Don Van Vliet

(a.k.a. Captain Beefheart)

1941 - 2010

The Past Sure Is Tense

by G. Don Trubey

Captain Beefheart

South Bend, IN
Thursday, November 9, 1978

The ol' grey matter ain't what she used to be, but here goes... In 1978, Goshen, Indiana was a boomtown, exploding with jobs in mobile home construction and van conversion, so Tim Noe and I ventured north to seek employment in the promised land. We wound up living in a two-floor apartment with cheap rent— the catch being that we were supposed to "fix up" the interior. Each day, after eight hours of erecting RVs, we'd come home and smash the plaster walls, then kick back upstairs and crank up Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), Soon, we were spending all of our free time up there with our saxes and tape recorders... and Captain Beefheart and Wild Man Fischer on the turntable. At work, Tim heard on the radio that the Magic Band was coming to South Bend (about 15 miles west of Goshen), and that was that. Michael Gitlin and Dex Medlock cruised up from Bloomington for this event.

We arrived during the sound check and plunked ourselves down at a table directly in front of the Captain's mic. Tim noticed Jan Van Vliet (Don's wife) flitting about the back of the room, which filled up quickly. Then, on with the show... To announce that Los Bozotros was in the house, Tim and I donned masks during the first song— on stage, Don made no mention of it, but he did remark that he very much admired Dex's tweed coat. The whole performance was a highlight, but the most memorable doings were when the Captain pulled out a book of poetry and read "Well," and when he asked the audience (very earnestly), "What do you call this music?" What else could we say? We shouted, "Bug music!" and "Music from the other side of the fence!"

The tunes: (1) Tropical Hot Dog Night, (2) Nowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit A Man, (3) Owed T'Alex, (4) Dropout Boogie, (5) Harry Irene, (6) Abba Zaba, (7) Old Fart At Play, (8) Well, (9) Ice Rose, (10) Moonlight On Vermont, (11) Bat Chain Puller, (12) When I See Mommy I Feel Like A Mummy, (13) LyricsSafe As Milk, (14) Bellerin' Plain, (15) Suction Prints

PS: Tim and I left that apartment in Goshen... pretty much destroyed... with a letter to the landlord saying something like, "Thanks... Sorry."

Chicago, IL
Friday, December 12, 1980

The day after playing a gig in Bloomington, one half of The Dancing Cigarettes— Tim Noe, Jaclyn Oddi, and I— motored up to Chicago to see the best batch yet. The "Doc at the Radar Station" show was very good indeed. Afterward, we ran into drummer Robert Williams at the bar and gave him one of our band promo tapes, then he told us that the Magic Band was going to be in Milwaukee the following night. We looked at each other, and that was that. When we got to the Milwaukee city limits, we stopped at a donut shop and downed gallons of coffee. Then we headed downtown and stumbled and dozed... and woke up with the chill wind from Lake Michigan and a few Black Beauties™.

Milwaukee, WI
Saturday, December 13, 1980

This was an inspired, intense, intimate evening. The Starship was a small punk club where the audience sat on the floor, up close and personal. When we entered, Dancing Cigarettes Discographythe Captain was sipping Chivis Regal at a corner table in the bar. We said "Howdy" and that we really dug the previous night's gig, then we parked ourselves in the stage space. Then, on with the show... I had a cheap instamatic camera in one pocket and a micro-cassette recorder in another. • see photos and mp3s below • At the beginning of the first set, Don was hot (temperature-wise) and a bit pissed about it. And there was some knucklehead in the crowd yelling, "Roxanne!" and "More disco!" But the band was hot (performance-wise), and down the pike, the Captain genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself.

Between sets, we ran into guitarist Jeff Tepper at the bar, and he told us that they'd listened to our tape on the road from Chicago to Milwaukee and liked it fine. Robert Williams (who was producing records in L.A.) said, "If you guys ever come out to California..."

The tunes: (1) Hair Pie Bake 3, (2) Nowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit A Man, (3) Hot Head, (4) Ashtray Heart, (5) Dirty Blue Gene, (6) Best Batch Yet, (7) Smithsonian Institute Blues, (8) A Carrot Is As Close As A Rabbit Gets To A Diamond, (9) One Red Rose That I Mean, (10) Doctor Dark, (11) Bat Chain Puller, (12) My Human Gets Me Blues, (13) band intros + Sugar 'n Spikes, (14) Sheriff Of Hong Kong, (15) Kandy Korn, (16) Suction Prints, (17) Big Eyed Beans From Venus

PS: The Dancing Cigarettes never made it to the left coast, but exactly six months later, we pursued the beef path and played Tut's (June 12) and the Starship (June 13) in 1981.

Captain Beefheart MusicCaptain Beefheart Songs

Dancing Cigarettes MusicDancing Cigarettes Songs

Soundbite mp3s from the Starship

Micro-cassette recorders were not built to capture live music,
so I whipped up these audio files featuring the Captain's stage patter.

INTROS (1:41)   REAGAN (0:33)   ZAPPA (0:22)   THANK YOU (0:26)

Captain Beefheart Website