Don Van Vliet 1941-2010 – Steve’s tribute

We’re very saddened to hear that Don has passed away.

He has succumbed to complications with the multiple sclerosis that he’s been suffering with for many years.

Our thoughts go out to Jan.

The world has lost a unique individual.

Update: 11am 19/12/2010

I have been too upset to write much as yet so have just been watching all the wonderful tributes coming into our blog here and elsewhere across the web. I do hope Don, and Jan, were aware of the great love and respect in which they are held.

Don’s music has been my companion since 1967. Safe As Milk changed my view on music and become the yardstick by which everything else was measured. Strictly Personal was a mind-blowing delight (despite what Don said about it!) … and then, of course, came Trout Mask Replica. I have written elsewhere about how you need to listen in a different way to ‘get it’ … but once you’ve done that music isn’t the same any more.

Like many others I’ve been working my way through my collection of Beefheart albums. Some of those amazing lyrics now taking on an added poignancy or loaded significance. Many of those lyrics have already been quoted in amongst the comments added to this blog so I’ll not repeat them here.

Strangely, the one track which did for me, affected me in a way it has never done before, was the instrumental Big Black Baby Shoes. I didn’t understand at first why this should choke me up more than any of the other more lyrically relevant songs.

I finally realised it was obvious … Don wasn’t there but we still had his astonishing music.

Even after 40 years Don’s music still surprises me, inspires me and makes me smile through its sheer audacity and exuberance. I’m certain it will continue to do so for me, and for future generations who have ears and gotta listen.

Thank you, Don


  1. gentlemen music is over everyone can go home now

  2. Thanks dear Captain for making the musician I am

  3. His work is part of me and will be forever.


  4. DR labil

    This is the day ……the End
    Danke für Alles ….Wir hören uns

  5. Thank you Don for your many years of artistry in word, music and the visual aspect. You showed the world that adherence to the established norms are wanton and that you should always be yourself. The enlightenment of the totality of your work is such that people will remember you forever.

    You are free from your wheelchair now, and the suffering is done. In this release you are released to the Forces, and you will always be able to see how many out there appreciate your hard work and service to the world of art. I shall see you when I have my release, and we can talk about art for a long time.

    Much gratitude and appreciation for everything you've done, and stay strong Jan. Your husband was a good man, and be joyous with all the great memories that both of you had. Just look up to the sky and Don shall always be there for us, happy that he is remembered. He's gone fishing now until his next incarnation! We salute you Captain!

  6. Captain Beefheart tought me so much about music, I am deeply saddened by his very untimely death. RIP Capt. You will be missed more than words can describe. ) :

  7. Keep on shining Don!!
    Antwerp Belgium

  8. A sad day for the blues. Thanks for the music.

  9. Captain Beefheart is one of the biggest influences on how I live my life and how I create art. He will be sorely, sorely, SORELY missed.

  10. I grew up listening to Don's work. I remember going to sleep playing a cd in repeat mode all night long. Clear Spot was the first thing I heard and I didn't stop till I heard it all. And it was damn good.
    Thanks Don, have a good rest.

  11. His soul is set free at last…he is now "Safe as Milk" (I think I have heard it put that way before)

  12. My thoughts go out to Jan who must
    have endured so much. Peace be with
    you…and Don whomever is at the
    gate to let you in just tell em…
    Gimmie that harp ain't no
    fat mans toy.
    All fans let's rejoyce and celebrate the life of a truly unique man that won't be coming
    around again..

  13. Rest In Piece Don (van) Vliet, Captain Beefheart, the true genious of your music and paintings will live for ever and eternity.

    You will watch the world now with the Big Eyes from Venus and see the golden birdies fly over the yellow brick road where the dust blows back the electricity generated by abba zabba and where your head is your only house when it rains in Dalí's car after fishing on trout with a replica mask from egypt with a vampire on your knee….

    This is the day….we didn't want but this is the day your music and paintings and legend will continue to lighten the hearts with beef and joy…the typical beefheart and magic band beat…not the mama heartbeat but the beat of genius.

    My condoleance to your wife and family. Say hello to Frank Zappa and Jim Morisson and Jimi Hendrix and make some more music from heaven and sent an postcard back to the mortals on earth, your music and spirit will live on for ever. You changed the way to look to music.

