special new work
(an observation of the observations of) don van vliet
film by ANTON
contains original van
1969 EVENING BELL piano demo 0:57 ice cream for crow 1982
early80s WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO WITH YOU? a capella 0:58 unreleased
THIS is PART
1 - part 2
'I'M JUST COMBING MY HAIR'
since don van vliet retired from music and became a happy painter he had little time for other artistic outings. the one and only public release is the cd-single of some poetry, part of his limited art book 'stand up to be discontinued' from late 1993. but earlier that year beefheart's personal photographer anton corbijn had paid him a visit and they put together a short film called 'some yo yo stuff'. the next year it was meant to be part of a planned special for the bbc tv program 'late show'. however, the ill-fate which so often pursued don struck again: the show simply vanished and the film was doomed to be lost forever....! fortunately the driving force behind the portrait wasn't satisfied with that, and anton began showing it at a few cultural festivals in england and holland in 1995. as he found out that the audiences mainly came for other stars, he used an unexpected chance to give the film an official release - on dutch tv! i witnessed it... and if this was a yellow press page with a fond for sensational news i would have made the following report:
'SOME YO YO STUFF' SHOWN ON DUTCH TV
beefheart fans delighted - a few out of control
captain beefheart fans from holland will always remember sunday august 4th 1996 as a historical day. that evening the camera wizard anton corbijn was the hero in the television program 'zomergasten' [summerguests], a series of monthly talk-shows broadcast by the v.p.r.o.. special interest had been aroused by the announcement that he was gonna show don van vliet's 'some yo yo stuff' film. although many a viewer stayed sceptic because beefheart projects usually have a curse on them, anton's 'observation of his observations' indeed closed off the program towards midnight. after this memorable climax some fans couldn't sleep all night, but the majority slept with its face wrinkled up real warm. several weeks later the showing still was a topic for music lovers and an important source of discussion among the beefheart spotters.
FRANK ZAPPA MENTIONED
it was a hard beef to wait almost three hours and a half for the great moment, as the live broadcast passed off disquiet. the host was nervous, often interrupted and mainly wanted to find out corbyn's motives to be(come) a pop music photographer. but anton stayed relaxed and adequately got round the questions. most of the time he even wore cool sunglasses due to a sudden attack of hay-fever. about his relationship with the former captain he told: 'don lives in total isolation in the north of california since he started full-time painting about fifteen years ago. one way or another i still have a close bond and i call him up by time and while, or i pay him a visit.'
to the film he explained: 'i got very irritated by the fact that record, book or video shops don't have anything on him except for his music, while there is an enormous amount of literature about similar artists like zappa for example. i always hoped to 'do something together' but had never dared to ask - until the b.b.c. came up with the same idea. however, what i didn't want was a kind of interview in which someone chats about his life - a bit like i do now -: only attracting people who are interested already. and as beefheart didn't have such a broad audience - and i think that what he did and still is saying is refreshing, very special - i'd like to make him better-known.'
'I'M JUST COMBING MY HAIR'
educated captain beefheart fans who have read the fanzine 'steal softly thru snow' or the magazine q #100 knew a little about the content, but they too were delighted to finally see the black & white video in real. after short intro-ductions in the mojave desert by his mother sue and anton, don van vliet makes jokes (surrounded by darkness he wonders: 'what's that noise?'; it turns out to be his raised hand) and delivers some inimitable statements:
* i have an expert memory. it's just not decorated properly.
* i enjoy the environment when there are no people around. yeah, give me lack of people...
* painting is so much fun: if you don't like something, you paint it out.
* mondriaan made a painting called 'broadway boogie', my favourite painting: you can hear the horns honk!
* van gogh made work, so good that upon walking out of the museum i said : 'the sun disappoints me so...'
* i hate to talk about art. what can it be when somebody says: 'i love the way you paint', and i say: 'i'm just combing my hair.'?
* the ocean is very similar to the desert. it's just that the ocean is wet - and the desert is dried-up ocean.
* ravens and buzzards are nice, they clean up the mistakes on the highway done by human beings.
* hopefully animals are smart enough to stay away from humans.
* zappa? he's the only frank zappa i knew.
* message. i like to tell you people watching and listening...: boo!
DON IN BAD HEALTH
between the acts two songs from his archives emerge: a 1969 (!) piano demo of the '82 instrumental 'evening bell' (with a fish-gliding-through-the-desert-landscape clip) and the unknown song 'what are we gonna do with you?' from the early eighties. like many van vliet works the 12-minutes video is quite unusual: it's mainly his head filmed in front of a screen on which questions, animals, paintings and desert images are projected full of dark/light effects in a strange cut-up frame. alternating normal and white-blinded spectacles he remains silent, smokes or makes a gesture; the text actually is spoken in a toilsome voice-over. the reason for the last fact is the affection of his throat, which has been evident since his 1993 'stand up to be discontinued' poetry cd. unfortunately closer examinations reveal more unpleasant details that he is in bad health; although his cigar smoking is stainless and the film smuggles it he is slightly trembling ... and sitting in a wheelchair. while don was as young as 53 during the shooting, experts fear captain beefheart isn't so extraterrestrial after all and has multiple sclerosis.
BBC TO BE STORMED
many a thousand satisfied dutch viewers have seen the amazing broadcast or recorded it, or did both. of course some disputes occurred in families divided about the spending of that sunday, but there are no reports of serious beatings, nor of negative injuries to the mind of close watchers; so the addict from purmerend who plays the tape over and over and doesn't want to leave his house is the ultimate exception. but when the news of the 'official release' will reach the british isles something really dirty can happen. for the fans there surely ain't gonna take it anymore the bbc promises them the 'late show' documentary for over a year and a half now but refuses to keep word. the company will be stormed by letters with shit, phone calls at mad cow disease level and questions in the parliament; and attacked in the back with boycotts of the cricket programs. there even is a possibility the beefheart hooligans who already are persuading john peel to lead them invading and taking over the tv studios, might get a worse idea and cross the northsea to obtain some copies by force....
© august 1996 theo tieman
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