This is a photograph of the late Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet), one of my more prized possessions. I found it while searching music memorabilia on Ebay late one night. I saw the auction was ending soon, I put in a bid, and went to bed thinking I would get blown out of the water by someone else. I woke up the next morning and—much to my surprise—I saw that I had won. I think I paid $40 total including shipping for two photographs. I can’t remember what the second one was but I ended up giving it to a dear friend and fellow Beefheart fanatic.
I love this photo for a million reasons, but one noteworthy detail is who it arrived from. When I received the envelope of photos in the mail, the return address belonged to “Pamela Des Barres”. For those unfamiliar, Pamela Des Barres was a notorious rock and roll groupie, writer, musician, and actress. She wrote a book in the eighties called, I’m with the Band, which is a wild exposé on the L.A. music scene of the 1960s and 1970s. She was childhood friends with Zappa and Beefheart, which makes sense why she could have such a candid photo. She was also in the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously) who released a wild album called Permanent Damage in 1969 on Frank Zappa’s label Straight.
Regardless of the image’s provenance, I’m always struck by how casual and intimate this photo is. It has a familiarity to it. Almost as if it could have been taken out of my family’s own scrapbook. I keep the photo on my desk and always have a chuckle when I see him staring at me, nonplussed, taking a sip from his drink. A reminder to approach things with gentle caution and not take anything too seriously in the realm of art.
Matthew Clifford Green is an artist who lives and works in Chicago. In addition to his studio practice, he runs a record label called Radical Documents. Founded in 2017, the label focuses on unique, experimental, and obscure transmissions of sound from a wide range of artists.