Very sad news: We’ve confirmed with his management that Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, has died. More details to come.
Don Van Vliet, who became a rock legend as Captain Beefheart, died today from complications from multiple sclerosis in California. His passing was announced by the New York-based Michael Werner Gallery, which represented his work as a painter…
Avant-garde rock legend and visual artist Don Van Vliet, who performed under the name Captain Beefheart, passed away today at age 69. A representative of New York City’s Michael Werner Gallery, which hosted several shows of his paintings, confirms the sad news to EW. Van Vliet died of complications from multiple sclerosis at a hospital in Northern California this morning…
Captain Beefheart’s 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing, from WFMU:
1. Listen to the birds.
That’s where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren’t going anywhere.
2. Your guitar is not really a guitar Your guitar is a divining rod.
Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is also a fishing rod. If you’re good, you’ll land a big one.
3. Practice in front of a bush
Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush dosen’t shake, eat another piece of bread.
Don Van Vliet (1941–2010), the genius surreal poet, painter and blues performer best known as “Captain Beefheart” died today. He was a month away from turning 70.
Van Vliet had retired from music in the early 1980s and had lived a reclusive existence for the last few years, with constant rumors of deteriorating health.
An early associate and friend of Frank Zappa’s Van Vliet became a critically lauded performer and recording artist after his Zappa-produced breakthrough album Trout Mask Replica.
He was the crucial link between the “Old Weird America” of the Depression-era blues and the ‘80s surrealism of Beefheart-influenced artists like Tom Waits and David Lynch.
A great loss for art…
Mr. Van Vliet’s life story is caked with half-believable tales, some of which he himself spread in Dadaist, elliptical interviews. He claimed he had never read a book and had never been to school, and answered questions with riddles. “We see the moon, don’t we?” he asked in a 1969 interview. “So it’s our eye. Animals see us, don’t they? So we’re their animals.”
The facts, or those most often stated, are that he was born on Jan. 15, 1941, in Glendale, Calif., as Don Vliet. (He added the “Van” in 1965.) His father, Glen, drove a bakery truck.
Don demonstrated artistic talent before the age of 10, especially in sculpture, and at 13 was offered a scholarship to study sculpture in Europe, but his parents forbade him. Concurrently, they moved to the Mojave Desert town of Lancaster, where one of Don’s high school friends was Frank Zappa.
His adopted vocal style came partly from Howlin’ Wolf: a deep, rough-riding moan turned up into swooped falsettos at the end of lines, pinched and bellowing and sounding as if it caused pain.
“When it comes to capturing the feeling of archaic, Delta-style blues,” Robert Palmer of The New York Times wrote in 1982, “he is the only white performer who really gets it right”...
“I play the drums. I play the guitar. I play the piano,” he said. “I want it exactly the way I want it. Exactly. Don’t you think that somebody like Stravinsky, for instance — don’t you think that it would annoy him if somebody bent a note the wrong way?”
A profile of Captin Beefheart & Co. by Lester Bangs, from LA Weekly:
He’s Alive, But So Is Paint. Are You?
by Lester Bangs
Village Voice, October 1980
Don Van Vliet is a 39-year-old man who lives with his wife Jan in a trailer in the Mojave Desert. They have very little money, so it must be pretty hard on them sometimes, but I’ve never heard them complain. Don Van Vliet is better known as Captain Beefheart, a legend worldwide whom the better part of a generation of New Wave rock ‘n’ roll bands’ have cited as one of their most important spiritual and musical forefathers: John Lydon/Rotten, Joe Strummer of the Clash, Devo, Pere Ubu, and many others have attested to growing up on copies of Van Vliet’s 1969 album Trout Mask Replica, playing its four sides of discordant yet juicy swampbrine jambalaya roogalator over and over again until they knew whole bits – routines out of his lyrics, which are a wild and totally original form of free-associational poetry.
There are some of us who think he is one of the giants of 20th century music, certainly of the postwar era…