WTM #1119: Beefheart Liversweet
wReck thiS meSS ~ Radio Patapoe 88.3
Amsterdam ~ Ethno-Illogical Psycho-Radiographies
10.01.11 // 17.00-18.30
“The past sure is tense / the past sure is now.”
• Don van Vliet
Pal Wreck Martians Radio > Pal + Sesame Martian
Blabber ‘N Smoke > Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band [Spotlight Kid / Clear Spot*]
Big Eyed Beans From Venus > Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
Willy the Pimp > Captain Beefheart & Frank Zappa [Hot Rats / Bizarre]
Beatle Bones N’ Smokin’ Stones > Captain Beefheart [I May Be Hungry But I Sure Aint Weird / Sequel !!]
Circumstances > Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
Click Clack > Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
Gimme Dat Harp Boy > Captain Beefheart [!!]
Electricity > Captain Beefheart
Electricity > Sonic Youth
Where There’s Women > Sweetie [Mama Kangaroos: Philly Women sing Beefheart / Genus]
Glider Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band [*]
Golden Birdies > Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band [*]
She’s Too Much > Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band [Trout Mask Replica / Rerpise •••]
Hobo Chang Ba > Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band [•••]
Long Neck Bottles >Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band [*]
Low Yo Yo Stuff > Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band [*]
The Witch Doctor Life > Global Transmission [Mama Kangaroos]
Old Fart at Play > Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band [•••]
My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains > Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
Nowadays A Woman’s Gotta Hit A Man > Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
The Host The Ghost the Most Holy-O > Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band [Ice Cream for Crow / Virgin #####]
Sugar Bowl > Jane Gilday [Mama Kangaroos]
The Witch Doctor Life > Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band [#####]
Too Much Time > Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
Ashtray Heart > Beware the Blunted Needle [Mama Kangaroos]
Zig Zag Wanderer > Dog Faced Hermans
Zig Zag Wanderer > Captain Beefheart
End of Marvelous Night Outro 1996 > B/art
When Beefheart died I had a strange feeling like some unnamed internal organ had been magically removed from my insides. That’s all. It’s not like he was the warmest, affable cat that you are going to miss with tears trailing off. But he was formidable and inscrutable and like his paintings, he represented a very real aspect, voice and influence on culture way beyond commercial sales… If it hadn’t been for Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica there would never have been Tom Waits’ Swordfish Trombone, for instance. I think his inscrutable nature, his shyness, his avoidance of publicity proves that absence is actually a kind of presence. And, on some very shy-visceral level I can truly relate to this – not necessarily misanthropic but hermetic. I related to his lyrics, his lack of “meaning” in the classic sense seemed to rumble along until you felt the lyrics through the hoarse blues-mangled voice like how abstract paintings can affect you. I wonder if he was dyslexic or otherwise influence by Dada, this ability to boldly avoid narrative, this kinetic flickering, word choices that seem to resist logic, standard avenues of communication.
In any case, I really related to the lyrics but cannot remember any offhand – but as soon as we hear them together I would point them out [ I look some up: “I need to say hello / to the crow / light the fire piano”] … Like those, somehow the bold leaps into an other sense is how I wrote poetry until I stopped nearly 20 years ago – Beefheart gave up performing/making music 30!! Years ago. Incredible that the meories, sounds, growls, mangled chords never diminished into amnesia. He was born Don Glen Vliet, of Dutch-English ancestry, adding the van for whatever reason later… Here is a great [Dutch] interview with him.
Here is a nice article or 2 about those paying tribute to his passing:
Tom Waits wrote in an e-mail to the Los Angeles Times, “He was like the scout on a wagon train. He was the one who goes ahead and shows the way. He was a demanding bandleader, a transcendental composer (with emphasis on the dental), up there with Ornette [Coleman], Sun Ra and Miles [Davis]. He drew in the air with a burnt stick. He described the indescribable. He’s an underground stream and a big yellow blimp.
I will miss talking to him on the phone. We would describe what we saw out of our windows. He was a rememberer. He was the only one who thought to bring matches. He’s the alpha and the omega. The high water mark. He’s gone and he won’t be back.”
Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos posted a link to one of Beefheart’s songs and wrote, “Oh no. RIP Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart.”
Billy Bragg posted a link to Beefheart’s 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing, singling out the line, “Your guitar is a divining rod.” He noted, “There was only ever one Captain Beefheart. So long, Don.”
Dave McCabe of The Zutons wrote “RIP The Captain Don Van Vliet… I know it’s late but it’s gotta be said hasn’t it. (He) really will be missed by all fans across the globe.”
Thomas Dolby wrote: “So sad about the passing of Cpt Beefheart. ‘Doc At The Radar Station’ was a seminal album for me. Life expectancy for 60s weirdos=very short.”
Ahmet Zappa, whose father Frank was a longtime cohort, wrote, “Best Captain Beefheart moment. I was on the phone with him a few years ago and he asked me ‘what about a platypus in a briefcase?’ Love!”
Peter Case used his Facebook page to post Beefheart videos, recommendations and writings, referring to him as “one of the greats.”
