#84 Sugartown: San Pedro, SugarBeets and Portuguese Fishermen

Posted in Uncategorized on June 9, 2014 by Dr. David C Lowery

 

Buy El Camino Real at your local record shop. Click here for locations

The Song Sugartown is the 6th track on the Camper Van Beethoven album El Camino Real (2014).   This album is part of a two album series on California.  The first album La Costa Perdida(2013)   focused on Northern California while El Camino Real focuses on Southern California.   In particular El Camino Real celebrates the polyglot poly-cultural history of Southern California

The fictional Sugartown is a combination of the working class neighborhood of San Pedro and the early 20th century sugar beet plantations of Seal Beach and Los Alamitos.  San Pedro is situated at the mouth of the Los Angeles River and faces the massive Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach.  Seal Beach and Los Alamitos are on the mouth of the San Gabriel river to the southeast on the other side of the two ports.

Both cities are (or were) home to large and diverse immigrant communities.   San Pedro is now known for it’s Italian neighborhoods, but was also once home to large populations of Croatians -actually Dalmatians, Greeks, Portuguese and Irish.  The Dalmatians are perhaps the most interesting group as they settled here when California was still part of Spain.   I wanted to use the Dalmatians as the fishermen in the story but lines like “We Came from Portugal to fish the sea”  didn’t sound as good with Croatia, Dalmatia Brač, Hvar, Vis or Korčula substituted.   So the Portuguese got the focus.

Los Alamitos and the adjacent Seal Beach were the center of Southern California’s briefly thriving sugar beet industry.   The sugar beet farming and processing industry attracted a lot of immigrant labor.  When the sugar beet farming collapsed in the 1920’s one of the big owners John Bixby started leasing out land to immigrant farmers including many Japanese families (many later ended up in  Manzanar) further diversifying the population.

Finally Sugartown also makes reference to Crocket or as the locals in the North San Francisco bay call it “Sugar City.”    Crocket is most clearly distinguished by the big C&H (California and Hawaii) sugar processing plant that faces the Carquinez strait.  Interstate 80 is carried over the city by a massive flyover bridge hence the line in the song  “Stay up upon the bridge at sugar town  mind your business don’t come down.”

So essentially the story is this:  Portuguese fisherman come to California to fish the sea. The fishing dies out and the lucky ones get jobs at the sugar processing plants. Of course the sugar beets are not even grown locally anymore.  So they process sugar cane shipped from hawaii.   The unlucky resort to smuggling drugs  “sugar cane”  (probably heroin) using the local port and what’s left of their fishing fleet.

The sea is empty now

It’s all we had

So we sell sugar cane

God is our judge

This little area is so rich in history, I feel like I could have done a whole album just on this area.   The Portuguese began exploring this as far back as the 1540’s. The  Spanish used this as a regular port shortly after.  The Tongva-Gabrieleño had villages here for at least 8,000 years.  They were expert seafarers and traders.  They had ocean going canoes something of a rarity among the native populations.

The whole sugar beet boom involves various railroad and banking tycoons and some genuine 19th century  robber barons.  The aforementioned John Bixby deserves his own treatment.  Finally their is the fate of the Japanese americans who were forcibly relocated to Manzanar during WWII.  Most of them lost everything.

Sugartown

We come from Sugartown

At the river’s mouth

Nestled in soft green hills

A factory town

it comes from cross the sea

raw sugarcane

it comes in railroad cars

we make it pure

Dont you show your face in Sugartown

we dont need your kind around

if you think you’re better than we are

you can leave at anytime

Stay up upon the bridge at Sugartown

Mind your business dont come down

If you show your face in sugar town

You know what happen last time round

We cam to Sugartown from the old country

We came from Portugal to fish the sea

The sea is empty now, its all we have

So we sell sugar cane, God is our judge

Dont you show your face in Sugartown

we dont need your kind around

if you think you’re better than we are

you can leave at anytime

Stay up upon the bridge at Sugartown

Mind your business dont come down

If you show your face in sugar town

You know what happen last time round

 

 

#83 Dockweiler Beach & Someday Our Love Will Sell Us Out-Surfing Under the Runway at LAX

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven on June 8, 2014 by Dr. David C Lowery


Support your local indie record store.  Buy new album local.  Click here to find store.

Flying out of LAX you almost always takeoff out over the Pacific Ocean. Even if you’re not going west.   The aircraft climbs to a few thousand feet and then banks north east or south.   I’ve often looked down and noticed the beach below us as you climb into the air.   Although it doesn’t seem like there are ever many people on the beach, it clearly has it’s devotees.  Most surprising is that there are a series of  state park RV campgrounds along this stretch of beach.

When Camper Van Beethoven was filming the video to  Someday Our Love Will Sell Us Out (from last years La Costa Perdida).   We ran out of time to film in Northern Californian and had to finish up in Southern California.  We were staying at the lovely (?) Hacienda Hotel in El Segundo. This happens to be across the street from our Tour Manager and Video Director’s apartment.   So he know this funky little stretch of the south LA coast pretty well and suggested that we go down to this beach and film some of the video there.  The idea was that the aircraft taking off would make a nice backdrop to the song.

When we got down to this beach we also discovered that there are these two natural gas fired power plants on the beach.  These power plants made impressive and contrasting backdrops for the video for Someday Our Love Will Sell Us Out.

I assume  the power plants are here because there is this enormous petrochemical processing complex in El Segundo that runs from Sepulveda all the way down to the pacific ocean. (The plants must burn the natural gas byproducts?)  The petrochemical plant is impressive in it’s own right.  Especially when you’re sitting on the patio of one of the down-home restaurant/cantinas in tiny downtown El Segundo and Chevron designed to burn “flare” off some excess flammable gasses.  The night sky turns this eerie orange color.  It frightened me the first time I saw it.  I thought we were in for a toxic airborne event. The locals didn’t even bat an eye.  Continued their small talk and ordered more drinks.

There is also a huge cluster of defense and aerospace companies between El Sepulveda and Aviation.   Northrop Grumman,  Rayethon, Boeing, SAIC and numerous smaller companies.   Direct TV is also in with this lot.   So if you think you are in your typical Southern California beach community  you are wrong.   This is a serious redoubt of the military petrochemical industrial defense complex.  This is a serious component of our nations imperial might.