    Greetings, Ruud

  14. Yesterday as I was leaving work I put my earbuds in and found Safe as Milk on my iPod, not realizing that the left one was blown. "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do" started without Don's unforgettable growl– somber irony now that the voice has been silenced forever. A dude got on the train and started playing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on an alto sax and it mixed with the track in an appropriately cacophonous way and it all made perfect nonsense. "Around the corner the wind blew back follow the yellow brick road. It ended up in black on black, I was taught the gift of love."

    Thanks, Don.

  15. Don will be missed. I am lucky enough to have seen him several times in the UK and those concerts were amongst the best I've ever seen.

  16. We now have too much time to be without you. Sad all day but we know we just have to shout out "webcore webcore" to our fastnbulbous friends and hit those long lunar notes!

  17. I'm saddened but not too surprised to hear about our loss. Good luck Captain off of God's Golfball! You'll be missed. His passing inspired me to write a more detailed version of my thoughts on my Livejournal blog, if anyone cares to read it:

  18. A shock for sure…. I can say I held a light for both CB and FZ simultaneously in LA 1982 no photo but it;s in my head I miss them both

  19. Sorry about this. A true artist. Thank you for all and my condolances to the Captains family.
    Storm – The Netherlands

  20. so sad to hear. I spent last summer discovering this wonderful artist and his music and he's been an inspiring companion since

  21. Peace & Blessings To The Captain Family & Friends!

    Rest In Peace My FAVORITE!!!

    have a groovy day!

    Dreadlock Dave

  22. Goodbye Don. Thanks for the wonderful journey that was your music and art. You enhanced my life. My thoughts are with Jan and those close to you.


  23. I don't know how I would have ever survived in this plane without Don's Music. All of it. Jan, I'm sorry for your loss, Don was beloved by so many. As sad as we are that there will be no more music from the other side of the fence or wonderful paintings…I am truly thankful I got to be here in the world with this man, his work will be valued forever.

  24. Like many, Don was my favourite person I'd never met, but I'd like to send my condolences to those who had.

    He inspired me more than any other musician and lyricist. My teenage epiphany, when I first worked out what the musicians were all actually doing on Lick My Decals Off, Baby, was so powerful it changed the way I heard music forever.

    Finally, I couldn't help but think that Don really deserves a state funeral, but with a difference. Say being shipped – as on "Bat Chain Puller" – through the streets to his resting place on a train with yellow lights that glisten like oil beads; bulbs shooting from its snoot; whistling like a root snatched from dry earth; and pulled by rubber dolphins, before it trundles him off into another dimension entirely.


  25. I guess that the defining view of Don's work is best said by him – "If you got ears, you gotta listen". Let's hear it for ears!

    Thank you Don, you have defined my musical life and now that we have lost you, you will define the life I have left.

  26. Farewell Magic Captain, Your loss as an artist has made this world a sadder place.
    Your music has been a close companion to me since 1967 and I feel bereft.
    If you need somebody on your bond call on me.

  27. Very sorry to hear of Don Van Vliet's death.

    A true innovator and genius in music and one really funny man – what a sense of humour.

    Condolences to his wife and friends and to all his fans.

    R.I.P Captain Beefheart

  28. In reading comments and memories of Don here and elsewhere, I realize that Don, along with other musicians and artists who pushed the envelope creatively really affected me as a youth and encouraged me to explore the boundaries of music and art.

    I'm sad that he's gone. It's great that even after being out of the music scene for so long, he is still remembered and appreciated by so many.

