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I Don’t Even Have a Boat – Calling the Captain [Transcript]

“I don’t even have a boat”
calling the captain

a video notebook
by Lars Movin

Lars Movin: Hello? Is it Don Van Vliet?

Don Van Vliet: Yeah …

LM: This is Lars Movin calling from Denmark …

DVV: Ahhh … How are you?

LM: I am fine, thank you. How are you … am I disturbing you?

DVV: No. But, eh, am I hearing myself back?

LM: Yeah, I’m recording … I’m recording on a tape recorder. Is that okay with you?

DVV: As long as I can not hear myself too close.

LM: You don’t want to listen to yourself?

DVV: No!

LM: Okay, so what were you doing right now?

DVV: Painting.

LM: You were painting?

DVV: Always, always, always.

LM: You know, I had a really strange feeling calling you on the telephone, because to a lot of people you are like some kind of living legend or a myth or something …

DVV: Yeah, I’ve heard that, but I can’t accept it.

LM: No?

DVV: Because if I did, I wouldn’t be able to paint.

LM: Okay. If you should compare the image or the imagination that most people will have about the figure Captain Beefheart and then the Don Van Vliet you are today, I mean …?

DVV: Captain Beefheart is the shingle that gave me shingles.

LM: What do you mean by that?

DVV: I mean, it makes me itch to think of myself as Captain Beefheart. I don’t even have a boat!

LM: No? But you live by the sea, don’t you?

DVV: Right by the sea. About a hundred and fifty feet off of it.

LM: Are you living in a desert area, or what kind of place is it? Can you describe it to me?

DVV: I’m living in the redwoods. Humbolt County.

LM: But you have been living in a desert, is that right?

DVV: Yeah, I lived there for quite a few years, but now I’m by the ocean.

LM: Oh, I see.

DVV: I’m happier here. And I can look right out and see a lot of fishing boats.

LM: Can you also see some whales?

DVV: I have seen as many as 36 about four years ago … cleaning their barnacles, I suppose, on these rocks. They are pretty smart. And the surfers, God bless them, they get eaten up by white sharks.

LM: Have you seen any surfers been eaten?

DVV: No, I have missed that moment, which pleases me. But why do they do that?

LM: Yeah … I don’t know.

DVV: I mean, they wear suits that look just like, on a surfboard, from under the water, that look just like a seal. It’s no wonder … the natutal prey of the white shark is the seal.

LM: Yeah. So, that’s a pretty stupid thing to do, if you don’t want to get eaten?

DVV: Seems like it. Yet they still go!

LM: Not the ones that [have] been eaten, I think …

DVV: They may be soul-surfin’ out there somewhere.

LM: Oh, yeah … Is it a very isolated place you live, or …?

DVV: Very isolated. Although once I saw some deadheads about nineteen miles from here, down at The Coop. It was about five years ago. That’s the last time I went out.

LM: Yeah … really?

DVV: Yeah … they said such things as, “Have you seen Jerry? … Have you seen Jerry?”

LM: That’s what they said?

DVV: Yeah. I guess they were referring to Garcia.

LM: So they were looking for Jerry Garcia?

DVV: Yeah … Can you imagine that, having somebody to look for you?

LM: Well, I am not sure I can that …

DVV: I couldn’t image that. He is extremely popular. I wonder why?

LM: Yeah … me too.

DVV: The worse you play the more they like you.

LM: You don’t like the music of Grateful Dead?

DVV: No! Not by any means.

LM: Do you listen to music today?

DVV: I like Wagner.

LM: I see. Why is it you like isolated places, I mean, is it the isolation, or is it that you want to get away from people?

DVV: I find isolation better, because of the fact that I can paint.

LM: You couldn’t paint if you were near to people?

DVV: I’d rather not … Essentially, I just like to paint.

LM: Are you optimistic about it?

DVV: Oh, yeah … yeah, I’m pretty happy.

LM: I think it was Francis Bacon who once said, that he was very optimistic about nothing.

DVV: He’s good!

LM: Yeah … that was how he was feeling.

DVV: I understand that perfectly!