That said there are also three pleasant old school surfer hangouts right next door. Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach.   So here you have the makings of a camper van beethoven song.   The bucolic surfer lifestyle literally in the shadows of some of the most toxic elements of our national imperial might: petrochemicals, armaments and the deafening and relentless global air traffic at LAX.     This became the inspiration for the lyrics to Dockweiler Beach-which is the name of the state park under the runway.

So the character in song has lost his wife or girlfriend to a “rogue wave”  which sucked her into an undertow.  He’s descended into madness and is basically living in a trailer in the Dockweiler Beach RV camp weighting for her body to reappear.

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

Someday Our Love Will Sell Us Out.

In June 2011 Camper Van Beethoven was supposed to play a show at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur.  The performance is not in the library but always outside on the grounds.  It rained and they postponed our show for a week.  So instead of flying home to Virginia we decided that I should stay in Northern California and Camper Van Beethoven should use the time to write a new album.  That week of songwriting produced 17 songs that make up the bulk of both La Costa Perdida and El Camino Real. 

Someday Our Love Will Sell Us Out is a track off the Camper Van Beethoven Album  La Costa Perdida.   This song is about an illicit love affair between two military intelligence officers who meet at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey California just up Highway  1 from Big Sur.  Even after they are deployed to Afghanistan they continue their affair.  This song tells their story.

There is also this super cool Acoustic Demo of the song.  It’s simply us sitting around in jonathan’s living room in oakland when we made up the music. That’s why you can hear us giving each other instructions.   Later I overdubbed the vocals onto this.

 Dockweiler Beach

I am waiting in the water

I am waiting at El Segundo

I am waiting for that rogue wave

 bring your body back

I saw you go into the water

I saw Neptune’s Trident Shine

Took you by the hand my darlin

Took you in the Undertow

I will wait ten thousand years

I will wait ten thousand years

Eternity

Ten thousand years

Montgomery Atoll

I am living in a trailer

Dockweiler Beach at LAX

Planes take off for Tokyo

They are never coming back

Oceans filled with submariners

Dark secrets and chemicals

Night time lit by gas flares

bring my baby’s body back

I will wait ten thousand years

I will wait ten thousand years

Eternity

ten thousand years

Montgomery Atoll

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

 Someday Our Love Will Sell Us Out

Someday our love will sell us out

Someday they’ll come stone us to death

Someday the sun will burn our flesh

The crows will come they’ll eat what’s left

Someday our love will sell us out

Someday my love forever now

Eternity is you my love

Someday our love will sell us out

The drone is perched high up above

Black winged bird don’t give us up

Just one more night I can’t explain

Just one more night I can’t explain

Someday our love will sell us out

Someday my love forever now

Eternity is you my love

Someday our love will sell us out

Someday our love will sell us out

Someday my love forever now

Eternity is you my love

Someday our love will sell us out

Lyrics for La Costa Perdida by Camper Van Beethoven

Copyright 2012 Camper Van Beethoven Music.

Published by Camper Van Beethoven Music Company BMI

#82 Camp Pendelton – Echos of New Roman Times.

Posted in Uncategorized on June 4, 2014 by Dr. David C Lowery

el camino real front

Camp Pendelton- Camper Van Beethoven.

Last year Camper Van Beethoven released La Costa Perdida  (loosely “the lost coast”) which is a set of songs about Northern California  (see Northern California Girls or Come Down the Coast as examples).    This year Camper Van Beethoven releases the companion piece to this album “El CaminoReal.”   This time the album thematically focuses on Southern California and Baja California.

Whereas  La Costa Perdida  was a look back at the “back to the country” hippy period of  northern California with references to Jack Kerouac, Richard Brautigan, The Grateful Dead and even The Beach Boy’s  “Big Sur”  period this one is firmly planted in the present and further down the coast in Southern California.

The best way to look at the new album is to draw a contrast between the two. On La Costa Perdida  the ocean is calm, benevolent and feminine; on  El Camino Real  the sea is “filled with darkness, secrets and chemicals.”

Camp Pendelton is the 4th track on the new Camper Van Beethoven album El Camino Real.  The song tells the story of a marine in either Iraq or Afghanistan (most likely Afghanistan).   He is manning a remote outpost somewhere and  in his head he is speaking to his wife:

Keep the children safe

dress them the same

cause I have changed

I’ve changed forever”

The idea is that he is fully aware that he is suffering from the effects of his long deployment.  Maybe PTSD although it’s not really clear to me and I wrote the song. You might compare him to the character in The Hurt Locker.  Although the similarity is purely coincidental because this is the one song that we didn’t write FOR this album.   This song has been kicking around  since 2003 in the form of of a half finished demo. This was when Camper Van Beethoven  was working on their alternate history sic-fi rock opera New Roman Times.  In fact it was intended to be a track for that album.  It would have loosely fit in somewhere between White Fluffy Clouds and Might Makes Right.  We didn’t include it because it seemed like we didn’t need this “in between” stage of his character development.    I sort of forgot about the song.

Skip forward 8 years and I was looking for B-sides for La Costa Perdida and I came across the demo for this song.   What a surprise!  How could we leave this unreleased?

Fortunately it’s set in Southern California and considering that Camp Pendelton and Twenty Nine Palms take up 85% of the landmass of Southern California (joking folks) it seemed like it was perfect for the album.

Buy the album at your local record store

or stream here.

 

Camp Pendleton

I have dreamed immortal suns

I gazed upon the fiery surfaces

and I have fought down burning roads

The highways littered with our humanity

I see your face safely at home

Baby keep the home fires burning

Keep the children safe

and dress them the same

Because I have changed I’ve changed forever

Pump up the violence bring the lights on down

Pump up the violence bring the lights on down

Pump up the violence bring the ordnance on down

Pump up the violence bring the lights on down

Pump up the violence bring the lights on down

Pump up the violence bring the ordnance on down

Pump up the violence bring the lights on down

Pump up the violence bring the lights on down

Pump up the violence bring the ordnance on down

I have dreamed immortal sun

I gazed upon the fiery surfaces

always fear but never falter

onward forward Christian Soldiers

Pump up the violence bring the lights on down

Pump up the violence bring the lights on down

Pump up the violence bring the ordnance on down

Pump up the violence bring the lights on down

Pump up the violence bring the lights on down

Pump up the violence bring the ordnance on down

Pump up the violence bring the lights on down

Pump up the violence bring the lights on down

Pump up the violence bring the ordnance on down

Pump up the violence bring the lights on down

Pump up the violence bring the lights on down

Pump up the violence bring the ordnance on down

©2014 Camper Van Beethoven

 

#81 Classy Dames and Able Gents – Southern California’s Military-Academic-Industrial-Electronic-Espionage-Complex

Posted in Uncategorized on June 3, 2014 by Dr. David C Lowery

Oceanview_Club

The Oceanview Club on Kwajalein Atoll which will be the site of Camper Van Beethoven’s 2027 Reunion show. 

