PJ Harvey paid tribute to one of her biggest influences, Captain Beefheart, by reading some of his poetry at a London art gallery a couple of weeks ago. The singer posted a video from the event to her Instagram.
The singer-songwriter — who befriended the pioneering art-rock bluesman, whose real name was Don Van Vliet, late in his life — recited a poem he wrote for her in 2001 titled “Man Can’t Anticipate Cat” at Michael Werner Gallery. The gallery is showing Van Vliet’s paintings in an exhibition titled “Standing on One Hand” through Feb. 17. The showing’s eponymous painting, which Van Vliet painted in oil in 1994, is visible to Harvey’s right in the video.
At the reading, Harvey explained that Van Vliet wrote the verses after looking at photographs Harvey had sent him of her and her cat. “Don loved cats,” she told those gathered. “You might know of Garland. He wrote a song about his own cat called ‘Hey Garland, I Dig Your Tweed Coat,’ which was on Ice Cream for Crow.
“My cat was named Garden, probably sort of in homage to Garland,” she continued. “And he moved in with me when I was living in Bristol … and never left. He just climbed through the window one day. Anyway, Don loved talking about Garden, and he loved looking at pictures of him.” She then read the poem.
In a statement, Harvey expressed gratitude for being a part of the special event. “Thank you to the Michael Werner Gallery for inviting me to read Don’s poems,” she said. “It was a privilege to be able to give life to his words whilst standing amongst his paintings. Thanks also to Jan Van Vliet, who helped me prepare for the reading, and for sending me a poem Don had written for me in 2001, called ‘Man Can’t Anticipate Cat,’ which I read at the end of the night.”
Harvey has said in the past that her appreciation for Captain Beefheart came via her parents, a sculptor mother and quarryman father, who played Van Vliet’s music. “I think humor is incredibly important in music,” she told Rolling Stone in 2004. “I grew up listening to Captain Beefheart, and he’s always been my hero and my kind of something to aim for.” After becoming friends with Van Vliet, she listed him in the “very special thanks” section of her Uh Huh Her liner notes that year. Van Vliet died in 2010 at age 69 after complications from multiple sclerosis.