    Harry, Madison, Wisconsin, USA

  29. I first met Don on the stage of the "Speakeasy" in London in 1971. "I'm really nervous meeting you", I said "so am I man, we don't know each other…Do you know Ornette Coleman, he's a great painter!" he said twiddling his fingers miming sax playing. And so began a couple of years of hanging out with Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. Next evening we saw the magic at the Royal Albert Hall and had already been invited backstage after. Next day his publicist had granted us (3 Art Students with a non-existant magazine) an interview of 20 minutes between the NME and Sounds pop papers. We stayed with Don and Jan for two and a half hours. (I have a long transcribed interview to remember the event although the tape which of course ran out after a while, was stolen years ago) My Art Education was completed in that time. I got to know the band members and spent time with John Peel whom I already knew from a few years before. A friend Bob Cook whom I have not seen for 30 years hung out with us and we saw many concerts, travelling with Don and the Band, even carrying equipment. They were all generous to a fault, especially Don. I will write more after Christmas, but, for now, I will raise a glass of Drambuie – ubiquitous rider of all Beefheart concerts – at our Christmas meal.
    Rest in peace Hero.
    Philip Maltman, London

  30. "He was never mainstream" says one of the obits. Oh boy have they got it wrong – in a thick mudmess of alien lifeforms swarming all over the tv and radio channels, all trying to brainwash us, the captain's stream was straight and crystal clear. YOU were the MAIN STREAM, man, and don't let anyone say otherwise. Right from Safe as Milk, found like a gold nugget at a tiny import shop in Soho, you've been my life saver – you were the proof real humans do exist.

  31. Dear Don,
    I hope you´re feeling better now in giving the angels lessons in real music as you did with me over the years. It was a pleasure and always will be a pleasure to listen to your incredible exciting and free music. Thank you for blowing my mind.
    Patrick from Germany

  32. Dear Mr. Van Vliet,

    Thanks for all the life altering and amazing art. My band since 1998 is called Blabber 'n Smoke. Rest peacefully.

    Arne Martens, Amsterdam (NL)

  33. Captain, you've been my inspiration for 36 years.
    The word verification says "rebred". What are you trying to tell us?

  34. My ears stand up when I hear that sound, click clack, click clack. Don't let the brake men steer you wrong Don. This time I think it's for keeps…

  35. I first saw Captain Beafheart and The Magic Band in the late 60’s when they came to play at my local pub, the Tithe Farm, in South Harrow. I place no emphasis on the cause of this incredible event happening in such a small venue that few other bands played at, other than happenstance. It was to change things for me, though. I married in 1970 and took Trout Mask Replica on honeymoon with me. That album, and my wife, are still with me. We both went about following the band when they came to England over the next 10 years. I just wish I could recall those events!

    Until about 10 years ago his music was pretty much all I ever played. Whilst my play list has expanded since his music features highly still.

    I appreciate that DVV’s decision to concentrate solely on his painted art deprived his fans of more of the same plus different, better music but we have been sustained for 40 years with his oeuvre and will continue to be by playing his music until we, too, succumb to our own ailments. In my case it may just be MS as I have a bit of it now. This makes me sad for him. I have been deprived of my ability to work and do some of the things I like just as I fear he was in the latter stages of his illness. I have been supported by the woman I share my life with and suspect that he too was fortunate to have been similarly comforted by Jan. This is my only chance of saying thank you Don Van Vliet, thank you so much – and it’s too late.
    Cheerio Eddy.

    “In most of mankind gratitude is merely a hope of further favours.” Francois Duc De La Rochefouclauld.

  36. beneath the symbol
    we`ll all assemble
    oh how we`ll fly
    oh how we`ll tremble
    say hello to the crow Don

  37. Don, thank you for making me listen to music in a whole new way. Sleep well Captain. I loved you, you big dummy.

  38. My name is Hiro. I am Japanese. And, I keep listening to the music of Captain Beefheart for 30 years. I am very sad. Still, Don is the greatest artist for me.


  39. My thoughts go out to Jan, and Don's other loved ones. As mere fans, our loss surely isn't as great as your own, yet is enormous nonetheless. We've all lost a one-of-a-kind, uniquely talented man.


  40. 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.

  41. Farewell Captain and condolences to Jan and all who feel orphaned by your passing.
    Your influence as a musician and an artist has touched so many of us and formed what we became.
    May your legacy live forever.

    Ella Guru

  42. Merci Capitaine pour m'avoir emmener dans votre sillage . Bonne Nuit

  43. Bon voyage Maître … votre musique nous manquait, désormais votre peinture atteindra la postérité seule.
    Vous avez illuminé le rock'n roll et ma vie … Reposez en paix Don. Condoléances à vos proches.