 

In number #60 I’m So Glad She Ain’t Never Coming Back I posed a little riddle about where  I found the titles for three unfinished demos I exhibited in the blog.   These titles were

“Infidel Sorcerers Of The Air”

“Peppermint Mind”

“Classy Dames and Able Gents”

Only a couple of people figured it out.  It was a reference to a website that appeared to be the semi-secret  homepage for the Forsythe Associates.  This audiovisual services company was the “cover” company that operated the secret underground bunker beneath the Greenbriar Resort in West Virginia  designed to house the US government in the event of a nuclear war.

This is not a joke.  This actually happened. This is not some wacko conspiracy theory thing like the Denver International Airport Conspiracy.  

So after reading about the Greenbriar bunker I decided to try and track down information on the Forsythe Asscoiates.   Eventually I came across a webpage that seemed to have no obvious purpose.  The website had 4 screens that were supposed to be live camera feeds but all 4 only showed static.   Each of them had a cryptic title.   That’s the three titles above.   My first thought was “What fantastic band names!”

Think about it?   Especially the first two “Infidel Sorcerers of the Air” and “Peppermint Mind.”  Classy Dames and Able Gents is more like a wedding or corporate gig band.  However it does make a good song title.  So I used it.

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

So what in God’s holy name are you blathering about in this song?    I’ll tell you what I’m blathering on about.   I’m blathering on about elements of the military-academic-industrial-electronic-espionage-complex that covers much of the Southern California coast from Vandenberg AFB to the Mexican border.   The whole southern half of the state is bristling with sensors, antennae and mysterious military installations.   Most people who visit Southern California don’t really notice this or if they do give it much thought.   But California is pretty much a garrison state.  It’s pretty well chronicled in this book Fortress California.    This song riffs on this theme and throws in references to other important military and electronic warfare installations in the Pacific.   The main character who is some sort of government contractor has just returned from being stationed at the military installation on the the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Instead of speaking literally and directly I had him speak in a style of cryptic prose that I borrowed from the aforementioned Forsythe Associates website.    It’s perfectly logical in a Camper Van Beethoven sort of way.   As some of our readers have already noted it seems to have confused the starched shirts over at American Songwriter.

Buy at your local record store

Or stream here.

Classy Dames and Able Gents

I Augustine, the fishes widow

I knew the crawfish, I lived on shellfish

Under a sail

Lived on atoll

I had a foreclosed motorhome

At Kwajalein tracking station

I’ve got friends not on vacation

They got big ears they got big eyes

Classy Dames and Able Gents

Classy Dames and Able Gents

We’re here to serve our government

Classy Dames and Able Gents

There was a fire under water

Bring me my space suit!

I always wear it

I feel like Elvis

A million bucks

I lived in Baltimore

I work greenbriar

I worked for Foresythe associates

A Kwajalein tracking station

I’ve got friends i can be trusted

i got black bags i got black hands

Classy Dames and Able Gents

Classy Dames and Able Gents

We’re here to serve our government

Classy Dames and Able Gents

Classy Dames and Able Gents

We’re here to serve our government

Classy Dames and Able Gents

 ©2014 Camper Van Beethoven.

 

#80 It Was Like That When We Got Here & I Live In LA – Northeast Los Angeles Party at the End of the World.

Posted in Uncategorized on June 2, 2014 by Dr. David C Lowery

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 9.18.14 PM

These two tracks are from the new Camper Van Beethoven album  El Camino Real.  Release date June 3rd 2014.   

I was recently in Highland Park a neighborhood of what might be loosely  referred to as Northeast Los Angeles.   I was there to record an episode of Marc Maron’s immensely enjoyable podcast WTF.   I realized I was not too far from the apartment where the “Playing on a flying saucer over Los Angeles” story took place as chronicled in #68 The Long Plastic Hallway-Playing on a Flying Saucer with the Talking Heads.   Funny.  Regrettably I failed to tell Marc Maron  this story in our interview.

It seemed like all throughout the 1980s every couple of years I would end up at some strange party in this area of Los Angeles. Some weird mix of rich people, hipsters and low lifes. Socio-economically strange as well.   On the east  side you have the extremely wealthy enclaves of South Pasadena and San Marino.  I mean really rich. Like Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos corrupt ex-dictator rich.  Indeed this is where the former filipino president and his wife lived after being overthrown.  Various relatives of the Shah and other members of foreign oligarchs seemed to settle in this area.  And of course the wayward scions of New England establishment fortunes.  I assume dwindling fortunes cause they always lived in some decaying mansion.    Think grey gardens.

But back to geography.  To the north you have Glendale and Pasadena. To the  south high-rises of Downtown.  To the west Los Feliz and Hollywood.   All relatively affluent places, home to power brokers of various kinds:  banking, entertainment, military-industrial academic (Cal Tech/JPL) and political.  But in the middle of this are a series of neighborhoods like Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Atwater Village, Montecito Heights, Mt Washington and others without name.   Within these neighborhoods you have poor areas, usually in the flatlands, and up on the hillsides are nicer houses and generally wealthier people.  Not Imelda Marcos 15,000 pairs of shoes rich, but not as poor as the folks in the flatlands.

It was in a relatively new and nice compound near the top of one of these hills that I occasionally attended parties with a few of the the punk rockers from the Inland Empire.   I don’t know who in my IE group of friends got the original introduction but somehow we were on the guest list from time to time.  The hostess was a woman reportedly from spain, but I always wondered about that because most of the cars were tagged with Mexican “La Frontera” licenses plates.   The rumor was she was variously the daughter, mistress or wife of some gangster.  This was the early 1980’s and the Mexican and Colombian drug cartels hadn’t really made any headlines, so we always assumed that our host was connected to the Sicilian Mafia.  Which somehow made it seem safer.

Regardless these were pretty typical LA parties, mostly booze and a little bit of drugs in the back room somewhere.  Some impossibly arty musical ensemble.  Inevitably someone was keeping time on an oil drum or some other large piece of metal.  Guitars, Synthesizers and a often more than one bass player.   At least one of the band members was always from the UK.

One night we all went outside because there was an enormous brush fire in the Angeles National forest that had worked it’s way down into the foothills of Pasadena.  It may have even been the La Tuna fire that burned parts of  Verdugo Mountain between Burbank and Glendale.   It looked like the end of the world.   But this only seemed to enliven the guests.

Their are two songs on the record inspired by these parties and their mysterious hostess. It Was Like That When We Got Here is largely about the party on the night of the fire.  I Live in LA is about the  hostess.  

Buy album at your local indie record store

Or

Buy album Here

Stream Album Here

It was Like That When I Got Here

It was broken on the floor

It was like that when we got here

A piece was stuck in to the door

It was like that when we got here

There was this girl I kind of know

It was like that when we got here

In an Army Uniform

It was like that when we got here

I’m a mess baby and you’re a mess baby

So why can’t we be more than friends

You and I were meant to be together

I’m a mess baby and you’re a mess baby

So why can’t we be more than friends

You and I were meant to be together

An Endless pool of summer light

It was like that when we got here

Pasadena burning bright

It was like that when we got here

A phoenix rising from the smoke

It was like that when we got here

The mountains rising up in flames

I’m a mess baby and you’re a mess baby

So why cant we be more than friends

You and I were meant to be together

I’m a mess baby and you’re a mess baby

So why cant we be more than friends

You and I were meant to be together

It was like that when we got here

It was like that when we got here

It was like that when we got here

It was like that when we got here

I Live in LA

She comes in like a star

Wearing jewelry and fur

with her own entourage

hanger-oners in clogs

From some small town in spain

Its never explained

Sufficiently

Or the security

I live in LA

Come and see me someday

You can stay at my house

I’ve got plenty of space

I live in LA

Come see me someday boy

If you wanna have a good time

A good time with me

Black SUVs in the drive

tinted windows and guards

Cowboy boots and shaved heads

Italian suits tattood necks

the party rages inside

but its never explained

Sufficiently

Oh boy I hope its not too late

I live in LA

Come and see me someday

You can stay at my house

I’ve got plenty of space

I live in LA

Come see me someday boy

If you wanna have a good time

A good time with me

Done ever ask where i’ve been

Dont ever ask where the money comes from

Dont ever ask who I am cause it cant be explaind

Sufficiently

Or the Security

I live in LA

Come and see me someday

You can stay at my house

I’ve got plenty of space

I live in LA

Come see me someday boy

If you wanna have a good time

A good time with me

I live in LA

Come and see me someday

You can stay at my house

I’ve got plenty of space

I live in LA

Come see me someday boy

If you wanna have a good time

A good time with me

© 2014 Camper Van Beethoven

#79 The Ultimate Solution- The Polyglot Polyculture City-State that is Los Angeles

Posted in Uncategorized on June 1, 2014 by Dr. David C Lowery

el camino real front

The Ultimate Solution- Camper Van Beethoven.

The polyglot poly-cultural city state that is Los Angeles.  

Last year Camper Van Beethoven released La Costa Perdida  (loosely “the lost coast”) which is a set of songs about Northern California  (see Northern California Girls or Come Down the Coast as examples).    This year Camper Van Beethoven releases the companion piece to this album “El CaminoReal.”   This time the album thematically focuses on Southern California and Baja California.

Whereas  La Costa Perdida  was a look back at the “back to the country” hippy period of  northern California with references to Jack Kerouac, Richard Brautigan, The Grateful Dead and even The Beach Boy’s  “Big Sur”  period this one is firmly planted in the present and further down the coast in Southern California.

The best way to look at the new album is to draw a contrast between the two. On La Costa Perdida  the ocean is calm, benevolent and feminine; on  El Camino Real  the sea is “filled with darkness, secrets and chemicals.”  The choice of the masculine title subject El Camino Real  as opposed to the feminineLa Costa Perdida was an intentional contrast.  On La Costa Perdida the bucolic rural past is the focus; on El Camino Real it’s the urban polyglot multi-cultural landscape of Southern California that is celebrated.   La Costa Perdida is laid back where El Camino Real is fast paced and frenetic.

Generally when journalists have written about Camper Van Beethoven they have inevitably associated the band with Northern California because of the band’s long residency in Santa Cruz CA.  But it’s often overlooked that the band originally formed in the gritty and rural  “Inland Empire” region of Southern California.  This album is a gentle reminder of the band’s roots.

The album starts with the track  The Ultimate Solution.  Essentially an ode to the City of Los Angeles.  Frommer’s has described Los Angeles as “Less of a melting pot and more of a tossed salad of overlapping cultures.”  This song essentially sums up this view of Los Angeles as the ultimate polycultural American megapolis .

If there were a video to this song it would be a high speed stop action video that took you down vermont from the Hollywood hills through downtown Los Angeles.  There would be stops along the way for  snacks like “Armenian lamb kabobs served in Mayan pickled cabbage tacos”  or  “Filipino style curry udon.”

Alternately you could take a larger east to west cross section of the megapolis and travel from the celebrity suburbs of the far west sunset drive, through downtown Los Angeles all the way out to the far end of the San Gabriel Valley.   On this drive you would encounter large communities, of Russians,  Mexican-Americans, Persians, Samoans, Koreans, El Salvadoreans, Filipinos, Hasidim, Indians, Japanese, Armenians, Arabs, Greeks,  Chinese, Turkish and Afghanis.

I once took a city bus from the Fairfax district all the way down pico and into Boyle Heights with a native Angeleno specifically to experience this aspect of the city.  Oh and to sample the food at various restaurants along the way.

Finally I reference the LAPD “Rampart Division” scandal.  Los Angeles as a true city-state has often operated it’s police department as an almost militarized internal security force.  Sometimes acting more like a La Guardia Civil   than a traditional city police force.   The most bizarre chapter in the LAPD history concerns an anti-gang operation out of the Rampart substation that rumored to have acted as it’s own gang, with it’s own tattoos and spray paint tags.

Buy New Album Here.

Stream New Album Here.

