Incredibly Sad News: Don Van Vliet Is Dead
When Don Van Vliet ceased recording as Captain Beefheart, long about the early ’80s, the word was he had health problems, as well as a hankering to be a fine artist. Now, lucky us: when we saw him in 1980 at New York’s Beacon Theater, he was in fine fettle, and it was hard to reconcile the jovial man with the myth, and subsequent reports of illness. We’ve subsequently seen many of the paintings, and sometime in the ’90s went to a one-man show of his in a gallery in New York.
But the music — that Delta’n’ dustbowl growl, the multi-octave rollercoaster ride his voice would go on, those syncopated traffic jams his master musicians lurched through — that’s what we’ll remember him for. That he lived as long as he did was a glory to the world. That he is dead tonight (see this notice in the New York Times posted a short while ago) is sad, sad indeed.
UPDATE: Ben Ratliff is a moron. Oh Heavens. To write a bio of Captain Beefheart and say the high point of his work was Trout Mask Replica shows he’s probably never even listened to anything Von Vliet did. Or that he prepared for the obit writing by reading from a book. Hello, NYT? There was early genius (Safe As Milk), and late genius (Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) and Doc At The Radar Station.) There was even under-appreciated greatness in his most accessible album, Clear Spot. But reducing Captain Beefheart to Trout Mask Replica is like reducing The Rolling Stones to Satanic Majesties. Gimme a break.
UPDATE 2: Well, Mr. Ratliff’s full obit of Captain Beefheart is up and it is much superior to what he posted last night, and worth reading. For starters, he doesn’t have Don Van Vliet’s life and importance peak with Trout Mask Replica. It seems to show evidence of his having stayed up all night reading the liner notes to Dust Blows Forward, which is ok, cuz they’re good.