#66 -Raise ‘Em Up On Honey. Notes on the etymology of the word cracker

Posted in Cracker, David Lowery Solo, Sparklehorse with tags , on January 5, 2011 by davidclowery

 

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The word Cracker has an interesting history one that I felt worthy of further elaboration. It’s origination is widely disputed. Was it from the  ‘crack’ of the whip of the white vaqueros that herded  Spanish cattle in Georgia and Florida? Was it because they were such  poor people they cracked and ate their seed corn?

The most interesting etymology of the word purports to illustrate a history of  friction between the dominant English culture and Celtic subculture  of the British Empire including North America.  This is not my theory.  It has been thoroughly researched and written about by several historians. Much is in dispute but clearly  the word Cracker is intimately associated with Celtic culture in particular the Scots-Irish of the American frontier.  The most notable author to propose this is Grady McWhiney.  In his book Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways of the Old South McWhiney  argues that Cracker is synonymous with being of Celtic origin.  Here is a brief summary of historical uses of the word.

Cracker as in a braggart or sharp and entertaining speaker.  In Shakespeare’s King John

“What cracker is this same that deafs our ears with this abundance of superfluous breath?”

Craic in middle english also was  used to mean “to enter into” conversation.  Especially loud boisterous conversation.  Hence  to “crack” a joke.

McWhiney points out that this is exactly the use and spelling of the Gaelic word craic.  This and other uses of the word  from this  period generally reference the Scottish and other Celts of the British Isles.  These included not just the well know Irish, Scottish and Welsh but also lesser known Celtic groups like the Cornish,  The Manx and the Hebrideans.  One must remember that at this time the British Isles had yet to be fully conquered  much less  anglicized.  Later many of these troublesome un-anglicized groups were shipped overseas to the North American colonies.  The southern American colonies and maritime Canada were prime destinations. Many of these wild celts arrived in the new world fully un-anglicized. Speaking their native tongue and chafing under the English ways.

Certainly by the time these Celts hit the new world at least some of them were being called “Crackers”

From Wikipedia:

As early as the 1760s, this term was in use by the English in the British North American Colonies to refer to Scots-Irish settlers in the south. A letter to the Earl of Dartmouth reads:

“I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode.”


First a little curious fact about the state of Florida.  It was a spanish colony from 1513-1763.  It then became an English colony for a brief 20 years.  In 1783 it was handed back to Spain after the American revolution.  But during those 20 years,  many colonists from Georgia and colonies to the north were encouraged to settle in Florida. When the spanish regained control they continued to encourage American settlers to move there by offering land grants.  About 20 thousand american immigrants and 40 thousand spanish colonists lived in florida at the time it was ceded  to the United States in 1819.

The white cowboys who herded cattle in Spanish Florida alongside the Spanish Vaqueros were purportedly called “Quáqueros.” A corruption of the spanish word for Quaker which was also generic insult for any protestant.  Others say they were  given the name “Crackers” by other white Floridians and Georgians because of the crack of their spanish whips.

McWhiney and others argue since these were mostly  freed Scots-Irish indentured servants  they were already called Crackers. Further the pan-celtic preference (at that time)  for ranging cattle on common land ( in this case sparsely populated Spanish Florida)  as opposed to the english preference for penned sheep and hogs, lends some credibility to the account. Cattle herding was the preferred livelihood of many of these immigrants.

As a footnote the battle between the advocates of private land for grazing and the advocates of a common free range often played out violently through American history.  It ended in a stalemate. East of The Rockies most grazing activities happens on private land.  In the West,  The Federal Government owns much grazing land through the BLM or Bureau of Land Management. Historically this agency then doled out grazing rights.

I have often wondered if the Scots-Irish had a such a deep seated ideological preference for ranging and common grazing land as McWhiney proposes, what did  those in Texas  think  as the US army methodically killed and subdued their Native American analogues?  By this I mean the Comanches and other  buffalo herding plains Indians. For ultimately the Indian Wars were a process of converting the Indian common lands to private land. Yes they may have been happy to see the murderous  cattle rustling Comanche vanquished and confined to reservations. But were they not saddened by the following influx of settlers?  For it were these settlers that destroyed the greatest commons the world ever knew.  It was settlers from the east that  divided the great sea of grass into a patchwork of poor farms and meager homesteads.  Did the Texan Scots-Irish descendants secretly prefer the commons loving Comanches to their new neighbors?

Allow me to divagate for a moment so  that I can make perhaps my most glancing reference yet to a song from our catalogue.   Raise ‘Em Up on Honey.   This is the opening track from my Solo Album The Palace Guards (Feb 1st 2011). In this song the protagonist proposes a very Cracker-like return to the common. Although for the purposes of marijuana cultivation.

Go up on the mountain build a little shack just over the line

well BLM they won’t complain cause no one surveyed this in a while

home school the children give them weapons training

just in case the DEA comes snooping round again

go up on the mountain where the water comes from glaciers blue.

With my red beard, cowboy hat and preference for the wild frontier I could easily pass for one of these Scots-Irish “lawless rascals” so detested by the English overlords.  And why not?  My  murky family history would support this.  Lowery is a common enough name not only in Celtic parts of the British Isles but very common through the main Cracker heartland.  Indeed my great grandfather came from “somewhere in Georgia” and settled deep in the Piney Woods of Southwestern Arkansas.  The Piney Woods are a distinct ecoregion covering 54,000 square miles of eastern Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, southern Arkansas and extreme southeastern Oklahoma.  But it must also be somehow culturally tied to the Georgia and Florida Cracker heartland.  And for a simple reason.  Spanish Cattle.

 

Those Crackers herding cattle in Spanish Florida were herding a type of cattle that is still referred to today as “Cracker Cattle“. This is somewhat of a misnomer as this breed of cattle is a Spanish breed that the Conquistadors brought to Florida.  Cracker Cattle had a very close cousin further west known as Pineywoods Cattle.  These also were remnants of the Spanish herds.  Whether they were brought west by Florida Crackers or whether Florida Crackers followed them to the piney woods is immaterial.  There is somehow a connection.  Indeed some historical sources equate the term “pinelander” and “cracker”.  But This Is Pinelander Soul doesn’t have the same ring.

Finally the Piney woods immediately reminds me of another Pejorative.  Peckerwood.  My grandfather used to endearingly refer to me as his little Peckerwood.  Years later I looked it up and was shocked to find it was probably the only known slur for red haired white people.

In 1999 I returned to the Piney Woods for my grandmothers funeral.  There was a sea of people at the small church graveyard.  More than 100 people.  Most of these were my blood kin.  The majority direct descendants of my grandmother.  There were 90 year olds and nursing great-great grandchildren.  It was impressive and beautiful spring day. The children were beginning to run in a pack.  My wife at the time, Mary was pregnant with our first child.  She looked out at the crowd and gestured with her head  ” I want one of those”.  I looked at where she gestured but i didn’t understand.  “One of those”  she pointed at a flaming redhead of a boy that bounded past us barefoot and freckled.  Two more followed.  I looked across the churchyard and realized that my clan was full of these redheads.  I laughed.  “Careful what you wish for”.

My grandmother was of course famous for saying of her red-haired progeny.  “red-hair is how god marks the crazy ones”.

We must have seemed exotic to Mary.  Her family also of Celtic origin are textbook Black Irish. The Black Irish largely from counties in the west of Ireland, are not “Black”. They almost look spanish with their black curly hair and dark brown freckles.  And as it turns out for good reason.  The Black Irish do appear to be from the Iberian peninsula as they share common genetic markers with the Galicians, Basque and Portuguese.  I reference Mary, her sisters and their love of broken, old and decrepit houses in this track I recorded with Mark Linkous.

16 Eyes Of Mary

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Raise Em Up On Honey

going up the mountain where the water comes from glaciers blue
take along my sweetheart gonna raise ourselves up a brood
raise em up on honey from bees and buckwheat wine
if we can go do this make our clothes from hemp and twine
go up on the mountain where the water comes from glaciers blue
go up on the mountain build a little shack just over the line
will BLM* they won’t complain cause no one surveyed this in a while
home school the children give them weapons training
just in case the DEA comes snooping ’round again
go up on the mountain where the water comes from glaciers blue
every fortnight or so the bible thumpers they come around
they’re worried ’bout the eternal souls of our daughters and our sons
they’ll be fine they’ll move into the city start black metal bands
give up and move back up the mountain again
raise their little broods on mountain waters from glaciers blue
Eyes of Mary
You were born
With it inside
A secret twin in your wounded side
Bits of hair
Teeth and String
And Yellow flowersOpen Up
Let it all in
Let the strange parade begin
A piece of pie
A piece of cake
For Every sister

