Don Van Vliet 1941-2010 – Graham’s tribute

Don’s gallery have announced that he died today.

I’d like to offer my sincere condolences to his family, friends and especially his wife Jan. We will miss you greatly, Don.

Into the sun in my glider
There’s a shadow beside her
Up ‘n’ down through the blues
Clouds give me my silent cues
I’m up in my glider
With a shadow beside her
It begins to rain on her window pain
Up in my glider
There’s no shadow beside her
Thundering ‘n’ lightning
Gettin’ pretty frightenin’
I feel like an outsider
Then the sun shows through ‘n’ right on cue
There’s a shadow beside her
Up ‘n’ down through the blues
I’m up in my glider
‘N’ I’m telling you boys there ain’t no noise
‘N’ me and my baby ain’t never gonna bring my glider down

Update: 10am 18.12.2010

The obituaries can be found elsewhere today. You already know we love him and you also know why.

Until now, I wasn’t expecting quite so many other people to feel the same way, however.

I heard the sad news about Don shortly after 10pm last night, made a quick update to the site and then sat back and watched Beefheart mentions on Twitter flood past, so much faster than I could actually read them. He was in the top 10 trending topics three times (“beefheart”, “vliet” and “captain” and he’s also in there now with “trout mask”) both worldwide and here in the UK.

Shortly after the emails started pouring in and obituaries and tributes were popping up like little octafish fry. For some time he was the most read story on the BBC website and is still the second story as I write this nearly 12 hours later. Right now he has four of the five most read stories on The Guardian.

My phone alerts me whenever I receive an email with a small “dong” sound.  As I went to bed last night I didn’t silence it like I normally do and it was contentedly fluttering away all night long going “dong… don…. dong…. don…. Don….” as I was drifting in and out of sleep, gazing at the outpouring of tributes again and then drifting back off to sleep.

I put some music on – my first choice was a big soppy Beefheart fave, Observatory Crest. Ness, with a puzzled look on her face said “I’d have thought you’d want to listen to Captain Beefheart” and wasn’t sure whether to believe me when I assured her that I really was.

On it went “as the sky turned white in the middle of the night” – emails, Twitter, tales of private wakes happening all over the world; a world which seemed to have finally taken notice of this fantastically interesting and creative man.

I referred to it as sad news but I’m not feeling sad. I’m amazed at the attention he has received. Under any other circumstance it would be a joy and even under these circumstances it is heart-warming.

It had made me sad over the last couple of decades to think of his continuing illness and how awful it must be for such a mentally agile man to endure. Today I just feel like a celebration, knowing that stereos all over the world are doing the hoodoo hoe-down to the sounds of Trout Mask Replica, Safe As Milk, Shiny Beast and Lick My Decals Off Baby. Articles like this are popping up everywhere today, and don’t miss the fond comments posted after Alexis Petridis’s Beefheart tribute.

We listened to Strictly Personal over breakfast and I don’t think it has ever sounded better.  Rather unexpectedly, we’re having a good time here.  My inbox is exploding, the stereo is jumping and it’s a day to enjoy.

Don, we will miss you so much, but I don’t really think you’re going away for a very long time yet.

I was sad, my head hung down I felt really bad
Now I’m glad, glad about the good times that we’ve had

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and tributes for Don and best wishes for Jan on this page below and on Steve’s parallel post too.


  1. Where to begin?

    Fallin' ditch aint gonna get your bones.

    Louis, on behalf of Proper Records

  2. I heard Safe As Milk when I was 14. It changed the way I listened to music forever. Goodnight, Captain. Thanks for the education.

  3. rest in peace, you were the best

  4. I am so saddened to hear of the passing of Captain Beefheart.

    It's hard to sum up the words at this moment that are adequate enough to express the significance of this great artist: but one thing for sure is we have lost a true genius in the musical, poetic and visual arts.

    To spend an evening listening to any of his wonderful life-affirming music is not unusual for me to do, but tonight it will take on an extra-special meaning.

    Thank you Don so much for your life and legacy.

    Condolences to his family, friends and associates.



  5. My smile is stuck,
    I cannot go back to your Frownland.
    My spirit's made up of the ocean
    And the sky 'n' the sun 'n' the moon
    'n' all my eyes can see;
    I cannot go back to your land of gloom.

  6. I'm in mourning. Loved you Don, sympathies for Jan. Biggest single musical influence in my life, there's a tear on my cheek.

  7. Strange how someone you never had a hope of meeting could have given you so much. Just got back from the pub here in snowy London and am wondering how different my life might have been had I never rescued my dad's battered old copy of Safe as Milk from the loft. There'll never be another Captain. Rest in peace old friend, you were a true original.

