The eerie ambiance of winding up the narrow canyon streets was enhanced as much by the dark and stormy night as by its contrast to the flat, well-lit housing tracks of Granada Hills in which both Jan and I had been raised. Soon she pointed to a house and the headlights of my Renault illuminated a large figure pacing in the driveway. It looked like an enormous Doctor Suess character: the Cat in the Hat. “That’s Don,” she said.
Though it was drizzling, Beefheart was pacing back and forth across the driveway. He wore a coat and top hat, which were some protection from the weather, but his bare feet were in little girl’s strapped sandals at least one size too small. Even without the overcoat it was obvious that he was bulbous.
He was extremely happy to see Jan who all but disappeared in his embrace. His face was stricken. His gaze was inward, as if mentally reviewing the wake of swirling air that trailed the bullet he had just dodged. He was definitely in love.
… The dark clouds drifted apart, briefly revealing a few stars. Beefheart looked up and gestured at the sky with a raised arm which he moved in an arc, “I want to paint a stripe across the sky,” he said aggressively. “I want to make the stars bark.”
I’ve always remembered these lines… It was the almost feral and unrepentantly ambitious tone behind Beefheart’s words that made such an impression. I just wanted to pass my upcoming history test, finish my term paper, get laid. He wanted to redecorate the cosmos.
A recount of the events preceding the wedding of Don and Jan Van Vliet
Though I have many favorite Beefheart songs, this one is unique in my adoration. Partly for its existence musically, but partly because of the journey it experiences in the many outtakes and albums that I’ve found over the years. It has a certain symbolism, in a way, that not many other Beefheart songs share.
Each iteration varies in some form. Sometimes, it’s slowed a bit more. Sometimes pieces or stretches of song are played a little harsher than others. Sometimes some instruments are substituted for others. Every now and then, I find another version of it and it still dazzles me. It’s like some odd relic, appearing repeatedly through time in order to find its final resting place on the very last album that Don produced.
It sits, in that state, among other songs that show the obvious deterioration of Don’s voice and musical power. But that song, in that context, seems so pleasant to hear in, say, the early 70s-era (my favorite) Lick My Decals/Spotlight Kid outtakes.
And here I reproduce for you, my potentially non-existent reader, a few of these pieces.
Also happy birthday, Don.