People who knew Don Van Vliet said he had strange gifts, and I’m not talking about his musical talents. Lester Bangs told this story:
Once in Detroit I walked into a theatre through the back door while he was onstage performing. At the precise moment I stepped to the edge of the curtains on stage right, where I could see him haranguing the audience, he said, very clearly, “Lester!” His back was to me at the time. Later he asked me if I had noticed it. I was a little shaken.
And the music historian and critic Robert Palmer reported:
Sitting in the Manhattan living room of the guitarist Gary Lucas, who is the Magic Band’s newest member, Don Van Vliet shut his eyes, squinted, and said, “It’s going to ring.” The telephone rang as if on cue. Mr. Lucas laughed nervously and said that sort of thing happens all the time.
Palmer was one of a number of journalists who met with Van Vliet at Lucas’ apartment in the autumn and winter of 1980. Van Vliet was giving interviews there on the night of December 8 when John Lennon was shot outside the Dakota. Lucas recalls:
In the middle of an interview, at eight or nine o’clock as I remember, Don said, “Wait a minute, man, did you hear that?’ He put his hand over his ear, but we didn’t hear anything. He said, “Something really heavy just went down. I can’t tell you what it is exactly, but you will read about it on the front page of the newspapers tomorrow.” We said, “Well, what?” and he said, “I dunno.” Then the guy left and another journalist came. We were in the middle of another interview and about eleven, the first guy called me and said, “Did you hear the news? Something just happened, John Lennon was shot.” And I couldn’t believe it. It really seemed like Don predicted this. So I told him and he just looked at me and went, “See? Didn’t I tell you?” That was really eerie.
Richard “Midnight Hatsize” Snyder, the Magic Band member who played bass, marimba and viola on Ice Cream for Crow, gave a similar account of that evening’s events in a 1996 interview:
While we were in New York, Don was being interviewed by some magazine on the night that John Lennon was killed. At one point during the interview, Don stopped speaking, closed his eyes and then opened them again, saying to the interviewer: “Something big is happening tonight—something horrible. You’ll read about it in your papers tomorrow.” Knowing full well that the doubting Thomases among you will say: “Ah, yes—but he wasn’t specific about the event. The way the world is, you could say something like that any day and still be right more times than not.” Nevertheless, it was the strangest coincidence—if indeed, that was all it was.
A Beefheart fan who was in the audience at the Captain’s Irving Plaza show the following night writes that Van Vliet opened the set with a soprano sax solo, which he dedicated to Sean Lennon: “That was from John, through Don, for Sean.”
For his part, Lennon was a fan of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band’s debut album, Safe As Milk. Note the “Safe As Milk” stickers prominently displayed on the cabinet doors in the sunroom of Kenwood, the house where Lennon lived from 1964 to 1968.
Below, video of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band’s set at the Mudd Club on December 10, 1980: