Riding Some Kind Of Unusual Skull Sleigh by W C Bamberger

A critical overview of the artistic output of Don Van Vliet.

W C Bamberger, a one-time member of the Fire Party (the Radar Station’s Beefheart discussion list), has published a book focussing on the vision and message contained within the work of Don Van Vliet, including his paintings, poems and songs.

Author: WC Bamberger
Title: ‘Riding Some Kind of Unusual Skull Sleigh: On The Arts Of Don Van Vliet’

ISBN: 0-917453-35-2

Small Press Distribution
1341 7th St.
CA 94710

Synopsis from the back of the book

Riding Some Kind Of Unusual Skull Sleigh looks at the phases of Van Vliet’s musical career through the lens of the new, ecological theories of mind which were emerging at the time Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band were beginning to record. The result is a unique interpretation of Van Vliet’s music and motives – “Van Vliet as Gaia microcosm” – which looks at both his genius and the darker side of his Captain Beefheart persona. The author also offers a detailed analysis of Van Vliet’s drawings and paintings and suggests that art world acceptance has drastically changed his art – and perhaps the artist himself.

Overview by Ed Watkins

It’s a sort of critical biography, written somewhat in the style of an academic thesis, but with more humor and idiosyncratic invention. It’s hard to summarize the basic thesis of the book, but basically Mr. Bamberger explores DVV’s songs and lyrics and paintings for evidence of a unifying vision of a human/nature continuum. He also explores how DVV lost this vision, and how his creative energy dried up, due possibly to his involvement in the New York art world. It’s an interesting (and opinionated) read, and written in a very clear and level-headed manner.


You can also order the books direct from the author – send $20 (USA and overseas) to:

Bill Bamberger
PO Box 1126
Flint, MI 48501-1126

Competition results

The author of Riding Some Kind Of Unusual Skull Sleigh, Bill Bamberger, very kindly gave the Radar Station a copy of his book to offer in a competition.

Entrants were asked what was so unusual about the skull sleigh that Don Van Vliet was riding. The winner, Charles West, gave the following answer which I believed summed it up the best:

[wp_quote]Nothing much. It was a standard model early forties device equipped with two earshaped racked and pinned-on handles for equal temperament steering, two frontloaded eyelights with an additional third high-intensity beam focused inside, and a single industrial-strength mega horn modified for astral projections. It was the rider that was unusual.[/wp_quote]

Congratulations to Charles who wins a copy of the book. Many thanks to everyone who entered the competition. Some of my other favourite answers are listed below in no particular order:


Jamie Gullikson
It was phonetic and powered by phonics. interestingly enough, DVV is allergic to skulls.

It was a rare vintage 1937 Radion Flypaper sleigh with optional full-tilt wire wind vents.

Richard Dorsett
Because the ant spiked his skull with a cream horn, he fell out of the tree, and the fungus in his brain made him climb back up and start all over again.

Kathy O’Brien
NOTHING UNUSUAL… Don would always slay the skull even as he rode it – a highly intelligent man who thought deeply enough to value emotion over reason, love above gold – perhaps the only unusual thing about his ride is that so few of us have followed his example…

Rob van der Kroef
Skull Sleigh will be the name of the Captain´s bottled ship.
The Most Holy-O the flag on His Magic Trip.
Fire and ice melting the horizon up an down,
together forming a golden liquid crown.
Hangon, hangout, hangover, Hamburgers allowed.

Richard A Basarab
If that’s DVV riding the skull sleigh, then I’m Flash Gordan’s ape’s uncle. Also, the sleigh’s runners appear to have been removed with a parapliers.

Matt Laferty
Well, it’s not that the skull sleigh is particularly unusual, it’s just that he only said that he’d borrow it for a few years and he ain’t given it back since 1981. I REALLY need my skull back or I’ll never get anywhere or even convince myself that there’s anywhere to get to.

No Strait-Jacket Life- Or How Don Van Vliet was not Martyred into Submission.

He was on target. He don’t regret the jazz/blues flavored tunes which instill the dunes of the Central Coast with their sand in which they boast a fervor so tasty, yes & hasty, wouldn’t fall to the ground with a sound that resounds like flavor drapes and trucks that surge backwards in the mist with a ship’s lisp, that waft and stand, with eye-crossed hands, and beckon the preacher to his doom in a room with floss and glass candle moss. The End…End The Cucomonga Train, wineries distill vineyard cloaks coating hills. Their lush green fields with worms that murmur with erotic greed and need. The Vikings mead was drunk in the trunk of the whale with a flail and a moan like a Zen koan, it burped.

And that’s how the Skull Sleigh Donned Van Vliet.

David Edward Kidney
The snow was falling sideways, the toboggans on the highways, and Sam’s new skull sleigh shining radiant pot-light glory in the midst with Rosebud the grand-daddy of ’em all as the prize, and Sam riding side-saddle, feet in the eye-holes, skittering, like a dead mouse on a hockey rink, he shoots, he scores!

Samuli Koponen
It had bad teeth and its ears were made of blood.

Sounds like somebody’s had to much to think. There’s nothing unusual about that red thyroid sunset skull sleigh. It’s one of finest skull sleighs I’ve seen on all of God’s golfball with all those tweetin’ things ‘n’ twinklin’ lights. Whenever I think of my first skull sleigh, “Rosemary” I called it, my face wrinkles up real warm.

David Liebesman
What is interesting about the Captain’s skull sleigh is the mix of images he uses to create some kind of order from what, at first glance, seems to be complete dischord. Then when you look at it again, it really is dischord. Then he falls of the sleigh.

Mark Osborne

Graham Halliday
All the bells had been removed when they were doing Hair Pie: Bake 2. Also the actual reindeer had disappeared onto some hill on some weird album cover never to return.[/wp_quote]

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