Captain Beefheart: Creativity Nurtured by Saturn

Monday December 20th 2010


Captain Beefheart (far right) and the long-suffering Magic Band, back in 1969.

A creative visionary died this week. Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) (born January 15, 1941 at 4.25pm) was a legendary avant-garde musician and performer and a damn fine painter.

In both his chosen fields he excelled with a wild, uncompromising non-conformity. It was as if he was plugged straight into the creative source.

His chart is super earthy, as befits someone with a voice that seems to come out of the bowels of a mountain. Venus, mistress of the arts, is in Capricorn tightly trining expansive Jupiter and stern Saturn in Taurus.

This puts Venus and Saturn in mutual reception, that is they are both stronger and working together better, because they are in each other’s signs. Saturn working with Venus gave Van Vliet the discipline to make art happen. He worked hard himself and made his band practice until it nearly drove them all round the bend. Saturn also gives his work authenticity – which in turn is what makes him so special. (See his chart at the end of the post).

Venus and Saturn create a Grand Trine with the Moon in Leo, the sign of self-expression. The Moon shows us what we must do to nurture ourselves. Van Vliet was driven to create.

His earthiness was expressed both in his lyrics, (“Wildlife is a man’s best friend.”) and in his painting, which although abstract expressionist in style, is a direct response to the natural world. Also, famously, he liked animals a whole lot more than people. Treated them better too by all accounts.

Artistic Licence

Van Vliet was a precociously talented artist as a child but in his teens turned to music – along with his great chum Frank Zappa. He started out singing the blues  and adopted the monicker “Captain Beefheart” in 1964.

His crowning musical achievement, the double album Trout Mask Replica was recorded in a single sitting of four and a half hours in March 1969 in Los Angeles. Trout Mask is experimental and hard to listen to: Beefheart’s deep, cracked voice snarls or coos over discordant streams of choppy guitar. It’s a mixture of blues, rock and free jazz. And the lyrics are poetry: dark, moving and funny.


“But it’s alright God dug your dance

And would have you young and in his harem

Dress you the way he wants cause he never had a doll

Cause everybody made him a boy.”

Saturn was very influential for Van Vliet because he had his Sun in Capricorn, which is ruled by the Saturn. According to members of The Magic Band, he was a tyrannical taskmaster; in other words, embodying Saturn himself. What’s more this album, which was a profound expression of his artistic mission, was made during his Saturn return.

There are three career paths for rock legends: go on and on (Jagger,  Dylan, Baez, McCartney ….) die young (Cobain, Jackson, Joplin, Hutchence et al) or pass your peak and fade away (most of them). Van Vliet, with greater artistic depth and integrity than most of them, retired.

After Ice Cream for Crow (1982) Van Vliet quit making music and returned to painting, represented by a proper New York gallery. He told people it was because it paid better and it was quiet. In fact, Saturn had completed a half-return again and was opposing its natal position in Taurus from Scorpio.

I can think of another Capricorn with an incredible voice who stopped singing at exactly the same point in his Saturn cycle: Elvis. He changed career to angel just as Saturn was approaching the exact opposition to its natal position.

“The Moon was a Wisdomatic, Pristomatic Vagabond”

Van Vliet had never left the visual arts behind — apparently he was never without his sketchbook, he painted several of his own album covers and he exhibited his paintings regularly. He drove Zappa crazy on a tour in the mid-70s by filling big notebooks with sarcastic sketches.

Van Vliet had Cancer rising, so his chart ruler was the Moon in Leo – not an easy combination.  Cancer rising makes a person very sensitive. He tends to take in the environment unfiltered and can be overwhelmed by sensation. I wonder if that’s why Van Vliet had to have such a noisy band. Noise to block out the noise.

In true Cancer fashion, he eventually crawled back into a protective shell, returning to the creative refuge of his childhood, visual art. He was able to express his Leo Moon in the solitude and silence of his own studio.

One of the most fascinating charts I’ve seen.

Of course, the progressed Moon follows the same rhythm as Saturn cycle, so his move back to painting would have been influenced by that as much as the Saturn.

As I said earlier, Beefheart was not easy to listen to. But his music was incredibly influential: Tom Waits, John Lydon, The Clash, David Byrne, the White Stripes, the B-52s all owe the Captain a lot.

You’d expect strong aspects from personal to outer planets in the chart of someone like that. And indeed Van Vliet’s Sun in Capricorn was in a close Grand Trine with the rebel Uranus in Taurus in the 11th house of groups and music-master Neptune down in the third in perfectionist Virgo.

His music is extremely complex and multi-layered. Once you really start listening to it, you hear sounds and rhythms weaving in and out of each other in an extraordinary tapestry of noise. It’s the detail which really makes it fascinating, a very Virgoan trait. And of course, that Neptune in the third house of communications receives Mercury conjunct the Sun in Capricorn.

Every life has a shape which only becomes clear when it is over. But one thing is for sure: “The Dust Blows Forward and The Dust Blows Back.”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Interesting stuff.

    Re: DVV’s reasons for giving up music, according to one of the recent obituaries:

    He was eventually persuaded that if he was to be taken seriously as an artist and not regarded simply as a musician who paints, he should give up music.

    His art is pretty good, too.

  2. Christina says:

    Why is it that you’re only allowed to be good at one thing, I wonder.

    I think his painting is wonderful.

  3. May I say, without a hint of condescension, but as a simple statement of fact – you are the first woman I have ever known to have liked Beefheart. And your piece is an excellent astro-examination of a true artistic one-off – thanks!