Moonlight On Vermont song notes by Mark Saucier

Moonlight on Vermont affected everybody
Even Mrs. Wooten well as Little Nitty
Even lifebuoy floatin’/With his lil’ pistol showin’
‘n his lil’ pistol totin’

Vermont is about as white a place as you can get, that is in most people’s minds. I can’t think of anyplace whiter than that. Not just white but white in a very Northeastern sort of way. But Beefheart’s paean to the influence of the moon is set in the whitest place on earth; white people, white with snow, white as the full moon riding in the sky that stirs people’s blood, the same moon that Howlin’ Wolf howled to in his “Moanin’ at Midnight,” to which this song is a cosmic cousin.

“Mrs Wooten” and “Little Nitty” occupy the same space in my mind as “Mrs. Porter And Her Daughter” in TS Eliot’s “Prufrock,” that is, as agents of dullness and normalcy. The use of “Nitty,” as in “full of nits,” as a name implies how Beefheart feels about that normalcy, either consciously or subconsciously. Mrs. Wooten and Little Nitty, however, are going wild under the influence of the moon.

“Lifebuoy floatin’/with his little pistol showin/’n’ his little pistol totin'” is a key part of the lyrics. This is more or less a reference to somebody’s penis,
maybe little Nitty’s, floating in the bathtub like Lifebuoy (a brand of soap) bobbing out of the water…and quite possibly an erect penis, the little pistol. The influence of the moon has been classically linked to sexual desire for aeons. Even little Nitty feels the pull of the moon at a basic root chakra level. As the Captain explains, “Well that goes t’ show you what uh moon can do!”

No more bridge from Tuesday t’ Friday
Everybody’s gone high society

Bridge being another representative for the dull middle class lives that the Moon is rupturing. The order of the cards and the order of the game is abandoned. The regular occurrence of the games is abandoned. And “high society?” The key word there is “high.” This is the new society, where everyone is high, where a Dionysian state of madness prevails.

Hope lost his head ‘n got off on alligators
Somebodies leavin’ peanuts on the curbins
For uh white elephant escaped from the zoo with love

Hope, one of the Virtues, is so high that he finds beauty in the armor plated eating machine that is the alligator. Somebody’s leavin’ peanuts on the curbs for the white elephant, the white elephant that, in its normal state, is a burden that nobody wants. But under the white light of the Dionysian/Beefheartian
moon, the white elephant is free, full of love. It no longer has to be a burden to everyone; it’s a freak thing allowed to be free, and its freakiness is honored and loved and fed by everyone.

Goes t’ show you what uh moon can do
Moonlight on Vermont
Well it did it for Lifebuoy

It restored his sexual potency? Or it brought him into sexual knowledge?

And it did it t’ you
And it did it t’ zoo
And it can do it for me
And it can do it for you

You are invited to join the Pan-Dionysian moon orgy, as is every creature. Beefheart reveals his part as Dionysus and the initiator of this revel, and reiterates that you can join in the wild hunt under the wide white moon if you break the chains of civilization and restraint, your brain burning under the luminescent influence of NATURE.

Moonlight on Vermont
Gimme dat ole time religion
Gimme dat ole time religion
Don’t gimme no affliction
Dat ole time religion is good enough for me

I don’t think it is any coincidence whatsoever that Wiccan and Pagan religious groups were using this Christian hymn as a parody song in the same era that Beefheart threw these lines into his song. In a lot of neo-pagan groups of the late 60s and 70s, verses of “Old Time Religion” were being rewritten to celebrate what followers called ‘The Old Religion’ – as follows:

“It was good for Aphrodite/She’s a mighty righteous
sighty/and her Priestess wears no nightie/And that’s
good enough for me/Gimme that etc.”

Beefheart’s purpose for using the verse is the same. He is announcing Paganism in the streets. The old time religion, the worship of moon and nature, the realization that man is an animal and the reveling in the animal nature. The “high” society. Of course Beefheart/Van Vliet never was an actual follower of any of the Neo-Pagan religions but there is no doubt in my mind he ran into them in his day. The original Puritan/Protestant urges that “Old Time Religion” was meant to suppress are liberated by Beefheart’s claiming the words for his own, his vocal delivery both parodying and paying tribute to Blind Willie Johnson, the gospel evangelist who sang the blues.

Uh it’s good enough for you
Well come out t’ show dem
Come out t’ show dem
Come out t’ show dem
Come out t’ show dem
Come out t’ show dem
Come out t’ show dem
Come out t’ show dem

The transcriptionist doesn’t note this but somewhere in this section he’s clearly singing “Come out to Sodom, come out to Sodom,” referencing Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities allegedly destroyed by God in the Bible for their “wickedness.” The implication in the Bible is that it was sexual “wickedness” in particular that the city of Sodom was guilty of. Beefheart crosses over to sacrilege as easily as Son House did in “Preachin’ Blues.”

Gimme dat ole time religion
Gimme dat ole time religion
Gimme dat ole time religion
It’s good enough for me
Without yer new affliction
Don’t need yer new restrictions
Gimme dat ole time religion
It’s good enough for me
Moonlight on Vermont

He finishes up here with a final snarl of rebellion. Under the moonlight he and everyone else in the song, everyone else in the world, has finally reverted to their true animal nature, without the affliction of restriction. The Great God Pan has returned. The Dionysian orgy has begun. The wild has taken over and the world is better for it. Good enough for me!

-Mark Saucier


  1. “Come out t’ show dem” likely references from Steve Reich’s 1966 “Come Out.”

  2. Mrs.Porter allusion from The Wasteland, not from”Prufrock”.

  3. I always thought it the “Vermont” in this song was Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles which runs into Vermont Canyon and toward Griffith Park, the Griffith Observatory, and where the Griffith Park Zoo was where Don spent an important part of his childhood making sculptures of the animals.

  4. And what about the Karl Suessdorf, John M. Blackburn song of the same name, sung by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and others, which has essentially the same message?
    “People who meet in this romantic setting
    Are so hypnotized by the lovely
    Evening summer breeze…”

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