  8. Goodbye Captain, you'll be forever missed!

  9. O Captain my Captain

    I bid you farewell

  10. I was 13 years old, Spotlight Kid had just been released and my brother played it to me at his flat in Halkirk. The first chord, the first disharmonic jagged beat did something to my brain and I'm pleased to say that I never recovered. That is the first recording I turn to now to honour and remember him. Don Van Vliet RIP.


  11. tropical hotdog night
    Everything's wrong at the same time it's right


  12. I was introduced to Captain Beefheart when I was about 15, and he completely astounded me. I never knew how amazing music could be, raised as I was on the Beatles and fairly dull 60s pop by my parents. I am genuinely sad at the loss, he was an idol of mine when I was younger – sympathy to his family and long may the zig zag wanderer spirit stay with us :)

  13. So sad.

    When listening to one of your records I always hear something different every time.

  14. Fish pond streaks love kind
    Found the child I had to find

    I too found my parents battered copy of safe as milk and immediately stole it. I still listen to it often. Love ya Beefheart. Nighty night. :)

  15. Everyone has their own Beefheart story… reading these comments, I realise just how similarly he affected so many others. When I discovered the Captain (in a small country town in Australia, 1975, believe it or not… trout mask was still available, strange though it was)I thought I was the only person in the world listening to this stuff. My friends thought of me as weird… wasn't long before I met the other Beefheart fans, though… most of them became significant musicians, if not household names. Thanks Don, for opening my ears. Happy Trails.

  16. Goodbye, Captain. I found you for the first time this year, when I was just about to give up music for good. Needless to say, you changed my mind.

    I'll carry your songs with me wherever I go, whatever I do. Rest in peace. And thanks.

  17. Captain Beefheart was my Elvis. a man whose artistic vision transcended genre and even medium, with the effect that words became paintings and songs became films. I was just listening to “Trout Mask Replica” a day ago for the millionth time and heard some new things in the mix that wowed me. I expect to listen to it a million times in the future and hear even more. Rest in peace, Don.

    "there's so many things to feel and see while you're awake, they're just out of reach, out of grasp, yeah out of reach. and just as many, maybe more, the minute that you sleep"

  18. I love this music and for whatever reason I love this guy…I am very curious what he'll be up to next!!!
    Love to all those who miss him most, and especially his partner in life.
    I love this guy…

    MAA Berkeley CA

  19. Don,
    You've shaped my entire life with your music. Had I not discovered Trout Mask Replica while I was in High School I would now be a different, and albeit more boring human being. I can't thank you enough for all you've given the world. You will be missed and you will never be replaced.

  20. When Frank died I was overwhelmed….
    How could I live in a world without FZ….
    Today we learn of Beefhearts passing.
    My heart goes out to his survivors.
    I guess frank and the captin can start an all star band with jimmy, John mama cass etc.
    God bless you my friend
    MF in NZ

  21. This is devastating. I bought my first Beefheart album, "Trout Mask" at a Milwaukee record convention in 1988, just before it was released on CD. I was 17 years old. I think I paid $30 for it. All these years later Don's work — as well as the work of his magical bandmates — continue to makes this life so much more bearable. His paintings are incredible. I will miss being able to think "at least Don's still out there breathing somewhere." RIP Don. You are loved.

  22. We loved you, you big dummy!

  23. One of the very few, one-of-a-kinders. G'nite Don

  24. I was sitting at my computer today and I suddenly thought I wonder what's the latest with Captain Beefheart and went on the site to see. Was very sad to hear the Captain had died today. I just turned 62 this month and have been listening to his records and saw him play a number of times since his first record. I have always loved his music and his paintings. He was a true genius and will be missed by many. Phil Walsh Ca.

  25. Thank you Don! We'll miss you

  26. Sad news and condolences to Jan and family and friends.

    My favourite music forever and a wonderful artist.

    Trout Mask tonight.

  27. Don – I have loved your music for over 40 years. The world will not be the same without you.

  28. I waited patiently for two weeks in Montana in 1969 for a copy of TMR to arrive via special order at the local music store. I had read an article in some shiny magazine that used the word "zany". I took it home in my sweaty high school freshman hands, and placed the needle and turned the go knob. A wall of bricks fell from me and on me. I was free.

  29. Sail on, Captain! Thanks for everything! :-)

  30. I am only 23, but from being 15, I have based my entire musical approach around the music of Don Van Vliet, and to learn of his death is nothing short of utterly devastating. I'm completely gutted that I never got to see the man who I count as a hero. It's time for a late night spin of TMR. I can't even begin to say how much he has changed me entire musical perspective. R.I.P.

  31. rest well good captain, you were truly one of a kind

  32. This is a toast to the most holiest ghost.

  33. Don was a true original in every sense of the word. I met him during the Shiny Beast tour and he was so humble. A great show from a great man with a great band. Love all his work and am truly saddened by his passing.

    You were the best Don.

    Wishing his wife and family my deepest condolences.

    The black paper between a mirror breaks my heart that I can't go…

    One Winged Eel

  34. I only met Don once. I was a hippie gate crasher at the Whiskey a Go Go, but after his band played, he came and sat at our table. We got into a long discussion about the blues and Howlin' Wolf in particular. He was intense, friendly and gregarious and treated everyone at the table as an equal, no show biz attitude at all. He never compromised his artistic vision and was always out there on the edge. I'm sure he's upstairs now, kickin' butt and takin' names. Bon Voyage old friend.

  35. Just heard about this – damn. Dust or somethin' in my eyes. Run paint, run run.

    Beefheart music has never been far from my mind – even in this past year, I've spent hours on the road poring over TroutMaskReplica. Read John French's enormous tome – despite all his imperfections, Don has left an enormous aural legacy, and those few whose palates can handle the richness are, exactly, enriched.

    RIP, DVV.

  36. I won't cry, he wouldn't want that. We lose the best! How many people could say they were "a Don and as well a Captain"?

  37. "Hit that long, lunar note and let it float . . ." Thanks for all the sanity.

  38. The Greatest.

    After exposure to Beefheart's work, it was difficult to take most of what passes for 'original' rock music seriously.

    I had the good fortune to meet him as a 16-year-old backstage at Southampton University in November 1975 (that's my schoolboy recording that circulates, complete with backstage chatter). He took time to chat about Hendrix and Miles Davis and of course how his latest band was going to “go further” than Trout Mask.

    They didn't. But his return during the late 70s/early 80s was pretty damn impressive – and his influence was all over the best post-punk acts.

    I've ended up writing about rock professionally, and have often been teased about managing to slip a reference to Beefheart in virtually all that I write. But, hell, he was, is and will always remain the benchmark by which all else be judged.

    Mark Paytress

  39. thank you Don (CB) for enlightening my life (and my children's) to the world of original music and art. You are one of my mentors!

  40. I just heard about Don's passing, a phone call from a friend who says he cant listen to TMR at one sitting. Too much for his ears I guess. The sun shone through him and lit me up many times. Goodbye

  41. a hero to me. inspird me to make eal art. changedmy life with his courage. ot to go paint and crash a cymbal now. love to you don. blessings to family. er1c

  42. An unbearable loss. I knew Don had been suffering for many years, but this is a complete blow to the soul. I discovered the Captain a year ago, aged 16, now 17, and cannot describe the extent to which his music fulfils and enthrals me today. I eventually "got" Trout Mask Replica like Matt Groening, and now hold it as one my most beloved musical works. Typical enough to his nature, I listen to the on par Lick My Decals Off, Baby newly acquired and experienced on the day of his passing, sullenly appreciating the man. The influence of his absolutely uncompromising innovation as an artist is unsurpassable. Don Van Vliet was a man who lived with an intrinsic appreciation of nature, grounded with a sense of humour, that reflected society and human nature with an incomparable profundity. His absence is that of something. But his music will help us find it always. "I'm doing a non-hypnotic music to break up the catatonic state… and I think there is one right now." You've left us at a time where that's true more than ever.

  43. Dear Don- so many years in pain, your energies compromised, your presence a whisper in the Mojave wind… yet what a sense of loss I feel now. Your work has been a touchstone in my life for over 20 years. You helped me understand myself, helped me to embrace life's paradoxes. Even coming to terms w/ your cruel and despotic …side was a gift for me. I will always celebrate your work; I can't thank you enough for it.

  44. It´s a very sad night… Don Van Vliet did teach us to listen, to rethink the meaning and goals of art and music, and he did with a smile, with a unique sense of humour, with magic.
    My loving Captain: thanks for give a new meaning to beauty.
    And Graham, thanks for this site. A big hug!
    Jesus Quintero

    Mexico City

  45. The word " genius " gets tossed around too much , but ….DON WAS A GENIUS !!!

    My best to the people and animals that he loved !!

  46. the black paper
    between my mirror
    breaks my heart
    that i cant go

    steal softly thru sunshine
    steal softly thru snow

    rip don

  47. I'm sorry for his wife Jan – this must be a hard time for her.

  48. our dear Captain, the music ,the songs ,the records are incredible -(mellodramatic part:) the live performances had that rare extra thang quality!You know, where the band is great, songs are great AND SOMETHING ELSE happens.. and it's extra great.

