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. This makes me incredibly sad. This man's music changed my life and I really mean that. To be a weird, awkward kid in high school and to hear his work meant so much to me. I'm so glad to have found this man and his music will live on forever.

    "My smile is stuck, I cannot go back to your Frownland."

    Tell everyone about Don. Bug them relentlessly until they listen. They'll thank you for it.

    Get his music out to as many people as possible.

  2. Your voice, your mind, your words grow up me. Love you, Don…

  3. Thanks, Captain. You made this world richer in awareness and experience – that's all anyone can hope to do.

  4. stay very much alive in his music. Thanks Don!

  5. Prior to the advent of the compact disc era, legend has it that "Trout Mask Replica" had only sold 20,000 copies.

    I'm wondering if anyone has real up-to-date statistics regarding "Trout Mask Replica" sales figures?

    Everyone claims to have heard it and to have loved it,
    but I wonder if the album has been bought in any large numbers.

    Don was the greatest, on an even foot with his friend Frank Zappa – he had a great sense of interlocking rhythm and humor. I'm glad I was able to see him in early 80s performance at the Whiskey A-Go Go where he railed about "Ray-Gunism" and sang all his hits.

  6. My sincere condolences to Jan.

    I hope the world will now wake up to the unique beauty that was the soul-mate you have lost.

    I can't think of one artist, in every sense of the word, who can now fill the hole this has left in my heart.

    Bob Stannard
    A follower since 1966

  7. Floppy boot stomps transfigured into ART.

    Beefheart was AND IS the greatest artist of them all.

    … and the horse compared his hooves.

    Dear Don, rest in peace.

    Wim Baltissen

  8. Thanks for everything Cap.


  9. now we really have too much time to be without you! It started with that low low growl on Booglarize and never ever stopped. The wonder will always be with me. thank you.

  10. I think we all knew this was coming but it doesn't really help. Such a sad day. In the end though we have that marvellous sequence of recordings: Strictly Personal (and Mirror Man), Trout Mask Replica and Lick My Decals Off, Baby. Not many can leave a legacy like that.

  11. Exactly, BTLizard…and man, what a legacy.
    RIP Don.

  12. A sad day you will truly be missed a true individual in a world of shite

  13. dead mask replica. the beefheart beats no more. slobbery fields forever!

  14. Stop by to say goodbye. heard you the first time at a john peel broadcast. never forget this moment. bye

  15. More years ago than I care to remember never having heard of the Magic Band before I caught Mirror Man on the radio and it started a lifetime's admiration. Got most of the recordings and off to play my favourite, the double Clear Spot/Spotlight Kid CD.

  16. Now we're really on our own……
    I played one of his tunes (ain't no santa claus….) at a gig tonight and an hour later,got a text message with the news….best to all who care,S.

  17. Wow! Was just listening to Sweet, Sweet Bulbs and scrolled down to this page and was RIGHT IN TIME with the words you posted….The Good Captain may have left his physical body, but his spirit is eternal and still calling the shots.

  18. He was a true original
    Rip beef


  19. It's difficult to say I'll miss you Don, when I've never met or seen you. I'm too young. But I know and love your music, and tha MB have kept it well alive. Your wonderful mystery and mysterious wonder lingers, lives, kicks. Your paintings are within me. Your Art is everywhere. What an achievement. Webcore, webcore…

  20. The captain lives forever in our hearts. R.I.P.

  21. I've left my sentiments elsewhere here.

    Just wanted to point out that those weird 2008 "Beefheart Top 10 Tips for Guitarists" are most likely not from Beefheart himself, but from someone who lacks Beefheart's cadence and poetry

    I've often wondered why those guitarist tips have gone mostly unchallenged from Beefheart fans. None of them seem like they were invented by him

    Any comments?

  22. RIP Don, you've been a wonderfully massive part of my life.

    The best person I never met.

  23. Now there ain't no Santa Claus on the evening stage.

    Thanks for opening our ears and giving us so much to think. Thank you for ever Don.

