Archive for the long plastic hallway

# 68 The Long Plastic Hallway-Playing on a Flying Saucer with The Talking Heads.

Posted in Box O Laffs, Camper Van Beethoven with tags , , on January 10, 2011 by davidclowery

 


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12 The Long Plastic Hallway

“The music business is cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway, where thieves and pimps run free, where good men die like dogs.  And then there is a negative side.”-attributed to Hunter S. Thompson

There is actually a debate as to whether Hunter S. Thompson said this or not.  I suppose because there are variants that are similar attributed to other people.  Really? It sounds so much like the guy it has to be Hunter S. Thompson.

Part of this post is a story you may have heard.  I like to tell part of this story at shows. usually as an introduction to the song The Long Plastic Hallway.  But it definitely needs to be written down for posterity. So here goes.  It also allows me to get into the history of Box O’ Laffs one of the bands that preceded Camper Van Beethoven. Like the Estonian Gauchos and Sitting Duck there are a number of Box O’ Laffs songs that ended up being Camper Van Beethoven songs as well.  Most notably Ice Cream Everyday and Flowers. So Box O’ Laffs’ story is integral to the history of CVB.

14 Ice Cream Everyday

11 Flowers

Box O’ Laffs consisted of Eric Curkendall on vocals, Chris Hart on Guitar, sometimes Chris Molla on guitar, keyboards and drums, and then a host of different drummers, Anthony Guess, Chris Pedersen and Richie West.  All of which played with Camper Van Beethoven at some point.  I’m also quite sure i’m forgetting a drummer or two. But you’ll forgive me if I just move along with the story?

And yes that is how we spelled it: Box O’ Laffs.  Sometimes we wrote it this way Box O’ Laffs™ as the name was supposed to evoke a toy or board game.  Often the venues would list our name wrong in ads or on flyers.  They’d spell it “Box of Laughs”.  This drove us crazy.

So Box O’ Laffs™ was formed in 1981 when I met Chris Hart and Eric Curkendall at College 5 at UCSC.  I was still living on campus and so was Eric.  We constantly struggled to find places to practice.  We rarely managed, so much of our rehearsing was done live at shows.  There was a neat little formula.  Chris and I would make up a couple of very simple repetitive grooves.  Then we’d alternate between the two while Eric improvised lyrics over the top.  Each “song” had a title and generally Eric sang about pretty much the same thing  but each performance was always different. Sometimes radically different.

It was very easy to add a new song to the repertoire.  As long as me and chris alternated correctly between the two or three grooves that made up a song,  usually the drummer could follow along.  And Eric? well he was good at just making shit up on the spot.  After a while these improvisations became more and more settled. Eventually they would come to resemble normal songs.

Mostly the college kids we were playing for didn’t notice this process.  The grooves we played were kind of bouncy and were easy to dance to.  As long as we didn’t stop they danced.  No one seemed to notice that Eric would be singing lines from Aleister Crowley’s Book of Thoth, Dr Seuss stories or even laconically announcing a LA Lakers vs Boston Celtics game like a stoned Chick Hearn.  This is how we worked out the songs.  Sounds crazy i know but the over all effect was  we came off like a slightly funky californian version of The Fall.

But a little bouncier.  So a lot of people compared us to The Talking Heads.

So what does this have to do with the Hunter S. Thompson quote?

In the summer of 1983 Chris Hart our guitarist was living in LA.  He was working for Eric Curkendall’s father in Pasadena.  At the very end of the summer he started to call me repeatedly insisting that he had managed to get us a gig supporting The Talking Heads in Los Angeles.

Chris was never the most reliable person.  Although he was the most normal or straight laced looking member of the band there was something not quite right about him.  Aside from being a poor judge of character he would constantly end up in some fucked up situation. He of course would profess that he was a completely innocent bystander and had no idea how these bad things kept happening to him.  The truth was we had all watched him put himself in dangerous situations over and over again. It was strange to us.  Cause otherwise he was (and probably is still) an intelligent and thoughtful person

Still we had our guard down when Chris phoned us and said he’d got us a gig with the Talking Heads.  We were skeptical but we wanted to believe.  We called people we knew in LA for some sort of independent confirmation.  Anthony even called KROQ to see if any of the DJs had heard anything about us opening for the Talking Heads. We know from our friends in LA that we weren’t in any advertising.  It was 1983 and it wasn’t like  we could look on the Goldenvoice website to confirm we were playing. It seemed improbable to us… still we wanted to believe.  So after a little badgering from Chris we decided to make the 400 mile drive Santa Cruz to LA to play the gig.

