Ever since the sad news of Don Van Vliet’s passing on Friday, I — and surely many others — have spent the weekend revisiting a host of interviews, documentaries, Lester Bangs reviews, music (of course), and more on the late, great Captain Beefheart. While Cap and the Magic Band have inspired an incalculable number of music/art pioneers over the past 4 decades, one passage from Frank Zappa’s autobiography, which recalls studio sessions with Vliet for Trout Mask Replica, brought to my mind one of his most obvious successors: Tom Waits. Zappa wrote:
Don demanded that the cymbals have pieces of corrugated cardboard mounted on them (like mutes), and that circular pieces of cardboard be laid over the drum heads, so Drumbo wound up flogging stuff that went “thump! boomph! doof!
In fact, an uncannily similar event once happened to drummer Bryan “Brain” Mantia while recording a track with Waits years ago. So what does the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee himself have to say about the passing of his former friend/forebear? Waits, among others, emailed the Los Angeles Times over the weekend:
He was like the scout on a wagon train. He was the one who goes ahead and shows the way. He was a demanding bandleader, a transcendental composer (with emphasis on the dental), up there with Ornette [Coleman], Sun Ra and Miles [Davis]. He drew in the air with a burnt stick. He described the indescribable. He’s an underground stream and a big yellow blimp.
I will miss talking to him on the phone. We would describe what we saw out of our windows. He was a rememberer. He was the only one who thought to bring matches. He’s the alpha and the omega. The high water mark. He’s gone and he won’t be back.
A beautiful quote from one of (what will hopefully become) a perpetual line of wagon train scout successors.
*Update: Waits and Kathleen Brennan have released a formal statement, as well:
Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart inhabited the world right under noses with his brush, his voice, and his music. He listened with his eyes and he saw with his ears…..Wondrous, secret„, and profound, he was a diviner of the highest order..he described the indescribable…if he was a horse; he’d be unridable……..Long may all that he has given the world continue to sprout …. Our sympathy to his beloved and mythic wife Jan…
– Tom and Kathleen