The Ultimate Solution

I was living happily

waiting for the world to end

eating pickled cabbage in a taqueria

I was waiting patiently

For the geminids to show

I was staring happily in to the sun

And every day is just like a dive

into the ultimate solution

violins and violence

Samoa town Los Angeles

In Tagalog Korean girls

say Oyster Pearls

are like the Ultimate

Ultimate Solution

Ultimate Solution

I was on a new game show

Dancing with the Rampart squad

everyone had gang tattoos

and designer luggage

Waiting on the El Al Bus

Security was tight that day

Pico and Sepulveda

all the way to Baghdad

And every day’s just like a dive

into the ultimate solution

violins and violence

Somoa town Los Angeles

In Tagalog Korean girls

say Oyster Pearls

are like the Ultimate

Ultimate Solution

Ultimate Solution

 

 
© 2014 camper van beethoven music

Trichordist

Posted in Uncategorized on April 8, 2012 by Dr. David C Lowery

Hello everybody.

I’m making some changes to the this blog.  So for the time being I have unpublished all these posts.  I’ll put them back on line as we go through them.  thanks.

You can also visit me at http://www.trichordist.com

 

#78 No more bullshit. The top 10 lamest excuses for stealing artists music

Posted in Uncategorized on January 21, 2012 by Dr. David C Lowery

I am on the fucking warpath this week.

Lamest arguments in favor of illegal file sharing from the past week. I’m not making this shit up. These are real arguments people presented. And argued vehemently.

1. “Marijuana is illegal. File sharing is illegal. Therefore it’s okay.”

Response try filesharing your pot dealer’s stash with 5,000 strangers online and let’s see how long you live.

2. “The RIAA is secretly behind filesharing. They make more money suing people than by selling albums. There are Youtube videos explaining all this therefore it’s true. Therefore it’s okay to steal from cracker and camper van beethoven”

Response: The RIAA was also behind 9-11, Global Warming Hoax and the Kennedy assassinations. Usher is behind Justin Bieber. And Camper Van Beethoven tests cosmetics on lab animals.

3. I heard that the record companies ripped off Willy Dixon in the 1950’s Therefore it’s okay to steal from Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven.

Response: Very clever. You figured out that Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven have a time machine. We all went back in time to the 1950’s (before we were born) and took $20 dollars from the man’s wallet while he was sleeping. Curses Foiled again.

4. Louis CK. Is successful and his stuff is on Youtube. Therefore it’s okay to steal Cracker’s songs.

Response ask Louis CK if he would prefer his income stream or his idol George Carlin’s Income stream from album sales, video sales, book sales in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Louis CK is making a lot of money. But nothing like George Carlin. And in the process he is helping Google/Youtube add to the piles of gold bullion that Google keeps in secret spaceship deep inside the mantle of the earth below their mountain view “campus”.

5. Music should be free it belongs to the universe.

Response: Okay then come to my house and do YOUR job for free. My car needs it’s oil changed and someone needs to pick up the dogshit in the backyard. There is a signup list on our website. Last i checked my car and the dogshit also “belonged to the universe”.

6. In the middle ages there were no music sales. It was all based on live performance.

Response: Yes and doctors bled you or covered your torso with leaches when you were sick. Also it was permissible to beat your wife with a stick as long as the stick was not larger in diameter than your thumb .

7. “Music sucks today. I’m gonna steal music I like. You bad. No No.”

Response: There is no official response. We have been advised by our legal counsel that the above referenced statement exhibits such a degree of logical incoherence that the statement:
A) was made by a mentally disabled individual
B) are lyrics to a Red Hot Chili Peppers song
C) A zen koan created by a zen master operating on a higher level of consciousness
D) or any two of the above three.

8. “You’re not the boss of me. You can’t tell me what to do”

Response: Actually I personally am the boss of you. Check with your attorney. Unless you are in international waters. Now get out in the backyard and clean up the dog shit.

9. “The Record labels and Musicians failed to adapt to the new hi tech reality. So it’s okay to steal music by Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven”.

Response: So it’s okay to steal handmade boots, organically grown farm produce from family farms, and custom motorcycles? You’re right I’ve been stealing custom choppers for years. How stupid of me. You win.

10. “It’s okay to steal from musicians cause they are all rich”

Response: Although I am dictating this into my solid gold jewel encrusted dictaphone from horseback I’m not rich. Now Steve Jobs he was rich. You know he was buried in a 300 yard long platinum coffin along with 50,000 of his favorite servants? A funeral procession 66 miles long stretched from Vacaville California to Mountain View. Thousand of Buddhist monks burned themselves alive. I’m not rich.

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A lot of you may be shocked by this response.  But should you really be surprised?  I mean i’ve spent  29 years making music for people who think  the world is full of a lot of unadulterated bullshit and can see the humor in it.  Have a sense of humor people.

19 No More Bullshit

#77 Exile in Beach Flats–Lulu Land, Wasted and Surf City 1985

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker on August 1, 2011 by Dr. David C Lowery

Ted Kaczynski’s Santa Cruz vacation shack.

04 Lulu Land

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In 1982 I lived in the tiniest house imaginable.  It was at most 400 square feet yet it boasted a kitchen, bathroom, living room and two bedrooms.  My bedroom was 6 x 10 feet.  big enough for for a single mattress on a small platform. The small closet could hold about a ½ a dozen shirts,  a couple of jackets and a sweater or two.  I rolled up four or five pairs of jeans and stuffed them onto the shelf at the top of the closet.  The rest of my clothes I kept in a suitcase that I slid out from under my bed when I needed it.  This is where I also kept my guitars.  I had two plastic beer crates.  I stacked these on the floor one on top of each other.  I kept a few books, a couple of writing journals and my supply of cassettes for my cassette recorder.  The cassette recorder was on the top of the stack. In the corner I kept a small fender amp. A Fender super champ  that somebody with excellent cabinetry skills had reworked into a separated “head” and speaker cabinet.  This was my songwriting workstation.

I can’t remember if the living room had any furniture in it.  I know we had my roommate’s stereo in there and one wall was filled with our vinyl collections.  The other side of the living room had a couple of guitar amplifiers, my full size SVT and some miscellaneous drum kit parts.   I can’t imagine there was any room for any furniture.  Plus I can not recall ever once sitting in that room.

The house was part of a collection of a dozen beach cottages crammed into the parking lot of the Santa Cruz beach amusement park.  These were originally meant to be summer rentals.  But this was during Santa Cruz’s deep nadir in popularity. Air travel had rendered Santa Cruz’s oceanfront irrelevant to the Bay Area’s middle class.  Yes there were tourists on the weekend but they were a decidedly working class and rowdy lot.

This area was called Beach Flats.  It was really just a sand bar barely above sea level. It was protected from the San Lorenzo river by a 12 foot levee.  Aside from a few students living here the area was populated by Spanish speaking immigrants. Most worked in the local restaurants.  Everything about the place suggested impermanence and transience.

