Terrible news: Don Van Vliet, the stupendous avant-garde bluesman, surrealist painter, and world-class eccentric, has died, as confirmed to multiple outlets by a rep from the Michael Werner Gallery, which often showed his work. He would’ve turned 70 in January. The engine behind unclassifiable and inimitable critic-beloved masterpieces like 1969’s Trout Mask Replica and 1978’s Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), the California native has been personally mostly off the grid for decades, content to tend to his painting in relative seclusion while his former cohort Gary Lucas toured the world spreading the Beefheart gospel himself. Hopefully he keeps doing it.
In that awful interval when someone dies and you immediately leap to YouTube and immerse yourself in that person’s work for the next several hours, often the most oddly cheering and wildly entertaining clip you can find is that person being interviewed by David Letterman. And so it goes with Beefheart, who we find here explaining to Dave how a member of his band acquired the name Richard “Midnight Hat Size” Snyder. There was no one on earth remotely like him. We were lucky to have even the one.