Monday, December 20, 2010

Don Van Vliet

Don Van Vliet died on Friday last.

The art of the disposessed?

Don Van Vliet, known under his musical pseudonym as "Captain Beefheart", has been a hero of mine, (along with Frank Zappa - a close friend and collabarator), since the tender age of 14 years. Just as Punk was emerging, with the Damned, the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks, the Clash, Siousie and the Banshees etc, my school colleagues were into Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull etc etc. In 1976-77 only a very few of us turned on to punk. But even then I couldn't turn them on to Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa.

The few obituaries I have seen (Rolling Stone, Guardian) emphasise his music and not his visual art.

His drawings and paintings, many done after his "retirement" from music, are as significant as the music. And the words to the music are poetry.

I was fortunate to see him perform at Wakefield Town Hall (of all places!) on his last UK tour in the early '80s (around the time of the "Doc at the Radar Station" album). I am fortunate to have three original paintings.

I am listening to Trout Mask Replica now. My children, my neighbours' children dance to Bat Chain Puller ... and I look at the paintings on my wall.

What should I quote?

The poet Ian McKellen recently chose "Moonlight in Vermont" on the BBC's eternal Desert Island Disks.

Obviously I cannot choose an instrumental ... I could give you Ant Man Bee, Ella Guru, Bat Chain Puller but I'll give you two less famous ditties ...


I walk, I talk
but nobody cares

I walk, I talk
but nobody hears

I walk, I talk
but nobody's there

And if they are
they give me
the parachoke stare

I walk
I don't know where

Everywhere I go I get
the parachoke stare


Apes Ma, Apes Ma

Your cage's too dirty Apes Ma

Remember when you were young Apes Ma
You used to break out of your cage
You know you're not strong enough to do that anymore

And Apes Ma
The little girl that named you years ago has died now
And you're older Apes Ma

Remember when your name was in the paper Apes Ma

Apes Ma, Apes Ma
You're eating too much
You're going to the bathroom too much, Apes Ma

And Apes Ma
Your cage isn't getting any bigger, Apes Ma

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