Traumnovelle Inspired by Don Van Vliet

"Chinese Fisherman" 1980, ink, watercolor, graphite & colored pencil on paper

Sunday, Jan 28th 2024

Just a little while ago, while napping on a cold, miserable Sunday afternoon in NYC. Made brighter by one moment of absolute radiant clarity out on the street --  but that was earlier. And only for a moment.

So after this one bright beam of sunshine on an otherwise dull day,  I'm curled up on my bed dozing off fitfully around 4 pm, after a long spell gazing at one of my favorite Don Van Vliet artworks, entitled "Chinese Fisherman." It was a gift from Don (Captain Beefheart) back in 1980 when I had just begun playing and managing him. I own a bunch of his artwork which you can view here:

That afternoon, scrolling through the gallery I created online and revisiting his fantastic artwork triggered something deep inside me. I was overcome by the beauty and Don's childlike sense of wonder -- there are real monsters lurking in the crevices of his artwork. It was all too much at that moment, and I thought I would lie down and ponder what it all meant.

"To sleep, perchance to dream…"

 And I fell into a reverie which spiraled down, down into a deep dark dream, a dream in which I'm all alone on a couch, watching a black and white '50s-type television in a small room in someone's apartment, while a full-on party rages just outside the door and I'm glued to the tv screen in front of me, where a nameless handsome classic rock star du jour -- any day really,  looking not too far afield from Rick Springfield circa 1974, with blow-dried thick black wavy mullet -- is being promoted on a late-night talk show.

And now he's about to perform live.

He's sitting there hunched over in a chair clutching his big semi-acoustic electric guitar, about to deliver a performance for a national TV audience from a remote recording studio in another town, surrounded by racks and racks of recording gear: limiters, compressors, reverbs, delays which fill the room wall to wall, metal shelving towering overhead behind him.

He's about to strum his guitar and sing for us (you and me and the late-night audience).

Just about visible behind him, seen through the glass window of a tiny vocal isolation booth, is his young black sidekick, who whips out a Hohner Marine Band harmonica in order to accompany our guy's new song -- a soulful blues.

They get on it -- and yet the sound coming out of the tinny television speaker is wildly discordant, almost painful to the ear.

 It's like an invisible miasma has rolled into the studio on screen, taken over their session, and fogged up the audio transmission. 

The blues harp is painfully out of tune and in the wrong key to the song the guitar player is attempting to perform. The guy has brought the wrong harmonica to the studio for their big number!

But as much as the sideman huffs and puffs and sucks and blows, trying to willfully bend the stream of notes emitting from his harp to make them consonant with the singer's blues, the result is a maelstrom of dissonance.

The guitarist is livid that his big moment on national TV is being wrecked and screams in frustration.

He jumps up out of his chair and turns around to rage at his partner behind the glass, who is frantically still trying to sweet-talk/browbeat the notes he's producing into submission, but it's no use.

The rockstar runs out of the room for a second and then returns brandishing a fire axe.

He starts wildly chopping at the wall of electronic equipment that limns the studio while his sidekick cowers in fear in his isolation booth.

A frail grey-haired granny somehow connected to the network rushes into the room to try and restrain the rocker to no avail. 

He swings his axe ever more widely at the equipment, and the gigantic mass of equipment -- frantic potentiometers waving back and forth, lights fizzing and twinkling-- starts to topple forward.

The old woman tries her best to prop it all up ("That'll cost us millions!") -- by literally putting her bony shoulder to a collapsing shelve -- but she is no match for the unforgiving steel, which comes plummeting down on her slender frame,  burying her under the rubble, crushing her body to a pulp on the floor.

Then the entire studio begins to come apart, acoustic ceiling tiles start to give way, and all comes crashing down around the rock singer and his paralyzed partner in the glass booth.

 The TV screen in front of me abruptly goes blank -- and then turns to black and white confetti "snow" as if all the studio wires had just snapped, and the transmission had ended on a historic, horrifying live TV moment (not unlike Pinky Lee's 1955 live on-camera heart attack on NBC). 

I cannot believe I've just witnessed this.

I spring up off the couch, and rush out of the room and plunge into the ongoing party.

I try my best to convey to my host and his guests the profound gravitas of the moment I've just glimpsed voyeuristically.

But they couldn't care less. They just party on.

And then I wake up.


"Dot's very interesting…and vot do YOU think, Mr. Lucas??"


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