Don Van Vliet (1941-2010), the genius surreal poet, painter and blues performer best known as "Captain Beefheart" died today. He was a month away from turning 70.
Van Vliet had retired from music in the early 1980s and had lived a reclusive existence for the last few years, with constant rumors of deteriorating health.
An early associate and friend of Frank Zappa's Van Vliet became a critically lauded performer and recording artist after his Zappa-produced breakthrough album Trout Mask Replica.
He was the crucial link between the "Old Weird America" of the Depression-era blues and the '80s surrealism of Beefheart-influenced artists like Tom Waits and David Lynch.
If you cared about music in a deep and visceral way, Beefheart and his work were inescapable in the last few decades (every musician you respect, most likely worshiped him). For the larger musical audience, he was much less visible. I told someone I know just now "Beefheart died" and he asked "The guy who played with Zappa?"
For many of us, Zappa (no disrepect to the Great Frank) was the guy who played with Beefheart.
A great loss for American art--no question.
[We invite our readers to share their memories of Beefheart's music and any anecdotes about encoutenring this Very Wise Man in the comments below]
Rolling Stone broke the news a few minutes ago, with the following details:
Don Van Vliet, who became a rock legend as Captain Beefheart, died today from complications from multiple sclerosis in California. His passing was announced by the New York-based Michael Werner Gallery, which represented his work as a painter.
"Don Van Vliet was a complex and influential figure in the visual and performing arts," the gallery said in a statement. "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."
A video gallery to remember Captain Beefheart: