Also guaranteed to have a catastrophic effect on your love-life is the music of Captain Beefheart, subject of John Peel’s adoring if oddly po-faced tribute, The Artist Formerly Known as Captain Beefheart (Tuesday, BBC2). But then perhaps he too is a “boy thing.” Years ago, I never understood why any woman I succeeded in luring home vanished swiftly into the night as soon as I played her some of the Captain’s more tender bellowings. All this time later, I couldn’t help but be moved to find that he’d lost none of his power to soothe and elevate the spirits. “Argh, no more, please, this is torture to me,” cried my wife while Beefheart and his band launched into another mighty racket. Beefheart may not necessarily have been “rock’s only real genius”, as Peel claimed, but he had a wondrously strange mind, as well as a voice that could strip the tread right off a tyre. And anyone who could write lyrics like, “Big-eyed beans from Venus / Don’t let anything come between us” is all right with me. Various musicians recalled Beefheart’s extreme irritability, his anxiety attacks and his refusal to let them out of the house while he was recording. One guitarist, starved and goaded beyond endurance, went for him with a loaded crossbow. Beefheart, utterly unfazed, ordered the man back to his room, and away he slunk.
Afterwards there came a sad short film, Some Yo Yo Stuff, in which Beefheart, now going under his real name of Don Van Vliet and much withered by illness, was seen gazing out of opaque spectacles and speaking with difficulty. Asked why he’d become a recluse, he tilted his head forward and said, “The way I keep in touch with the world is very gingerly. Because the world touches too hard.”
(c) Telegraph Group Limited, London, 1997