captain beefheart electricity

the interviews



from WET 010580 usa
by kristine mckenna
is 03.80 interview

* interview text with different picture(s?) reprinted  with  unknown title in england 0106?86 art line vol.3 #2
* less than half of interview text reprinted as don van vliet - 1980: venice, california in usa 2001 book kristine mckenna * book of changes

THIS is PART 1 - part 2


captain beefheart is a visionary madman / genius who makes remarkably original music. a sculptor / painter / poet / philosopher of the primitive surrealist persuasion, beefheart has never confined himself to the commonly accepted realm of possibilities. perceiving the universe with a magic and gleeful eye, he tosses conventional approaches to language and music out the window, and replaces them with an astonishing system of his own design. his startling irregular music marries rural folk tales, voodoo, free association, dada, and americana to a spectrum of sound that stretches from charles ives, jazz and blues, to the natural sounds of the mojave desert where he lives. beefheart is a man of boundless imagination and heroic spirit and everyone should own the seven albums he has made.

the captain's real name is don van vliet. he's thirty-nine years old, a native californian, and lives in a mobile home in the desert with his wife jan. he's notoriously reclusive, but was generous enough to come to the wet office in venice, california for an interview (the last time he had been in venice he was carousing around with lenny bruce). he blew into town like some wonderful shaman - probably found his way with a divining rod - and arrived laden down with books, drawings, tape recorder, and a suitcase filled with tea, pencils, and various and sundry items. he brought cigars for everyone, and as we said goodbye in a parking lot at three in the morning, he played a cassette of jimmy durante singing a tune called 'i'm a vulture for horticulture'. all things great and small take on a profound glow in the company of don van vliet.

do you think everyone is born with an equal appetite for life?

i don't know. that's a really good question. i can only speak for myself, but i've fought not to let it get pounded out of me. a lot of people allow themselves to become dull because they fear pain, but pain is a form of awareness. a lot of people don't want to be more aware though, and it seems that as time goes on, more and more people don't want to know.

i hear you tried to dive into the la brea tar pits when you were a kid.

yeah, when i was three years old my mother took me to the tar pits and she should have had a harness on me. i got away from her and tried to dive into 'em - almost made it too. got some on me. it was nice. what a nice place, i was watching those bubbles. what beautiful music! you can't hardly hear it anymore because of the cars.

you seem to be more in touch with your memory bank than most people. why do you think that is?

well actually, i don't think i am. you should be around me longer. it's very difficult for me to drive a car. it's difficult for me to get home because i get distracted by what's around me - things change so much! and if i go someplace i never return to the same place - it has changed by the time i return.

is it something that disturbs you?

no, i love it.

is imagination a muscle that one can develop, or is it a case of some have it and some don't?

i think that lack of oxygen as an infant is a real deciding factor. want a piece of gum? good gum. lots of red dye #2.

no thanks. you mean imagination is a simple case of biology?

it may be an allergy.

captain beefheart / don van vliet - venice, california, usa spring 1980 - wet magazine 010580 - picture by leonard x
picture by leonard x

you once went without sleep for a year and a half. how and why did you do that?

mental fast. i needed to purge myself of all the attention my parents had given me - i wasn't neglected enough as a child. i got an art scholarship but my parents didn't want me to be a sculptor because, well, you know, [they thought] all artists are queer, so they moved me out to the mojave desert. my mother still feels guilty about moving me out there but i told her to forget it. i met a lot of nice oriental americans out there - that's where they sent them during the second world war. isn't it awful, them keeping those people out there.

i still live way out in the desert - it took me two hours of driving before i even hit pavement to come here. i live in a mobile home - i've never had a house, except once...: i rented a log cabin. imagine renting a log cabin! i have no neighbors other than animals and joshua trees. i don't look like a desert person because i stay indoors most of the day and fool around at night. that's what the desert animals do - they don't have a tan either.

anyhow, when i went on the mental fast i didn't really judge the procedure. i just stayed up and up and up and ate nothing but fruit.

how do your parents feel about your career as an artist now?

probably amoeba-like. my father's gone. he cut out - died quite a few years ago. i mean, i love the people - i wrote a poem that may describe how i feel; 'one nest rolls after another / until there are no longer any birds / one tongue lashes another / until there are no longer any words / i love fails / no birds.' (one of the poems on the back cover of 'mirror man', that is: without the printing error - t.t.)

were you taken to church as you were growing up?

no way. i was a sculptor, remember. but i have been in some very beautiful churches, then i've looked outside and seen people starving to death.

what do you do everyday?

well, i run six miles on an indoor jogging device, which takes me about an hour and 45 minutes. and i write a lot. i write an awful lot every day. how do you like my shoes? (patent leather with colored suede inlays.) i got these in beverly hills. got three pairs. just had to have 'em. at the time i bought them, i was smoking black russian sobrani cigarettes, just acting silly, and i thought it would be cute, the cigarettes going on up here and the shoes down there.

do you believe in romantic love?

oh yeah. it's good stuff.

but isn't it based on fantasy and illusion?

if you love somebody and you're there and they're there then it isn't really an illusion. i'm a romanticist for sure.

have you found that to be a blessing or a curse?

a blessing. it's hard enough, and women get the worst end of the deal. i'm a woman freak, i'm all for women definitely. i haven't met that many men.

why do you think that is?

you know, i wonder about that and i think the sport element may have something to do with it, that 'beat the opposition' thing. competition and all that jazz. hey, how about charlie mingus? he shouldn't have played on that absurd joni mitchell album. i think he did it because he wanted to have one final fling. but he was a wonderful man and a great bass player - one of the best that ever lived. he made music about the sheer horror he was presented with just going to the market.

have you seen much of that horror? you grew up out in nature and there has always been art in your life.

well, i can see horror in a package of cigarettes, anywhere. i'm definitely schizophrenic.

why do you think that?

because when i see something, i see it i don't know how many hundreds of ways.

do you find that to be a problem?

oh no, i like it, but it's definitely a problem when you're doing business.

have you always seen that way?


do you think that's genetic?

you know, it probably is. i don't think artists are made, i think they're born.



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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo