Don Van Vliet, the Great Captain Beefheart, Has Died.

Don Van Vliet, the artist, also known as Captain Beefheart, the musician, has died at the age of 69. The cause of death was complications due multiple sclerosis, a disease he was rumored to be fighting since the 1970’s.

Van Vliet began his first career under the stage name Captain Beefheart in the 1960’s. He was known for his musical experimentation along with his friend and occasional music collaborator Frank Zappa. Many musicians claim that Beefheart influenced the alternative musical styles which are popular today.

Retiring from music in the 1980’s to pursue a new career in art, Van Vleit became known as an innovative expressionist painter. His paintings and drawings demanded high prices, proving that he had successfully made the transition from “rock star” to “renowned artist”.

By the 1990’s, he was almost completely confined to a wheelchair and had limited mobility in his hands to be able to continue painting. Often bedridden, he continued to sketch occasionally. His work is represented by the Michael Werner Gallery in New York.

If you haven’t heard his music, check out one of his best albums, “Trout Mask Replica.

On a side note, a few years back I was trying to pitch an interview with Van Vliet to Andy Warhol’s “Interview” magazine. I had to run the questions past his representative at the Michael Werner Gallery, and I was told that they didn’t want their client to discuss his past music career.  Elmo Kirkwood from the band Kirkwood Dellinger and son of Curt Kirkwood from the band Meat Puppets is a Beefheart fan so he helped me with the questions. Unfortunately, after the gallery reviewed the questions, they decided (without consulting Van Vliet) that they did not want  him to do the interview. I decided to go ahead and write a short article for an east-coast magazine and told this to Justine at the Werner gallery in case they wanted me to send them a few issues. Below is part of the response I got back (I still have the email chain):

“As you can imagine, we do like to have some input regarding articles written about our artists.”

As a writer, I don’t need to run anything past these control freaks, but out of respect for Van Vliet, I killed the article. Now I wish I hadn’t.

RIP, Captain Van Vliet.

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