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. I've written an essay on the importance of nature/abjection in his poetry. The essay acts as a blueprint for my dissertation, which will be centered on a close-reading of his poetic texts.

    If Dylan and Cohen, whose lyrics are far less complex and rich than the Captain's, have books dedicated to them, why shouldn't there be one on Beefheart?

    The best tribute we can all pay him is not letting his music and his ideas be reduced to perfunctory labels. His poems were not just "cryptic", "surrealistic" and "playful". He had a lot to say.

    In case you're interested, you can reach my via e-mail:


  2. RIP Don. This sad news has brought back to me just how important your example has been to me since I first heard you. You were a model of the way a creative person could be…

    My heartfelt condolences to Jan. Thank you so much for all you did for Don and, by extension, us over the many years you were together.

  3. as with many in the UK I was introduced to this mans music by John Peel – saw him at Middle Earth – As Salvador Dali once said "The only difference between me and a mad man is that I am not Mad!"

    RIP Don Van Vliet a one off

  4. My love for the music was not immediate, my late husband loved it and after awhile I understood what it was all about. Will miss you both

  5. RIP and all the best; wherever you are. Long may your influence continue.

    (for Jugalbandi)

  6. They called him the "pyschedelic Howlin Wolf". We called him "The Captain" and felt we knew him. He was the hardcore heart of authenticity. He amused and confused; he connected. His poetry sparkled and blew away the anaemic dross that seeps out of the academies. Let's celebrate the late great Don and let the music keep his indomitable spirit ever alive .

  7. I love Don's music. Timeless masterwerks. We love you, Don

  8. A great man gone! May he experience the most beautiful visions in the Bardo. I first heard him in 1974 and I have loved his music ever since.

  9. Captain Beefheart, through his music and painting, somehow managed to switch on previously dormant parts of your brain, and things were never the same again…the world could be divided between those who got it and those who didn't. All those that did will be feeling his loss, but united and grateful to have been touched by him.

  10. I actually gasped when I read the sad news this morning. A sadden heart goes out to the Capt's family & friends. He reminded me of that odd Uncle every family has w/ his quick quips. A very gifted musician, poet and painter. His art will constantly be analyzed.
    Bless you Captain for the gifts you gave us.

  11. He's the father of invention at rock, blues jazz noise. For that and for all the pleasure he gave me listing to his work I'm forever grateful. Thanks and goodbye.

  12. Thank you to Don who made me look and listen in ways I never did before.

  13. Captain Beefheart has been my favorite musician, artist, and visionary since I discovered him a couple years ago. I was devastated when I read of his death, but his legacy will certainly live on forever. My deepest sympathies are with you, Jan. And Don, may you finally rest in peace.

  14. The only true genius in the history of recorded popular music so far.

    Good night Captain.

  15. Ran across this quote yesterday, that seems even more pertinent today:

    "As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkess of mere being." — Carl Jung

    Don's music is one of the things that made me feel less alone in the world. What higher praise can there be?

    Not much else I can say tonight.

    Rest peacefully, Captain.

  16. Rest in peace Captain.

    I'm listening to 'When Big Joan Sets Up' right now with a tear in my eye but a smile on my face.

    God bless.

  17. We love you Don from Spain!!–also to all the people in this guys rules!!

  18. My condolences to Jan and family – thanks for sharing part of the Captain with us. The world is a little less magical right now.

    And Apes-Ma, there's no more cage Apes-Ma.

  19. Doc will not be at the Radar Station anymore, he's gone to the whalebone farmhouse. We've continued listening to him and thinking about him and talking about him, through his long silence, and we will continue to do so 'til we join him on the Yellow Brick Road. Goodnight, Don.

