[alert_box type=”info”]This article first appeared in Mojo Magazine, December 1993 as an introduction to an interview with the man himself. Please also see John French’s response to this article.[/alert_box]
He is alive. A recluse. Painting in seclusion up near the Oregon border. There have been weird signals through the ether since he stopped making music 11 years ago, but they were faint, confused, unintelligible. But now Dave DiMartino has finally made contact with the man who used to be Captain Beefheart.
It is entirely fitting that Don Van Vliet, painter of international repute, and one of a handful of truly legendary figures in rock ‘n’ roll, gifted us with a song entitled The Past Sure Is Tense on the last album of his career; 1982’s Ice Cream For Crow. While the former Captain Beefheart now lives the life of a recluse, painting in seclusion in a small California town scant miles from the Oregon border, it is with his o past that he now struggles.
“It’s very had because he’s famous,” says Michael Werner, Van Vliet’s art dealer for over a decade, who owns a pair of prestigious art galleries in Cologne and Manhattan “Many people know his name as a musician. It’s very hard to make a career as a painter, and that’s a big obstacle.” Nevertheless, Van Vliet is doing precisely that, rearing such richly descriptive titles as Gray Ape, Cactus Blanch and Parapliers The Willow Dipped, his paintings now sell in the $10,000-$35,000 range, and his drawings for between $500 and $5,000. “I’ve probably sold between 60 and 75 paintings,” Werner estimates. “And many more drawings.”
The man who once declared that a squid eating dough in a polythene bag was “fast ‘n’ bulbous” has had roughly 25 exhibitions of his art shown around the world, and has another commencing November 2 in Germany; scheduled to reach London sometime thereafter. For Van Vliet, who struggled for years in the music business to make the odd dollar – and usually failed – it is a legitimacy which has been a long time coming. But leading the life of a near-hermit, away from the army of journalists who have mythologised the man and his 1969 masterwork, Trout Mask Replica, has also had it drawbacks. Recent attempts to diminish Van Vliet’s musical accomplishments – most conspicuously by guitarist Henry Kaiser – have met little opposition from the man himself.
Whether it was revisionist history or the jarring truth, Kaiser addressed the world thus via the liner notes to his 1991 album on Reckless Records, Hope You Like Our New Direction (which bore a near-perfect rendition of Beefheart’s Japan In A Dishpan): “It has become clear to me over the years that the stories Don Van Vliet has delivered to the press about his total responsibility for the creation of this music are very, very far from the truth.”
Kaiser contends that the vastly influential music to be found on Trout Mask Replica and its successors (Lick My Decals Off Baby, The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot) was in large part the uncredited work of Beefheart’s Magic Band – Zoot Horn Rollo, Drumbo, Rockette Morton, and Ed Marimba. According to Kaiser, earlier musicians such as Jeff Cotton, who appeared on Trout Mask Replica as Antennae Jimmy Semens, also played formative roles in the music.
And all those stories about Don Van Vliet pounding out Trout Mask Replica on the piano in eight-and-a-half hours, then teaching them to his band? “Not true at all,” says Kaiser “It was a nice image, and it sold music really well, but there might have been other ways of doing it that would have resulted in better success for the band. My personal observation is that any time there was the possibility of success, Don would sabotage it. I’m not one to analyse things psychologically; but . . . he’s a tremendously creative person who wrote amazing lyrics, and he got that stuff done with those guys. But take those guys away and you’re left in Bluejeans and Moonbeams land.”
THE OBVIOUS QUESTION: WHY DOES HENRY KAISER EVEN care about all this? “I just enjoy it,” he says. “I’m a fan.” The second obvious question: who doesn’t? Especially when Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame is inserting lyrics from Beefheart’s Frownland into the middle of his slick ’90s pop; when the requisite tribute album (Fast ‘N’ Bulbous, bearing aural testimonials from KVC, Sonic Youth, That Petrol Emotion and more) has come and gone; and when no less a light than Tom Waits essentially begat a new career apeing Van Vliet’s characteristic yawping growl. Or is that growling yawp?
Don Van Vliet, 52, is no longer such a cult figure that his earliest music is unobtainable to the masses; nor, for that matter, is his story such a mystery, Born Don Vliet in Glendale, California, he was indeed a child prodigy with an early devotion to art. He sculpted in clay (a fact confirmed by Werner, who’s seen photographs of the pieces) and, by one account, once punched a single hole in every rose in the hedge of a Beverly Hills garden.
