotonous california-girl assertiveness:

he ought to be in hollywood as a gossip columnist. he said i was mousy comments, when i couldn't even talk. he's a little twisted.

beefheart, concluding (except that he replays the whole complaint twice during the next hour):

he must have sat on a sequin and it went to his head. you know…: glitter consciousness.

beefheart, over for the  knebworth festival (on 050775 - t.t.), also seems tired. and ready to rollerskate blandly, if that voice could ever be called bland, over difficult questions. like:

how come you made it up with zappa after five years name-calling?

oh, frank and i, gosh, i've known frank for years…. yes, and for about five years i didn't speak to him. it was over business. but i decided that was silly. i decided i was a silly only child. so i called him up and told him i'm going to go out of the music business. and he said: 'you are not, you're going on this tour with me'.

beautifully simple, and in the nick of a not-too-wonderful time for the captain's bank balance (deserted as he was by his magic band). but not the story frank himself tells.

frank zappa: i told him the mothers of invention were holding auditions on tuesday and thursday, that he should  come along. he flunked the first one….

zappa says you only made it on the second audition.

does he? imagine him saying i failed the audition. i mean, imagine there being an audition for people who have known one another for that many years. if he did audition me, i didn't notice. maybe he thought he did. i don't know. i can't imagine myself being auditioned.

how's that for a straight answer? it takes the single million-dollar question to stir him out of the undergrowth, thus:

what's all this that bill harkleroad --

that little squirt.

-- has been saying about the way you treated the band? (harkleroad being zoot horn rollo, now no more, his name reposing with the captain in legal handcuffs. harkleroad the unadorned rehearses now with the rest of the mutinous magic band number one, under the brand name mallard.)

mállárd? bunch of quacks.

yes. ok, but this guy says --

listen, i got him out of the draft. and rockette morton (aka mark boston - t.t.) as well. that was terrible, wasn't it. (becoming heavily sarcastic.) they didn't get the chance, because of me, to go over and shoot somebody and get off on all those, er...,  macho feelings american men have. so since i got him out of the draft, since i spend four hundred dollars on him and the rest of that group --

jan van vliet: four hundred thóusánd.

what did i say?

jan van vliet: four hundred.

i just missed it by a couple of zeros…. so since i didn't get to do that, i mean, actually spend a million on them, they were upset with me, you know…, because i was doing art and they… (clicks fingers in theatrical disgust.)

i tell him that harkleroad has other criticisms. he claims that beefheart, during the famous marathon spent at the piano composing 'trout mask replica' (and beefheart says he had never touched a piano before in his life) actually played chopsticks for eight and a half hours; and then the band spent nine months, mostly unattended by the captain, laying down the tracks for the album.

neither gestation theory sounds very likely to me. but the captain, having heard rumours of treachery and double dealing whist still in the states, has come prepared, as he says, to 'defend his art'; and jan, anticipating his line of attack, is already pulling a sheaf of well-worn cardboard folders from a canvas holdall.

these, she and don explain in unsynchronised duet, are the original manuscripts of 'trout mask replica'. written out by 'drumbo' john french during your actual eight hours.

they made a big mistake, though, beefheart mutters, thumbing unsteadily through the music. i mean a big mistake. because there aren't that many artists, and they aren't some of them, i'll tell you that. and when the music was all written out, i had to work like a dog to get the band to play it properly. because they didn't know shit till i started to teach them.

captain beefheart / don van vliet - england early july 1975 - new musical express 190775 - picture by pennie smith
picture by pennie smith
[scanned from badly printed original]

(call exhibit b: interview with harkleroad two years ago in which he confirms that very thing, saying: 'i just about knew what an a chord looked like'.)

juvenile delinquents, declares the captain, in apparent dismissal, and jan, with the solemnity of an acolyte, selects the tape of a dreadful tv show made in chicago to demonstrate 'the captain now'. a dreadful cacophony fills the room. it is barely distinguishable as 'abba zaba'. i can't tell if it's any good, the recorder is too awful. but i did wonder why they hadn't chosen something new to play me.

at one point, i asked beefheart, if he had all his compositions played exactly as they were first composed.

they can't be changed, they were all right the way they were written.

before the tape ends, he is brooding again.

that's the appreciation i get for spending four hundred thousand dollars….

why do you suppose they left, after six years?

i suppose they thought their term in the army was over. they identified me with the army because i got them out of it. they hid under my umbrella. now they're out, they're mallards - ducking around in england saying funny things about me….

they left, you know, five days before a tour of england and the states. bunch of juvenile delinquents. that's pretty far-out. thát, i would say, is eccentric. only, in this case, i would say it was degentric.

there are times when beefheart sounds disquietingly like some follower of george wallace (who's that? - teejo) discussing the youngsters of today. and other times when he is simply - paranoid.

zoot horn has put up such a thing against himself now that i guess he will be forced to retire. he'll never have to work again. he has used me for an excuse to destroy himself.

he died on my doorstep. that's probably what he wanted to do all along.

the captain strays briefly over other topics. he discusses the possible (always possible, never actual) publication of his novel 'old fart at play', and runs over the line-up of his new band, which includes indian ink aka jimmy carl black, winged eel fingerling aka elliot ingber, and drumbo. as he falters in his enumeration, jan prompts him, and he growls at her to be silent:

let me say it, all right? i mean, i can hardly talk as it is….

he's soon back with the subject of the band.

no, i hated to say anything about those people. i hated, oh, to further their names. but after saying what they did…. i thought that they, uh, left me no alternative but to show the music. i didn't want to. they forced me into it.

and i'm not mad at them, other than, now, i ám. but not that mad.

i mean, i know they're sick.

i mean, they've got to be sick.

i mean, that's sick.

i mean, it's sick for someone of that intelligence to say they could write something like 'trout mask replica'. you know.

only once during our whole conversation has the captain tried to introduce the subject of van gogh's ear. he hasn't mentioned whales at all. it seems to me that he is too weary in his heart to perform the kind of manic spiel that interviewers have come to expect from him.

rather a relief, that. but why does he think his other interviews were different?

well, they were with men.

with men?

sure. the competition between men and men is ridiculous. i haven't met one man that doesn't try to compete with me. it's sick. on their part.

you have to out jive them?

well, all i can do is jive with them, because they want to see a 'let's you and him fight' situation. and it isn't hard for me to beat them at their own game. what else can i do?

i would rather talk to a woman than a man anytime. i really think women are superior in most things. don't you? i mean, don't you, though?

that's why i wrote 'crazy little thing', and 'nowadays a woman's gotta hit a man'.

and they say they wrote all that stuff? well, they better do a damn good album. and from what i hear, it's horrible….



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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo