Poetry – Vliet – A poem for Captain Beefheart.

I was entranced by Don Vliet the moment I heard him way back in 1967. Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band created some of the greatest music ever. That first album was just a taster. The live performance that year was probably the best I have ever seen.

Some find him discordant. But for me it gels together into the most original music ever recorded. His poetry was the same, that rich imagery and invented words.

Live the band were amazing. The Magic band still are but I can’t help but miss the Captain.

Way back in 1981 he gave the music up forever. He turned his attention to his other love – art, with equal brilliance.

His paintings from the deserts of California were carved from slabs of colour that sang with their own fluorescence. I could lose myself in those paintings in the same way I did the music.

It would have been good to sit out on the steps in the desert and watch that sun slowly sink towards the horizon. I can imagine it.


Looking through Vliet’s eyes at scrawny black crows

Perched on jagged cactus vantage points

Before daubed hills and scrawled figures

Carved with sweeping strikes of thick textured colour

On a timeless backdrop of infinity.


Staring at distorted garish dreams of reality

Timelessly floating towards forever ……………forever……….

Along the tides of an invisible desert sea

And wishing we were caught within the waters of his eyes

In neon magic,

Breathing the ocean bottom together,

As we watched the sun slowly set

And sipped a beer.



Opher 4.10.97

7 thoughts on “Poetry – Vliet – A poem for Captain Beefheart.

  1. RIP Don van Vliet. What strange synchronicity that we should both blog about him on the same day. I thought that maybe my inner psyche was telling me it was his birthday, or deathday, but no, niether of them. I’d grown up with the early albums and saw him live just the once when I was a student. By then he was trying to go for a more commercial sound and I remember being intensely disappointed not to hear those angular subcurrents. The Band were brilliant as ever, but it just wasnt the Beefheart that I knew and loved. I gather from my research for my blog that the later albums marked a return to form and am now looking forward to listening to them for the first time.

    1. Good to hear from you Ian. I was fortunate enough to catch him on that first tour and was blown away. I caught him a few more times and I look back now and can’t believe I didn’t see him more. He was amazing (The Magic Band are touring this Summer and they are still brilliant – well worth a look).
      After raving about him I took a bunch of my friends to see him in 1973 with the now dubbed ‘Tragic’ Band. There’d been a dispute with the band and they’d walked out. The commercial Beefheart wasn’t a patch on the old band. I was distraught though my friends thought he was good – but then they’d never seen the real thing!
      Those two albums from that period were mediocre but the last two (and three with Bat Chain Puller) were back to the usual brilliance – all-be-it with a different set of musicians. The man was a genius!

      1. Yes I must have seen him in 73 too, that would fit with my brief stint at UEA. I agree that Don was a creative genius. I wonder whether he would have achieved what he did if his parents werent so fucked up. I’d like to think so. Apart from the album art, I hadnt seen any of his pictures until the last coupla daze while I was researching for my blog o.n him. I think he made the right decision to leave the music biz, I enjoyed a lot of his music but I have to say his artwork is astonishing. I wonder if he knew Joni, another brilliant musician who considered herself an artist first and foremost.

      2. I’m not sure about Joni. I’ve never heard that they were in contact. But I understand that he was in regular contact with PJ Harvey!

  2. The Captain – what a wonderful world he inhabited.
    My first introduction to his music was through a school friend who brought round his “Mirror Man” album for me to hear. To be honest I just didn’t get it at all and probably because I knew nothing of Delta swamp blues and that it was a world away from all the Beatles, Stones, Who, Genesis, Hawkwind, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Roxy Music, Jethro Tull and Yes that was my standard fair and I couldn’t see past that. That was around 1975.

    Come 1979, I’m working and living in the Victoria district in London and the Venue club was just a short walk away. I’d check out the billboard ad’s regularly and went to as many shows as I could even if I didn’t actually own a record by them. Therefore, I saw some woeful crap and some stellar performances. Come 1980, I saw the ad for the Captain and went along. Goodness me, the pre-show atmosphere and the completely “out there” attire of some of the audience members was probably worth the ticket price alone. I’d been to Hawkwind gig’s often enough and several Knebworth’s, but this was something else! I felt so completely straight in comparison even though technically I wasn’t, having being fully charged up on and carrying an extra supply of Paki black red seal doobies which were shared with those immediately adjacent. I do remember some of the Captain’s between number’s quips being very amusing and the crowd banter. Total lunacy.
    But what a thoroughly enjoyable gig, one of the one’s that are hard to forget. These 2 guitar players were something else. Maybe I haven’t tried hard enough but I’ve never managed to get a tape of this show, although collected several dozen others.
    Shortly after I got my first Captain bootleg! my very prized copy of the 2 x LP “Easy Teeth”, of which even the title couldn’t fail to get one’s attention.

    Come 1985, that same school friend was now in Canada and sent me 5 x C90’s of a college radio broadcast titled “Anarchists Audition”, presented by a fanatic going under the moniker “John Q Public” on Radio CFUV (of interest to anorak’s only, myself included). Seemingly John Q had sat up all night and played every decent quality bootleg he had. These tapes opened up a whole new world to me and enabled getting a much better handle on what to look for.

    I have to put my hand up and say “wait a minute here”, regarding the most unfair treatment of what many refer to as the “Tragic Band”. These guys were very good musicians and it wasn’t their fault that the good Captain had decided to temper things down somewhat.
    I think that “Unconditionally Guaranteed” was a pretty good album and certainly merits repeated listening and I’ve always enjoyed it. But that “Bluejeans & Moonbeams” album was and remains an unmitigated disaster! I’ve tried hard to find something of any magic on it, but nah.

    After all these years and an unknown quantity of endless hours listening, I think my top 3 favourites would be (in no order) 1) Mirror Man (the one that went above my head in `75), 2) Lick My Decals Off, Baby and 3) Doc At The Radar Station. In saying that, there’s at least another 3 or 4 that could take their place on any other given day.

    I could really have just said, in short, that Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band were absolutely one of the best bands to ever hail from America. I can’t imagine my record collection being without them.

    1. Aaah1 I thoroughly agree. Probably the best band in the world. I was lucky enough to see them in 1967, the day before my A Levels. I always blame them for me failing to get the grades required for my uni place. The best gig I ever went to! Up there with Hendrix and Roy Harper!
      Thanks for the great piece!

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