40-Sad Lover’s Waltz-Camper Van Beethoven. A Viking Funeral Pyre.

Sundsvall  A Viking Santa Cruz.

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In May of 1990  Camper Van Beethoven unexpectedly* broke up while on tour in Europe. We were up near the arctic circle in Sundsvall Sweden. This beautiful and remote town on the Gulf of Bothnia seemed a fitting place for an ending.  Figuratively and literally at the end of the road.  Yes I know the E4 continues past Sundsvall but it seemed to me at the time it was about as far north as you could go before you left the refined “cultured” Europe and entered the wilder arctic region.  Sundsvall, with it’s university, banks,  shipping, industry and tech is one of the places where the Nordic arctic integrates back into the rest of Europe.

Sundsvall also has a habit of burning down.  At least 4 times in the last 400 years.  And I do mean the whole town burning down.   So for two reasons we could not have picked a better place for the band to break up.

We made this strange dispirited trip back to the UK.  We weren’t speaking to each other but we had to ride together for 3 days  and several ferry rides back to London.  Our tour manager Howie,  made us play one more show in Örebro Sweden.  Just so we had enough funds to make it back to London. We would have run out of cash otherwise.

The traveling minstrel business™ is not what people think it is.  You make very little money on the road,  and you have these enormous up front costs. And if for some reason you don’t get 90% of the way through a tour you usually lose money.  That’s why I hate it when these new media music theorists opine about songs being promotional tools for touring and then the musicians are supposed to make all there money from touring revenues.  It’s an iffy proposition that you make any money on a tour,  even when you plan it carefully. All it takes is one broken arm or skull fracture. Every band on tour in Europe is always one makeshift toboggan ride with a drunken Finnish transvestite away from financial disaster.

A lot of people are surprised at Cracker and Camper Van beethoven’s frugality when we tour. Minimal crew,  no tour bus, vans and trailers, budget hotels etc.  But consider that the idiots running around playing the same size venues we play in tour busses (at $1000+ a day) are going home with no money.  Or worse owing their record companies and managers money.  Part of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven’s longevity is due to our business model.  Another part is the Fission-Fusion(insert link) cycle that Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven unconsciously developed. But that’s another story.

So breaking up in Sundsvall Sweden was an unmitigated disaster. Without the last 2 1/2 weeks of tour revenues the band fell short almost $20,000 of what was expected.  Further  the tour was already a net loss even as planned.  Virgin records had agreed to make up that shortfall. approximately another 30,000 dollars.   The record company gives you a check at the beginning of the tour, and a final balance when you complete the tour.  This is called tour support. This was very common in the day,  and a figure like that for a two  month tour of europe was not uncommon. The tour support was actually a loan against OUR royalties from sales of our CDs/Cassettes/Albums in europe.  So like most bands we viewed it as an almost fair trade-off.  Certainly nothing to quibble about.  If we could achieve the same level of popularity in Europe as the states we would be sitting pretty.  In order to do this we needed to extensively tour the continent. Tour support was viewed as a way to prime the pump.  Also  because of the way royalties are figured artists are almost always un-recouped.  Unless we went gold or platinum we weren’t gonna see any record royalties anyway.  It was like monopoly money in a way.

But since the band broke up  a funny thing happened.  Buried in the fine print of our tour support agreement were a couple clauses that really screwed us.  First the record company was not obligated to pay the balance of the tour support agreement. And really why should they?  We didn’t finish the tour.  Second the tour support loan was now re-coupable against ALL royalties owed to us.  Including what is called publishing royalties.

Publishing royalties are monies due to the songwriters.  They are for everything from radio play,  television and film licensing.  Also-and most importantly- the record companies have to pay the songwriters for each cd/cassette/album/download  sold.  Whether the record is recouped or not.  These royalties are substantial.  In some cases larger than the Artist royalty.  Notice the distinction.   Songwriters as opposed to Artists.  They are often not the same thing.  They might overlap but not exactly.

The publishing royalties were very much not monopoly money.  There were  publishing monies due to us for sales of albums the last couple years. A funny quirk of the music business only 50% of sales are counted at the time of sale. the rest  are doled out over a period of two and 1/2 years. In order to account for returns.   And since i was the principal songwriter a disproportionate share of these royalties were mine.  As soon as the band broke up,  those publishing royalties disappeared.  $30,ooo dollars of non-monopoly money.

With the net loss from the tour about $40,000 dollars evaporated.

Back to the traveling minstrel business for a moment.  So we weren’t making money from records.  We were no longer getting the subsistance per diems and stipends for touring and now the publishing money had gone away.  Our band bank account was wiped out.  We returned to the U.S, unemployed and dead broke.  I didn’t even have an apartment to return to as I had let mine go and put all my stuff in storage.  My parents were of very modest means and i couldn’t rely on them for a handout. If i wasn’t such a thrifty Scot and managed to tuck away 5k the previous couple years i would have ended up homeless. I very nearly did anyway.  It was by and far the single stupidest thing we ever did as a band.

That fateful day in Sundsvall we should just piled all the instruments, amplifiers and luggage in the long boats set them ablaze and pushed them into the Gulf of Bothnia. A true Viking funeral.  It would have been more enjoyable way to lose 40,000 dollars.  And it would have enlivened the miserable trip back to the UK.

The last song Camper Van Beethoven ever played in it’s first incarnation was Ambiguity Song.  That was the last song of the encore in Orebro Sweden.  However in that set we played another lovely song from one of the early records. Sad Lover’s Waltz.  I remember that this was the song that that evening put a lump in my throat.

*It’s hard to say any band unexpectedly break up. It’s amazing that you can hold together a group of  5-6 young men and women in their twenties for an extended period of time.  When the band is a collective rather than a single person or two to three person partnership the band is bound to break up. It’s just a matter of time.  Longevity is also highly dependent on the power hierarchy of a band.  Flatter structures are less stable. Note that i’m not saying longevity of itself is always a good thing.  Solo artists have the longest longevity but are prone to go through the longest cycles of bad records.

traveling minstrel business™ is a trademark of zendixie™

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03 Sad Lovers Waltz


[INTRO & BREAK:]

[G]-[C]-[G]
[G]-[C]-[G]
[G]-[D]-[C]-[Bm]-[Am]-[G]

[G] One step for boys, [C] one step for girls, step a-[G]-way
One step for you, [C] one step for me, step a-[G]-way
Don’t take the third step, ‘cuz [D] that’s just the sad lovers’ [C] waltz [Bm]-[Am]-[G]
Don’t take the third step, ‘cuz [D] that’s just the sad lovers’ [C] waltz [Bm]-[Am]-[G]

One step for anger, one step for pain, step away
One step for right, one step for wrong, step away
Don’t take the third step, ‘cuz that’s just a sad lover’s waltz
Don’t take the third step, ‘cuz that’s just a sad lover’s waltz

[REPEAT BREAK]

One step for boys, one step for girls, step away
One step for you, one step for me, step away
One more step makes three, and three steps a waltz
Don’t take the third step, cuz that’s just a sad lover’s waltz

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36 Responses to “40-Sad Lover’s Waltz-Camper Van Beethoven. A Viking Funeral Pyre.”

  1. The respectful thing to do was to finish the tour, even if you have to grind your teeth, trying to be nice with each other. At least you’d be fulfilling the contract. But we…in our twenties are so head strong, believe we know more than our peers. Life has so many lessons to be learned.
    Cheers for the story.

  2. Yeah, the breakup was sad and (I didn’t realize how) financially stupid. Plus the band was really poised for greater “success” at the time. So add probable significant future revenue to the loss.

    Still, the “step away” led to individual pursuits that, in my opinion, made all of you much better artists. So, in my way of thinking, the resurrected CVB would not be nearly the band it is today had not the individuals taken that “step away”.

    When I played “New Roman Times” for my daughter’s boyfriend (a punk rock guitarist in his own right) his reaction was “Wow, these guys have been playing together for a really long time right?” I thought it was a pretty good commentary on the quality of the reformed CVB.

    You guys are just like the Beatles! Or, would have been had that stalker not shot John cause my interpretation of “Starting Over” was it is a song from John to Paul.

  3. I’ve always wondered what happened in Sweden. All these years, I just ignored the rumors from my fellow fans (from the downright wacky to the perfectly reasonable) and just let the notion of the CVB breakup sadly lie there in the back of my mind. In fact, I was at a friend’s house in Santa Cruz when the news made it back to the US, mostly by word-of-mouth; no Internet or Blogosphere back then…

    “Why did the CVB breakup happen?” (Your explanation is easily the best possible scenario, as described in the footnoted paragraph).

    I didn’t care. I assumed it had to do with you guys letting go of some of the decision-making and passing it on to the major-label groupthink. Genesis P-Orridge actually described record company people as being “mediocre!” “I’d hate to imagine what they’re like in bed,” he said. There are hacks in every business but in the music business they appear to actually get rewarded for being non-contributing douche bags more than in any other job where they would otherwise just get canned. Unless you work on Wall Street.

    At this point, anymore, I’m just grateful that everyone’s together again as CVB making music. After all these years, I’m finally developing an understanding of Cracker. Seriously, David, it took me a few years to “get it.” Heaven knows the music journalists that write about you and your band are woefully inadequate at explaining the principals of tying one’s shoes, much less aesthetics, musical or otherwise.

    Nowadays, it seems that you are all making the best music ever, together and with your separate projects, Cracker, McCabe, et al. thus making the Camp Out among the best musical experiences I can entertain the notion of attending.

  4. If only you’d made the trip to Edinboro, Scotland, we were waiting with muchly anticipation.

  5. theotherjustj Says:

    Very nice. Any idea if CVB’s last performance in its first incarnation is behind Jonathan Segel’s song “Orebro”?

    • Hi,
      while it is tempting to think so, it’s really coincidence. I’m usually not so much in favor of explaining what songs “actually” mean, if they mean something to the listener — I mean who wants to know after the fact that some favorite song was actually the artist’s expressing of something else completely?
      My wife’s family has a summer house (i.e. 16th century log cabin farmhouse) north of Örebro, so it’s the nearest big city to shop in when we need lumber or other large supplies. Sweden can be beautiful, but really tough and dark also, see any Bergman movie. This song is more about depression, like winter depression, where the character breaks through the ice while skating and doesn’t even bother to try to swim.. it’s more about the complacency of urban/suburban Sweden more than anything. Örebro just happened to be nearby. It was either that or Idaho.

  6. “Every band on tour in Europe is always one makeshift toboggan ride with a drunken Finnish transvestite away from financial disaster.”

    –I love how this isn’t metaphoric, but actually a statement of fact. I guess this explains why most American bands don’t break up in Europe.

    • This reply supposes some knowledge of the theory and language of options trading and “hedging”. for the uninitiated i suggest you check out Nassim Talebs 4th quadrant essay.

      at some point i need to elaborate on this part of this entry. a single tour of fixed length is a seemingly volatility neutral event. until you consider that the you are constantly exposed to black swans. and these are all negative black swans. this of course converts your position to a short volatility position. the example here is the lead guitarist is severely injured while going on a drunken toboggan run with finnish transvestites. you don’t finish the tour. perhaps the guitarist is killed. the bands career is cut short. this was intended to be humorous, but it is a profound truth in the music business. touring is always a short volatility proposition for BOTH promoter and artist. This is why is say the artists must have profits from song sales, merchandise, videos, movies action figures etc etc. these have potentially wild virtually unlimited upsides convert the artists postion to net long volatility.

      for promoters it says this: your trade will one day “blow up”. promoters have no way of hedging with a long volatility position. indeed i feel so strongly about this idea i kept buying a few hundred put contracts on livenation. this is distressing because two of my best friends work for livenation. 5 times i bought puts. i lost 3 times, broke even once but this last time it looks like i make a profit.

      • The only factor you control is the number of chances you take. Perhaps having two bands is a hedge? You are an odd and intriguing rock star.

      • Does the short vol proposition of touring change depending on the band’s distance from home? If (as an example) a Santa Cruz band has a negative Black Swan event prior to a show in San Francisco (a fog-induced skateboard accident injures the lead guitarist), there are sometimes solutions, like rescheduling the show for a few weeks later, or borrowing a lead guitarist friend from another band. Not ideal solutions, but enough to forestall economic disaster (and blowing up the position).

        The farther the band is from home, however, the greater the Black Swan risk, and thus the shorter the vol, yes? I realize that as a practical matter a band that has members who live in several cities spread out throughout North America may not have a “home” as such, or perhaps several “homes,” but in any case the proverbial Finland is very far away and would seem to increase the risk.

      • for cracker? having more homes increases the risk. in my opinion. for instance more flights and potential delays are extra rolls of the dice. it also increases our expenses. last year i calculated it costs about 20k per member of the band to have them live in separate cities. cracker is a special case and should be thrown out as an example. or at least only included in a very high level analysis.

        however you make a very good point about the nearness of the gigs. There seems to be a strong (hidden?) economic incentive for “regionalness” for bands. at least for live revenues. some of the most successful live bands are actually very regional. widespread panic is a great example. phish is also very regional (despite what they might claim). it’s not just the jam bands that are regional. many of the “biggest” punk, rock and country bands are highly regional. this seems to have become more pronounced as cd sales dwindled.

        finally nashville and country music is purposely regional. the country music business was centralized in nashville. acts purposely base themselves there so that they tour thurs-sunday. this is a long standing tradition.
        you’ve really got me tripping on this now.

      • Looking at my proposition another way, I could see how the definition of “tour” includes the idea that the band is far enough away from “home” that they are at risk of catastrophic events. If the band is near home (however defined), then performances are live concerts rather than tours, and much closer to neutral vol (though not quite, I guess).

        From this point of view, not all live performances are part of a tour.

      • handsometodd Says:

        Oh please tell me there are CVB and Cracker action figures coming out! They’ll go so well with my “My Dinner with Andre” action figures and diorama. I can only imagine the conversations you’ll all have!

  7. So if I replace my worn-out Key Lime Pie (Sweethearts only works on the hardiest player now, and that’s just unacceptable), the artist and the writer get no royalties? Damn. If there is some place that results in yall getting something, I’d buy it there.

    Do any of the band (individually or collectively) have any way of still gaining from sales of the Virgin materials, other than retailing the product? If not, maybe you could launch the action figures you mention. Jack Ruby’s gotta be public domain, but what about Lottery guy? Or for that matter, Mr. Wrong (*10-pound flashlight not included). Eurotrash Girl alone could spawn a slew of accessories, and the possibilities for the New Roman Times cast are almost endless. Make sure to stash a few storage lockers full to leak into the collectibles market for retirement income, or as a hedge against sledding accidents.

    Oh, and knowing how wildly profitable touring isn’t, I appreciate you all spending so much time on the road even more.

    • well eventually sales of key lime pie and our beloved revolutionary sweetheart paid of the touring debt and we get publishing royalties. but it’ll take another decade for those two albums to pay off the debt attached to artistic royalties.

    • With a nod to Mel Brooks, they could merchandise “Camper Van Beethoven The (Aqua Net) Flame Thrower”.

  8. lynn marie Says:

    I was talking to a guy the other nite who said his friends just got signed and they’re going to do a tour, and he’s going to quit his well-paying job and work with them. after reading this, I wonder if things are going to turn out the way they expect. it does seem like a lot of work with no guarantee of a payoff.

    I never knew the details of when cvb broke up, interesting read. the idea of a viking santa cruz is amusing! sorta ot, but when I read this title I immediately thought of a fantastic book I read years ago, still one of my faves – the long ships. if you like vikings and read historical fiction, you will love it.

    love the pic of the longship in flames, good choice.

  9. Hey David, 2010 seems to be one of those years for the rug being pulled from under y’feet….. What can i say, in the midst of everything that’s happening to all the members of CVB, just remember, what you guys created was something truly amazing, you were the best live gig i’ve ever been to, and i’ve played and seen many…. you were unique, a title not many earn in life, here’s to you all.

  10. littletomato Says:

    “Every band on tour in Europe is always one makeshift toboggan ride with a drunken Finnish transvestite away from financial disaster.”

    That line seriously made me laugh out loud.

  11. vlvtelvis Says:

    I’d just discovered CVB and purchased Key Lime Pie and Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweethearts on Vinyl when I was 15 or so and you broke up like six months later. It was such a letdown. Anyway, it made you guys getting back together seem like a childhood fantasy come true so it was worth it.

    About the new media theorists of whom you speak so disdainfully. We’ll generally snag a pirated copy of an album when it comes out and then wait for a show to buy a physical copy under the assumption that you get the most money that way, plus there’s the chance of getting it autographed if we’re not too tired to wait around after the show. Is this sound reasoning?

    • yes. but so few people actually attend shows compared to how many buy albums. there is no way that we played live for the same number of people that bought our album cumulatively this year.

      so yes that give us the most money, but only 20-30% of your fans might come see you.

      • Just a random thought, if you were to put up a pay-pal button on the Cracker/CVB websites with the note “If you download pirated copies of our music, you can pay for it here” you’d probably get some takers. Since you started this blog I’ve downloaded torrents of Tusk and CVB is Dead … and left more than enough in your paypal account to cover it.

        I could have mail ordered the albums but I didn’t feel like waiting and none of the sites that sell digital audio files sell FLACs.

        In my ideal world all music would be free to download and listeners could then come back and donate what they think the music is worth. I’d pay Danial Johnston $100 for “Hi, How are You?” and $5 for an album I was snookered into getting because it has one good song on it and the rest is filler. Of course this would never work because most people would freeload and never pay anyone anything.

      • i don’t disagree with your rationale. i think that a tip jar on the website makes all the sense in the world, although more people visit facebook and myspace pages than a bands website… still

        what’s cool about this is NO one but the band gets a cut. i’ll try it. thanks for the suggestion.

      • handsometodd Says:

        David,

        Facebook does have a mechanism to allow payments. My wife works of a Nonprofit and I know they have a way to taking donation through the site. I’ll ask her about it.

        Also have you considered offering a legal digital download through your website? The New Pornographers do that, It’s how I bought my last few New Pornos “albums.” Perhaps you could ask A.C. or Nico how that works for them.

        Also have you considered selling “professional” recordings of your concerts. The pixies now sell digital downloads of their concerts. Basically my understanding is they are going from the soundboard into a laptop. Breaking out the tracks on route to the next show, uploading the recording and selling it for $15 to $25. They sell a download code at the concert, and 24 to 48 hours later you can download a better-than-CD quality recording. It’s great and they sell me one every time I see them.

      • there is a lot here. love to know about how they are taking payments on facebook. i know you can, it’s just there is a usurious slice. let’s not make mark zuckerburg any richer than he already is. if your wife knows of a better way love to do it.

        we will sell downloads and vinyl for my solo album. basically it took a while for the record labels to come round to way of dealing with this. essentially we pay a royalty back to our label. it is very profitable arrangement agreed.

        however to achieve the kind of placement we did with amazon on the sunrise album (itunes also?) we pointed all our traffic at those sites. we wil trade high profile promotions with itunes and amazon for home site sales any day. if that is in the offing for the david lowery solo record that’s what we will do.

        but yes eventually everything we own we will sell as a download on our own site. we will also license as much stuff as we can for download also. but much of this is with the Evil EMpIre. it’s gonna be tough.

      • also high quality live recording is NOT worth the cost involved to record each show everynight. requires an extra person, salary and hotel room. everyone i know except for the biggest bands have lost money doing this. we’ll stick with archive.org and a donation button.

      • handsometodd Says:

        That’s interesting that you can’t make live recordings profitable. Just brainstorming additional channels here for you, what if you worked with tapers in various cities like Mike Bond and Chuck Miller, provided them with access to the soundboard, let them do there thing, but with a higher quality recording than they have now. Then sell those recordings through the website, paying a commission to the tapers?

        Basically my impression is that the tapers tape because it’s a hobby they enjoy. If you could get a network of these guys that tape as a hobby you could tap into a situation were you’re both getting to monetize their hobby. Obviously the artist would take the lion’s share.