Fellow L.A. guitarist Dave Alvin also commented on Facebook: “The world just got a lot more dull, grey and predictable.”
Matt Groening, told the Los Angeles Times, “Back in my formative years, my buddies and I were looking for the furthest limits in pop music. We loved avant-garde jazz, and we loved the blues, and Captain Beefheart melded them in a way that no one else has ever done, with the vocal techniques of Howlin’ Wolf on top of these crazy, angular songs. When I first heard ‘Trout Mask Replica,’ I thought it was a disorganized mess, I could not hear the structure … and it’s grown to be the album I most admire … It really hasn’t been surpassed as an uncompromising artistic statement. In fact, after listening to Beefheart, everything else seems pretty tame.”
Penn Jillette, of Penn & Teller, who also happens to play bass guitar, tweeted, “Another inspiration & hero gone. He’s been painting, no music for a while, but I still listen all the time.”
John “Drumbo” French, the drummer and guitarist who was with Beefheart from beginning to almost end — ‘65 to ‘81 — wrote on his blog: “Don cut off communication with me over twenty years ago. So, my sadness was more spread out over the years than an instant blast [...] We already know what a profound influence Don’s music was on the world, and I was privileged to be part of that. My Magic Band reunion appearances were my attempt to pay homage to his music, wit and incredible gifts. His efforts went unnoticed by much of the public, but his fan base, though small, was mighty – and I had the pleasure and honor of meeting many wonderful people as a result of their dedication to his music, which will live on, along with his paintings and drawings. He lived life hard and held back little. I am reminded of the quote from ‘Bladerunner,’ ‘Those who burn twice as bright burn half as long” — and you, Don Van Vliet, burned ever so bright. R.I.P.”
Guitarist Gary Lucas, who joined His Magic Band in the late 1970s, wrote for the Wall St. Journal’s website: “Don Van Vliet was an American maverick visionary genius who single-handedly changed the face of music we know it over a dozen uncompromising albums. … Steeped in gutbucket blues and free jazz, Van Vliet operated on the highest of artistic and poetic levels that left most people bewildered and scratching their heads. But if you were willing to put in the work to really LISTEN — his music was not a background experience — you would be rewarded with a searingly honest beauty and a breathtaking complexity that made most other efforts in the pop arena seem cheap and disposable.
“He could be a terror and a tyrant to his musicians, but most of them were fiercely devoted to him and put up with his extreme mood swings for the privilege of being part of the experience of working with him. We all knew we were involved in a world historical project. I am really sad to hear of his death and feel the world is a much poorer place now that he is no longer with us. But I will continue to spread the word, if only to remind people that once a true giant walked the earth.”
Songwriter Grant O’Neill, a lifelong friend who worked with Captain Beefheart in the mid-1960s, wrote at AssociatedContent.com: “For me, perhaps Van Vliet’s greatest legacy is that he was the first truly out-of-the-box thinker of the rock era; his work has no pre-ancestry in the annals of the genre and a multitude of imitators, tributaries and out right rip-offs. He has been quoted as saying, “I’d never just want to do what everybody else did. I’d be contributing to the sameness of everything.” And that about sums up the Van Vliet I knew. Over the years I had an opportunity to see Don in a great many venues, both personally and professionally and witnessed firsthand his almost chameleon-like ability to either attract crowd-stopping attention, or meld as anonymously into the background as a lampshade. Although I never doubted his genius, Don often amazed me with his ability to communicate with those around him. Whether speaking with a garage mechanic or a UCLA physicist, he always seemed to know exactly how to draw in those around him and extract the most from them.”
Peter Gordon, a saxophonist associated with the downtown New York City scene in the 1970s and ‘80s, knew Beefheart as a teenager in the San Fernando Valley. He penned a piece for the DailySwarm.com that said, in part: “Captain Beefheart’s music, among many things, was about precision and clarity of vision. He saw music as shapes, rather than musical forms, and there was a exactness in what he expected. It was not pretty, at times: he could be quite a tyrant. Don would often summon musicians and demand that a particular part be performed immediately.
“Captain Beefheart showed me that the vocabulary of popular musical genres — in his case the blues — could be removed from their usual context and could be treated a raw musical material. He taught me to just trust whatever came out of my horn, and not to get bogged down by thinking too much as I played. Don showed me the rigor and discipline required to make an ensemble work. He also showed me, through negative example, how not to be a mean tyrant but, if you have to be, do it with a sense of humor and style. But most of all, Don showed me how to think like an artist about music.”
Twenty-eight years after Don Van Vliet walked away from a music career to dedicate his life to painting, the musical iconoclast who went by the name Captain Beefheart from the mid-1960s through 1982 died of complications stemming from multiple sclerosis. Van Vliet, who died Friday (12/17) at a hospital in Northern California, was 69.
