Introduction by John French
As I began to write my book, Beefheart: Through the Eyes of Magic, the question plaguing my mind was: “What do Beefheart fans really wish to know?” One and a half years ago, Graham Johnston was kind enough to accept questions on his website to supply me with the answer to that question. I found that the questions themselves, many answered in the book, deserved acknowledgement in their own right and so I suggested to Graham that I answer the questions individually so that he could post the answers on the site. This turned out to be less simple than it originally seemed – a small project, perhaps, but cursed with mishaps, lost data and endless rewriting and re-editing.
I managed to delete / overwrite my answers on no less than two occasions – I suppose that if one embraces the philosophy that everything we do is intentional, then I really must not wish to answer the questions. However, after months of introspection, I came to the conclusion that I really don’t embrace that philosophy. The very nature of the word accident leads me to believe that we are not as in control of things as we would sometimes like to believe.
So, this time I try again, with deeper conviction and also a word of thanks. The questions helped me a great deal in formulating an approach to the book. Presently, I am seriously considering two volumes of approximately 250 pages each. The first half of the book is nearly finished and is about 350 pages – there is much to cut out; almost a third of the text. This final edit will accomplish two things: firstly it will remove personal memoir sections that seem highly personal and non-pertinent and secondly it will remove any Christian references (the belief system I embrace) because there is a fear that this will “turn off” Beefheart fans. I decided instead to edit these into a little document for those of you who did ask for my Christian perspective, which you will eventually be able to download free of charge. That way, I get the freedom to write as I think, and no one can say they were forced to read it.
I faced many problems in the writing of this text. Although this book has been somewhat cathartic, it has also been painful to put together. There are many memories I would rather not dwell upon, and yet I am forced to edit and re-edit them in text, thus reliving them over and over. I also felt compelled to admit some of my personal faults that I would have rather kept to myself.
I do hope that fans are not disappointed by the fact that this book focuses on Magic Band members, not Van Vliet. My personal experiences are charted as best a drummer can do thirty years after the fact. One thing I have discovered about the human memory is the longer one seeks for answers the more one finds. Writing about certain events would trigger memories of certain other events, ad infinitum. In fact, I could probably spend the rest of my life rewriting the book as more and more memories flow forward.
Another area that I hope is not cause for disappointment is the lack of statistics, discographies, etc. I felt that Mike Barnes did an excellent job with those particulars, and so I retooled my book to be more of an “extended supplement,” if you will, to his extremely well-written and meticulously researched book. I cannot claim to having attained nearly the level of writing Barnes has mastered, but if I am to get this book out during my lifetime, then the public will just have to tolerate my lack of expertise. My book is a collection of my own personal memoirs laced with interviews of Magic Band members and others whose stories I found to be pertinent to the work as a whole.
I have no idea if this book will be considered “balanced.” The personal side of dealing with Van Vliet was often quite difficult for me, and this seemed to be the general consensus of those I interviewed. In this light, the book may be viewed as “negative.” I can only say in my defence that it is as factual an account as I could make it, and if the bad outweighs the good, then it is because that was the reality of the situation. I supposed I could make the analogy of a overseas war correspondent writing, “War is Hell,” and then in an effort to balance his view, saying, “but of course one has the advantage of travelling to exotic settings.” My writing will only be a piece of the puzzle, and the public will reach their own conclusions.
I cannot promise when the book will be released, as I am self-publishing and it is my first experience at this type of endeavour. The whole project has been a leap of faith, mostly taken in small daily hops. My most productive day was over sixty pages of writing. Other days, I struggled over a single sentence. It has been a great deal more work than I anticipated, but not without rewards. My favourite part has been getting in touch with old friends and former band mates, and laughing at our former struggles. It has been a time of healing, rejuvenation, and self-realisation I hope it helps those who read it to seek similar rewards in their own lives.
I hope you enjoy the questions and answers. Thanks again for your help.
– John French, July 2001