  20. There was and never will be again anyone else like the Captain. Goodbye Don, we loved you.

  21. Don's exquisite,shimmering "This is the Day" is playing as my tears begin to ebb.Peace,John

  22. The beep seal
    I saw once as a child
    So life like it almost made me cry
    It stared with its eye glass
    and one glue bubble
    Caught on its whiskers
    Its mouth was closed
    So as not to insult the observer
    Its canine teeth were red plastic
    N' its molars were stained green by straw
    Excluding it from the carnivoris and
    Putting it in the vegetarian bracket
    All of this I viewed from the mistake in
    The side of the jaw
    By pressing my cheek up close
    To the glass on the other side
    Of the red felt roped off area
    This side of the jaw was obviously not intended
    For public observation
    Or was the ripped stitch flipper
    That was carelessly tucked under in a futile
    Attempt to hide the careless workmanship
    Which only added to the agony I felt
    For the display that lived once again
    Hurriedly put together….
    There was a small crack in the glass that
    Emitted the odor of string footballs
    And formaldyhyde
    And saltwater
    The mites balanced on the tiny feather collars
    The red tinfoil hummingbird bones–
    Siper neglected but one flower on the bush
    This odor faded quickly with a feeling of torn
    Muscle n' a burning in my armpit as I was yanked
    By a hard hand and told tears streaming down my face
    magnifying my tiny shoes into shiny leather monsters
    That I was only to view
    Life on the other side of the red felt
    Roped off
    Designated area

  23. Your music show me hope in times when there was none, thank you.
    Rest in Peace, Captain…

  24. The great man behind the carp masque replika is silenced but his gargantuan spirit roams for all eternity. RIP Captain Beefheart.

  25. He was my first musical hero, bar none. Found him when I was 12 and he led me to everything else. And I mean EVERYTHING else. Including painting, which I realized in retrospect, when I started. Once I absorbed his thing, nothing after would sound unusual to my ears (except for slick pop music) or look strange in the strangest gallery in Williamsburg. Albert Ayler? Bring it on. The Dead doing 15 minutes of feedback in the middle of a 40 minute Dark Star, piece of cake. Cy Twombly, of course! Probably my greatest art and musical teacher, or at least, the most influential one. I loved his music more than I can say. His poetry on the back of The Spotlight Kid lp introduced me to poetry. And along with the paintings, I got my first inkling of surrealism.

    I have a paintings of his, an original oil, called Up Sifter hanging in my living room. It's my prized possession. I feel blessed to have known and loved his music. To have turned others on to him, or at least to have tried. I feel blessed that I got to see his last show of paintings in NYC a few years ago. And I feel doubly blessed that I got to see him perform live in '80 at Emerald City in Cherry Hill, NJ…the town where I grew up and discovered him at Korvettes Dept. store, when I came upon that weird name in the record bin. And I would stare at those Spotlight Kid paintings and read those poems and I'd stare at that Trout Mask Replica cover. And it took me 6 months, maybe a year before I pulled the trigger and bought Spotlight Kid first, Trout Mask second…pretty out there for a 12 year old, I'd say. Had no idea what I was getting into. And he did lead me to everything else. Hell, I found Don before I'd even heard of Zappa!

    How lucky was I?

    Rest In Peace, good Captain. Run Paint, Run, Run….

    Death be damned. Life!

  26. RIP Don, you changed my life and for the better.

  27. One of the very biggest musical influences in my life has gone. Beefheart had best shown (better than anyone else) that music and poetry are pure genus in the roght combination. Sadly, he was the only one who could manage that. A pure artist, in every life-situation. Have a good time in heaven.

  28. thank you Don, from the deep of my heart. You are still the best. You're still our Captain!

  29. An Ode:

    Του Καπετάν Βοϊδόκαρδου.

    Another rascal out of the cage,
    into the green, into the grey,
    now deaf and dumb upon a stage
    we all must learn new ways to play.

  30. Dear Don
    You changed my life man.
    You are in my soul.
    My smile is stuck

  31. We love you dearly Don.

    The first album i put on after hearing the news was Bluejeans and Moonbeams.

    The word i needed to type in to verify myself to post this was "tater".

    So there!

  32. … so SAD, today… like the sun turned purple…
    His music changed my life, about 40 years ago.
    I'll both miss the man and the artist.

  33. I discovered Beefheart at the age of thirteen and that was a gateway to a whole realm of possibilities for me… Without him I wouldn't have discovered the 'avant-garde' at such a precociously young age…

    I sympathise with what is said about the suffering he must have endured the last two decades or so… A very agile mind indeed trapped within a non-functioning body…

    I put 'Ice Cream for Crow' on as my own bleak farewell to him.

  34. Deep respect for Don. He made me look and listen in different ways.

  35. Lux interior, Don, Joey Ramone…

    When all your idols go, you feel really old and close to death.

    Not so sad anyway, that's humanity.