Let the eyes of Mary
Carry you away now
Let the eyes of Mary
Carry you away now

A baby born
It’s made of leaves
And Carried round the maypole tree
By Irish Girls
With jet black hair
And dark brown freckles

Let me bring
You bits of string
Tired and worn and sagging things
Under the weight
Of old crows feet
And the seasons

Let the eyes of Mary
Carry you away now
Let the eyes of Mary
Carry you away now
Let the Brides of Jesus
Carry you away now
Let the Brides of Jesus
Carry you away now.
Away now
Away

#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)]

#56 Kerosene Hat-Cracker. Richmond and Oregon Hill Continued.

Posted in Cracker with tags on September 29, 2010 by davidclowery

 

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In #47 part 2  I mentioned the move Johnny Hickman and I made from California to Richmond Va.  The 64 plymouth threw a rod in Arkansas stranding us in the middle of rice paddies in the middle of the night. That’s where i’m gonna pick up.

We were being eaten alive by mosquitos in the rice paddies while we were waiting for a tow.  Johnny started smashing the mosquitos with a magazine on the headboard of the car.  Finally aftter 2 hours a tow trucke arrived and took us to a local Uhaul facility.  We had to wait several hours for the place to open up.  We’d now been up all night. We rented a truck and a tow dolly and towed the station wagon all the way to Richmond.  When we  pulled the station wagon off the dolly in Richmond i noticed all these brownish red smudges all over the headboard of the car.  I stared at them for a while trying to figure it out.  Those hadn’t been there before.

Johnny leaned in the passenger window to see what I was looking at.

“It’s our blood”

I guess I gave him a confused look.

“from the mosquitos”

There were hundreds of these smudges. “We’ve already played a price in blood” I thought. I knew this was funny and overdramitic still  I didn’t say it out loud.  I couldn’t decide if this was an inauspicious or auspicious start for the band.

 

Big Dirty Yellow Demos were recorded on a machine like this.

Big dirty yellow is what we named the house at 239 S. Laurel street in Oregon Hill. Because it was well Big, Yellow and Dirty. This is also what we called the demo tape of 20 songs we turned in to Virgin Records.  The house had a few distinct pluses.  The first was the neighbors took an immediate liking to us, cause Johnny (always the goodwill amabassador) did an impromptu duet of Streets of Bakersfield with the neighbor lady to the right.  This drew a small crowd.  When Johnny flipped the last chorus to Streets of Oregon Hill the small crowd broke into pandemonium.   They had to play it 2 more times before the crowd dispersed.  Meanwhile I had managed to unload half the truck by myself.  It was a small price to pay for the goodwill of the neighbors.  We never had to lock our doors, and no one EVER complained about the noise we made recording the demos.

It also didn’t hurt that the neighbors on the left were a deaf family.  Well not entirely. The oldest daughter could hear.  She would play the pop radio station quite loud.  On weekends we noticed that the radio would often blast  all night.  This was because the one hearing member of the family, the daughter, had gone away to the grandmothers for the weekend.

It was not always easy to gain the locals trust.  Oregon Hill had been it’s own little city within a city for 140 years. A white some would say white trash ghetto in the heart of the city.  And the neighborhood was beginning to be not exactly gentrified but filling up with artists, hipsters and especially musicians. They were drawn there by the ridiculously low rents and charm of the funky houses. Members of GWAR, The Alternatives, The Fugs, Michael Hurley, House of Freaks, Flat Duo Jets and Cowboy Junkies could be seen wandering around the neighborhood. The old locals which dominated our block were hostile to these newcomers.  But never us.  It was fortunate that Cracker was such a country rock roots oriented ensemble.

Big Dirty Yellow  had three bedrooms and was 300 dollars a month.  It was the classic Oregon Hill row house.  Narrow like a shotgun shack.  Each room lead into the next room till you got to the kitchen on the back of the house. It had no heat or air-conditioning.  There was a hole in the floor between the kitchen and living room.  You could crawl down into the basement through it.   We tacked a large piece of plywood over the hole. I found an industrial strength restaurant kitchen fan at a junk store.  I installed this in the uppermost window of my bedroom recording room.  It basically sucked the cool air out of the basement into the upstairs of the house.   Except for the hottest days it was adequate.  In the winter Johnny and I each had a kerosene heater.  We would actually carry these around the house with us.  not lit of course.  But if we had people over we would drop both of them in the living room and kitchen.  If we took a bath or shower we would bring our kerosene heater with us.  To this day the smell of kerosene reminds me of the poverty and the wistful hope we had for our music.

 

Site of the old East Coast Gas Station in Gunsmoke.  Cary and Meadow Richmond VA.

In some ways this is part of the inspiration for the song Kerosene Hat.  The kerosene hat was the wool hunting cap with earflaps that I would have to wear when I walked to the  gas station in the middle of the night to get more kerosene.  This was sometimes a scary proposition because if it was too late and the local texaco by VCU  was closed, we had to walk to the East Coast station up in the neighborhood known as “Gunsmoke”.  Cary and Meadow st.  This is still a sketchy area today.  It was really quite dangerous in 1990.

The second part of the inspiration for this song was the simple fact that Johnny Hickman and I were older than many of our peers in the alternative and indie rock scene at that time.  Also we were one of the few bands that was playing what would later be called Americana.  So this is exactly what i’m talking about when I sing:

How can I fly with these old doggy wings

While a magpie sings some shiny song.

Finally the main body of the song is populated by characters that are similar to the broken down houses and people who populated the neighborhood at that time.  I’ll go into this more in the next post “Can I Take My Gun Up To Heaven”.

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04 Kerosene Hat

[INTRO & BREAK:]
[Em]-[C]-[G]-[D(bass F#)]
[Em]-[C]-[G]-[D(bass F#)]
[Em]-[D]-[C]-[A]-[G]-[C]

[Em] How can I fly with these [C] old doggy wings
While a [G] magpie sings some [D(bass F#)] shiny song?
[Em] Old corn face row of teeth, she says [C] sweetly to me
In the [G] elevator [D(bass F#)]

CHORUS:
[Em] Everything [D] seems like a [C] dream
and [A] life’s a scream.
[G]-[C]

Here come old Kerosene Hat
With his ear flaps waxed, a courting’ his girl
Come clattering in here on your old cloven skates
With that devilish spoon

CHORUS:
Everything seems like a dream
And life’s a scream
When you’re submarine

[BREAK]

So don’t you bother me death with your leathery ways
and your old chaise lounge (old chaise lounge)
Wickerman’s fence of leathery tyres
And the cook’s gone bad, started several fires

CHORUS:
Everything seems like a dream
When your submarine

Head like a stream she says softly to me
from the rattling chair
Bring me a steak and my old pair of crows,
my medicine lamp

CHORUS:
Everything seems like a dream
So life’s a scream
(life’s a scream)

#55 James River- Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. Richmond Virginia.

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker with tags on September 28, 2010 by davidclowery

 

The James River in Downtown Richmond.

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The James River is the major waterway through the center part of the state of Virginia.  The river is quite deep until it hits the “fall line” at Richmond.  Indeed this is why Richmond was built at this spot.  It is the farthest you navigate up the James in an ocean going vessel.  After that there are a series of falls and rapids. In the early 1800′s  the James River and Kanawha Canal was built to bypass these rapids and bring trade from the mountains of Western Virginia down the James River to Richmond. As a footnote it was surveyed and designed by George Washington. But that’s another story.  This canal helped bolster the city’s commercial activity turning it into a relatively prosperous and large city.

Although Richmond is very far inland few people realize that there is actually a Port of Richmond which accepts container ships -albeit the smallest container ships.  The port is tucked away along the south eastern side of the city, in an area dominated by large (and mostly abandoned) industrial sites.  Few people who live in Richmond even know where it is. I’m not sure how financially viable it is. I suspect that the fact the Defense Supply Facility is nearby has something to do with it’s continuing function

But these days the James is a relatively unimportant waterway.  And it figures little into the commercial life of the City. The city literally turned it’s back on the river for many years. The banks were  dominated by railroad right aways,sidings industrial facilities and power plants. Until recently there was no easy access to the river from downtown. It was only in the last 15 years a riverwalk was built along the river in downtown.  There were parks along the river but you still have to cross railroad right aways to reach them.  And thenyou were often in close proximity to railroad hobo camps (south bank) or the rough but not unfriendly denizens of Oregon Hill.*  It is a beautiful river nonetheless.  There are spectacular rapids for rafting and this is in the core of an urban city.  Quite strange really. Deer, foxes, bald eagles and even bears are often seen wandering along the forested banks of the city’s river.  But to me there is a certain sadness or nostalgia to river.  It feels at times a relic of the past.  Like the antebellum mansions and the Civil War battlefields  and monuments. And a hint of even darker things.  Belle Island in the center of the river was a POW camp for Union troops throughout the Civil War.  By american standards a gulag of unimaginable horror.  30,000 prisoners on this island. 1 in 25 perished.  A prominent Baltimore surgeon who treated some of the  released captives from the Belle Isle prison  had this description of the prisoners:

“in a semi-state of nudity…laboring under such diseases as chronic diarrhoea, phthisis pulmonalis, scurvy, frost bites, general debility, caused by starvation, neglect and exposure. Many of them had partially lost their reason, forgetting even the date of their capture, and everything connected with their antecedent history. They resemble, in many respect, patients laboring under cretinism. They were filthy in the extreme, covered in vermin…nearly all were extremely emaciated; so much so that they had to be cared for even like infants.”

 

Talk about Southern Gothic! Cormac McCarthy in his imagination could not do much better.  But it is less the horrors along the river that captured my imagination. It was the sense the river was part of the lost past.  Once important it  is now but a shadow of itself. It is irrelevant to the life of the city. Just as the city was once the capitol of the Confederacy it is now a second tier urban center.  It is somewhat irrelevant to the greater life of the nation.That is both sad and sweet.

The river was the heart of a system that sent the products of the colonies and antebellum south mostly tobacco back to England and Europe.  An export oriented agricultural / natural resource economy.  Trade that went East to West with Richmond an important trans shipment point.   But as the North began it’s rapid industrialization, and railroads proliferated  trade shifted North to South.  The Civil War only accelerated this trend.  Indeed one of the minor frictions between the norther and southern states was over tariffs.  High tariffs protected developing industries in the north.  Richmond was also industrializing and was becoming more tied to the northeast than the south.  Hence many Virginians reticence to join the cause of the Confederacy.  As Corry Arnold (Rock Prosopography 101)  recently explained to me:

Thus the geography of Richmond is infused with a logic that no longer applies to the way the city works, as it is oriented towards the river when that is not actually the economic engine of the city (rivers are pretty, fortunately, so its not a terrible thing, but I’m not researching quality of life). In effect, the economics of Richmond were literally rotated on its axis, as the James River initially facilitated East-West transportation, but was of no value when commerce in the the region moved to a North-South axis (eg Atlanta and Florida to Baltimore).

(This post on richmond is largely based on research that Corry sent to me)

I wasn’t aware of this when I began to write about the James River.  But one – even an recently transplanted westerner- could sense that the James River represented the old romantic past of Richmond.  It’s sorry state also represented something else that I came to associate with Richmond. “Elegant decay”  and “opulent poverty”. Two evocative phrases my ex-wife  Mary uses to describe Richmond.

 

The first time I ever spent any real time in the City was my 29th birthday sept 10th 1989.  Camper Van Beethoven was on tour with the 10,000 maniacs.  We played a show at the Mosque theater (now called the landmark theater) just west of downtown in the middle of the VCU campus.  Natalie Merchant had some friends that lived nearby.  Later Natalie asked me if I wanted to go to a party at her friends house in this funny little neighborhood to the south of the VCU campus.   This neighborhood is called Oregon Hill.  It is a former factory neighborhood built along the banks of the James for the workers at the Tredgar Iron works.  The neighborhood is very distinct.  It even has it’s own accent despite the fact it’s a 4 by 10 block area.  Tiny two story  row houses with porches.  It looked like some neighborhood in New Orleans.  The residents were out on their porches this fine late summer evening.  Some polite with nods or “good evenings”  others drunk with catcalls and wolf whistles.  Cicadas buzzed in the trees and I thought to myself?  “where the hell am I”.  I’ll explain this  neighborhood more in a later post (Can I take my Gun Up to Heaven).

It was at this party where i met my future ex-wife.  (I’ve always wanted to use that expression). It is the neighborhood that Mary and I lived in for many years.  And more importantly this is the neighborhood that Johnny and I set ourselves up as we sought to finish writing the first Cracker Albums.

So the song started as a Camper Van Beethoven Song.  With me trying to evoke what I would term the “Old-fashioned seediness” and “antiquated decadence” of Richmond.  There were a surprising number of junkies, drug fiends and decadents in the music scene when I first began courting Mary.  So that was what first struck me. That’s what the Camper Van Beethoven version and early Cracker demo reflects.  Later I would come to appreciate the “Elegant Decay” and “Opulent Poverty” of Richmond VA.  Thus the later more gentle more evocative version of the song on Gentlemans Blues.

Finally I hope my description of Richmond comes across as honest but still affectionate.  In many ways my musical career is deeply infused with the life of three places the Inland Empire,  Santa Cruz and Richmond VA.

james river (live) Camper Van Beethoven Italy March 1990

05 James River (Demo) Cracker Sept 1990

04 James River-Cracker Gentleman’s Blues
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James River (later version)

[INTRO & BREAK:]
[Dm]-[Ddim]-[F]-[C]
[Dm]-[Ddim]-[F]-[C]
[Dm]-[Ddim]-[F]-[C]
[G]

 

[Dm]-[G]-[Dm]-[G]

[Dm]You come across [Ddim] the [F] James River [C]
[Dm] A-for a [Ddim] needle, and a [F] spoon [C]
[Dm] But would you [Ddim] come across the [F] James River [C]
To be my woman again [G]
To be my woman again

[Dm]-[G]-[Dm]-[G]

You come across the old lee bridge
A-For a dollar fifty in change
But would you come across the James River
for this heart of gold?
For this heart of gold?

[Dm]-[G]-[Dm]-[G]

[BREAK]

[Dm]-[G]-[Dm]-[G]

You go to work for Ms. Kitty
For a decent rate of pay
But would you come across the James River
To be my woman again?
To be my woman again?

[BREAK]

[Dm]-[G]-[Dm]-[G]

You keep a pistol in your left boot
A brush and comb in your purse
But would you come across the James River
To be my woman again?
To be my woman again?

[ENDING:]
[Dm]-[G]-[Dm]-[G]-[Dm]

# 52 Yalla Yalla Yall. Gallows Humor Addendum. Cracker Live in Iraq.

Posted in Cracker with tags on September 24, 2010 by davidclowery


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Frank Funaro  (drummer Cracker and CVB) reminded me of some of the excellent Gallows Humour while we were in Iraq.   Here is Frank’s comment:

Oh, and lest we forget… When we were riding around in Iraq in armored vehicles, we all had headsets and microphones on so we could hear each other above the ungodly din these vehicles produce. The 82nd Airborne guys that were in the vehicle that David, Greg and myself were in would pepper us with questions about the band and touring, and music, etc, constantly chattering into our earpieces over the radio. This was to (as we later found out) keep our minds off the fact that at any given moment, it was entirely possible that we would get hit with a roadside bomb. Ok, that was part of their their job, can’t have any civilians gettin’ all panicky in the back of a sealed, 14 ton MRAP. But, here’s the strange thing. Every now and then, apropos of nothing, they would yell BOOM! over the radio. Talk about your professional-grade, industrial strength gallows humor…

And since we are on the topic again.  Here are a couple more pieces of gallows humour I overheard in Iraq.  The first are normal military variety.  The last is of a Deer Skull variety be forewarned.

BTW I am 6 foot tall.  Foxx on the far right  is really that tall.

First while we were  traveling through baghdad by MRAP with soldiers  from the 82nd airborne Frank and I must have telegraphed to them that we were okay with the gallows humor. None of the other band guys got this treatment.  Once we  were faced with two unattended disabled vehicles along the side of a road.  The soldiers paused the convoy for a while and got on their comms.  I’m not sure how this works but they were talking to Iraqi security or American forces to find out what the deal was with these vehicles.  They didn’t want to proceed even though it was unlikely they were bombs. It wasn’t a long pause and  eventually someone gave them enough assurances that these vehicles were okay and we proceeded past them.  But before we did the soldiers began wagering on which of the two vehicles would explode.  Like anyone would be alive to collect on this bet.

“my money is on the mini pickup”

“thats  bullshit why would you use a pickup truck there’s no trunk, no place to hide enough explosives”

“it’s good enough for an Iranian shaped charge and stealthier”

The part about the shape charge may have been explained later within the safe confines of BIAP on the way out of the country. No matter how jaded these guys were I don’t think even they wanted to imagine a high velocity ball of molten metal ricocheting around inside a MRAP severing limbs.

I Forget Are klingons Sunnis or Shias?

At another camp I asked one of the Soldiers  what he thought of the Sons of Iraq or Sunni Awakening Councils.  These were former insurgents who had now switched sides to the US. And they were now on the US payroll.  We passed by their checkpoints occasionally.

” What do you mean what do i think? you mean how do i feel about the fact these guys  were shooting at me last tour of duty*?”

“yeah something like that”

“well,  this is Iraq: The next generation. They’re the Klingons” This was delivered with a disinterested shrug. A sort of “it’s not my fucking job to care” gesture.

Finally at one of the Army airfields in Kuwait right before we went into Iraq I overheard this very fucked up conversation.  Basically two young soldiers on there way into Iraq were sitting around talking about what terrible things should happen to  US army Major  and Psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan.  He is the guy who had shot up Fort Hood about 10 days earlier.  We were all waiting around next to these pallets that we had piled our gear and duffles on.  It was dusty and pretty warm.  We were waiting for someone to do some kind of roll call.  We would have rather been inside the airconditioned tent that served as the passenger terminal.  An older NCO was listening to these two young soldiers.  Whether it was the heat or the dust or he was genuinely sick of hearing these kids talk. He stood up and walked over to them.

“You two.  Shut the fuck up.”

They looked at him stunned.

“Sorry sir-”

“There are probably a lot of guys here that are a lot closer to that shooting and those events than you are.  I’m sure they don’t want want to hear your bullshit… besides there is a distinct positive to this event”

“sir?”

“The US Army now has a Psychiatrist with actual combat experience”.

JEEZ.  remember i’m just repeating the story. This is less than two weeks after the shooting.  So in the US Army  Tragedy + 10 days = Comedy. The deer skull has been….
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#49-Where the Hell is Bill. More Smart Ass Comments. Deer skulls.

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven with tags on September 21, 2010 by davidclowery

cvb truck more square

Camper Van Beethoven 1986.

08 Where The Hell Is Bill-

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Where the Hell Is Bill is probably the mother of all bust-the-balls-of-one-of-the-guys-in-the-band jokes.  You do have to think about it a little bit to see it in that light. It’s an innocuous silly song. Right?  Except  we wrote an entire song about the drummer (Bill McDonald) being late for practice. While waiting for him to show up!  Then when he showed up we made him not only learn the song but made him sing it.  Not just that day but for the rest of the time he was in the band.   That’s some serious ball busting.

There is some light commentary on the different music scenes and fashion that existed in southern california at the time. Punks,  Mods and the weird oingo-boingo (shudder)  inspired fashions.  But basically this song came about for the sole purpose of  embarassing our drummer. And this is probably one sentence too many on the subject.

As far as plain old get-your-ass-kicked smart ass comments goes there is a better story and I neglected to include it in the last post.

Feb 1986  CVB had embarked on it’s first  nationwide US tour.    We played LA probably at the Anti-Club.  Then hit the Mason Jar in Phoenix, possibly another show in Tucson AZ,  Then we did what would become the very familiar run up I-35 San Antonio TX to Minneapolis.

We drove into Oklahoma City on a relatively warm day for February.  It actually had been colder the night before in Dallas. So the weather raised our spirits and we were glad to be in a strange new city. We’d been to Texas before.  Oklahoma was a new state for us.  It seemed distinctly different that Texas.  There was something soviet about the architecture. There were a lot of blocky apartment buildings and government structures. There were also a lots and lots of churches.  We were in the very heartland of the USA.  And it flet alien to us.  I mean our town had a feminist marxist mayor.  we weren’t even sure if any of that was even legal in this state.  But i digress.

