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Captain Beefheart: The Biography

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  320 ratings  ·  23 reviews
Born Don Van Vliet in 1941, Captain Beefheart is one of modern music's true innovators. The owner of a remarkable four-and-one-half octave vocal range, he employs idiosyncratic rhythms, absurdist lyrics, and an unholy alliance of free jazz, Delta blues, latter-day classical music, and rock & roll to create a singular body of work virtually unrivalled in its daring creativi ...more
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Published July 4th 2010 by Music Sales Corporation (first published 2000)
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Paul Bryant
Mar 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

24th March 1969.


I woke to hear the sound of padlocks and strong chains being removed from the front door of the Trout House. It crashed open to reveal a burly man. Don was back. The Magic Band cowered in fear.
“So, boys, what have you got for me today?”
“Please master, food, food” we cried, “or at least drugs and new guitar strings”
“You know the rules! No food and absolutely no drugs until you give me more so
Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
This is the book to begin with if you want to find out anything about Don Van Vliet / Captain Beefheart, and it's also the place where you end. Barnes' well-researched and illuminating portrait of the man behind the trout mask is always engaging, fun, and informative, and offers new ways into what can appear to be a considerably dense and difficult body of work. What emerges is a simple image of an artist reflecting the world as he sees it, through sculpture, words, paint, and, most famously, so ...more
MJ Nicholls
A comprehensive and balanced overview of a twisted, compassionate, and contradictory man whose creative endeavours have left formidable footprints in the art and music world.

UK music hack Mike Barnes tells the story with professional ebullience, his talents dipping slightly when trying to bring the music and art to life (which is understandable – it's BEEFHEART!)

This book runs the gamut of Don (Van) Vliet's life: artful dropout, blues weirdo, countercultural icon, money-grubbing sellout, crotch
Pete daPixie
Aug 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poptastic, biogs
As regards any authors passionate affinity with an artists work is concerned, Mike Barnes's biography of Captain Beefheart, published 2000, has to be up there with the best. The Captain's early years contains ambiguity and sparse factual information, as does the subjects reclusory years away from the poptastic from the mid eighties. Such was the enigmatic nature of Don Glen Vliet.
It's the coverage of the Beefheart discography where this book shines a clear spot. The collaborations of the many f
Mar 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The inspiring story of a wacky cat who never held back in doing what he wanted, even if it did leave him a misunderstood pauper...
Steve Getto
Jun 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book helped me enormously with writing my first novel "Beefheart's Blueprint". It's an insightful and clearly written biography and I highly recommend it.
Doug Birkitt
Dec 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Dude knows his Beefheart. Loved.
Nov 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It can't be easy to write a book about a famously taciturn and misleading guy that moved himself into isolation in the last years of his life and refused most interview requests, but Barnes did an admirable job of tackling Don Van Vliet's life and legacy. Beefheart's music is difficult to approach, his life even more so given his fabrications, enhancements and outright lies throughout his entire career. While this doesn't entirely open up his life, it does allow one to get an inkling of the man' ...more
David Ashley
May 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
An enjoyable and fairly comprehensive account of Don Van Vliet's musical and artist career. Really helpful for understanding the spider web history of The Magic Band and getting to grips with who was where at what point etc.

I wouldn't say this is a 'complete' history, it feels there is a lot that can't be accounted for and Van Vliet was an odd and private character so you have to take some of his quotes with a pinch of salt.

I wish there was a deeper dive into the themes of Van Vliet's work but I
Sep 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: personal
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May 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
Only for the die hard fans. Wouldn't recommend any one else to buy it. I'm a big fan of his music but this book is a hard read and not at all enjoyable.
Jul 21, 2016 rated it liked it
The analysis of all of his recorded output ultimately gets tedious after a while, even considering that Beefheart is one of my all-time personal heroes. The portrayal of Van Vliet's complex personality however is highly enjoyable, not to mention honest. - valuable insight to his personality is provided, not to mention the accounts of everyone around him that were inclined to deal with it's (several) setbacks. However, I'm not sure if an in-depth review of every album he made was necessary, consi ...more
Dec 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting and quite thorough account of the legendary Captain Beefheart a.k.a. Don Van Vliet, warts and all. Barnes has obviously done a great amount of work for this book, and the result is a well-thought-out piece of work, which I really enjoyed reading. It was really interesting to read all the stories about Van Vliet's peculiar personality and the less ordinary methods of music making that he practiced with The Magic Band.

Oh, I do have one complaint: Barnes writes twice that Van Vli
Jun 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Not so much a personal biography as a chronicle of Vliet's career. It's reasonably well written and insightful enough that it might change the way you look at the guy. (Arthur Tripp's comments in the appendix are worth the price of the book.) It's got me listening to a lot of the Captain's post-Clear Spot material, none of which I'd ever heard before but which now I'm counting as enjoyable discoveries.
Jeffrey Bumiller
May 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
I was afraid that this book might focus too heavily on the earlier adventures of Don Van Vliet (Safe as Milk, Trout Mask Replica) but Barnes gives equal time to each Captain Beefheart ablum, as well as Van Vliet's later years where he focused solely on painting. This is exhaustively researched and the writing is at times very dense, but it's absolutely worth a read if you can dig it.
Iain McNab
Excellent, well written and balanced bio of the late great, which makes, in my opinion, sound judgements on the work.
Dean Wilcox
May 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Exhaustively researched portrait of one of the most interesting music makers of the 20th century.
Dec 28, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fast and bulbous! Bulbous also tapered!
Oct 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
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