He grew up near Los Angeles in the desert town of Lancaster, where – before dropping out of high school – he befriended fellow student Frank Zappa, the musical figure to whom he’d be linked for the remainder of his career. In 1963 or ’64, they recorded a few tracks together as The Soots in Zappa’s nearby Cucamonga studio- at least one track from that period, Metal Man Has Won His Wings, has surfaced on a bootleg (albeit bearing the inaccurate title Metal Man Has Hornet’s Wings).
Taking his stage name from a film idea of his and Zappa’s called Captain Beefheart and the Grunt People, Don Vliet would later add the ‘Van’ and form the mutant blues band which first bore the name Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band.
The cast of characters would change – early Magic Band members included Alex Snouffer (billed as Alex St Clair), Doug Moon, Jerry Handley, Paul Blakeley and, for a short while, Ry Cooder – as would the major American labels on which Beefheart sporadically appeared: A&M (two early singles, later collected on a 1984 EP); Buddah (1967’s Safe as Milk and Mirror Man, the latter recorded the same year but released in 1971); Blue Thumb (1968’s Strictly Personal); Straight (Trout Mask Replica, 1969; Lick My Decals Off, Baby; 1970); Reprise (The Spotlight Kid, 1971; Clear Spot, 1972); Mercury (Unconditionally Guaranteed; Bluejeans & Moonbeams, 1974), Warners (Shiny Beast [Bat Chain Puller], 1978); Virgin (1980’s Doc At Radar Station); and, finally; Epic (1982’s Ice Cream For Crow).
If that lengthy chain of comings and goings betrays a lack of proper business direction, the music was by no means directionless. With the exception of the Mercury albums – glossily produced by Andy DiMartino (to whom this writer is, oddly, unrelated) and featuring familiar Magic Band members only on the first – every Beefheart record has grown in stature since its release. And fittingly, one of the best if most unexpected releases of 1992 was Sequel’s collection of Buddah out-takes I May Be Hungry But I Sure Ain’t Weird: The Alternative Captain Beefheart.
Yet looking at Captain Beefheart through this mid-’90s vantage point, when piercing criticisms by Henry Kaiser and even former members of his Magic Band remain mostly unanswered by Van Vliet himself can be unsettling. Absolutely no-one can argue the value of the music released under the man’s name; for that reason alone, further discussion is mostly intellectual exercise.
Still, somewhere in the course of appreciating a John Lennon or a Lou Reed – even a Frank Zappa or an Arthur Lee – one learns that the quality of music an artist produces, no matter how deeply it touches people, is not necessarily commensurate with their quality as a human being.
Say what you will about Kaiser’s motivation for singling out Beefheart so determinedly – for objecting to the accepted, press-generated wisdom that has come to position the man as a near-telepathic genius – there’s some truth to his arguments. “People just believe this calculated mythology which goes on and on because of the low level of journalism that existed when most of the writing about this took place. The fan magazines just endlessly regurgitate what was said in a Rolling Stone article or something. Nobody’s really done any professional investigation of this stuff.”
“The only tough thing about it for me is that people think a lot more of it than I do,” says Bill Harkleroad of his past life as Zoot Horn Rollo, and of the music he once played with Don Van Vliet. Speaking via the telephone from his home in Eugene, Oregon, he is preparing to do one of the three things he now does to earn a living: give a guitar lesson.
“I shouldn’t judge what it gave them, or whatever they enjoyed, by my opinion of what happened. What we’ve done in our past, all of us, doesn’t seem quite so great as when somebody else was around it, and how it affected them. It was too close. I knew the good and the bad of it, and nobody else really knows the bad of it, they just hear the parts that they like, and that’s what they remember.”
Harkleroad left Beefheart to form the short-lived Mallard (with fellow Magic Banders Mark ‘Rockette Morton’ Boston and Art ‘Ed Marimba’ Tripp) immediately after recording 1974’s disappointing bid for commercial acceptance, Unconditionally Guaranteed. For him, it was the end of the increasingly stressful line; “Maybe I finally got old enough and tired enough of the abuse, the lack of credit,” he now recalls dispassionately “I think that’s generally what happened. My view of why I left changes over the years.”
Abuse? “He was a raving jerk, albeit a very creative one,” claims Harkleroad, who goes on to dispute certain royalty arrangements. “I never made a penny – other than per diem and occasional rent, and his mother paid the rent for the first two years.”