In the summer it was occupied land.  A foreign army of daytrippers from San Jose, Milpitas, Watsonville and Fremont encamped upon these shores.  Their River’s Edge Baja Bugs, Low Riders and tricked out pickup trucks were like the chariot armies of Carthaginians to our Roman sensibilities.  Thus we avoided their beachhead.

But most of the time, especially in the winter, it was a lonely outpost from the rest of the city.  The city bus neglected the area and it always required a lonely and dark walk  along the top of the river levee.  Alternately you could walk across a small pedestrian bridge attached to the railroad trestle that spanned the San Lorenzo just as it emptied into the ocean.

During heavy rains directly below the bridge there was a  violent mixing of river current and storm driven waves.  If you fell into this you would surely drown.  I’d often encounter neighborhood youth smoking pot or drinking beer on this bridge late in the evening.   They stared at me warily.  Their alliances were uncertain.  I never knew if we were friend or foe.  On many occasion I imagined they might throw me off  the bridge just for their own amusement.  For this reason I often carried my all aluminum Ultraflex skateboard.  I rarely rode it, but both tail and nose were worn down into a sharp edge. It was like a 30” Celtic sword with urethane wheels.

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Corry Arnold defines a music scene as a neighborhood or city that is a “net exporter of concerts”.  In other words

 

Let  A = the number of concerts performed by the bands in a scene outside their neighborhood or city X. 

 

Let B = the number of concerts performed by outsiders within that neighborhood or city. 

 

City or neighborhood X is a music scene If and only if  A> B.

By this definition I’d say that Santa Cruz (barely) qualified as a music scene in 1982.

Arnold also notes music scenes rely on low property values in particular transitional neighborhoods.  Neighborhoods that had once had another purpose but now had fallen out of primary use.  Cheap space and a tolerance for noise are important commodities for bands.

You could argue that the old beach rentals along the lower end of Ocean street and the neighborhoods clustered around the old harbor qualified as in transition.  Too seedy and rundown for beach rentals these houses were subsequently occupied by the more adventurous.  Arty students, musicians and other slackers now occupied many of these cottages.

But our cottage was effectively cut off from these neighborhoods by the river levee.  In retrospect I now see it was very Dungeons and Dragonsish of the locals to refer to the homeless population that slept in hideaways along the river as “trolls”.  Indeed walking to my house at night I learned to steer clear of these trolls as many were quite aggressive or totally insane.   You definitely felt penalized after unexpectedly making contact with these folks.

But the isolation was very good for a couple young mathematicians and songwriters. I was able to really dive into the most difficult proofs and songs in that cottage.  Later when I moved to a better part of town I found that I had to go to the science library to get any deep thinking done.

My roommate was also a mathematician and songwriter.   His name was Paul MacKinney.  Recognize that name?  We covered one of his songs on the 3rd Camper Van Beethoven Album.   The song is LuLu Land.   We also  named our CVB fan club  after him. The Paul MacKinney Fan Club.  People were completely mystified as to why the Camper Van Beethoven fan club was named The Paul MacKinney Fan Club.  Paul was also mystified. As always CVB was Inscrutable.

I’m not really sure what Paul had in mind when he wrote Lulu Land but in my mind I always associated it with that walk along the river levee.   An unplanned conversation with one of the sad crazies was surely the root of this song!  But who knows.

Also it should be noted that Paul, Joe Sloan (of Spot 1019) and I had a short lived band about this time called The Jaws of Life.  It was actually during this time that I began performing the Black Flag song “wasted”.  This was later carried over into Camper Van Beethoven’s repertoire.

Paul would often finish his math homework well before me.  He’d come into my room and hover.  Or he’d try to help me with whatever proof or problem I was working on.  Once I was finished he’d celebrate by handing me a PBR (or joint). and dropping the needle on his well worn copy of Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown EP.  Wasted was one of the songs on the B side.   We became fixated on the simple genius of the 40 second song.  How could we not cover it?

03 Wasted

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Beach Flats makes another small appearance in a Cracker song.  Once I moved to the eastside of Santa Cruz  I rarely went back to this neighborhood.  Except to go bowling.  Go figure.

Boardwalk Bowl (I remember it as Surf Bowl-anyone else?)  was on the western edge of Beach Flats.  Right where the land began to slope up and become Beach Hills.  To be accurate it should be noted that the cheap beer was more of an attraction than the actual bowling.  This and the two old dive bars The Asti Café and the Avenue  were for a long time my usual hangouts in Santa Cruz.

But one day my girlfriend Jennifer  (see fear and loathing in Las Vegas #….)  ruined it for all of us.  She had become fixated on the bowling shoes at the Surf Bowl.  She wanted her own pair but the ones that were available commercially were nothing like surf bowls cool retro beauties.  So one day she just walks out with a pair on.

When I discovered this I was quite mad.  Because we were regulars and she was quite the beauty.  There was no way the middle aged men who worked in the bowling alley would not remember us. No more Surf Bowl.  All for a pair of shoes.

So in Surf City 85 I sing.

Surf City

Then you stole some bowling shoes

What a pathetic criminal you.

What a pathetic criminal

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Lulu Land- (Paul MacKinney)


[Am]
 Pictures of [C] movie stars [D] fade and grow old
[Am] The hot dogs and [C] pretzels are [D] always served cold
[Am] Take nothing [C] with you when you [D] leave but your soul
In [E] Lulu Land

How can you lose when you choose what you feel?
The scab will fall off when the wound starts to heal
Luck’s on your side and it’s your turn to deal
In Lulu Land

In [F#m] Lulu land, the [G] walls are soft and [F#m] dark
In Lulu [G] land, the secret [F#m] heart
is in com-[G]-mand in Lulu [E] Land

How can you lose when you live in the past?
Nothing can happen that happens too fast
Live is a furnace and love is the blast
In Lulu Land

Where innocent promises turn into bad debts
Where things that you do you live to regret
Your life is a movie and the world is a set
In Lulu Land

In Lulu land, the wall are soft and dark
In Lulu land, the secret heart
is in command in Lulu Land

[C#dim][Cdim][C#dim][Cdim][B][A#m][Am][G]

[Am][C][D]
[Am][C][D]
[Am][C][D] [E]
[F#m][G]
[F#m][G]
[F#m][G]
[E]