  24. I willbe wearing a clothes peg and playing my Beefheart all day today. Observatory Crest, Safe as Milk and Clear Spot shallecho through my walls and cry out to everyone in South Lanarkshire, Scotland.

    "Men let your wallets flop out

    And women open your purses."

    Deep woe. The Captain is dead. Long live The Captain.

  25. Neka mu e lesna crnata zemja

  26. 1st heard the good Captain in the very early 70's. Yes, like the rest of you guys, it permanently changes the way your ears hear music.

    Saw The Magic Band, the 1st time, in 1971(?) @ The Free Trade Hall, Manchester, England.
    And I can still run some of that gig through my head.

    Hope Don looks up John Peel now they are in the same place. JP used to drive him around the UK in the early, early days and was the only DJ to play The Magic Band on the BBC.

    RIP, Don & thanks

    I'll be playing Glider on my next radio show.

    Steve Edwards
    103 The Eye

  27. R.I.P. to one of the greats. The world already feels like a more boring place.

  28. So much love, so much love..

  29. He certainly played that long and looming note and it will float for evermore.

    Thanks for being the soundtrack to my life.

  30. Is it that time already?- Heartfelt condolences to all of Don's family and friends. Tears speckle my window – RIP Don thanks for being there

  31. First Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson, now the good Captain. My heroes are fading from view far too quickly. Thank you, Don for the music you made and the headaches you gave (in a good way). Rest in Peace.

  32. A work colleague turned me on to Beefheart and Zappa about 20 years ago. I loved Beefheart's performance on Zappa's Hot Rats album, and Trout Mask Replica is a masterpiece.
    I must admit neither artists feature regularly on my playlist these days, but I have nothing but fond memories and admiration for the pair of them.
    Beefheart will be greatly missed, or should be. Unfortunately, in this day and age of bland formulaic pop, his passing will be ignored and his legacy forgotten, which is a great shame.

    R.I.P Captain.

  33. I've been aware of Beefheart for a few years now. My taste in music dramatically changed a few years ago when I was 16 or 17, and I became obsessed with discovering and listening to music before my time, slowly exploring the historical catologue of recorded music.
    Earlier this year, I finally listened to Beefheart and realised he was alright. Then I began to enjoy it. Then my obsession with music quickly refined itself to exclusively Beefheart. I got every one of his records, I read his poetry, searched for his paintings and even downloaded the 10 minute doc from 1993, Some Yo Yo Stuff.
    His work has expanded my (and others) taste in music and art undoubtedly.
    My current little obsession is The Fall – offspring of Beefheart's genius – but for today atleast, I'll put that interest on hold and listen to back-to-back Beefheart. His records have never sounded better.

    Thank you Don Van Vliet and may your rest in peace. Your art has expanded the minds of many people, but more importantly, it's confused & annoyed bystanders.
    Under-appreciated by the majority, and may it stay that way.

  34. I've lost my hero. RIP and thanks for all the magic.

  35. Heard the sad news last night. For the last 10 years Don’s music has been an integral presence in my life. Though I’ve never met him, I’m deeply saddened to hear of his passing. Listening to Mirror Man right now and will be going on through the collection all day/week/year/forever!

    I remember listening to one of his interviews once, a passing comment of his stuck with me –

    “Be kind, man. Don’t be mankind” – Van Vliet

    Love you man!


  36. Don,…you will live on in every note I'll play,…….thanks for the guiding me in my music !!!


  37. Thank you for the inspiration. See you on the other side.

  38. R.I.P. Don Thanks for your Art

  39. A friend said – Don Van Vliet may be dead, but the Captain lives forever.

    And he will, until the last vestige of recorded music fades into static, and even then, the quasars will shake with his laughter.

    Cannot imagine a world, a life without his music. Thank you, Captain, that we don't have to.