LM: Today you seem to have even a bigger succes as a painter than you had as a musician. Does that surprise you?

DVV: No, not really, because I had planned on doing that.

LM: You had planned to do it?

DVV: Yeah … I had been doing some paintings on album covers, and so I thought that it would end up that way.

LM: What would you say about your painting? What are you trying to do, or what …?

DVV: I’m trying to turn myself inside out on canvas. I’m trying to completely bare what I think at that moment.

LM: Are you thinking about an audience when you are painting, I mean, are you thinking about that you are trying to communicate, or something like that?

DVV: When I’m doing a bad painting I think too much …

LM: Yeah?

DVV: Yeah … Then I paint over it and get a clear spot. Then I paint. But I’ll tell you, I’m happier painting although it’s extremely difficult.

LM: What is the difficult part of it?

DVV: All of it! It’s all hard.

LM: I remember some years ago I saw an interview, it was right after your last album, Ice Cream for Crow [1982] …

DVV: Oh, yeah …

LM: … and you seemed very optimistic about music, and you were telling that you had so many new songs, and that you wanted to keep on doing music. But then, what happened?

DVV: Well, I decided to paint. Do you like music?

LM: Yeah, I like music a lot. I like your music.

DVV: Thank you! I’m flattered. What about Trout Mask [Replica, 1969]?

LM: Oh yeah, I love that one.

DVV: Yeah, that’s a good one. What that music is going at is complete absence.

LM: That’s the way you see it?

DVV: That’s the way I do it. You can’t think about that music. I mean, that music is moving so fast that if you think about it it’s like watching a train go by and counting the cars. It’s better to hear it without the mind so active. Because the mind is active naturally, and if you don’t try to think about it … you get a lot more fish. I think that a lot of people have had too much to think, and they should send their mother home their navels … send your mother home your navel / you’ve had too much to think / Flash Gordon’s Ape / you’re in ah scrape …

LM: Yeah, yeah … I know that …

DVV: That’s a funny song.

LM: Yeah, it is. An album like Trout Mask Replica is still considered to be one of the most important influences on some kinds of music, some kinds of rock music. Today, can you understand, if you look back, why it was so important?

DVV: Because the fact that it is breaking up the mind in many different directions, causing them not to be able to fixate. This is what I was trying to do.

LM: Is it true that you made most of the music in eight or nine hours?

DVV: Eight and a half.

LM: That’s true?

DVV: Yeah … on a piano. All the strings were popped!

LM: It was produced by Frank Zappa. How important was he to that album?

DVV: Not very.

LM: There has been said so many things about your relationship to Frank Zappa, I mean …?

DVV: We are talking again.

LM: You are?

DVV: I called him up, and I said: “Hi, Frank!” And he said: “Hi, Donny!”

LM: So was he very surprised to get a call from you?

DVV: He was very surprised … after eight years. Somebody told me that the president of Chekoslovakia …

LM: Václav Havel …

DVV: … yeah, he told Frank that he prefered Captain Beefheart.

LM: Oh, that’s good … so, how did Frank like that?

DVV: Well, he told me … he said, “I was at a dinner with the president of Chekoslovakia.” And I said, “And how was your dinner?”

LM: And what did he say?

DVV: “Fine!”

LM: Don’t you miss doing music?

DVV: I think I did about what I wanted to do.

LM: Yeah?

DVV: Yeah, I really didn’t do music for money.

LM: No.

DDV: No, I never got that much money. There isn’t that much money for what you like.

LM: No.

DVV: I was doing selfish music. I recommend if anybody is gonna embark upon a musical carreer to get a damned good lawyer … that doesn’t bite!

LM: Well, I will say thank you for this time.

phone call to Don Van Vliet
Copenhagen, Denmark – Trinidad, California
January 30th 1991

DVV: Well, thank you!

LM: So, you better get back to your painting.

images recorded July 2005

DVV: Well, thank you.

LM: Okay, thank you for talking to me.

DVV: I enjoyed it.

LM: Okay, that’s good … me too!

edited by Niels Plenge

DVV: Bye …

LM: Okay, byebye …