  49. Don, you were my greatest artistic inspiration. I am truly upset by your passing. I'm sobbing as I write this. God damn it. You were far too young. I hope you are up to mischief with Zappa wherever you are….
    Josh Shear AKA lordevilvenom

  50. It's raining in Buenos Aires ,
    my tears are running through…
    Thanks for being part of my life past and future…

  51. Rest in peace Don! You will truly live forever! My condolences Jan. He will be missed, but his music never will be.

  52. My all time favorite musician.

    R.I.P. Captain

  53. Just got home from Zappa Plays Zappa in NYC. Dweezil announced Don's passing in the encore, and they played 'Willie the Pimp'.
    Condolences to his family and friends.
    Thanks for the music, Captain – the human totem pole is just a little sadder now.

  54. "We're matter – the stars are matter – but it doesn't matter."

    Safe as Milk blew my mind. Trout Mask horrified me, and then miraculously got better and better with each listen; still does to this day. Since I'm too young to've met him, I'd appreciate if you all would post more stories.

  55. RIP Don. Your music broke my ears in a good way.

  56. A sad day in the world, but a good day for the band in heaven, The Spotlight Kid has arrived.

    RIP Don, I hope you realised what an influence you were to a lot of people.

  57. It is with a heavy heart that this lucky world bids farewell to one of the greatest songwriters to ever grace the written word.

    Good night, Don. May you find your cages always remain open.

  58. I must have been 11 or 12 when my older brother brought home Trout Mask Replica. Ever since, I have dreamed of being fast and bulbous. We've lost a truly unique artist today and I am devastated.

  59. After hearing the Blimp and the Old Fart at Play on a sampler record in junior high, I had to hear more. I listened so hard to the double LP (with the dubious lyrics sheet and doughy drawings) that I had dreams about not-yet-existent follow-ups. I also fantasized chance meetings–conversation could be sculpted creatures, too. What a loss, following a string of losses, and garlands of offers.

  60. the moment i heard this news an old lyric filled my head… Woe-is-uh-Me-Bop.
    i follwed your work from trout mask on and it changed me profoundly. thanks for your wonderful language play & poetry.
    and it all coming true – the new dinosaur is living in the old one's shoes, and on and on and on.
    thanks for getting it right.

  61. I just feel very very sad – feels like i've lost a valuable friend.

  62. I know TMR is playing in many rooms right now. I just finished listening to it again. Thank you Don. G'nite. Condolences to all

  63. All forms of tribute are too simple for the man. I'm burning a candle and spinning a record, because I don't know what else to do.

    I'm 26 now. I stumbled upon a Trout Mask Replica LP when I was 20, and it permanently changed the way I thought about art and music.

    Thank you for everything. I will miss you for the rest of my days.

    There will never be another Captain.


  64. Met CapTAIN , he was playing at the Main Point In Pa . Some of his band memebers didnt even have winter coats on. My friends and i (14, 15,16) handed out some coats and The Captain handed out the music that night , The band played great . He is one of my life hero's thank you And be in peace, NEVER THINK ABOUT FROWNLAND AGAIN! may we meet again , traveling down that yellow brick rd. 'WANDERIN IF THE DUST . BLOWS FORWARD , N THE DUST BLOWS BACK,WITH OUR BACK TO THE WIND NOW CAPTAIN , MAY WE SAIL AHEAD IN TIME ,FOREVER . PEACE LUKE

  65. I had Trout Mask Replica on tape, that tape didn't leave the cassette player of my car-radio for years in a row. Always inspiring, never got bored of it, and it gave a lot of discussions with the passengers. Bye Captain. Sander

  66. I heard about this a few hours ago and wanted to post something but didn't know what to say, and still don't lol. When I think about the influence he's had on me in so many ways regarding attitude to life and music its like losing a best friend who I've known for 40 years. My hero is dead.
    It's lovely to see so many people, young and old, expressing similar feelings.
    My condolences to all of you that loved him. His words, music and paintings will never die.
    That is something to celebrate maybe

  67. just can't believe it. RIP my man

  68. "We're keeping up with punk rock by playing the firehat."

    The Captain was a fearless artist with a wonderfully sarcastic sense of humor.

  69. Here I Am , I Always Am
    Well you came and now you're gone
    But our life it will go on
    I miss you so but only for your return
    Please come back to me tomorrow

    Thank you Don
    Frans Vermeulen,
    Holland (Maastricht)

  70. I was shocked when I heard he passed away. I can still remember when I first heard Trout and I thought "WTF is this?!" But somehow, I kept listening, and listening until I started 'understanding' the music. It changed the way I listened to music forever.

    The world lost a great musical and artistical influence!

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