Surf City 85
[INTRO x2 (also: chords for verses):]
[Am] [Dm] [F] [G] [Am]

Schoolgirls walking down the street
In schoolgirl uniforms
There’s a sadness at
The centre of the world

Well days they seem to drift away
I don’t know where they go
There’s a sadness at
The centre of the world

[CHORUS:]
So [G] come pick me up
At the tea cup
We’ll go [Am] down the seaside lanes [F]
We’ll watch the [C] girls
[F] We’ll bowl a few [C] games

Nothing to do
But there’s the red room
Then you stole some bowling shoes
What a pathetic criminal you
What a pathetic criminal

Blair and goldie on the sand
It’s raining in the surf
Well that’s nothing lost
And nothing gained today

They tried to go their separate ways
But all roads circle back
Well that’s nothing lost
And nothing gained today

[CHORUS:]
So come pick me up
At the tea cup
We’ll go down the Asti Café
We’ll watch the girls
Just like every Saturday

Nothing to do
Ride out to Bonnie Doon
We thought she had it made
But you crashed your bike on ice-cream grade
And then you were dead

[KEYBOARD SOLO then GUITAR SOLO (chords as INTRO)]

#74 Hits are Black Swans-Take the Skinheads Bowling

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven on July 15, 2011 by Dr. David C Lowery

The Black Swan Theory or Theory of Black Swan Events is a metaphor that encapsulates the concept that The event is a surprise (to the observer) and has a major impact. After the fact, the event is rationalized by hindsight.- wikipedia.

12 Take The Skinheads Bowling  (click to play)

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I’ve mentioned this before.  Success in the music business is completely unpredictable.  No one can really predict which artists will end up being successful. No one can really predict which song or album will be a hit.  And a lot of times the songs, albums or artists that become the really big smash hits seem to just come out of the blue.  They are often surprises to the record labels and artists themselves. The smaller hits and the minor hits seem almost predictable by comparison.  The really big hits are truly outliers.

In technical terms these  smash hits are Black Swans. Further there appears to be a distinct lack of causality.  By this I mean,  spending money on radio promotion, publicity,  advertising,  production, videos etc etc  seems to be inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Sure it’s unlikely that a band with no budget or promotional push behind them is gonna be a massive hit.  But having a million dollar promotional budget and the full might of Warner Music Group behind a band doesn’t guarantee success. Money might sometimes be a necessary condition but it is not sufficient.In fact it leads to success in perhaps 1 in 10 cases.*

Sadly talent is overrated. Yes there are very talented artists and songwriters. While talent is a subjective quality there are clearly artists that we all seem to agree have talent. We can be objective and say they have talent.    And to be sure these talented artists always have a much better chance of becoming stars.  They have a much better chance of having hit songs, multi-platinum albums and large crowds at the their shows. But it is not guaranteed. In fact most “talented” artists do not become stars. T They toil in obscurity until they finally give up or become too old to be marketable.  Its just a lucky few that make it.  And it is luck.

And the opposite is also true.  Sometimes fairly untalented artists have big hits.  Sometimes it’s the strange one hit wonders like Right Said Fred.   Other times fairly untalented artists can have long and successful careers.  Take for instance Kid Rock. This is not a jab.  I believe there exists a scientific proof that can establish that Kid Rock is fairly untalented. I’m just stating facts. I have a feeling that Kid Rock might admit that he is fairly untalented and extremely lucky.

Talent is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for success.

ab

It’s not that there really is no rhyme or reason to an artist’s success.  It’s not really random.  It’s just that the process of making a hit or a star is  irreducibly complex,unpredictable and impossible to model. It can never be duplicated.  What worked for one artist doesn’t work for the next artist.  All we can say is that empirically the secret alchemist formula for success has little to do with money, clout or talent.  These seem to lead to only marginal improvements in total sales. And this is usually only once an act or a song has already generated some success on it’s own.

Yet everyone in the music business seems to think otherwise.  Artists, managers, agents and record executives will argue otherwise.  They will cite their own personal narratives that show how  their actions and decisions led to some spectacular success.  But there are always a few strange logical fallacies at work.

“Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan”- arab proverb.

What this means is not that a successful project has many fathers helping to guide it on it’s way to success.  No, this means that many people claim to be associated or responsible for a project’s success no matter how tenuous.  People play up their role in a successful project but downplay their role or completely disavow involvement in failures and disasters.  It’s a genetically encoded survival feature of Homo Corporaticus.  By doing this people artificially increase their win/loss ratio.  Equity traders would say they fraudulently increase their alpha or skill quotient.

This also helps create an illusion of causality.  It helps us tell ourselves and others the lie that our actions decisions and theories usually result in great success. There’s also something called the narrative fallacy whereby an individual will look back on events and select a cause and effect narrative that brings order to what were really chaotic and random events and decisions.

For instance Quincy Jones might naturally and understandably think that his production of Thriller was the most important and consequential narrative in the unprecedented success of this album (100 million worldwide best selling album of all time).  When in actuality totally unrelated seemingly random developments and events were likely greater factors:

1. A burgeoning middle class in the developing world that identified with american Soul and R & B.

2. satellite television that distributed american music videos worldwide

3. the guest guitar solo by Edie Van Halen onBeat it suddenly made it okay for white suburban kids to listen to Michael Jackson  etc etc.

I’m skipping a few things here but in short we lie to ourselves not because we are bad or evil, it’s just seems we can not function comfortably with a universe that is chaotic and unpredictable.  We need to make sense of the world in a way that comforts and soothes us.

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I teach a class at University of Georgia about the music business. As part of the class I like to give the students a sort of proof by contradiction that outcomes in the music business can not be reliably duplicated and are highly unpredictable.   Here’s how it goes:

Suppose that the music business is perfectly rational and predictable.  If that’s the case you could design a Hit Machine that models the music business.  For example if you put inputs X Y and Z into the machine you get a predictable volume of sales or revenue out of the other end of  the Hit Machine.  Every time.  No Variation.

For example suppose for each album

we spend exactly the same amount on advertising.

We use exactly the same radio promoters.

We use exactly the same publicity firm.

We give the band the same amount of tour support.

They play the same number of shows in exactly the same venues.

The recording and video budgets are exactly the same.

We even use the same creatives:   record producer, engineer, video director,  songwriting team and studio musicians.

We spend the same amount on Black Ops: strippers, hookers, drugs and payola.

The list goes on and on.