Anthony Guess was at that time the drummer for Box O Laffs.  Anthony and I got Joe Sloan to drive his pickup truck to LA.  Anthony me and the gear road in the open back of the truck 400 miles to the leafy Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena.  It was nearly midnight when we made it to Eric Curkendall’s parents house. Early september.  We waited out in the yard smoking cigarettes and enjoying the mild night. we waited for quite a while for Chris Hart and The Talking Heads’ “percussionist”.  They didn’t show.

Joe Sloan started to get really impatient and agitated.  Finally someone figured out where this “percussion” player lived.  We drove over to the apartment which was in a much sketchier area of Pasadena or perhaps even Alta Dena.  There we found Chris Hart with a person who in retrospect was very clearly a crack head.  Chris seemed pretty disoriented and stoned himself.  Did I say apartment?  It was really more of a crack house.  An upscale crack house, but nonetheless a crack house.

Immediately our spirits fell.  Still there is nothing like wanting to believe that something really implausible is true.  We began to pepper the “percussionist” with questions.

“What time do we load-in?”

“How much do we get paid?”

“How long do we get to play?”

“Why aren’t we in any of the advertisements?”

The “percussionist” began to get more and more agitated.  Finally he’d had enough of us and our ridiculous questions.

“Man I’m not talking about that gig.  That gig is the fake gig.  I’m talking about the real gig.  And the real gig is after that gig.  The real gig is on a flying saucer above Los Angeles”.

Joe Sloan is a big man.  And at first I thought he was gonna attack the “percussionist”. Instead he turned his attention to Chris Hart.  I really thought he was gonna beat the crap out of Chris.  He didn’t.  But he didn’t do anything to rid Chris Hart of the notion either.  That is the rest of the night Chris kept a wary eye on Joe,  certain that the ass-whipping was about to come at any time.

Now to quote the lyrics from the third verse:

playing on a flying saucer

box o laffs was supporting talking heads

everyone was high and having a real good time

they was having a real good time.



The story doesn’t end there.  In the summer of 2000 I went to the wedding of Virgin CFO Ken Pedersen.  There were several other celebrity guests at the wedding and I was delighted to find out that I was sitting at the table with David Byrne.  Wow.  This is so cool.  David Byrne, ever gracious, stood and introduced himself to me as I approached the table.  We exchanged greetings and then I said:

“We actually played a gig together a long time ago”

“Really?!”

“Yes, it was on a flying saucer above Los Angeles”.

At this point David Byrne backs away almost imperceptibly.

“It’s a long story,  you don’t remember because they erased your memory of the event”

Now he perceptibly takes a step back from me.  Of course I then realize that i may have genuinely freaked him out.

“I’m joking… well sort of…”

It all ended up okay and I did manage to explain the whole story to David Byrne and he seemed to think the whole thing was amusing.  But at the same time I could tell he was thinking what I sometimes think:

“some of our fans are out of their minds.”

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The Long Plastic Hallway


CHORUS:
La la la la la la
La la la la
La la la la
La la la la

REPEAT CHORUS

Cigarettes and carrot juice
Marijuana and lots of booze
I threw the flower of youth into that stew

The serpent’s tongues were red and pointy
But they were wearing very cool shoes
Who wouldn’t wanna sell their soul?

