Dan Mellamphy – John French’s Q&As 2000/1

In early / mid 2000 John French called on Radar Station visitors for some help writing his book, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic…

From: Dan Mellamphy
Sent: Friday, January 14, 2000 2:13 PM

A little light shed on the mystery of “The Mysterious N. Senada” would be interesting. Perhaps in a section on Early Collaboration Work or in one that could be devoted to the wonderful monster that is called the Mythological or Fabulistic impulse (the inevitable generation of myth and fable that eventually surrounds such figures as B). Something else that might be interesting could be called the “Avatar” effect: for instance, the emergence of the later Tom Waits as a[n eternal] return of the Cap’n (one could add to this a host of other figures, prior to and post … reflections of and in a similar mirror [man], n’est-ce pas?).

Most of this is not so much a question as a suggestion, but I would like to comment on Tom Waits. I never listened to him until recently. I was recently given a copy of his album Mule Variations. I find his music to be much simpler than Beefheart’s, but it certainly has an interesting sound. He deals with odd timbres more than weird time signatures and dissonance. I think his voice is fantastic and I also find his lyrics to be quite sensitive and occasionally very humorous (as in “What’s he Building in There?). He is much more lyrically understandable in terms of knowing what he means by what he says. He’s extremely gifted, not only as a singer, but as an actor. He was fantastic as the homeless guy in Ironweed and made a great Renfield (hope the name’s right), a coveted role, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

As far as the “the inevitable generation of myth and fable that eventually surrounds such figures as B,” I could say that this was the true source of Van Vliet’s genius. His ability to create and fabricate a persona — especially through interviews — was incredibly effective. I am still amazed at how much imagination and energy Don put into creating a mythological “Beefheart” through scripted answers, spontaneous wordplay, euphemisms, and, of course, his true charm.

– John French

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