Saturday, December 18, 2010


1968, on the beach in Cannes, Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) manages to vaporize the entire French Riviera.
I woke up this morning to hear that Don had passed on at age 69 due to complications from Multiple Sclerosis. I can only say that Van Vliet had a profound effect on me when I first heard him at the tender age of 17. The unique filter of his genius, a kid from an California Town on the edge of the desert, taking in the influences of European Dada and Surrealism, Jazz and then finally, acutely focusing them through the lens of real raw American Blues, allowed him to create a brilliant, powerful, truly original body of work. His voice was an expressive instrument which he used like John Gilmour's sax of the Sun Ra Orchestra, capable of the sweetest soulful tones, the most terrifying high pitched squeals and his declamatory basso barks and growls. Yes all this and he was a blues great harmonica player as well.
(by the way, can anyone verify if Ry Cooder is the other guitarist in the video? He played on the original recording and it really sounds like him in the video as well!)

Here is Van Vliet in the early 80's on French Television performing the piece, Bat Chain Puller, surrealist poetry, abstract expressionist dada music, but an absolutely disciplined, brilliant and focused performance. This is the kind of uncompromising vision that has influenced generations of artists including Tom Waits, who said of BeefHeart,Once you've heard Beefheart, it's hard to wash him out of your clothes. It stains, like coffee or blood."

Here are two pieces of later BeefHeart. The video has an illustration, a record cover painted by Van Vliet. He stopped performing in the mid 80's and devoted himself to his painting, which was quite successful, but by that time, he was beginning to be affected by the progressive symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. Captain BeefHeart, a totally unique, American original artist who, through the persistence of his vision, managed to change the world. He changed mine.


squatlo said...

Just wanted to pass along a link I found this AM, didn't know you were already aware of Beefheart's passing...

J said...

Waits gets it.

Also see Lester Bangs' high-octane writing on Beefheart for the....authentic CB-head (instead of the countless poseurs who jus clicked onto some CB and FZ youtubes a few months ago).

Anonymous said...

That looks and sounds like Cooder. Especially the 2nd song (Sure Nuff).
However, this article at NYTimes - - seems to say it would not be Cooder: "His band was offered a slot at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival in 1967, but Mr. Cooder had quit a week before, and Mr. Van Vliet was too spooked to perform."
Here's a document regarding the group's trip to Europe - no mention of Cooder:

microdot said...

You seem to be correct. I did a bit of checking today and Cooder did not play with them in Europe.
The link to the Radar Station site is very cool, thanks.

microdot said...

P.S....I always appreciated and enjoyed Lester bangs work...I even got to see one of his rather incoherent performances in NYC.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

Alex St Claire on one of the gtars. Not sure who's on the other--Ry, or one of the other phreaks--Ry usually played slide, as on Safe as Milk, but my homie Alex also on slide and did much of the meat n potatoes playin'....that's Alex at the beginnin of Sho Nuff with the wicked Delta-ish riffs (mo' authenticity than any Brit. rocker ever had).

Alex's role in the CB saga, and Magic Band has often been overlooked --and DVV stiffed him, reportedly...tho there were other issues. One Alex, may have drank and tweeked...but wasn't so into the ahem....tripping, or experimental (which was...Zoot Horn, and Rockette's specialty). Or poverty, which was usually the case (DVV didn't really make much scratch from musick--Zappa did. DVV and MB maybe a bit from the last few LPs-- until his Ahht took off...).

Beefheart's "Owed t' Alex" is about St Claire aka Snouffer. He rode a scooter --Beezer I believe, not harley--(but not sure) and at times putted up to see his mama in Carson Citay.