captain beefheart electricity

the interviews


een ontmoeting met captain beefheart

from OOR 23.04.83
HOLLAND music magazine
by tjerk lammers
is early 1983 usa interview

a meeting with captain beefheart

THIS is PART 1 - part 2 - part 3


lancaster: a tiny spot on the map of california, a trembling oasis in a further empty desert, and from somewhere in that nowhere captain beefheart came driving. place of encounter: 'bob's big boy', an all-plastic hamburger stand, where the coffee is made of rainwater and the toast tastes like cardboard. a fast-food restaurant fully fixed at mass consumption as the setting for a talk with one of the most obstinate and original musicians we know. still unsettled he slides behind a tablet screwed to the floor and plumps out a story about plastic drifting in the seas which is eaten by sea-lions because they think it's their prey, so they die; isn't it horrible?

he lightens a cigarette.

the first one for months. usually i smoke a pipe.

with his thumbnail he scratches over the head of a match, so that it sets fire. we are stunned. an exclusive interview in an unreal desert village can start.

i first practised it at home, before i dared to do it in public.

the captain shows a good-sized blister under his nail.

just try it, he encourages me; but after a failed attempt i give up.

you're right, but í would have kept on trying. i always go to the utmost, even if i have to suffer pain. i'm like a moth around a bulb...

his working-power is almost proverbial. an universal artist, to whom music alone is not enough an outlet for what inspires him. so there are poems, drawings, paintings and sculptures. his trailer in the heart of the mojave desert is too small to store all his works. shortly there will be an exhibition in vienna, and recently a poetry album has been published in america. the man is so enormous creative he dóes have to live in a desert not to become mad.

when i was twenty-five, i lived in the big city for a while. all attention which i got as an only child in older days, just poured out then. i got a tremendous mental stool, my whole youth came out like tie-dye. i stayed up for days and nights and wrote it all down. in a city such a thing breaks lose: there is too much noise - and i want to analyze each sound, find out each experience. i just get mad in a place like new york: i can't sleep there. from my twenty-fifth till my twenty-sixth i didn't go to bed for a year and a half.

even hidden away between dry bushes and whimsy joshua trees his own creativity sometimes gets too much for him. after hurting himself lightening his umpteenth cigarette, he says:

it's because my fingernails are too short. i always have to trim them, else i would scratch open my face. i don't sleep very long - just around four hours - but even in my sub-consciousness i keep on working. it never stops.

beefheart's tormented creativity musically was transformed into twelve records in fifteen years, of which 'trout mask replica' (1969), 'clear spot' (1973) and 'doc at the radar station' (1980) usually are considered to be the highlights. his last album ice cream for crow was received quite reserved; but in the states it brought him quite a lot of publicity anyhow. beefheart appeared in teevee shows and 'people', a gossip magazine with a sale of fourteen million, even paid attention to him with two pages (being the feature as captain beefheart, don van vliet applies his stroke of genius to both painting and music - t.t.). of course he deserves it, it was about time.


in fact i always did the same. not really: throughout it changes; but i create every thing from the same point of view. (sings:) singin' through you to me / thunderbolts caught easily / shout the truth peacefully / electricity….

the track 'electricity' of his first album 'safe as milk' from 1967. however, he thinks his last one to be his best. my remark that dutch critics considered it to sound much like the previous album, doesn't please him.

oh, they did?! that's quite stupid. it's completely different. most likely they didn't listen properly, or else they've done it in the way of 'okay, lets give it a listen, then we're finished with that too.' i don't wanna compare me with hím, but look at what they have done to van gogh in holland. god, they didn't even have a museum for him until recently. that's how long it took them.

it's quite a guitar album, isn't it?

it's my favorite. 'skeleton makes good' is the coolest: laugh at your tire track / if you get up / skeleton makes good..., hahaha..! they just knock you down, they don't give a damn fuck. good song. i used a lot of guitar, but i think 'guitar album' is an exaggeration.

captain beefheart / don van vliet - mojave desert 1980 - holland 230483 oor - picture by anton corbijn
picture (from 1980) by anton corbijn

you're always supposed to come with something completely new.

that's exactly what i've done with this album! i never heard anything which comes close to this by far. i never made anything like this, never. i even did a waltz - excuse me: a waltz! they're crazy. in 'playboy' such a fellow wrote it were bad lyrics. in hey garland, i dig your tweed coat, that phrase with nude tie and the nibbled collar. i thought it was tremendous poetry, but they didn't like it. playboy: how disgusting, how ordinary.

in the past you sometimes wrote songs together with your wife jan; nowadays that doesn't seem to happen anymore.

she often came up with a title, like blabber and smoke. she said: 'all you ever do, is: blabber and smoke...' and i said: 'wow, what a gorgeous title; jesus, bang!'. then the rest of the words came of itself. give me a good title, and whoops: the rest of the song pops out at once.

jan means a lot to you?

oh, gosh, yeah! she sacrifices herself to me. she really gives me a terrible feeling of guilt, she's a very good painter, you know.


no. i wouldn't be able to have one; i would neglect it. i wanna be the child myself. my baby won't let me have a baby. [a beefheart aphorism which always turns up in interviews. with 'my baby' he often clearly means his art. - ed.] and i certainly do not need a nipper, just touching my paintings with its tiny paws.

you already wrote 'hey garland' back in 1970. why did it take so long to record it?

it's an old text, but the music is new. i finally have a band which can play exactly what i had in mind with that text. this band's the best i've ever had. gary lucas is my manager, but also a bloody good guitarist. did you hear evening bell? just óne guitar! richard snyder is good too, phew! a real sioux indian. fabulous bassist and a good guitar player too. in my band he played on guitar for the first time ever. jeff tepper is good, damned good. gary is too mad, but jeff is too mààààd!


the band exactly plays what you ask them: you have total control, isn't it?


wouldn't you like to sit in the studio and make a record all on your own? why do you use a group?

i love the chance to transmit my music to a group, to communicate with them.

so you'll always work with a band?

probably yes, these guys are so great! percussionist cliff martinez is ridiculous. i asked him: 'can you play thís?' (the captain belches out a row of weird noises.) then he said: 'i can play it thís, or thát, or else thús. do you want me to use a heavier drum stick or the light one?' he's very charming. god, he's the best drummer i ever had. he can play everything i ever did.

he claims that you're a great drummer, one of the world's greatest. he has studied your style for years.

he said so? that's nice.



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captain beefheart electricity
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