Zoot Horn Rollo’s second job these days is as part-time manager of Face The Music, a Eugene record store – “to have benefits and stuff like that,” he explains. In doing his weekly order of product, Harkleroad found himself regularly reordering Beefheart’s catalogue. “That’s what kind of clued me into it,” he says. “Wait a minute – ding.’ If I have to replace Trout Mask Replica every week, it means it’s selling now more than it used to because of the cult trip.”
Aside from playing his fabled ‘glass-finger guitar’, Harkleroad had another role in the Magic Band, he says: musical translator. Following the post-Trout Mask exit of Drumbo, who preceded him in the role, the guitarist would listen to tapes of Beefheart’s various musical ideas -“whistling parts, piano things, his playing guitar, whatever it was,” he recalls – then decipher them in order to make them playable.
“If you listen to it, and if you’ve ever played guitar,” he adds, “you’ll know what I mean by ‘playable’.” Still – and this is an important point – Harkleroad is unwilling to denigrate his former boss’s inherent talent. “Not to take away from his general pool of sound or feel and thought,” he cautions. “He is very creative, and there’s no way he couldn’t have kept it together through so many different players.”
Harkleroad’s third job involves making production music with his guitar and MIDI at home. “Right now I’m working on some sleazy corporate video stuff” he says, only mildly embarrassed. Soft-spoken but articulate, the former Zoot Horn Rollo leaves no doubt that he is financially struggling: “I even sent down a thing when the Red Hot Chilli Peppers were advertising for a guitar player;” he admits. “I thought, sure, I’ll be a millionaire for a tattoo or two.”
“I THINK THAT WORKING WITH HIM WAS PROBABLY THE biggest mistake I ever made in my life,” says the equally soft-spoken John French, known as ‘Drumbo’ only when playing with Captain Beefheart -for it is Van Vliet who holds the exclusive rights to that stage name and all the others he bestowed upon the members of the Magic Band.
“First of all,” he continues, “it put me in the avant-garde category; and I didn’t care for that then. I like Coltrane, I like some of the things that Ornette Coleman did in jazz, but I didn’t want to do that. Because I felt like, if they want to be starving artists, then fine – but I didn’t want to be, I wanted to be a working musician. Doing that kind of put me into a category; and though I believed in it at the time and worked hard, nobody would touch me after that.”
French, living back in Lancaster (where fellow former Magic Band members Alex Snouffer and Doug Moon still reside) holds one major Beefheartian distinction. He has played with Don Van Vliet on four separate Occasions: from 1967-69,1976-71, 1975-76, and in 1980. So, one asks, if he now considers his stint with Beefheart such a big mistake, why did he keep going back? “Nobody would hire me because I was too weird,” he repeats. “It turned out that from being in that band, I had just gotten twisted enough where I felt more at home there than I did in the world – about 51 percent more. Just enough.”
LIKE BILL HARKLEROAD, WITH WHOM HE IS STILL friendly, John French describes Don Van Vliet as a complex and creative person who was distinctly unpleasant. Harkleroad laughs only slightly when asserting Beefheart was “Mansonesque in his abilities to control the situation”, French, meanwhile, mentions ‘brainwashing’ sessions.
He refers to an early ’70s piece Langdon Winner once wrote about Beefheart in Rolling Stone. “At one point in the interview Winner suddenly became Public Enemy Number One, and Don acted like he was somebody from the CIA. We all lived together; and Don treated everybody in the band like that occasionally – he would single one person out and get everybody else on his case. Later on, when I read about Patricia Hearst getting kidnapped, it reminded me – on a much lighter level, of course – of some of the things that Don did with us.”
French still accords Beefheart his due as an artist, especially the era “before he started trying to compete with Frank Zappa and get weird”. The reason he joined Beefheart’s early band, he says, is because it was one of the best blues bands around. “Don was an absolutely fantastic blues singer; and they just did these simple songs and he played the harmonica and it took you into another world. That band was fantastic.