  36. I've got such an empty feeling now that the Captain's gone, and I'm not sure it will ever go away. So long to one of the most wonderful people the world has ever seen.

  37. I feel almost an incompetent oaf commenting on Don because I discovered him so late in life. For years, Don was namechecked by so many people, three obvious ones being Mark E.Smith, Peel and Danny Baker. Having dithered 20 years over whether to buy Trout, I was left banging my head against a wall in stupidity when last year on sabbatical in Canada, I listened to it for the first time. In truth, last year was the first time I had time to appreciate it. Casual listening doesn't do the work justice. Just two momths ago, I bought Safe As Milk and was taken aback by its beauty.

    I've heard stories about him, heard other clips of songs and interviews, and nothing I have seen or heard indicates anything other than a man that was unique in mind, body and spirit.

    His death is not the end, his legend will only continue to grow. The brightest star has not burned out, it's just got brighter.

  38. I was one of the few lucky fans to actually meet and talk for a while with Don all alone. It was after Frank and he had played in Phoenix, Arizona and Don was standing out by the stage door when I was walking by. He asked me for a cigarette and we talked for a few minutes there in the night. He asked my wife if she was the girl in the front row flashing her boobs at him (She wasn't) and he told us how frustrated he was touring with Frank. It was one of the highlights of my life.

  39. Always a step ahead of the rest, you made me a better happier person having experienced your work.
    RIP you legend.

  40. So. Farewell then Don van Vliet, a.k.a. Captain Beefheart. You once said "I'd always thought music was too formal, and I thought 'well, I'll get into this and fix it'."
    And you did.
    Richard Bolton

  41. Dearest beefheart,
    You shiny beast, I will always love your music. Thank you for that. Rest in peace.

  42. Our captain is no longer among us.
    But captains never die.

  43. from a relatively rare female fan —

    I took a little time to think — I hope this still gets to Don's wife, Jan: I'm so very sorry for your loss, and I know most of what we fans are saying is just fluff compared to your reality the last several years.

    You were there for him, and we don't know anything about that, and I take it that's how he wanted it.

    I don't know you at all, Jan, but I want to acknowledge you with highest regards, and wish you all the comfort and support this intangible medium can afford, and then some. You are our hero's hero.

    I felt, before and after learning years ago that Don was (vaguely) ill, that the world was still basically the same world…that the things he nimbly described in words and in ink, pencil, and paints were still there, holding the same wonder for me that they always held. Now, knowing that he has passed on, the world feels a little duller, greyer, and a little less fluently-translated knowing it's still going along in his wake.

    I wish I knew how to confront the world and process it in such a beautifully effective way, but I'm sure I have friends who've come close, and I am privileged to have Don's work as an example when I need to witness how a free spirit working with maximum channels open (and a drive to get the work out) does what he wants to do and it turns out to be a beautiful, beautiful thing.

    Thank you, Don, for lighting the way for full expression. Thank you, Jan, for being his strength.

    I'd like to suggest involvement with local ms fundraising organizations — you may already know someone affected by ms. For those in the US:

  44. Dark dawn desecrates drop down hooves
    Black eye sky cries why oh why
    Sun says shine jest for thee I say
    Anyway today you went too way
    Knot untied that left astray
    Your ashtray heart.
    Pain, windownpane closes your pain
    And shuts out the past you're before the futureniture shop closes.
    And you sail on sale to a Christmas of sadlessness…and Doc is still at the station
    Picking up the jagged peace.
    RIP Captain!

  45. R.I.P Captain Don. Please give my regards to Jimi Hendrix. Tell him how much we still love you guys.

  46. O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
    The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
    The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
    While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
    But O heart! heart! heart!
    O the bleeding drops of red,
    Where on the deck my Captain lies,
    Fallen cold and dead.

    O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
    Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
    For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
    For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
    Here Captain! dear father!
    This arm beneath your head;
    It is some dream that on the deck,
    You’ve fallen cold and dead.

    My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
    My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
    The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
    From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
    Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
    But I, with mournful tread,
    Walk the deck my Captain lies,
    Fallen cold and dead.

    Oh captain, my captain…

  47. nice work.well,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.i liked your blog.its nice.

  48. Say What ? I heard Don was dead. Not a chance. He will always be right there to tell you EXACTLY what you need to know.

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