The legacy of Don Van Vliet, his art and music, endures in a number of ways, including occasional tribute concerts, especially those of Gary Lucas, former Magic Band member and now noted jazz musician. For both new audiences and older fans, the internet is well stocked with Beefheart recordings (both legit and bootleg), videos, and memorabilia along with photos of Don's paintings and drawings, his sole artistic pursuit from the early 1980s til his death in December 2010.
Recently, I received news of a Dutch musical theater piece, "Low Yo Yo Stuff," based on the life of Captain Beefheart and staged a couple of weeks ago in Amsterdam. Ferry Rigault, an acquaintance of mine from the early 1970s with whom I attended a Beefheart concert and after concert drinks with Don, alerted me to the production. Here (slightly edited) are his comments on what he saw and heard.
It was in a theatre called Bellevue, not so far from the hotel we talked with the Captain. It really was a very good play, with a great actor, Frank Lammers, and a fantastic band. Frank plays a crazy fan who thinks he is born in the head of captain Beefheart after he visited a Beefheart concert in the small village of Roden in the east of Holland in 1980 (historical). He's looking for Beefheart's Lost Record, that never came out due to conflicts with studio bosses.
The decor is a sixties/seventies boysroom with a fourarmed pickup, a giant taperecorder (Sony), old album covers and a table full of empty bottles. In fact the play is about a search for regaining artistical and social freedom. The text is very weird, associative, surrealistic and sometimes ununderstandable, just like the Captain.
Of course there is a lot of great Beefheart music: "Electricity," "Zigzag Wanderer," "I'm gonna Booglarize You," "Low Yo Yo Stuff," "Abba Zaba," and many more. Even the dialogue "Fast 'n Bulbous" with the Mascara Snake from Trout Mask Replica was there. The play ended with a Beefhartesque song in Dutch. Also his painting are in the play, and even some live painting. [?] There were also quite a lot of young people in the audience (under 20) and, as far as I could see, they enjoyed the play.
* * * * * *
Mr. Rigault was nice enough to send along a video promo clip for the play along with two songs tastefully and energetically recreated by by Frank Lammers and his version of the Magic Band -- "I'm Gonna Booglarize You, Baby," and "Electricity."
Another YouTube treasure Ferry enclosed was a television appearance Captain Beefheart and a rather tacky band made during his tour of Europe in 1973 (or was it 1974). This a period in which the fabulous Magic Band of "Trout Mask Replica" and subsequent albums had completely fallen apart, leaving Beefheart and his Las Vegas manager with a group composed of L.A. and Vegas studio players. Don seemed humiliated, but he slogged on if only to keep the money pouring in. (Take a look at the cover of "Unconditionally Guaranteed" from that period in his career.) At the Concertgebouw concert, Don asked his clarinet player (yes, clarinet player) to do a dixieland solo on "Sweet Georgia Brown" at one point and then, several songs later to play the damned thing again!
The treasure here is an appearance Don made on a Dutch comedy television show during the same tour. He walks on stage with two bumbling comedians as a young woman is singing a ballad. After some rather lame jokes by the Dutch buffoons, Beefheart lip syncs and mugs a song, "Upon the My Oh My," from "Unconditionally Guaranteed," drawing out the autobiographical pathos in the lyrics: "Tell me, good Captain, how does it feel, to be driven away from your own steering wheel? Upon the My Oh My ...."
What's wonderful about the video is that your can see very clearly Van Vliet's characteristic posture, body language, impish facial expressions, and, well, his attitude as he moved along the always awkward boundary between his private life and public persona. What was it like to be in his presence? The video will give you a pretty good taste. It ends with Don walking over to keyboard player on the set. "Can you play 'Yesterday'?" he asks. The pianist plays the song as Don starts whistling, which he always did by inhaling, his mouth half open. Check it out below.
That's my contribution to internet Beefheart for today. Keep listening!