“The thing is, Don is an incredibly complex person, but he’s also a very lazy person. So when he wrote complex music for the first Magic Band he depended heavily on the band to arrange it – to teach it to him, even though he said that he taught his bands every note of the music. He didn’t. That’s a big story”
Again, like Bill Harkleroad, John French is friendly with Henry Kaiser. French and Kaiser have recorded two albums in recent years with Richard Thompson and Fred Frith, though it’s unlikely the quartet will record together again. “We’ve kind of grown apart, and it’s sad. I love all those guys, but it’s been difficult to get people from such different lifestyles just to focus and agree on something. We didn’t really know how to communicate with each other; because we were never around each other, and my life is totally different,” he adds. “I don’t read all the best-sellers like they do.”
Indeed, Captain Beefheart haunts John French even now: “I tried to do my own solo album, but I was told, This is great material, but it would never work for you, because you were Drumbo – you’ve got to write weird stuff and things that sound really on the edge and avant-garde. I was told this by one person in particular; the head of Restless Records – he sent me a long letter; explaining to me that I’d never be successful at anything except emulating Beefheart.”
French, who now stays at home caring for his two-year-old daughter, is struggling to find work. “I’m looking into being a medical transcriber; which has to he one of the most boring jobs around. I just figure it’s something I can do quickly, because I understand medical terminology; And I’m very good at typing.”
“ONE TIME HE TOLD MF THAT HE WAS DRIVING AND HE LOOKED into the car next to him and he saw. . . Noodlehead ,” says guitarist Moris Tepper; laughing as he recalls a conversation with his former employer Don Van Vliet.
Tepper (who has since dropped his first name Jeff- “It just felt kind of extraneous,” he says) played slide and ‘steel appendage’ guitar in the final version of the Magic Band, beginning with the original unreleased Bat Chain Puller (withheld for legal reasons, then considerably revamped as Shiny Beast) through to Ice Cream For Crow.
“It was at night,” Tepper continues with his story, “and it had a neon-green ring around its neck. He told me so many wonderful stories, but this is one that I’ll share, because I love it. He told me he saw Jesus, and he was about 50 feet tall, walking across the desert. It isn’t that, like, he saw Jesus – but he saw a spirit that was really heavy; really big, and moving really fast. He had a big beard, and he was huge. There’s that kind of stuff, and Don will tell us this guy’s name he was with at the time – and you’ll meet the guy in fucking Alaska, and it’s like, That’s exactly what happened, man. And that happened with almost every weird story I ever heard -there’d be some kind of confirmation through somebody else.”
There are many differences between the members of the early Magic Band and those of later line-ups. First, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the latter-day band who’ll willingly pick Don Van Vliet apart; most came into the group as admitted Beefheart fanatics, utterly thrilled to be sharing the stage with their idol.
Before meeting Beefheart, Tepper says he used to listen to Trout Mask and attempt to replicate the guitar parts on his four-track tape recorder. After they met, he recalls, “He came over one day and I played him Dali’s Car and Pachuco Cadaver and My Human Gets Me Blues. I just played him all that stuff. He’d just done those two records with DiMartino, where none of the musicians could play, and he thought the only band that would ever play his music was the original Magic Band.”
Secondly; most newer Magic Band members are still actively and successfully enjoying careers in music. New York-based guitarist Gary Lucas, who guested on Doc At The Radar Station and played throughout Ice Cream For Crow; has had significant critical success with his own work on Enemy Records and his group Gods & Monsters; his latest group, the Killer Shrews, teams him with Jon Langford and Tony Maimone, whose other affiliations (Mekons / Three Johns and Pere Ubu) have clearly drawn inspiration from Beefheart.
Tepper, who played with Tom Waits following Beefheart’s musical retirement, now regularly plays in Los Angeles with his group, also called Tepper, along with another aggregation known as Eggtooth. Drummer Cliff Martinez joined the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and has since scored films, including Steven Soderburgh’s acclaimed Sex Lies & Videotape. Keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman collaborated with Snakefinger, recently coproduced the solo debut of Pixie Frank Black and is now working on its follow-up.
Compare and contrast: Zoot Horn Rollo, part-time record store manager; Drumbo, unemployed; Art Tripp, chiropractor in a small California town (“He does television ads, it’s great,” says Harkleroad); Rockette Morton, in Fresno, “playing in some lounge band”, according to French; and Antennae Jimmy Semens? “The last I heard, he was in Hawaii running a janitorial service and playing clubs part-time with his wife,”
And in LA, Moris Tepper is talking about the old Magic Band: “Yeah, I met them,” he says. “Did they offer me any insight? A little bit, Some of the things that Don would express about them became clearer after I’d met them. John French maybe more of a different case, more complex, but you got the impression, Man, Don was really pulling some strings. He always talked about them as if they were Okies, and that they had just seemed like some kind of trailer park types.” But then, attempting to be fair; he adds “I was played like a puppet as well.”
