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

part 1 - THIS is PART 2


is it true that your father drove a helm's bakery truck for twenty-five years?

yeah, he did. have you ever had any of their stuff? you would've dug it. no preservatives. my father used to bring that stuff home but i wouldn't eat it because i wanted to be svelte. i was really a screwball when i was younger.

i'm talking about eating and running - i used to do that. i wanted to look good in the clothing i had tailor-made. i started having a tailor make my clothes when i was nineteen. that was the only way to go. the first thing i had made was a suit with a vest, an english type of thing.

the first time i wore it i went to this place called pipp's, which was a damn good place at one time. i didn't go there with a date but i had one by the time i left. yeah, the suit worked quite well. but i kept worrying about her getting her damn makeup on my suit! why would anybody wear makeup is what i'd like to know - although i guess it's alright once in a while, lust a little eyeliner.

didn't you use to wear makeup on stage?

yeah, i did a couple of times, but it was distortive makeup. i'm talking about red lips and yellow eyelids - just nutty things, which was really stupid, but sort of hip, too. not nearly as hip as somebody like laurence olivier, though. i mean, good god, you don't even know he's there!

are you surprised that you continue to be a presence in the music world despite the fact that you vacated the premises six years ago?

yeah, it is surprising. the people who still listen to my music must understand that i never meant them any harm - i just felt that some change was in order. there was nothing mean in what i was doing, although nature can be pretty mean, and nature is what that music was about. but not nature with a loincloth.

do you ever miss being involved in the music business?

no. the first flash i had on everything i ever did was it for me. all the rest was just the laborious effort of trying to recreate that flash correctly. it was all about memory, really. i'm glad i have a good memory.

you think memory is a blessing rather than a curse?

it's definitely a blessing. i sure as hell hate the idea of geriatric wards. now that to me is sad.

how do you explain the disdain this culture has for old age?

this culture is out of its mind. i was old when i was young so i could be young the rest of my life. that approach seems to be working out quite well for me.

can wisdom only be attained through painful experience?

i don't think it has anything to do with that. some people have the same painful experience time after time and they still don't get it. boring, aren't they? i think wisdom is more the result of a lucky birth - either that or a frightening birth.

does the art world treat you better than the music world did?

oh yeah. i've met some incredible people in the art world. my dealer in london, leslie waddington, is a wonderful individual. he knew matisse and lots of other great characters. yeah, i'm much better off now. i'm just up here painting and getting beat up by my cats. these creatures are so intelligent it's frightening, especially this cat of mine named garland. he's as smart as a chimpanzee and he tricks me in every way.

you know, they don't know that much about cats. cats just came in and started living among humans. you wouldn't believe what i do for these things! i'm not that good at gymnastics but i bend over and pet garland for fifteen minutes while he's eating. garland likes lightnin' hopkins but he has too much ego to listen to my music. if i'm listening to my music while i paint and garland walks up i have to turn off the music or he won't come in the room.

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

what was your most memorable encounter with an animal other than man?

during the time i was rehearsing to record 'trout mask replica', i saw a coyote in woodland hills. i think it was playing, but it hit one of my fingers and knocked me down. it was exciting and i wasn't afraid - it was great seeing some wildlife. this happened exactly at 6:20 in the evening. it was almost dark, or damn near. it was twilight time, or whatever they call it. there's a line on trout mask: 'it breaks my heart to see the highway cross the hill' - that may have something to do with my encounter with that coyote [i see - teejo].

youíve said that itís highly unlikely that youíll ever record another album of music. is there a possibility you might record a spoken-word album of you reading some of your writings?

that's quite possible, but it's a frightening idea. i get scared to death when i recite - even the thought of it makes my mouth dry. poetry is scary to me. i think philip larkin may be the best poet i've ever read.

better than shakespeare?

no, nobody's that good. i mean the idea of his name even...: wow! 'willie the shake', that's what lord buckley called him.

were you a fan of that lord buckley?

no. he was a comedian for hippies with liberal tendencies and i can't make that junction.

is it true you met malcolm x?

yeah, i was thirteen at the time and i met him in los angeles at the corner of sixth avenue and spring. why did they kill him? that really upsets me. he was one of the good ones. anyhow, he was downtown giving a speech and i'd taken a bus down there to find a pair of shoes. oh, i was a nut. i was looking for a pair of city club shoes, which is a very plain, pointed opera pump. i found the shoes.

what are the sounds your paintings make?

shadows breathing on themselves.

you recently told me that you thought that music sounds best over the phone. can you explain why?

because itís monaural, and the way the phone distorts music is my favourite distortion.

whatís the most significant change youíve observed in yourself over the past year?

i'm more content because i'm doing exactly what i want to do and nobody can say anything about it. but then, how could they say anything about my music? why did they? people consider music a collaborative medium but i was never collaborating with anyone. my cat garland is probably the one creature on earth i'll defer to - garland and my wife, jan. i try to get jan involved in my painting but she refuses to be. she dances out of reach.

when you're feeling psychically and spiritually depleted how do you restore yourself?

a mrs. grace chocolate fudge cake. i feel like saying: 'take me to your leader' when i see one of those things.

what's your favourite appliance?

a hamilton beach mixer. we had one of those when i was little. when it wore out we took it apart and i mean, my god! have you seen those brushes in the dark? when i was around two years old i looked inside that hamilton beach mixer and i saw the universe in there.


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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo