December 18th, 2010
Never really thought he could pass on. Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart), gone as of Dec 17, 2010. I always imagined him not so much man as wild force, covering the desert where he lived with all his laughing & life-affirming magic, shimmering like a pollen, an everycolored dust.
I remember first hearing Trout Mask Replica in college. I felt its surging boundless energy, all spasms & fuschia tracers & Howlin’ Wolf rasps & crazy squeals. I was happily overwhelmed.
But it wasn’t until later that I felt the power of not just the songs — those spiky guitar lines that felt composed and wildly improvised at the same time; that muscular grunting surrealist word-barrage, a mescaline dreamwork language visceral as it was violent — but also of his sincerity, playfulness, warmth. I started to get to know Beefheart’s weird-warm spirit. Here’s a poem of his called “You should know by the kindness of uh dog the way uh human should be”:
You should know by the kindness of uh dog The way a human should be You should feel the wet wood heart of the tree Wood sap pop like a frog's eye Open t' the fly 'n the blood of the river When it ripples 'n clicks like uh waterbell 'n the elephant in his beautiful grey leather suit Though he's wrinkled he looks smart as hell 'n the turtle's eyes carry bags very well 'n the snake's in shape He rattles like uh baby 'wears his diamonds Better than uh fine lady's finger 'n his fangs are no more dangerous Than her slow aristocratic poison And he plays his games on uh grass bed 'n uh monkey never had uh guilty masturbation 'n uh monkey wouldn't shit on another's creation And the fatman cries throughout all creation 'cause he's got uh cold 'n the icebear dives thru blue zero for uh frozen fish 'n the eskimo wears his hide 'n chews his heart 'n the beautiful grey whale oils some bitches lighter Someday I'll have money 'n I can frame myself What uh picture I'll be choppin' down uh tree
Man oh man, so beautiful. And I didn’t have to dig deep to find more of this, to find in his vast output of song lyric and poetry a huge healthy yawping love for nature, animals, a sincere wish to find happiness in existence, a remorse for the difficulty humans have in connecting and loving, for our collective struggle to grow and progress and maintain our link to all that’s pure and natural and elemental. By many account, he may have been a jerk to know, a ranting megalomaniacal ogre even at times, but I’m no biographer, I’m just going off his artistic output; going off what he condensed of himself and channeled as best he could through his art. Here’s another inspiring bit of his, this one a fragment from the lyrics for “Space-Age Couple”:
Space-age couple Why do you hustle 'n bustle? Why don't you drop your cool tom-foolery 'n shed your nasty jewelry? Cultivate the grounds They're the only ones around. Space-age couple Why don't you flex your magic muscle? Hold a drinking glass up t' your eye after you've Scooped up a little of the sky 'n it ain't blue no more. What's on the leaves ain't dew no more. Space-age couple Why don't you jus' do that? Why don't you jus' do that?
And the lyrics to “Plastic Factory”:
Phos'phrous chimney burnin' Modern-men's a-learnin' Time and space a-turnin' Motor's engine churnin' fac'trys no place for me boss man let me be Wind and wave all blowin' Mountain 'n sky showin' Bee 'n flower growin' Boy 'n girl are glowin' fac'trys no place for me boss man let me be Minds inside are goin' Muscle 'n bone are showin'' One thing sure am knowin' Get a fire goin' factory's no place for me boss man let me be boss man let me be boss man leave me be
Beefheart. I loved the man’s music, singing, poetry, most of all I sensed in him a wide soul, a feverish burning soul, one that I felt I knew, one that kept me company so often in headphones or over speakers, one whose breadth and force I know I’m not the only one missing right now.
More of Van Vliet’s art
All writing © copyright C. Way / Snailcrow.com 2010