        I’m guess the concept I’m getting at is for you to get someone to handle the recording and the clean up on a commission basis. That may mean that you don’t produce a live album from every show, but produce one for every show where you can set up this arrangement with a taper. I don’t know it might become too much work, but these concerts just seem like the low hanging fruit. The question is can they really monetized?

      • but tapers quality varies so greatly it really should be free. ultimately record companies need to decide whether they are gonna be record companies (fund, promote, publicize and distribute”) or just become distributors. right now we have at least one record left with a traditional record label. we get paid in advance we like this arrangement. but i’m not sure how many years this arrangement lasts. because a higher percentage of revenue is coming from performance rights (streaming and radio) and live shows, as record sales dwindle.

      • handsometodd Says:

        So I check with my wife and another friend that work for an NPO and turns out they are using some non-profit only system that clips them for about 3%. You can put a paypal link in there, but you know, those guys clip you for about 10% by the time they are done with their fees. I wonder if you could amazon’s check out? Don’t know how that works.

      • This is a fascinating discussion between David and HandsomTodd.

        I am reminded of a while back: The Frank Zappa Estate offered music via iTunes. Apparently, they weren’t pleased as punch with the arrangement and later pulled the music. Nowadays all you can get is some bands’ tribute to Zappa.

        Pale and weak, if you ask me.

        HOWEVER, the Zappa music is now online at his website. So, I wonder how THEY do it.

        David, you got any friends who work for/with the Zappas that you might wish to ask?

      • zappa estate controls the recordings. we can do that with any of our recordings that we control. but OUr Beloved- Forever are controlled by Virgin. That’s what a record deal is. they control the recordings.

        we would have to license back. Zappa estate must be different the rights must have reverted to them.
        pro’s and cons of itunes:
        why should Apple get 30% + of the royalties? it’s a little steep. for simply hosting digital copies? that’s probably the zappa estates problem. Steve Jobs IS no longer the rebel. He IS the man.
        pro’s of itunes? it’s easy for everyone to get the songs.

        most artists that were on real record labels don’t control their recordings. they were paid by the record company so that the record company has that right. so the record companies decide where they are gonna sell the stuff.

        later and earlier cracker records, were small labels and we only licensed them for limited terms. for instance New Roman Times just reverted to CVB we can put that record up for download.

        note subtle distinction we control the songs in abstract. so we can re-record them.

      • handsometodd Says:

        Well that’s very noble of you David, I guess my thinking (and of course I’m coming from a place of zero knowledge) was that by tapping into the soundboard you could “standardize” the quality. But I guess not. This sucks, it just seems like there aught to be a make money on this.

        No doubt the current record industry model is broken, radio, has become “clear channelled” to the point of irrelevance with the notable exceptions of super-produced, hyper-promoted, regurgitated top-40 crap. It’s this system that requires labels to hire a greaser (payola) to get WSUK to play a song every other hour (to paraphrase Tanya Donelly) to jam their music down you throat.

        I just seems like there must be a better way. Speaking of Tanya Donelly, are you familiar with Kristen Hersh’s CASH Music project? It uses a sort of NPR donation based model. I’d be interested in your thoughts on that.

        I hope you don’t mind my tenacity on this subject, it’s just that I’m sort afraid you’ll take Tanya Donelly route and hang up the guitar and become a doula.

  12. Not to divert the discussion or anything but I love this song! The violin on it, just awesome. It takes me back to a time and place, going to college in the 80’s. Seems to have taken you back as well, I like that you do not speak of the song at all other than how it marks a specific time.

    I laugh thinking how in ’82 I was rocking out at an Ozzy Osbourne concert and four years later when this came out I’m diggin’ CVB. A long, strange trip indeed.

  13. zombietrucker Says:

    I remember making the 90 minute car journey to the Subterania in Notting Hill, London to find nothing but a scrappy note affixed to the door which read something like…

    ‘No gig tonight due to band splitting up’.

    …wish I’d taken a photo of it now. Was gutted at the time having been a CVB fan for a few years but only getting to see them play once. We must be due for another UK appearance for CVB and/or Cracker surely? Come to Bath!!

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