  40. Don,…you'll live on in the music we'll play,……thanks for guiding us!!!

    Vannut Padje

  41. Thankyou My Captain.
    You will live on in our hearts forever.

  42. RIP Don…your music will never die

  43. Don van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart was truly an inspiration, his "Opaque melodies that bug most people" forever changed the way I thought about music.I constantly played My fave albums,Mirror Man,Strictly Personal and Safe as Milk and his brilliant Blues harp playing made time stand still. We'll miss you Captain but your legacy will live on in your Music and your artwork and in our hearts.

  44. You gave us a gift…your music. Thank You Don.

  45. 3am in New Zealand. I don't have much in the way of words. A very sad day indeed. Thank you, Don Van Vliet.

  46. RIP Clear Spot, you changed the way I listened to music

  47. I will never forget how I used Trout Mask Replica to get my college room mate to move out of the dorn. I thank Don for his assistance in giving me a double room for the price of a single! I think it was "WELL" or "Orange Claw Hammer" that sealed the deal!
    I also remember flying from Buffalo to LA in 1981 to hear him at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach. Skipped an Chemistry Lab and I think that was the day I realized I would not be a Physician!
    Here is to Don…hope you find peace and soprano sax, and Madness and a party of special things to do! I will miss my daily hoping that you would do one last tour!
    Now you can be in ROck and Roll Heaven! They NOW have a hell of a band!

  48. Don, you were a magical man. Thank you for your persistence. Thank you for reminding us how beautiful the desert is. Thank you for twisting everything up and spitting it out right again. Thank you for the determination you had to become a painter. You are and were an inspiration.

    The dust blows forward and the dust blows back.


  49. A world without Don Van Vliet is no world at all.


  50. To preface, i'm 35. I was 12 when I heard Joe's Garage in the back listening room of my father's friend. As a kid listening to college radio and the pop metal so prevalent at the time, it was a new world. I fell for Frank completely, and yet, within a year or two I found myself mystified by the music yet bored and annoyed with the offensive lyrics (see also, my problem with the music of the era), that's when I found Don. That was a revelation, like Genesis (the book, not Phil Collins). Everything changed. Through life and changes i've carried the work of Captain Beefheart with me, while so few I knew followed. It's their loss. The music of Don and the band(s) can only be compared to learning another language, it has nothing to do with what you knew before, and you never look at anything else the same after. This morning my kids were dancing to Spotlight Kid in the kitchen, and it fills me with hope. Don the shell may be gone, but the spirit of what he gave us is here more than ever, casting a shadow that might be shaped like a poorly grown fin over everything else.

    Thank you Don, gone, but not forgotten.

  51. Friends,

    I, like most of you, had the same initial reaction when someone posted the news to me on Facebook. "No!!!! WHAT???" Followed by a deep hollow feeling…sullen. And I found out just 10 mins before I had to hop in the car and drive 4 hours for our family's early holiday celebration. Bad timing.

    But I got in the car, and at top volume, cranked "Shiny Beast"…still my favorite. And my feeling was amazement, joy…I laughed at the funny parts ("Tropical Hot Dog Night"!!!), headbanged to the rocking parts ("Suction Prints"!!!), got emotional at the beautiful parts ("Candle Mambo"!!!) and was awestruck, as always, at the masterpiece "Bat Chain Puller". My main expression throughout was a big smile with glistening eyes.

    This was followed by "The Spotlight Kid" then "Safe as Milk" then "Trout Mask Replica"…all at ear splitting volume, rumbling the Texas countryside and the clouded night sky above with the most amazing music imaginable. I couldn't imagine playing anyone else.

    Don truly did the universe a service with his existence, with his genius, with his hard work and determination to see his vision though. He will be my inspiration…always.

    And my thoughts are also with Jan…wow, what an amazing lady. I hope every moment she had with Don was better than the last.

    -Scott Hopkins

  52. Goodbye, my Captain. Your music accompanies every time of my life. Fortunately your art will be forever.
    My condolences to Jan and family.