REPEAT CHORUS x4

We waited in line for hours
VIP passes bouquets of flowers
To see the brand new siren sing her song

The virgins then were thrown into volcanoes
A beating heart, it was held aloft
And no expense was spared

REPEAT CHORUS x4

Quezacotl and Busby Berkeley
Hanging out in Pasadena
Rodney on the ROQ, and David Byrne

Playing on a flying saucer
Box o’Laffs were supporting Talking Heads
Everyone was high, everyone was having a good time (a good time, they were having a good time)

REPEAT CHORUS x4

 

 

 

#28 New Roman Times part 4: Unabomber as Folk Hero. Steve Reich as Pop Star

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven with tags , , , , , , on August 14, 2010 by davidclowery

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06 Might Makes Right

I don’t know how i can top that last story.  That gum you like is back in style.  I’m not even gonna try.

Might makes Right has our young  Texan on patrol with his unit in the Middle East. He is slowly growing disillusioned with his role and his units mission.  In particular he was entered the Army a fairly devout christian.  He actually bought into a lot of the the notion that God was on the side of Texas.  After 9 months in the middle east he has come to doubt many things.  The lyrics tell the story well enough.

[INTRO/BREAK:]
[Bm] [F#7] [Bm]
[Bm] [F#7] [Bm]

CHORUS:
Yeah might makes [G] right
Yeah might makes [D] right
They say that [F#7] god is on our side and made us [Bm] mighty
Yeah might makes [G] right
Yeah might makes [D] right
They say that [F#7] god is on our side I don’t believe them

I’m [Bm] crawling through the under brush, we’re [F#7] teched up to the hilt
Compared to us these poor guys should be [Bm] wearing shorts and kilts
I’ve got a living breathing shadow crossed up in my scope
My partner gives the signal, pull the trigger, then there’s smoke

CHORUS:
Might makes right
Yeah might makes right
They say that god is on our side and makes us mighty
Yeah might makes right
Yeah might makes right
They say that god is on our side I don’t believe them

[REPEAT BREAK]

CHORUS:
Might makes right
Yeah might makes right
I guess that god is on our side and makes us mighty
Yeah might makes right
Yeah might makes right
They say that god is on our side I don’t believe them

They want us from the villages, they want us from the towns
Who could really blame them, shit blows up when we’re around
We fly above their houses with our Huey double-props
We scare the crap out of their kids, their mothers and their flocks

CHORUS:
Might makes right
Yeah might makes right
I guess ’cause god is on our side it makes us mighty
Yeah might makes right
Yeah might makes right
They say that god is on our side I don’t believe them

Also here is a video that John Croxton did for the song.  He interpreted it differently. He did a sort of Fight Club thing to it.

07 Militia Song

This is another of the songs that had been around before we came up with the concept for New Roman Times.  It was originally titled The Unabomber song.  Cause clearly it was written about Ted Kaczynski. And as a basic idea, it had been kicking around in my head since he was caught.  I was kind of fascinated by some of the details of his life.  It didn’t hurt that he was a mathematician.  I mean that always gets me interested.  I also developed a weird fascination with his manifesto cause excerpts  printed in the papers started to make sense to me. I was starting to freak myself out. The guy was a violent terrorist and very nearly succeeded in bringing down a passenger jet.  Not to mention the innocent people he killed and maimed. And i was developing an unhealthy empathy for the guy.

And then there were the just plain weird details.  When his brother turned him in,  a brief profileon CNN mentioned that his brother had “lived in west texas in a hole in the ground”.  As if that was a normal biographical detail.

In the alternate reality of New Roman Times.  The Unabomber song is a favorite underground country song popular  w with the right wing militia set in Deseret, Texas, and Southern California. These groups were very instrumental in supporting the Mormon Uprising in California. Like the infamous Rodeo song many artists have covered it and there are many variations,  some quite vulgar and all politically incorrect.

New Roman Times- Camper Van Beethoven

We discussed this in the first post.  But this is our young protagonist loses a leg while on patrol in the middle east.  He comes home, a bitter broken man.  begins to drink heavily and finally runs away from his young wife and family to occupied California.  Las Vegas California to be exact.

11 The Poppies Of Balmorhea

Balmorhea is a famous spring in the arid country of West Texas.  In our story The Poppies of Balmorhea is a bar in Las Vegas,  frequented by members of the Texan intelligence community. It’s an Oasis -get it- for the hardcore black bag and private intelligence contractors. BTW there are no Deseret Intelligence folks here as they don’t drink, they do however set up shop at the Jamba Juice directly across the street in case their Texan allies deign to speak to them.

It is here in this bar that he is recruited by agents from the quasi private TexIntelSecuiCorp (Doo Dah). They are the sleaziest and most ruthless of the lot. The plan is for him to become a double agent.  All he needs to do is play himself: a bitter and disgruntled wounded former soldier in the Army of Texas.  They want him to either infiltrate the Los Tigres Trafficante organization or the CVB.  Since he has recently developed a taste for the barely illegal “Flower” he accepts. But he also has a vague sense that he can somehow exact revenge.  On who he’s not sure?  But it’s not the Los Tigres or the CVB.  He has no beef with them.

 

12 The Long Plastic Hallway

In the song the protagonist goes to LA with his TexIntelSecuriCorp handlers.  He is wined and dined.  He is partying like a rock star.  He meets aliens and movie stars.  It’s crazy.

But again  this is one of the songs that at least partially was written before the  concept of New Roman Times album came about.  And the true story it’s based on happened in 1984.

First the Long Plastic Hallway is from a quote widely (mis)attributed to Hunter S. Thompson:

  • The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Second the song is a metaphor for selling out.  For doing the wrong thing for money.  For selling your soul.  And finally doing stupid stuff for your own vanity.

Thirdly there is the true story that goes with this song.  That in real life involves flying saucers and aliens.  And it’s a Doozy.  It deserves it’s own separate post.  Stay tuned.

Finally the video is only evocative of the theme of the song. Not literal. The child represents the innocence that will be lost. Drag queen Manley Lennox represents our protagonist. He of course is “cross dress” his allegiances.

 

I Am Talking To This Flower- Camper Van Beethoven

In this song the protagonist is working with Los Tigres. Trying to get information about the CVB and Mexican informants in Southern California.  But  mostly he’s  thinking out loud.  He is essentially talking himself into joining the CVB.  His bosses of course think this is a good idea He is supposed to be a double agent after all. But he has his own plans.  He intends to join the Rebels for real. I guess that makes him a triple agent.  He is at this point completely disillusioned with his own government. He also is feeling the effects of the Flower. He’s got a plan it’s just not quite clear….

Also while researching odds and ends for this post I’ve discovered there are a lot of people who believe that Marijuana really is a plant that Extraterrestrials brought to Earth.  Here is one such nut.

The song starts with a sample from Steve Reich’s Come out to show them.

(sampled voice:)
I had to like, open the bruise up and let some of the blues blood come out to show them…

[G] I’m working California [D-Em-C]
[G] Tex Securintellicorps [D-Em-C]
[Am] And I’m smoking lots of [C] flower
‘cos I’m really [G] bored [D-Em-C] [G] [C]

I’m talking to my contacts
They’re el tigres traficantes
They always bring me flower, for known intelligence

CHORUS:
And if I [D] weren’t high on the flower
[C] could not work for the power
that [G] stands for nothing decent any-[F]-more
Yeah if I [D] weren’t high on the flower
I would [C] walk into a [A7] tower
Do some-[G]-thing [D-Em-C] nuclear, or worse [C]

I’m talking to this flower
So what ya lookin’ at?
Texas bureau little crew cuts
You need me much more

I’m talking to this flower
Without me he’d be lost
Maybe I should join the rebels
At least the chicks are hot

REPEAT CHORUS

 

14 Come Out

Well going back to the alternate universes and pop star theme: in our New Roman Times reality  Steve Reich is a pop star.  He plays a sort of highly repetitive hypnotic blues rock.  Often singing one phrase over and over again.  In California and Mexico where there is a lot of Flower smokers he is especially popular.  This song he makse  in reference to a martyred mormon separatists famous last words to his followers  “Come out to show them”.  This song is playing on the radio as our protagonist drives back from Fresno CA to LA.

This song was really just a tag on the end of I am Talking to this Flower, we hadn’t developed a proper ending and one take  David Immergluck, Jonathan Segel and i just kept playing.  Some how i got inspired to start singing “Come out to Show them” over the end.  It accidentally developed into a this strange plot point.

Tomorrow part 5.

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