Captain Beefheart’s music was a junk shop assortment of Delta blues, dissonance, free-jazz concepts and rock instrumentation made distinct by Beefheart’s animalistic roar rooted in Howlin Wolf, Son House and Tommy Johnson. His songs were constructed so his bandmates could play tug of war with one another, especially on his third album, the landmark 1969 recording “Trout Mask Replica,” a surrealist take on folk tales, blues structures and jazz riffs. The two-LP set inspired artists such as Tom Waits, Sonic Youth, Beck, the Residents, the White Stripes, Mark E. Smith of the Fall and even John Lennon. The followup album, 1970’s “Lick My Decals Off Baby,” and his three final albums released between 1978 and 1982 established Beefheart as a unique rock showman, with a taste for the primal and the experimental that broke countless rules about melody, harmony and rhythm.
Beefheart, whose records had their fair share of detractors, formed his Magic Band in the late 1970s and enjoyed a resurgence amid the development of punk rock. In many ways, Captain Beefheart’s music was an oracle for the no wave movement that followed the birth of punk.
Born Don Glen Vliet in Glendale, CA, on Jan. 15, 1941, he often said his schooling consisted of a single day spent in kindergarten and that he spent his days sculpting in his room. A sculptor in Los Angeles was so impressed with young Vliet’s talent he put him on local TV.
He told David Letterman in 1982 that he sculpted and painted rather than attend school, and that his parents moved the family to the Mojave Desert when he was 13 in the hopes he would venture beyond art. In that interview, Van Vliet said he had to turn down the offer of six-year scholarship to study sculpting with marble in Europe.
Living in Lancaster, CA, Van Vliet became interested in blues and avant-garde jazz, listening to music with his newfound friend Frank Zappa. In 1959, Van Vliet spent a semester studying art at a community college before dropping out. Zappa had moved east of Los Angeles to Rancho Cucamonga, CA, and in 1963 the two started experimenting with their own music.
Van Vliet took on the name Captain Beefheart — its origin and meaning has multiple tales — and played harmonica in local blues groups until he had assembled the lineup of the first Magic Band, which became L.A.’s answer to the Rolling Stones. A&M Records signed Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band in late 1965 and their first single, a cover of Bo Diddley’s “Diddy Wah Diddy,” was released in 1966.
As the band developed original material, A&M refused to release the music, noting its lack of commercial appeal. Legal battles ensued and Beefheart eventually signed with Kama Sutra, which released Beefheart’s debut “Safe as Milk.”
“Strictly Personal” would follow in 1968 as more legal entanglements kept some of Beefheart’s music in vaults and other sessions in print. Several of his albums released in the 1970s were from the mid- to late-1960s; the sessions that became “Strictly Personal” were finally released — on vinyl — in 2008 in the manner the band intended under the title “It Comes to You in a Plain Brown Wrapper.”
While membership in the Magic Band was continually shifting — Ry Cooder was a member in 1967 and quit just before a planned performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival — Beefheart continued to take greater artistic control of the act. He wrote the songs for “Trout Mask Replica” with multi-instrumentalist John French present to transcribe and instruct the band on Beefheart’s ideas. With Zappa producing, they recorded the album’s 21 songs in a five-hour session.
Despite being heralded by critics, most notably Lester Bangs in Rolling Stone, the album failed to sell, which Beefheart would blame on Zappa’s production. It was the first of their many split ups and reconciliations, though at the time of Zappa’s death in 1993, the two were on speaking terms.
“Lick My Decals Baby,” which went to No. 20 in the U.K. but did not chart in the U.S., started Beefheart toward a grinding blues sound that was more consistent from track to track. A video for the title track was one of the first music videos ever made and is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The album is his only release not on CD.
Beefheart attempted to combine straight blues singing with more traditionally constructed songs on his two albums in 1972, “The Spotlight Kid,” which made it to No. 131 on Billboard’s album chart, and “Clear Spot,” which Ted Templeman produced with an eye toward building a more mainstream audience.
After switching labels, Beefheart released two albums in 1974, “Unconditionally Guaranteed” and “Bluejeans and Moonbeams,” that he would later disown. In early 1975, he said he would be retiring to become a lumberjack, only to join Zappa for a short tour that would be released as the joint live album “Bongo Fury.” (Until that point, the only Zappa-Beefheart pairing that had been released was “Willie the Pimp” on 1969’s “Hot Rats.”)…
Beefheart and the final editions of the Magic Band toured extensively from 1978 into 1982, when Van Vliet again became disillusioned with the industry after MTV refused to air his video for “Ice Cream for Crow.” It was “Doc at the Radar Station,” recorded in 1980 with Beefheart producing, that firmly established his artistic significance. Rave reviews and an appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” however, was not enough to battle the effects of the divorce between the label he recorded for, Virgin, and its distributor, Atlantic, that occurred a week after the album’s release.
In 1983, Van Vliet dedicated himself to painting, moving between the Mojave Desert and Northern California. The Michael Werner Gallery has represented Van Vliet as a painter for 20 years, recently listing his 1992 abstract “black doily” for $40,000. The gallery’s general manager has been quoted as saying a younger generation of artists has become obsessed with Van Vliet’s more abstract work.