    Bog Toulouse

  44. Back in the early days, I gave Captain Beefheart one of my famous homemade greeting cards. I originally gave it to his wife Jan to have her pass it on to him but when he came out of the Bottom Line, I asked for it back so I could personally hand it to him. He asked me if there was any money it and my beautiful friend Chris Ferro told him that there was a "few fins" in it (making a reference to Don's song GROW FINS). I included one of my Beefheart inspired poems in the card:


    The trees that grew have disappeared
    The bees that flew have disappeared
    I once love man’s genius
    but then I grew
    and then I knew
    I only wish life was simple
    I get me a horse
    and a girl with a dimple

    A few years later Don wrote a song that I truly believe was in direct response to my greeting card/poem:

    Hey Beefheartians, WHADDA YA THINK?

  45. In 1967 I bought Trout Mask at Super X Drugs In Prescott Az where I grew up. It absolutely altered everything for me
    Thank You Captain
    ( a little too late
    … or is it?)

  46. My Husband and I just bought the Trout House in Woodland Hills. When we heard about Don we went over to the house to vibe and wish Don a good journey to his next chapter. Jan you are welcome any time to visit the house. May the comfort of the love of friends and family guide you during this time.

  47. A squid eating dough out of a polyethelene bag is fast and bulbous. … The mascara snake!

    Oh, the memories.

    My only Beefheart story is from about 1980 (give or take) and my friend jay and i go to see him and the band at a jazz club in Copley Square, Boston. We had front row seats and Jay was really high on something and he literally got up and sat on the side of the stage and picked up a spare bass and started playing with the band! Needless to say we were thrown out of there pretty quick. It was a great night nonetheless.

    RIP Don.

  48. In these times, with music turned into just
    another consumer product, it is a miracle
    to be able to pull out a record that was
    made more than forty years ago, that's
    still way ahead of its time! Not just that,
    but a record that also still has surprises
    up its sleeve every time I listen to it.

    "Trout Mask Replica" is being played
    full blast these days.

    Thanks & Respect from Norway

  49. I've loved Captain Beefheart since I first heard him in 1969 when I was the tender age of 15. I still listen to his albums and eagerly search out any outtakes, bootleg recordings etc. There won't be any new yoyo stuff.

  50. I will never forget these darkest hours in my life between night and the rising dawn of a new morning where "Trout Mask Replica" saved my life. Thanks for this. Thanks for the great music. Rest in peace.

  51. All the hours– days– of my life spent listening to Don's voice add up to more time than I've spent with almost anyone. Knowing he's gone will not change any of that, but I've cried many times since hearing the news on Friday. My condolences to Jan.

    Don was the greatest. There will never be another like him.

    Portland, OR

  52. The Captain may have dropped his body but he will live on for centuries. I have played DVV's music ever since I bought TMR in an obscure, tiny 2nd-floor shop called Virgin Records. Farewell Don! The thousands of bands influenced by you will carry your memory on forever.

  53. RIP Captain, the greatest artist ever. Your music has inspired me a lot.

  54. it,s always sad when one of your hero,es dies thank you for the music

  55. Rest in peace, Dear Captain. We will miss you :-(

    Thank you for your wonderful blog! I recommended it on my own blog and included a link to it. It's a great job you're doing here!

  56. Don & the Band helped me through many a hard time as a person and as a musician. I tried to envision the joy & peace he may have received while painting and when the song was over, I hope I was right in my head.

    I was introduced to his music by our bass player in a country band in 1997. I am blessed to have had 13 years enjoying what you breathed out, Don!

  57. I was in India on vacation when I heard the sad news. I went up a hill in the middle of nowhere ( that is on a eco-plantation near Madikeri, Karnataka, India ) and listened to "Glider" on my mp3 player a couple of times, singing and dancing to it under the hot indian sun.


  58. Don is now entertaining God in person. What a great gig!

  59. After watching the Curt Cobain thing, I realized that, until the end, St. Don was in a place of laughter.

  60. Andy Swapp, is that you? Listening to "Electricity" with me in my bedroom in Kidlington 1968…? If so, it's a Magic World in which bands can be Magic!

    Michael Bristow

  61. just wanted to drop a line and say the times i met don were all great .he remembered me.i remember him. i miss ya

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