Be led into the obscure

Rockstar/painter Captain Beefheart no more

Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart, is no more. The avant-garde rockstar and abstract artist died at the age of 69 in California following complications from multiple sclerosis.

The Michael Werner Gallery in New York, which has represented him for over two decades and where many of Captain Beefheart’s works are nestled, confirmed the death in a statement. Van Vliet was “one of the most original recording artists of his time”, the gallery is quoted as saying in media reports.

“Don Van Vliet was a complex and influential figure in the visual and performing arts.”

“He is perhaps best known as the incomparable Captain Beefheart who, together with his Magic Band, rose to prominence in the 1960s with a totally unique style of blues-inspired, experimental rock & roll.”

“This would ultimately secure Van Vliet’s place in music history as one of the most original recording artists of his time. After two decades in the spotlight as an avant-garde composer and performer, Van Vliet retired from performing to devote himself wholeheartedly to painting and drawing.”

“Like his music, Van Vliet’s lush paintings are the product of a truly rare and unique vision,” the statement added.

Captain Beefheart, the avant-garte rocker

Captain Beefheart

Captain Beefheart

With his absurdist rock n’ roll derieved from the musical styles of jazz, blues and psychedelia, besides other genres, Captain Beefheart carved a niche for him in the world of pop-culture. Under the name of Captain Beefheart, he recorded music with members of the Magic Band till 1982. The band’s line-up, however, changed frequently.  Trout Mask Replica is widely considered as Beefheart’s masterpiece.

His close creative relationship with another music legend, Frank Zappa, who was his former high school classmate, also helped him create pieces that went on to redefine popular music.

Now popular bands and artists like Oasis, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and The White Stripes have named Beefheart as one of their prominent influences.

RHCP Guitarist John Frusciante had, in the past, revealed that Van Vliet was a prominent influence on the band’s 1991 album Blood Sugar Sex Magik. He also shared that during his drug induced absence, he “would paint and listen to Trout Mask Replica”. His debut solo album Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt (1994) also derieved inspiration from Captain Beefheart. Also, in their last concert of their 2006 tour, RHCP played the Captain Beefheart composition Peon as final encore. [Watch Video]

Joan Osborne, who also cites Captain Beefheart as an influence, covered Beefheart’s (His) Eyes are a Blue Million Miles, which appears on Early Recordings.

During the now famous 1997 Radio 1 interview, with his brother Liam Gallagher, Noel Gallagher, the guitarist for Oasis requested numerous Captain Beefheart tracks to be played.

Soundgarden, the Seattle band with Chris Cornell as the lead singer, covered Dropout Boogie frequently during their early career.

The White Stripes also released a single, titled Party of Special Things To Do, comprising of Beefheart’s Party of Special Things to Do, China Pig and Ashtray Heart.

In another very honorable mention, in 2008, Led Zeppelin’s front man Robert Plant is understood to have rubbished new music produced by bands such as Radiohead and RHCP, and insisted that he “wanted to listen to Captain Beefheart”.

“Radiohead and the Chilis are two of the biggest and best groups in the world. But it seems they don’t compare to Beefheart in Plant’s mind,” a source was quoted as saying in the Jan 2008 reports.

Don Van Vliet, the abstract artist

Though Don Van Vliet produced sketches and paintings as he pursued his music career, he effectively stopped recording in 1982 to take up art more seriously and in turn to be considered as a serious artist. Nevertheless, he remained the same abstract expressionist as a painter as he was as a musician.

Dr. John Lane, director of Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, had said in the 1990s that the self-taught artist’s painting “has that same kind of edge the music has.”

His works have had numerous exhibitions at the New York gallery. The works almost always attract high prices. Recently, one of his paintings on sale at the Michael Werner Gallery fetched $40,000 (£26,000). [See Gallery]

“Now a whole generation of younger artists has become obsessed with his work, like Thomas Houseago and Aaron Curry,” gallery managing director Gordon VeneKlasen was quoted as saying on an ArtInfo blog published December 1.

In the later years, Don Van Vliet was unable to paint due to multiple sclerosis.

Pixies say:

Don Van Vliet a.k.a Captain Beefheart was one among the distinct breed of true artists with talent, skill, philosophy and most importantly attitude [Suggested reading: Captain Beefheart’s 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing].

Beefheart’s works did not appeal to the masses and saw a small following, yet he has etched a place for himself in the world of art with his larger-than-life character and his works that even today continue to inspire and influence.

The death of Captain Beefheart comes as a huge pain as the world stands to lose yet another versatile and radical thinker, diminishing further the number of true artists present in the world.

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  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Rockstar/painter Captain Beefheart no more « Lexicalpixies -- Topsy.com

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