In early / mid 2000 John French called on Radar Station visitors for some help writing his book, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic…
From: Ralf NygÂrd
Sent: Monday, April 03, 2000 6:40 PM
As far as I understand it, you saw some references to Vliet’s massive use of cocaine in the later years.
I only saw fringes of Don’s cocaine use and never really saw much of a negative effect. However, one reliable anonymous source made it clear to me that there was in fact quite a problem with cocaine use in the later music years.
Why did he start using it in the first place?
I can only speculate on this:
I feel that this use was more due to Don’s unhappiness with his situation. He and his wife Jan were living in the desert in his mother’s mobile home. His albums and concert appearances weren’t paying the bills or providing for any retirement. He may have already known that he had MS, and this probably terrified him. I know he wanted to provide for Jan, yet he had little or no means to make the massive amount of money he would need for medical costs, retirement benefits, etc. For a time, cocaine was probably not only an escape, but perhaps gave the illusion that more was getting done than actually was.
Did you have any personal or professional contact with him during that time? If so, how did it affect him as an artist and how did it affect your views of him and the music?
To speculate, I think it affected his voice, because Ice Cream For Crow seems terribly weak vocally. Also, there seems to be more and more early material pulled in for the last few albums.
Despite the fact that I speak rather negatively about Mr. Van Vliet’s treatment of the band, and his methods of taking complete credit for everything, I truly to this day still have a great respect and love for him. I think I understand why he acted in the ways he did, and they were largely due to misconceptions he had about the world in general, and about personal relationships specifically. He was, according to his own words to me, a “diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic.” I am sure that many of his behavioural problems were actually symptoms of psychological dysfunction far too deep for a layman like myself to interpret or analyse with any degree of accuracy. Often, it seems, near-madness seems to be a close neighbour of creative genius, Van Gogh being the most popular example I can cite.
I did on one occasion, reprimand Don for inviting a friend to my house and then indulging in cocaine while there. This was during the Doc sessions. I asked him never to do that again, as I did not like having drugs on my premises, not only for moral reasons, but also for the obvious legal problems that could ensue. He was extremely apologetic and understanding.
– John French