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RIP Don Van Vliet, Captain Beefheart, January 15, 1941 – December 17, 2010

Visual artist and avant-garde musician, Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, has died in a Northern California hospital at the age of 69 from complications arising from multiple sclerosis. The Village Voice gives their brief take here. Entertainment Weekly describes Beefheart’s five best albums here. Rolling Stone’s 1970 cover story on Beefheart can be quite illuminating. Here is a gallery of Beefheart musical career photos, and a sample of Beefheart’s visual art.

In a 1982 interview with David Letterman, Van Vliet said his unique stage name derived from “I’ve got a beef in my heart against society.”

Last September, John Siscoe wrote a lovely and poetic piece on Ice Cream for Crow (1980), Captain Beefheart’s last musical offering, which works well as an obituary, and I repost it here:

This 1982 promotional video for their last album was the end of the road for Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band. Shortly afterward the Captain turned his back on music to become the painter Don Van Vliet. That is his artwork featured on the video.

It’s impossible to define or categorize the music of Captain Beefheart, and therein lies some of its charm. Many people find it to be simply unlistenable, which helps to explain why, despite multiple albums and twenty years of trying, the Captain remained a resounding commercial failure.

Charlatan, saint, deluded megalomaniac, neglected genius, talentless huckster. Everyone who came into contact with the Captain had their own opinion about him. Ice Cream for Crow will give you a good idea why.

John Siscoe



– A fantastic clip of Captain Beefheart on David Letterman.

– Entertainment Weekly’s list of five best Beefheart albums.

– Rolling Stone’s 1970 cover story on Beefheart.

– A gallery of Beefheart musical career photos.

– A sample of Beefheart’s visual art.



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