Unlike the dive and punk rock places we had played in Texas  the place we played in OKC was kind of a grown up bar.  It was a “blues” club from what I remember and we were opening for The Blasters. It was upscale compared to what we wre used to.  Now me and Victor Krummenacher really loved the blasters so we were quite happy to open for them.  I’m not sure if Jonathan Greg or Chris really cared about them that much.  But it didn’t matter. We were excited.

We were not so excited when we played for their audience.  Or rather their audience weren’t so excited about us.  The audience was largely seated at cocktail tables.  And they weren’t really hostile or anything. They were polite.  But they weren’t really digging us either.  They began to get impatient.  That’s when we started talking to the audience. It was all down hill from there.

Especially in the early days of CVB we liked to kind of harass the audience.  Playfully tease them.  Sometimes it wasn’t so playful.  And we were always sarcastic.  We had launched into a little of this.  It seemed to loosen the crowd up.  Unfortunately it also loosened up a couple folks who really didn’t like us.  We were now getting heckled.  So I resorted to an old trick. I played the momma card.

“Hey, now,  whoa, whoa, that’s too much.  You can say anything you want about me,  the band,  how much we suck whatever but don’t say anything about my mom.  my mother passed away recently and that… that is really not called for…”

No one had said anything about my mother. But in the commotion no one could possibly know that. Also my mother is very much alive and well.

There was dead silence in the room. Uncomfortable silence. You could hear a pin drop. I let it stretch out and hang there for a while then   I turned around and looked at the rest of the band. Chris took this as a go signal and started counting off the next track. Suddenly  i hear Jonathans voice over the PA on the upbeat of the next song.

“Yeah, she was on the Space Shuttle”.

As you could imagine this did not go over well with the crowd. First it was Oklahoma City in the very earnest and patriotic state of Oklahoma.  Second the space shuttle Challenger had blown up only a  few weeks before that show.  Many of us had watched the event live on TV. It was fresh in all our minds.  It kind of shocked even me and I was used to Jonathan’s shocking humour.  Still the Andy Kaufman part of me had to laugh,  I mouthed to Victor across the stage  “we are all gonna die”.   He nodded in agreement and motioned towards the stage door.  I guess he was suggesting the escape route.

We made it through the next song but were roundly greeted with a mixture of boos loud grumbling and epithets.  We may have played another song,  I don’t recall but  the show was definitely  cut short and we retreated to the dressing room.  We didn’t come back out until long after the Blasters show was over and the audience had all gone home.

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One final note on Jonathan’s shocking smart ass punch line.

By this point everyone must be familiar with the expression “Jumping the Shark”. Basically this is when a show spins off into an absurd plot line  or more generally the moment or event that begins a celebrity’s downfall.   In Camper Van Beethoven we have a similar concept.  It’s “The deer skull has been F*cked”.  Shocking! and from such a nice band!

It refers to Jonathan Segel’s tendency to take a slightly off color story or topic of conversation and take it way way way beyond the bounds of good taste.   In particular one evening Victor was musing on Maria and Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘s sex life.  The conversation was hijacked by Jonathan who then painted a grotesque and hilarious picture that ended with the govenor and first lady of California copulating with a deer skull.

So in general it refers to anything that has been taken beyond the boundaries of good taste.

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Where the Hell is Bill

CHORUS:
[A] Where, [D]where the [E] Hell is [A] Bill?
Where, [D]where the [E] Hell is [A] Bill?
Where, [D]where the [E] Hell is [A] Bill?
Where, [D]where the [E] Hell is [A] Bill?

[A] Well, maybe he [D] went to get a [E] sideways haircut
Maybe he [D] went to get a [E] strip-ed [A] shirt
Maybe he [D] went to get some [E] plastic [A] shoes
Maybe he [D] went to get some [E] funny sun-[A]-glasses

REPEAT CHORUS

Well, maybe he went to get an Air Force parka
Maybe he went to get a Vespa scooter
Maybe he went to get a British flag
Maybe he went to go Mod Ska dancing

REPEAT CHORUS

Well, maybe he went to get a mohawk
And maybe he went to get some gnarly thrash boots
Maybe he went to go ride his skateboard
Maybe he went to see the Circle Jerks

 

REPEAT CHORUS

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