Archive for October, 2010

#59 Stairway to Heavan (sic)- In Praise of Half Baked Ideas and Unfinished things. The importance of not being earnest.

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2010 by davidclowery

“C amper Van Beethoven” II and III.  I think the C fell off the paste up board and was incorrectly lined up again.  Camper Van Beethoven placed the Star of David on the album for no other reason than to confuse people.  The symbol has such heavy meaning while this record was purposely devoid of any coherent meaning, messages or interpretation. On Subsequent pressings the star was removed after we were hammered by Rough Trade about the symbol.  They were worried that the obliqueness of our songs and the record would eventually lead to terrible mis-interpretations of our intent. Some sort of radical zionist or anti-semitic interpretation of one our songs. who knows.

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Part of the charm of camper van beethovens earliest records that they sometimes contained half baked ideas,  studio experiments and things that were really only partially finished.

Some might disagree.  But when I look back on these records I think that it was cool we had the self confidence to not take things so seriously.  Most young artists tweeze their records to death.  Over polish and over arrange each song.  They remove every little imperfection.  They constantly fret how each song will be perceived.  We did none of this.  As noted above we put one of the most meaningful symbols of the  20th century on the cover of II and III for no apparent meaning.

In 1985 and 1986 underground rock music was a very serious business to most of our friends and peers.  Lyrics were serious.  The music was serious.  Everything was very important and burdened with meaning. We were very aware of this.

I noted this in earlier posts that Camper Van Beethoven was purposely messing with that notion right from the start.  From the choice of the band name,  to the non-sensical “Take the skinheads bowling”. We felt it our mission to be seriously unearnest.

But part the way through the second album and especially on the third album  we started doing this in a different way.  We started including weird sonic experiments and including them in the record.  Half finished songs.  We included these also.   They weren’t bullshit filler,  but neither were they 100% serious endeavors.  Some were accidents.Like putting the tape on the reel upside down.  so the wrong tracks played and were backwards.

We came to believe that if we tried too hard to arrange these accidents and turn them into a real song we would ruin the original flawed yet briefly beautiful idea.

Others were songs we felt  just weren’t enough of an idea to be a real song of proper length and scope. So instead of struggling to make them a second rate “song” with lyrics and a standard verse chorus verse chourus bridge chorus outro structure,  we let them be as they were.

We WERE earnest about some things. We had the earnest belief that we were creating a sort of demi-song,  an overlooked and under appreciated form of music.

04 Turtlehead

The first entry is a Chris Molla penned ditty.  A “small idea” I remember him terming it.  A small spinning tension.  Release in the repeated abrupt stops.  An explosive atonal bridge. Then release in the repeated abrupt stops.  No words.  The title ?  I have no idea.

12 Circles

Circles was created by listening to the song the song Oh No backwards.  We learned the structure and kind of played along with it. In the A and C sections. We added a few incidental melodies with guitar and keyboard but nothing that could be considered a focal point an actual melodic theme that ties the song together.  The only part of the song that makes an effort at being a real song is the B section where we let the words to chorus play backwards.

13 We’re All Wasted and We’re Wasting All Your Time

This was also done at about the same time as circles.  This is jonathan and victor singing along to Take The Skinheads Bowling backwards.  I thin anthony guess or chris molla is also drumming along with it.  It’s got a sort of reggae rock steady feel. weird.  But again. Its just a thrown away chorus.  Perfectly joyful and mischievous.

13 Dustpan

This hard driving collection of guitar chords changes and arpeggios would have been used by most bands for the basis for a song with lyrics.  Even CVB in a more traditional mood would have tied it all together with an instrumental melody line.  Neither of these happened.  It was left this way.

17 Cattle (reversed)

Another song that contains what would normally be a good set of riffs,  an A and B section that should have made a good basis for a psychedelic blues song that an early led zeppelin or fleetwood mac might have played.  There should have been some robert plant hobbit rock lyrics over the top of this.  but no we were content with the “response” lines of the guitars.  The fact the “call” vocal lines are missing qualify this as a demi- song.    Arguing against that is the strange interlocked guitar parts in the B section.  They are of two different lengths so they phase against each other.  This is more interesting and makes this part of the song a more full fledged instrumental.  The title of this song came from a randomly drawn celtic rune. (kind of like tarot cards)  we went through a period of naming songs in this manner.  Abundance (tarot card)  The fool (tarot card).

16 Zztop Goes to Egypt

This song really doesn’t  belong in this category.  The only reason i put it in this category is that it doesn’t have two traditional elements of a fully fledged CVB song.  A repeated consistent melody or lyrics.  The main feature of the song is jonathans multiple tracks of modal violin noodlings.  The song slowly builds in intensity. After the crescendo it pedals and slowly decays.  That is the arc of the song.  Building tension a climax and decay.  It is however the most successful of our melody less psychedelic demi-songs. People always shout out for it at shows.

03 Five Sticks

This is pretty much ambiguity song backwards.  Or parts of it.  It was the result of putting the reel of tape on the machine upside down.  We made a stereo mix of it and then figured out how to play along with it.  It has a strange beauty.  Like an ancient text in a lost language.  Untranslatable.  I assume we called it 5 sticks to continue the reference to Led Zeppelin’s fourth effort.   The Led Zeppelin album features a track called 4 sticks.  get it?  I mentioned in an earlier post we always considered this album our 4th album.  The second album was both the second and third album  hence the curious title II and III.  It was recorded in two different sessions.

Also while on the subject.  We toyed with using symbols as the album title.  Just like Led Zeppelin.  However we did not.  What we did do was give the album a title that no one could find.  Unless you were looking very closely.  The album does have a title.  The title is “Soviet Spies Swim Upstream Disguised as Trout”  It’s right there in the liner notes.  And on etched in the inner groove of the first run of vinyl.  We titled it this way because we had an obsessive fan that would write us nearly everyday.  In one of the letters she (?) said she dreamed the next Camper Van Beethoven album was titled “Soviet Spies Swim Upstream Disguised as Trout”.  et voila.

07 Surprise Truck

This was simply a damn good riff that didn’t want to have a B section or anything other musical variatiion attached to it.  Relentless with just some off the cuff bullshit lyrics about “the surprise truck”.  (the “surprise truck” was the apparently the literal translation of hezbollahs code term for their then novel suicide bomb trucks).

08 Stairway To Heaven (sic)

So Led Zeppelin’s 4th and untitled obliquely titled record contained Stairway to Heaven.  Well we decided we needed a track of approximately the same name.  Of course we changed the spelling and added “sic” (Spelling incorrect). Largely because we had all just read Hammer of the Gods and we’re pretty sure Peter Grant or some english thug who worked for Led Zep  would show up and break our legs.  This track is the most accidental.  It starts with a live recording of CVB playing an after hours illegal show in The Icehouse in Fayetteville Arkansas.  It was a very early very slow version of the song processional.  Someone is playing a weird toy piano or something.  It then goes into a Mao Reminisces about his Days in Southern China.  With extra instruments dubbed in forward.  Most notably a distorted slide and a dumbek. But the great accident is when the previous song on the real comes in.  It’s Folly for two.  It’s backwards cause we were always flipping the tape upside down to do these manipulations.  We didn’t intend for that last bit to be on the recording but it did.

09 Pope Festival

Another interesting case is this song.  It doesn’t really count as a demi-song.  but there is something cool about the unfinished non-words and dense repetitive arrangement.  Later when it went onto Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart album,  it got “produced”  it has a better arrangement and structure but becomes quite inconsequential. It was also retitled “The Fool”.

12 The Fool

10 Interlude

And then all those demi-songs disappear once we start making our albums for Virgin Records.  With one notable exception the track “Interlude” from Key Lime Pie.   This is simply Garth Hudson – yes that Garth Hudson from the Band- warming up on his pump organ as the microphones and such are being placed and adjusted.

Later when the band reforms these demi songs these sonic experiments come back into play.  Camper Van Beethoven is Dead Long Live Camper Van Beethoven is largely made out of these pieces of music. Tom Flower’s 1500 valves being the most notable piece.  The drums are from a reel of drumbeats that Chris pedersen sent to us.  The strings are a chopped up bit of Dixie Babylon strings.  Jonathan and victor played along to this loop. I’d just watched a show on the Bletchley Park. This was Britain’s brilliant codebreaking enterprise in WWII.  Thomas Flowers was the unsung hero.  He built one of the first working computers if not the very first.  It used 1500 valves or tubes.  We made up the song in a few hours. Jonathan tagged on a very discouraging message to him from PJ Harvey, rejecting his suggestion she sing on his solo album.

03 Tom Flower’s 1500 Valves

finally I hate this part of Texas and Come out to show them are similar type songs from New Roman Times. But we already went into great detail about both of these.

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Tom Flowers 1500 valves

Contains recording of a phone message where PJ Harvey rejects music from a tape sent to her by Jonathan Segel.

Further info from David Lowery:
"Thomas Flowers was the British postal service engineer who with Alan Turing built the first (years before the americans) electronic computer (Colossus?), allegedly powered by 1500 valves.   I watched a BBC documentary on Bletchley Park some years ago, and i believe these are more or less the historical facts, of course its all a little foggy to me now.
Bletchley Park (sic?): the site of english and allied efforts to break german ciphers in W.W.II.
Cipher Girls: the corps of young women who were hired to work by hand all the possible permutations once a code was partially broken.
Monty: Montgomery.
Ultra: the Cipher Girls slang for decoded german communications
Valve: English term for Vacuum tube.
Tunnyfish: nickname for the german u-boat cipher, apparently the most
difficult to break."

[INTRO:]
[A]

[BREAK:]
[A]-[Bm]-[E]-[C#m]-[D]-[Bm]-[Esus4]-[E]

[A] Bletchley Park – [Bm] what a lark
[E] Cipher girls, they’re [C#m] dressed in curls
They [D] gave to Monty [Bm] the very best of their [E] Ultra

And Thomas Flower in his hour,
It’s 1500 valves were powered
And tunnyfish, is permanently broken

[BREAK] (unintelligible echoey voices)

[BREAK] (voice of PJ Harvey):
[A] “Hi Jonathan, this is Polly, [Bm] er, got your call, and thanks very much for [E] sending that CD and demo tape that Ann? showed my Mum?. Erm, I listened to the [C#m] tape and, er, I don’t [D] feel that it’s the right kind of #thing for me to [Bm] be doing, it’s just not, I don’t feel the [Esus4] mood is right for me, so I, [E] I’m sure you’ll understand. Erm, it was real good to [A] see you the other day. Errm, I-I [Bm] hope it all goes well for you, and er, [A] keep in touch, get your card? off?, and maybe you’ll find that [Bm] recording in Majorca/New Yorker? should last [A] through, kind of help proof? some different? songs?. [Bm] So, er, yeah, really good to see you Jonathan. [A] Take care. Bye.”

#57 Can I Take My Gun Up To Heaven. Hollywood Cemetery. Richmond And Oregon Hill Part 3

Posted in Cracker with tags , on October 1, 2010 by davidclowery


Church Hill is on the opposite side of downtown from The Fan and Oregon Hill. But firmly on the East West Axis.  Indeed this is the original city center. The city shifted first west than stretched north and south.  Leaving the old city center Church Hill isolated from the main life of the City.


08 Can I Take My Gun To Heaven_

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Although Oregon Hill is now considered a neighborhood of Richmond it wasn’t always that way. It had a distinct identity separate from the city. When established during the Reconstruction (the rebuilding and re-industrialization ) of the South after the Civil War it was far west of the City. The neighborhood was established primarily for the workers at the Tredgar Ironworks and the Albemarle Paper company.

The houses in the neighborhood have a distinct look. The rumor I always heard was that they were intended to be only temporary housing for the workers. Hence their simple construction.Very narrow two story houses. A steep staircase at the middle of the house that went up at a 60% angle to conserve space. constructed of wood when most of the rest of the building in the city were brick. The adjoining row houses although separate houses and not “condos” often share continuous floor joists and communal walls. The whole neighborhood has the feel of something you would find in New Orleans or more tellingly some of the old West Virginian Mining towns.

Indeed one rumor or story I have heard over and over again from many Richmonders is that the workers were all recruited from a single village in the mountains of West Virginia because they supported the Union in the Civil War. The reconstruction authorities wanted Yankee loyalists in the factories to foil potential saboteurs. Indeed West Virginia broke away from Virginia and was made a separate state because by and large the folks in the mountain counties of Virginia supported the Union. For various reasons this seems believable to me, but I’ve yet to find any real reliable source that supports this story that the inhabitants of Oregon hill were imported from Appalachia in mass.

Still like all the big cities within a few hundred miles of the Appalachian mountains, Richmond attracted many many West Virginians. They came many in successive waves. Certainly during the reconstruction and industrialization of the southern cities after the civil war. But also during other periods of boom and bust. So the idea that the Oregon Hillbillies- as they are often called- came from west virginia or Appalachia is plausible for many reasons. When I lived there you could hear the neighborhoods distinct accent. It was different than the rest of the city. You could hear the mountain cadence in there speech. Older people used curious mountain phrases and words like ‘ye ought to ‘ or ‘thar’ and the river pronounced  not with the pretentious Richmond/Tidewater accent pronunciation:  Ruhvuh. it was pronounced River. Like the rest of us.

It was also 100% white neighborhood. Very poor, very working class. Insular and wary of outsiders. Although the wonderful and elegantly decaying houses were magnets for artists hipster and musicians. The students from VCU were also busy colonizing the neighborhood. Blocks of houses were abandoned and condemned. This didn’t stop people from living in them.

If Corry Arnold’s theory of the inverse relation between housing prices and the vitality of a music scene ever needed a case study, it would be oregon hill 1981- 2000. These are the earliest and latest dates by which my (admittedly) small pool of  Oregon Hill residents agree there was some music scene based in Oregon Hill. Even if your band practiced on Broad street or Fulton hill, the fact most band members lived in Oregon Hill made oregon hill the center of the scene.

The Fan district another neighborhood of brick homes and with a distinct upper middle class and historic pedigree attracted many students. But the Gestapo-like Fan District Association did not permit any bands to practice (or live music establishments) in it’s domain. Or even near it’s domain. Church Hill the oldest and most historic part of the city was another promising area where artists and students lived, but it was too ghetto to rehearse there. Your gear would get stolen.

In recent years oregon hill has begun to emulate the fan district. Exhibit A. the flag at the main entrance to the neighborhood.  This is in marked contrast to the old bumper sticker you would sometimes see around the neighborhood.  Oregon Hill: That better be a tan!

So Oregon Hill by default was the hub of the music scene however brief and small. Despite the fact it was an alien in a host body that did not 100% accept it’s presence. Yet it thrived in it’s own way.

It produced only a handful of bands that went onto wider recognition. But I have to say. owning a studio I have empirical quantitative evidence that the Richmond music scene in this period was much more vital than the current period.  With the exception of Lamb of God most of the Richmond bands that have had any lasting commercial or cultural impact emerged in that brief period.

Again leaning on Corry’s observations,  this was the period when the the city had abundant cheap real estate (mostly in oregon hill and along broad street),  but was sufficiently safe (in that area)  to support a start-up band ecosystem.

One thing that helped Oregon Hill remain inexpensive while The Fan rapidly gentrified was that it was not considered a “historic” neighborhood for a long time. It is still often dismissed by the local historical societies. Especially the University VCU which coveted the neighborhood for expansion.  I suspect this has something to do with Richmonds economic axis being pivoted 90 degrees after the civil war. Oregon Hill was definitely tied into the industries that were part of the “new” North-South trade.  It didn’t even exist when there was a East-West trade.

In contrast Church hill and the Fan (with it’s monuments to the confederate war heros) still dream of Richmond’s Antebellum past. These neighborhoods and others further west are where you find the connected families that make up the old money power structures.   The lawyers and politicians that broker the deals of the city and state. I have a friend who identifies this social strata as  the “skimming” class. His point they aren’t actually adding anything to the GDP of Richmond or the US. They are  just simply taking their cut. Much as generations of virginian rentiers that came before them.

Conversely the troublesome carpetbaggers   with their  US Army, Fort Lee,  Defense Supply Depot, railroads, industrial facilities, fancy credit card companies, pharmaceuticals, and bio tech firms all live and work along the north south axis. The poor ones live in places like Oregon Hill, Lakeside  or trailer parks along rte 1 south. The prosperous ones live in the gated communities and sparkling suburbs of Chesterfield county. Brandermill. Colonial Heights. As opposed to the “skimmer” class these people are generally involved in thevalue added part of the economy. But I digress.

My point is that Oregon Hill did not represent old Richmond. The old southern aristocracy. It also didn’t represent the old southern poor. It was simply a white working class factory neighborhood remarkably similar to those found in cities like Portland ME, Providence RI, Pittsburgh Philadelphia  or Baltimore.  Yes it had a southern flavor.  But it was it’s working class white trash sensibility that had the greatest influence on Cracker. That’s what Can I Take My Gun Up To Heaven is about.

Yes it gently mocks and praises the inhabitants of this neighborhood at the same time. And how could we not?

The first weekend we had our studio set up we heard a ruckus that was so loud we could hear it while wearing headphones listening to loud guitars.  Two different factions in the neighborhood had decided to fight.  Well not exactly fight but sort of pretend to fight. Each side had a leader.  One guy had a shovel.  Another guy had a chain. They were naked to the waist like ancient Celts or Comanches. They were standing in the middle of laurel street daring the other to “come on” .  To throw down.  To throw the first blow.  A crowd of at least a hundred people had gathered to watch.

“I’ll Rock and Roll you Motherfucker!!”

A cheer from most of the crowd.

“Yea and i’ll beat your ass,  C’mon C’mon!!”

A cheer from most of the crowd again.  Which really doesn’t make sense if you think about it.

Amazingly  a single fat white city policeman walked into the crowd and dispersed it.  In LA or NYC 25 squad cars and the SWAT team would have responded.

Then of course there was The Prison. Actually I think it was called the Virginia State Penitentiary.  I guess I should have mentioned that earlier.  Neighborhoods that contain a prison are quite unique.  And this was not the city jail i’m talking about.  I mean the Prison with death row prisoners.  They electrocuted people in that prison.  I was at a party in oregon hill one night when the lights dimmed. It was the night they electrocuted a prisoner.  It was probably just a co-incidence. There were death row protesters across from the prison sometimes.  Sometimes there would be Oregon Hillbilly counter-protestors.  One time I saw a guy standing at the corner of belvidere and spring with a sign that simply said “fry him”. People driving home to south side were honking and waving at him.  Like he had a sign saying “Go Redskins”.

Anyway  sometime during this time we lived in Oregon Hill,  they closed the prison and tore it down.  Suddenly our whole neighborhood was filled with rats.  They brazenly walked around my kitchen.  I could scream and stomp and they would hold their ground.   They would have had to smoke and feign boredom to seem more disinterested in me.  These were some hardened city rats. They’d done time.

There was also dirt woman.  He was a sort of local celebrity.  A redneck drag queen. Worthy of a John Waters movie.  Every year he would wrestle Dave Brockie from GWAR (in costume) for charity.  He walked up to Mary once and took a bite of her Ice Cream cone.  She gave it to him.  “You eat the rest”.

There was dog man.  That’s just what Johnny called him.  Cause he was like a dog.  He’d sit on his non functioning car in front of his house.  Drinking beer and barking or shouting at whoever drove by.  Not in an unfriendly way.  It was a shout but the important thing was it usually made no sense.

“Hey man it’s going on!”

“That’s what I say!! yep that’s what I say! “

Some nights when buzzed just enough I sensed a profound truth in his seeming inanities.  But it was always just out of reach.

We didn’t hang out with the locals. The students, musicians and artists that had moved into the neighborhood were our friends and peers.  Most were from northern virginia.  They played or listened to punk rock, hardcore metal alternative and indie rock.    Some played some quite fey indie-pop.  So it wasn’t like we were in some Southern Rock immersion zone.

And a lot of the young oregon hillbillies were picking up on rap, and listened to the more bonehead metal bands.  But yeah on any given day you would hear southern rock emanating from someones car or the local bars.  Especially the locals only place on the corner of Pine st and china street.  That place was rough. (somebody remind me of the name The Chuck Wagon?).  Johnny and I loved our dive bars, but even though we were accepted by the locals we only went in there once.  We were immediately challenged to a fight so we left.

One night I was driving Mary’s car up Pine street and a guy comes running out of that bar at full speed chased by an angry mob.  I didn’t have time to even react and touch the brakes.  I hit the guy going about 20 miles an hour,  he went up and over the hood of the car. Landed on his feet and kept on running.  I stopped to see if he was okay,  but  one of the locals started shouting at me.

“get outta here or you’ll get what he’s gonna get”

My dream was that one day I’d drive by this bar and hear this song blasting from the jukebox.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Finally there is an cemetary at the edge of Oregon Hill.  It’s called Hollywood Cemetery.  It is fairly famous because it has several US presidents and CSA president Jeff Davis buried there. It also has a giant stone pyramid that marks the burial place of 17,000 (?)confederate soldiers.  Many people assume that the song Hollywood Cemetery is referring to Hollywood California.  It is not.  It refers to this graveyard.  In oregon hill it’s presence is overwhelming.  The whole neighborhood should be filled with ghosts.  The protagonist sings the song from texas.  His lost love is like a ghost that haunts him.  He wishes she would stay buried and gone.

04 Hollywood Cemetary

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Can I Take My Gun Up to Heaven.
[D]

Can I take my [G] gun up to [C] heaven? [G] [C] [Cmaj7] [D]
You know she’s [G] always been by my [C] side [G] [C] [Cmaj7] [D]
Can I take my [G] gun up to [C] heaven? [G] [C] [Cmaj7] [D]
I’ll check it with St. [G] Peter at the gate [C] [G(sus4)]

And if I had a [D] woman that was [C] faithful [Am]-[G]
Or even [D] kind some of the time [C]-[Am]-[G]
I’d drag her on [D] up to the gates of heaven [C]-[Am]-[G]
Or follow her right [D] down to the gates of [C] hell [Am] [D]

REPEAT CHORUS

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

[C] When I come home from a long day [G] a-working at the prison
[A] I find my woman she’s not a-[D]-round [C]
She’s down at Dahlie’s corner [G] a-playing cards and drinking
[A] Or sitting on the cars singing Dixie with the [D] boys [C] [D]

REPEAT CHORUS

Can I take my gun up to heaven?
Can I take my gun up to heaven?
Can I take my gun up to heaven?
Can I take my gun up to heaven?

[C] Can I take my gun up to [G] heaven?

Hollywood Cemetery


[G]-[B]-[C]-[G(sus4)]
[Em]-[C]-[G]-[G7]-[B]-[Em]-[C(7)]
[G]-[B]-[C]-[G(sus4)]

[G] I left my baby, [B] I left her [C] down in Hollywood [G(sus4)] Cemetary
Weren’t a cloud in the [B] sky, but how I [C] wish it was [G(sus4)] raining

[Em] Well I know it was [C] wrong to feel love like a [G] burden [G7]
[B] But if we all were [Em] angels [C(7)] Heaven would be earth
[G] So I left my baby, [B] I left her [C] down in Hollywood [G(sus4)] Cemetary.

[BREAK:]
[Em]-[C]-[G]-[G7]-[B]-[Em]-[C(7)]
[G]-[B]-[C]-[G(sus4)]

She got her petees? and coffee, while the band plays a funeral dirge
In New Orleans Mardi Gras, but I’m sick as a dog, here in Texas

When the one that you love’s in the arms of another man
You’ve got to rise above it, and let her go
Leave your baby down, leave her down at Hollywood Cemetary

[REPEAT BREAK]
[G(sus4)]

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