And finally, one way the old and new Magic Bands are not so different after all: Don Van Vliet hasn’t spoken to most of them in years. “Don and I have a cyclical relationship,” says Tepper; somewhat cagily. “Right now it’s in hibernation.” And even Gary Lucas, who virtually managed Beefheart following the Doc At The Radar Station tour through his retirement, hasn’t spoken with the man since 1984.
WOULD GARY LUCAS DESCRIBE DON VAN VLIET AS A WARM individual? “Yes and no,” he says, considering. “I don’t know. He can be, if you get him in a certain mood, on a one-on-one, he can be the most charming person in the world, very charismatic, magical with his train of thought and conversation. I’ve never met anybody like him. I don’t wanna dis the guy, but I mean, I’m not with him, and I was with him an awfully long time for people who worked with him.”
Did Beefheart hear the Mallard records? “Oh yeah, he was very contemptuous of them,” says Lucas. “But he was contemptuous of anybody who was alive making music, I’ve got to say. Not too many kind words about anybody, until after they died and ceased to be a threat to him.”
Don Van Vliet was bitter about a lot of things – his treatment by the record industry, new wave and punk groups receiving accolades when they’d obviously been influenced by him – but no more bitter; Lucas thinks, than many survivors of the music business. “His whole schtick was, I got a beef in my heart against the world. He’s definitely a rager. And he loved Dylan Thomas, one of his favourite poems was Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” He snorts: “I can never remember Don going gently into the good night. As he put it himself he displaced a lot of water wherever he went.”
Their relationship wound down gradually, Lucas recalls, as the new Magic Band drifted off after Ice Cream For Crow “I was trying to keep it together; and I wanted to do another record. But he kind of put the kibosh on that, even though Virgin had picked up the option to do another record. And then it was just like, let’s concentrate on art. He thought it was really a much better; cleaner kind of business for him to be in. And his wife was also of the opinion that if he was going to paint seriously then he shouldn’t be making records.
“How can I say it? It was amicable, right? But he didn’t want to make music anymore. All he wanted to do was to pursue his career. So I set him up with Julian Schnabel and the Mary Boone Gallery and the Michael Werner Gallery – they were ready to do shows with him – and then I said, Okay, you’ve got the top galleries in the world interested in your work, they want to show your work. And you don’t want to make music, do recordings or tour anymore. I didn’t really get involved with you to become your art pimp. So, like, see you.”
Don Van Vliet’s withdrawal from the music world has left many people hanging, relying on their own memories if they’ve ever encountered him personally, or the memories of others who knew him, whatever their various agendas may be. This writer encountered him many times during his musical career; both as fan and journalist, and found him never less than charming. Still, Henry Kaiser’s earlier words about the “calculated mythology” linger.
In 1974, having seen Beefheart twice previously and due to my surname, I spent a memorable night of drinking with the man after his Bluejeans & Moonbeams band had given what was only their fifth perfor-mance. Beefheart took my reporter’s notebook and avidly sketched away, asked peculiarly innocent questions (“You saw that Detroit show? Can you believe Ray Davies said that about me?”), acted as if he were faith-healing his wife Jan’s sore leg, and then (it might have been the drinks) mentioned the nickname of a close friend of mine whom he’d encountered for a brief moment backstage in Miami three years earlier and couldn’t possibly have remembered.
Seven years later; we’d meet again in Detroit, where he’d see his earlier sketches once more and swear to the point of absurdity that of course he remembered me: “I remember everything,” he said, grinning warmly. “If I meet someone I like, I totally remember everything. I remember the whole sequence of events photographically.” He grinned again, then asked to borrow my cigarette lighter. “You look really good,” he concluded. The first encounter had been captivating: the second, in retrospect, was pure showbiz. Others have spent much more time with Don Van Vliet. Precisely how much, of course, is open to interpretation. Today, Henry Kaiser says he spent “a bunch” of time with Van Vliet and the Magic Band back in the early ’70s: “it was 10 or 15 days total, I watched them rehearse, and I watched songs being written.”
