My Smile Is Stuck

From Barry Miles’ Zappa: A Biography:

Don Vliet (later known as Captain Beefheart) was in Frank’s year at AVHS, but they didn’t become friends until 1958, when Vliet saw Zappa hitch-hiking one day and gave him a lift. ‘I couldn’t help it,” said Vliet, ‘he looked so wobegone.’ They were almost the same age (Zappa was three weeks older) and shared musical tastes. It was a friendship of great mutual significance: Vliet gave Zappa innumerable ideas and Frank not only produced Beefheart’s greatest album Trout Mask Replica, but pretty much forced him to sing in the first place.

Don Vliet lived on Carolside Avenue, a short ride due south of Zappa’s place, in a virtually identical house. Mr and Mrs Vliet, known to everyone as Sue and Glen, shared the house with Don’s Uncle Alan and Aunt Ione. Unusually for the time, Don’s girlfriend Laurie lived in the house with him. Across the street lived his grandmother Anne Warfield, known as Granny Annie. Don’s father was a Helms bread man with a route that took him from Lancaster up to Rosemond and Mojave.

Don and Frank would get together after school, usually at Frank’s house, and they would listen to records for three or four hours. Then they would get something to eat and try to pick up girls in Vleit’s car—a powder-blue ’49 Oldsmobile with a clay werewolf head attached to the steering wheel. Having failed in this objective, they would go back to Don’s house and listen to more records: obscure Doo Wop cuts by the Spaniels, the Paragons, the Orchids, the Penguins or the great blues masters: Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, Guitar Slim or Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown. They would eat pineapple buns and sweet rolls left over from Don’s father’s bread route and periodically Don would scream at his mother, ‘Sue! Get me a Pepsi!’ She would bustle in, dressed as always in a blue chenille bathrobe and slippers, to wait on her adored only child. Many years later Zappa used this refrain as the basis for his song ‘Why Doesn’t Somebody Get Him A Pepsi?’

Sometimes these record sessions would go on until 5 a.m. and they would skip school the next day. Zappa: ‘It was the only thing that seemed to matter at the time. We listened to those records so often we could sing the guitar leads. We’d quiz each other about how many records does tis guy have out, what was his last record, who wrote it, what is the record number.’

Today it was announced that Don Vliet, also known as Don Van Vliet and Captain Beefheart, died from complications of multiple sclerosis. He was 69.

4 thoughts on “My Smile Is Stuck”

  1. Don Van Vliet , RIP.

    El Dios…supposing there izz one for a few nanoseconds…. probably forgives most phreaks, even weird ones . Unlike the Dicky Cheneys, Rush Limbauzos, Bloomybergs of the world–who be. ..Unforgiven.

    when time allows ah might try to scrawl something re DVV.

  2. As Hunter S Thompson was wont to say, Res Ipsa Loquitur. Peoples will be waxin’ elegiacally, yet Don lived a long and fairly prosperous life really (certainly compared to most rockers or his old crony Zappa). He was a success! Sort of Rock, Inc’s Dali. He saw the sun and stars– had a beautiful wife. No need for tears, at least not too many. Peon

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