  53. The sun ain't stable,the moon showed up,and it started to show,tonite there'd be ice cream,ice cream for crow.
    Thanks for all the great music,and art,Don.
    We'll miss you.
    Mike Abramson

  54. In early '70's you opened my ears for ever…
    I will never forget that after my request during the legendary concert in 1980 in Rotterdam (Netherlands) you played my favorite 'Big Eyed Beans from Venus' for me!
    Love and respect. R.I.P.

  55. I loved you, you big dummy. For over 40 years your music and art meant so much to me. I'm glad your suffering is over, but the world is gonna be a poorer place without you. My deepest condolences your wife, family, friends and fans. With a tin teardrop in my eye I shall raise a glass to your memory. Peace Don.

  56. Why I like the Captain's stuff: Beefheart is the first abstract artist that made sense to me, and in fact, he unlocked to door for me to begin to understand abstract art in general. Using beatnik poetry style lyrics, disjointed and abstract, but loosely related in such a way as to paint a real picture underneath, his music takes the same form as his paintings – abstract paintings that contain barely recognizable visual images, but arranged in such a way that an actual thought is conveyed, a real picture lies beneath, but not just a picture, a picture with aura and emotion conveyed by the collection of the abstract but recognizable images.

    And that cohesiveness separates abstract art created from genius and abstract art without genius which only mimics the noise of the collection of images without having an underlying purpose; possessing a form of chaos by imitating the chaos alone; a superficial and pretentious imitation, unable to see or create an unseen depth.

  57. bye captain,
    send us a moonbeam!
    pyrx, vienna

  58. The day the music died.

    Bad day for my hero's, only got a drunk Brit with the last name Smith left.

  59. farewell don and thank you so much for everything – the planet was definitely nicer with you on it. i wish janet isn't suffering too much. martin

  60. There's one less genius in the world now. R.I.P. Don Van Vliet.

  61. Don the Beef meant so much to me. his influence absolutely hangs over me and my close group of longtime friends..we can't be around each other without lopsing off into the speak. So much to say but so little say..just wonderful.

  62. Don van Vliet was one of the greatest and (for those who know) most influential musicians who ever lived. Nearly all rock-music which is worth to hear to refers to him. His influence on free jazz cannot be overestimated. His music is so outstanding and inspiring i cannot tell. i am very sad.

  63. Last night I dreamed I was on a rockin' boat on an insurgent sea and there was no Captain on it…

    than today I read about the news of his passing away …
    RIP Don and thanks for the tremendous legacy

  64. Everytime Don performed in NYC, I would hang out with him. I will never forget those times. True Magic. Thanks Don.

  65. There's just so much – music, lyrics, art – to make you think, to make you laugh out loud, to just appreciate. I wouldn't know music if it wasn't for Captain Beefheart.

    I'm glad your suffering is over, this should be a happy time to remember the difference you made. And what a difference – thank you.

  66. In 1969 I was living in a suburban community with a square family going to a square school with a head full of desire and creativity. I stumbled upon Trout Mask at a local drug store. It was a power greater than I that both intrigued and frightened. I wanted what he had but realized he would have hated a copy cat so I became compelled to discover my own "beefheart". I love all his albums and paintings and words. I'm sure he could be a real pain at times. Me too. But there is love and playfulness and joy. You can't make that up. Fierce individualism/genius. Love him.

  67. Thank you Captain, you gave me so much.


  68. Thanks for EVERYTHING, Don Van Vliet. You changed me for good as a young boy and have been a constant companion ever since. Your work (PLAY) has never dimmed, the excitement of hearing/seeing it for the first time simply increases at each exposure. That is one amazing feat. My condolences to Jan and Don's family & friends. I love ya! You were my favorite person in the world that I didn't know. peter brainpang

  69. "My head is my only house" and Don has shared it since I was kid. Bon voyage.

  70. Farewell Don Van Vliet a fair forward voyager!

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