Has it really been that long?
It has been even longer since he’d been really productive as an artist. He’d given up recording music completely to concentrate on painting but even that was denied to him as the MS he suffered from gradually took hold. It must have been frustrating for him as someone who had continually created, to whom it seemed to come so easily, always doodling in his drawing books, writing poems and lyrics, whistling, humming…
He battled against the disease for as long as he could, some of his last drawings were no more than a few scribbled lines but they represented much more than that.
His last recorded work was the very short ‘Happy Earthday’ song he sang down the phone to Mike Kappus for inclusion in the 2003 Where We Live CD. His voice a mere shadow of what it was.
He may not have been the force he once was but for fans it was enough to know he was still there, being, creating.
And then suddenly he wasn’t.
2010 was not the best of years for me. My father died at the beginning of the year (a massive stroke at 87) and then it was book-ended with Don’s passing at the end of the year. I remember sitting up in the early hours of the morning after hearing that Don had died. I was sitting at my computer watching the comments from fans pouring onto the Radar Station (there was no Facebook then) and it was a very moving experience. It took me a couple of days to process the information before I was able to write my own tribute to the man I had been in awe of since 1967.
The tributes and fond farewells from 2010 can be found here
Now here we are 10 years later. Us old fans are still trying to keep the flame burning. There are even some younger fans turning on to him which is good to see. Facebook has any number of Beefheart related groups which are very active and often include contributions from former Magic Band members. Don still hasn’t achieved mainstream success or recognition although there are still plenty of bands and artists who will name-check him as an influence … or maybe to appear cool, who knows.
There are occasional exhibitions of his art work but his musical legacy has been woefully neglected. Sadly his widow, Jan, seems completely disinterested in allowing any meaningful collections of his music being released (apart from the flawed Sun Zoom Spark 1970-1972 box set) while at the same time doing nothing to stop the proliferation of poorly recorded, badly packaged barely legal CDs and vinyl. There are people out there who what to celebrate Don’s music and recordings and make it more widely available but are not allowed to. He deserves better.
17 December 2020