Down to the Dozens

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band “Big Eyed Beans from Venus”

The first question I always asked myself about this track and Captain Beefheart in

captain beefheart

particular is “What?” I know the lyrics really well and even after listening over and over again I have still no real idea. There are some obvious sexual references. for example:

Men let your wallets flop out,
And women open your purses

(If you want to read the full lyrics click here)
or just bizarre… how about:

Distant cousins, there’s a limited supply.
And we’re down to the dozens, and this is why:
Big Eyed Beans from Venus! Oh my, oh my.

clear spot

Either way I still loved his albums and “Clear Spot” and “Trout Mask Replica” are two favourites. I like the idea of stitching phrases together or just saying things because you like the way they sound.
Like a lot of writers the Captain (real name Don Van Vliet ) didn’t like to give too much away about the meaning of the lyrics and as he died of Multiple Sclerosis in 2010 we will never know. He was also universally disliked by nearly everyone he worked with and band members would often not get paid or receive credit for song writing. Being talented doesn’t make you a nice person.

The BBC had a program on Radio 4 recently hosted by Jim Moir about Captain Beefheart. Here is a link to the BBC Radio Iplayer or search your BBC Radio Iplayer app.

This song also means a lot to me because it was the name of a wholefood shop in Corbridge run by two friends Hil and Mel McHugh. The shop didn’t last long and then they both left the UK to live in France. It is a long time since I saw either of them but thanks to Facebook I can see that they are both still alive and well.

“Down to the Dozens” is a line from the song and I always took it to mean that supplies are low or things are running out. When I was a young man, time seemed endless and ideas and ideology were there to explore, experience and I was trying to gain some understanding of the world I was living in. As I approach seventy, the world is so much more unsure, confusing and full of doubt. Time is running out and I am down to the dozens, I do not want to end up as one of those cynical people who mock the youth for their idealism. I want to be one of those people who still “rage against the dying of the light”

Down to the Dozens

When I was young man
I poured over books
Discussed history and politics
Tub thumped and protested
Waving my clenched fist at the world
Sometimes mistaking knowledge for understanding
Now I am an older man
I still scour books for answers
Search web pages for understanding
Marvelling at science and progress
Despair at political indifference
Sometimes mistaking cynicism for wisdom

©Jeff Price March 2018

2 thoughts on “Down to the Dozens

  1. Hello Jeff.
    It may be an utterly redundant suggestion – but just in case: have you read Bill Harkleroad’s book?
    He was running a record shop up in Eugene (I have a friend who has a ranch nearby) when I came across him some years back; and though he definitely didn’t recognize me, I definitely knew him, as I was in a band who supported the ‘73 Beefheart tour over here in Britain.
    21 nights we played with them (the classic line-up of Zoot, Rockette, Alex, Roy and Artie) and I stood on the side of the stage every night, my eyes and ears (?) glued to ‘Ed Marimba’ exhibiting a style of drumming so alien to me that even after three weeks of studying him I still had absolutely no idea how he came to be playing what he did. He was no Ginger Baker; nor John Bonham; not even remotely Ringo Star. Strangely enough, for a guy who started his working life playing sessions for Joe Meek, Mitch Mitchell was the drummer who came closest.
    Artie Tripp has (amongst other honours) a doctorate in percussion (again, a concept unheard of over here back then) and was basing most of his approach on ‘Second Line’ which remained absolutely beyond me until some years later when I sat and talked with Richie Haywood and he gave me a basic understanding.
    So, if you are bamboozled by Don’s lyrics, you may feel a kinship with a Geordie drummer still equally bamboozled by Ed’s drumming.
    Anyway, regarding Bill’s book (which I haven’t read (!)): there may not be any revelations regarding Don’s lyrics, but if you are/were a fan, then it’s got to be worth reading. For instance, something Bill told me was that Trout Mask Replica was completely scored in advance of rehearsals? The mind boggles.
    TTFN, Keith.


  2. Got me thinking about The Captain and that tour: we were playing Sterling and drinking post gig in the hotel bar. Don and I decided we should invent a Scottish cocktail, as we couldn’t think of such a thing, and I suggested we start with Drambuie – which he’d never tried – rather than the obvious whisky base. So we then spent a few hours – thanks to an indulgent barman – sampling mixes using Drambuie as a base and became more and more enthusiastic as we went along: who’d have thought. Finally, and thanks to a suggestion from the weary barman, we arrived at 2 – 1 Drambuie with green ginger and a dash of Angostura bitters over ice. It’s very sweet and luscious and will not be to everyone’s taste I am certain. Naturally, I named it ‘The Captain’ and have enjoyed it ever since (I’ve got a very sweet tooth). Don insisted Drambuie be added to his rider and consumed a bottle a gig for the remainder of the tour; said it soothed his vocal chords.


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