captain beefheart electricity

the interviews



from usa 1 january 1988 SPIN vol.3 #8
by kristine mckenna
is late autumn 1987 interview

* black part of text reprinted in SPANISH as acuarelas del mojave in spain 1 april 1988 RUTA 66 #28
* main part of text reprinted as don van vliet - 1988: trinidad, california in usa 2001 book KRISTINE MCKENNA * BOOK OF CHANGES

THIS is PART 1 - part 2


in 1982 captain beefheart moved out of his mobile home in the mojave desert and retired from the music business. he can run but he can't hide.

{introduction starts with three short paragraphs taken from 18 september 1982 extra terrestrial man and / or 1 december 1982 sonic sculpture in the mojave.... - t.t.}

in 1982, after what he claims to be his last album, he moved from his mobile home in the desert to northern arizona, and devoted himself to his painting. in 1985 julian schnabel helped arrange a showing of van vliet's paintings at the mary boone gallery in new york. the show was well received, and exhibitions at the michael werner gallery in cologne, germany, and the leslie waddington gallery in london followed.

beefheart now shows his work regularly in london and cologne, and recently published a book of his poetry and paintings called 'skeleton breath, scorpion blush'. he now makes a comfortable living as an artist - something he was never able to do as a musician. though he continues to compose and play music for his own pleasure, he says he has no intention of trying to sell his musical wares.


what's your sense of the future?

the future is random - i choose to think that because the alternative is too frightening. then again, death isn't that frightening, although we're certainly taught to be afraid of it. society does a real good job, doesn't it?

as far as the immediate future, charlton heston will probably be our next president. god, i can't stand that guy! we're gonna have a big yellow tooth on teevee and it'll be president heston. i hope my prediction doesn't come true, but it wouldn't surprise me if it did.

would you classify yourself as an angry man?

when i was three years old i was very disappointed to open a dictionary and read: 'the great auk - extinct'. now that didn't leave me with much faith in humanity. the dictionary illustration of it is pretty good, too, and they've been killed off! that gorgeous bird! what the hell! the passenger pigeon is gone, the snail darter is gone - we won't ever see one. these things really bother me.

is anger a productive emotion?

yes, it is if you treat it right. your heart won't attack you if you're nice to it.

what things make you sad?

first we have to find out what 'sad' is, which is something i don't know. there's that get-well-card idea of sad, but i don't like that clown stuff. i do like the idea of painting a clown, only not the kind of clowns they clown around with. i have some funny clowns in my paintings.

what's the most significant difference between men and women?

women are more dolphin-like, and they're obviously better looking. proboscis monkeys look pretty good, too. jesus, those things have wise faces. but men...: they're shits! queers! shits! the whole race has a problem. they don't like to be trained!

i sound like one of those mean courtmasters or a german general, but when it comes to art i have a real streak of fascism. i want it to be exactly the way i conceived it, and if óne line is changed, it's like: hey, fuck it, i don't need it. the reason i quit doing music is because it was too hard to control all the other people i needed to play the stuff. i'd had enough animal training.

i did enjoy playing with eric feldman, though. he's really nice and his folks are the most incredible people i've ever met in my life. his mother and father used to come see the music and actually really dig it. can you imagine that?

they lived in a nice house in the san fernando valley near this cigar store called the tinderbox, and he - his name was harold - had a t-bird that looked good. he dressed really nice and he'd sit there, with liz, and wait for us to go on. they weren't there just to see their son, they wanted to hear some blow. one time i said to him: 'oh, you're here to see eric', and he replied in this real serious way: 'watch it'. that was his way of saying: 'i'm here to see the whole thing'.

              beefheart / don van vliet - mojave desert, california, usa
              october 1980 - picture by anton corbyn - spin 010188
(1980) picture by anton corbijn

did you spend any time in san francisco when it was the centre of the universe?

yeah, and i thought it was very corny, like a red movie, a real cheapo, low-budget horror movie. i mean, come on, lava lamps? good god!

have you ever spent time in a city where you felt something special and extraordinarily creative was going on?

yeah, new york, but that was quite a while ago. these days it reminds me of a bowl of [dirty] underpants. it's filthy there. it did have some good periods, though (hums a few bars of 'i'll take manhattan'). i stayed at the gramercy park hotel and they were very nice to me. i liked the girl who worked there. she was going with a senator and she dug my music. i couldn't believe it. she really knew my music. she must have been real hip and real bored.

how do you account for the fact that some people have an insatiable appetite for things that are intense and unusual, whereas other people prefer things to be calm and predictable?

grey matter. the big trick. they have more to turn over, i guess.

was freud right?

absolutely nót. he was an opportunistic imbecile. he thought the female vagina was comparable to the nostril. now that isn't funny! that's a hell of a thing to put on women, for christsake. i don't think of it that way.

why did people take to his ideas so eagerly?

because people are stupid.

which of the four elements are you most drawn to?

it would have to be fire.

what does fire signify to you?

can i get in and out of it fast enough?

what are your favourite smells?

ah, now we're into tinctures. i like the smell of fungus, and loam is awfully nice, too. i like damp, outdoors smells. they have incredible moss where i live. i like the smell of cotton, too - i wear cotton pajamas quite often. cotton and silk are my favorite materials. i just bought a wonderful coat made of faded cotton by this guy calvin klein who must be real hip. i don't know anything about him, but he sure did turn out a good product.

most people aren't aware that you're interested in clothes and are in fact a bit of a dandy. you're also quite knowledgeable about beer, whiskey, chocolate, and cigars. is there anything you care to recommend?

hmmmm. today it would have to be laphroaig single malt whiskey.

there are a number of objects you've told me you're extremely fond of - darning eggs, red enamel thumb tacks, and the cootie, which was a large, plastic toy bug that was around in the fifties and sixties. what attracts you to these things?

they're correct in every way - shape, color, everything. you know, that guy calvin klein somehow got onto that cootie consciousness - the colors he uses are similar to those things. yeah, that's some very intelligent work going on there.

what sort of landscape do you find most compelling?

i like the ocean and where it ends - the horizon line. that's a good spot. i dig the fjords, too - they're in norway. i've seen some pretty unusual things - i've seen níneteen saucers, for instance. those were interesting experiences, and seeing them didn't scare me - but then, i don't know what fear is. the idea of safety is nice, but how can we protect ourselves? there are demons without and within. i wish they wouldn't paint.



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