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.