But one insider counters that Kaiser “hung around” and tried to ingratiate himself with the band. “He’s like a Stalinist who wants to rewrite history with himself in the Magic Band. He snipes at Don over the years because Don would say he gave him negative vibes.”
When Sequel issued its Alternative Captain Beefheart package in 1992, Kaiser fired off a letter containing 17 factual corrections to its unsuspecting annotator; John Platt. “You have really done this music, its fans and the people who created it a big disservice with your notes,” he wrote. “Better scholarship next time, please.” Henry Kaiser: musician or anal-retentive archivist? “I just think the story that’s in place is the story that’ll go down in history,” he says. “It’s too late now to find out very easily what happened.”
IN 1990, DON VAN VLIET OFFICIALLY RETURNED TO HIS HOME turf of Los Angeles. It was a comparatively quiet homecoming, an art exhibition at the Fred Hoffman Gallery in Santa Monica. “He’s a very reclusive person, so he was somewhat suspicious of any enterprise dealing with the public,” remembers Hoffman, who has since moved his gallery to the plusher environs of Beverly Hills. “But I think he felt comfortable in the situation, because there was genuine interest in his art. That’s what Michael [Werner] has basically done, shown a genuine interest in his art, and I think I’ve backed that up out here.”
The show was well-attended – probably split 50-50, guesses Hoffman, between fans of Don Van Vliet’s art and fans of his music. “I am also interested in him as a musician,” Hoffman is quick to stress, “but I wasn’t really coming from the perspective of the phenomenon of this crossover. That wasn’t my intention in doing the show although I knew that would bring out an audience. Probably some of the buyers were people who were Beefheart fans – in fact, I know one of the buyers of one of the paintings was somebody from the music industry.”
Who buys Don Van Vliet’s art? Most of the people familiar with the art world echo the clear-cut observation of his dealer, Michael Werner:
“Very few of the music lovers buy his paintings, because most of them don’t have money.” No, Don Van Vliet’s works now sell to people who have probably never heard a Captain Beefheart record; the same people who would naturally assume the title Trout Mask Replica belonged to a new work from this up-and-coming master.
“They just take him as a young artist, and I think this is really putting it in the right way,” says Werner. “They act as if he’s a young artist, because he’s been painting now for 15 years or so, and the first three or four years don’t even count, because he was also making music. It only counts from the time when he painted exclusively – and a young artist needs a 10-year time frame to start a career.”
Still, there are places where the worlds of art and music collide -and people sufficiently sophisticated in both spheres to provide insight into the two sides of Don Van Vliet. Los Angeles writer Kristine MeKenna, a long time friend and fan who has extensively written about the man both as musician and artist, is one of them. Does she see parallels in the way Van Vliet has approached his painting and his music?
“It’s funny,” she says. “I see a difference because I’ve watched him a couple of times rehearsing his band and teaching them the songs, and I know that the stuff was immaculately and impeccably thought out in his head. Every note was meant to there, there was no improvisation, and the band was simply taught to play these compositions.” His paint-ings? “I get the feeling it’s more like he just enters this arena and wrestles with a force, you know? I think it’s much more of a leap into the void when he paints than when he was composing.”
One of the hazards of living a life of quiet isolation is that stories can go unchecked; rumours take on a valid life of their own if no-one – least of all the subject of those rumours – is willing to refute them. According to recent rumour; Don Van Vliet’s health is failing, some say quite seriously. “He has some kind of cancer;” says Henry Kaiser “People won’t really talk.” Says another source – who heard from a source who heard from a close source – “it could be lung cancer”. Still others whisper discreetly of multiple sclerosis.
Such rumours sound dubious to writer and friend McKenna, who says Don Van Vliet has just built a brand new studio at his coastal hideaway “I haven’t seen any of his work for a while, but I know he’s been drawing a lot. He tells me he’s still making big paintings – and you don’t build a new studio if you’re not planning on doing work of some size.”
And while Don Van Vliet’s paintings are readied for European exhibition this month, the man himself- who, voluntarily or not, has become the central focal point of many other people’s lives – need only walk 135 feet from his house to reach the Pacific Ocean. In 1982, when he penned these lyrics, the world knew him as Captain Beefheart: “See those people that used to be/Throw those tents/You can’t see them now/They’re in past tense/the past sure is tense.”
“It makes me itch to think of myself as Captain Beefheart,” he told a Danish journalist in 1991. I don’t even have a boat.”
-Dave Dimartino, Mojo Magazine, 1993