If there were a hit machine we would get the same result each time.  The exact same sales.  Each album generates the same revenue. 

For each album,  the exact same inputs (left) produce the exact same number of sales (right).

Of course we know this is absurd.  No one would really expect this to happen. We reasonably expect there to be variation in sales for each successive albums. No matter how firmly we control the inputs to the machine. There are just too many other variables.  The songwriter is off his/her game on one song.  Global cultural tastes change.  Current events make a song’s subject less  or more engaging… etc etc.

So let’s redesign our Hit machine.  We introduce some variation.  A little randomness or pseudo randomness.  Now we get something that seems more reasonable.   If we put exactly the same “inputs” into the machine for each album you get varying sales out of the machine.  In this case you get what mathematicians and statisticians call a “normal” or “gaussian” distribution. 

The Exact same inputs (left) produce a normal variation in sales (right).

But as it turns out we know a lot about the variation in album sales.  Album sales do not vary in this “normal” or “gaussian” way.   They vary “wildly”.***

And here wild is actually a real mathematical term. So if there is a hit machine it would have to generate wild variation in sales with the same inputs.****

Like this: 

I’m skipping a few logical steps here but basically the conclusion is that the “inputs” to the hit machine – those things that the artists, managers, record labels, agents and songwriters have control over – have only a marginal effect on the end result.  So marginal they are pretty much irrelevant.  And if the cumulative actions of managers, labels, agents, artists, songwriters, producers and video directors have only a marginal influence on the outcome then it’s fair to say  success in the music business is due to luck. or success in the music business is random or unpredictable. Q.E.D.  sort of…

To use Michael Jackson as an example again off the wall had pretty much the same inputs as Thriller.  Yet the results were wildly dfferent.  2 million vs 100 million.  Or in gross revenue terms 16 million versus 800 million.  You could plausibly argue with a straight face that $16 million dollars of Thriller was due to skill and $784 million dollars was the result of luck.  I know this is an oversimplification but it still illustrates my point that  most of the profit in the music business is not due to skill, talent or expertise.

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This fractal design is “self similar”  Each smaller piece is exactly the same shape as the whole.

While similar to fractals this is something mathematicians call a “Dork”. 

Another important fact. This “wild” variation in sales of albums or songs is also Self-Similar. By this I mean that no matter how you slice and dice the sales data,  no matter which subset of albums or songs you might create you still get a wild distribution.

For example if you look at the subset of just Camper Van Beethoven songs.  And you look at the revenue generated by each song,  you get what appears to be a wild distribution.  It doesn’t matter whether you look at one quarter’s income or the lifetime cumulative income the distribution appears to be wild.

But I doubt that it is just Camper Van Beethoven.  I don’t know for sure but I suspect that in the sub-genre of black metal,  that if you looked at income for every album in the genre you would get a wild distribution.  I suspect the same for the Narco-corridos sub genre.

This is Self-Similarity. Without going into it in detail- I don’t want to make your brain explode- everywhere that you have wild distributions you usually find Black Swans Events.  And in the music business these Black Swan Events  are the Hits. Camper Van Beethoven’s Black Swan Event was Take the Skinheads Bowling.

********************************************

CVB writing a smash hit in 1984. The guy in the hat was not visible to the naked eye.  He was only visible using certain film and special cameras (Usually KODAK EKTACHROME 160T). He is a minor demon of the Santa Catalina class. We would often accidentally conjure him during moments of intense creativity.  He told us his name was “doobie”.  

Honestly in 1984 I  never thought that much about the song Take The Skinheads Bowling. It was part of our repertoire but it wasn’t like people talked about this song much after the show. If they did talk about it they didn’t talk about it anymore than the other songs.

I don’t think it was until after we recorded our demos or the first Camper Van Beethoven album (and before it was released)  that people began to notice this song.  Usually  because we had given them a demo tape.  Our friends were also dubbing and passing around our cassette.  It started to become one of our popular songs.  At least within our circle of friends.

But it was not the only song that people liked.   Lassie, Where the Hell is Bill and Club Med Sucks  were also popular with our friends. In fact Where The Hell is Bill and Lassie were much more popular with our friends.

So it should not surprise you that I never thought  that Take the Skinheads Bowling would become a Hit.  If someone had traveled from the future and told me we would have a hit on our first album I would not have picked this song as being the hit.  Not in a million years.  I would have more likely picked Where the Hell is Bill.

Why?  we regarded Take The Skinheads Bowling as just a weird non-sensical song.  The lyrics were purposely structured so that it would be devoid of meaning.  Each subsequent line would undermine any sort of meaning established by the last line.  It was the early 80’s and all our peers were writing songs that were full of meaning.  It was our way of rebelling.  BTW this is the most important fact about this song.  We wanted the words to lack any coherent meaning.  There is no story or deeper insight that I can give you about this song.

Lassie and Where the Hell is Bill  were silly but there was at least a point to the songs.  Plus both songs were pretty jokey.  Something that seemed popular at the time.

When we first put out the Telephone-Free-Landslide-Victory  we mailed out a fairly limited amount of albums to radio and press.   We got a few good reviews and a handful of college radio stations began to play a couple of the tracks.  Where the Hell is Bill was one.  Club Med Sucks was another  and then of course Take the Skinheads Bowling.    We were pretty excited.  There were probably 20 college radio stations in the country summer of 1985 that were playing our record.

In September we decided that we should mail out another round of promo copies of our album. We expanded our list of college radio stations we added a few commercial stations like KROQ in LA  and WLBS in detroit.  Someone also suggested we send copies to two or three BBC DJs in london.

Sometime later that fall something unexpected occurred.  We began getting reports that BBC 2 was playing Take The Skinheads Bowling.  Simultaneously it began getting regular airplay in Detroit on WLBS .

Up until this point College Radio had been mildly supportive of Camper Van Beethoven.  But somehow word began to get out that we were being played on the BBC and suddenly our cool factor went way up with college radio.  I had been calling various West Coast college radio stations for some time.  I was always trying to find gigs for Camper through the college stations.  I was also aware that this also helped to promote airplay.

I was always treated decently by these college station program directors  but I could tell that some were just humoring me.  So it was very apparent when the sea change came. Suddenly everyone would take my call.  And everyone wanted to talk about the fact we were getting played in the UK.  Shortly after this we began to see our record charting on nearly every college radio station in the US (as well as a number of commercial stations.)

I have no proof that the BBC playing Take The Skinheads Bowling led to more US airplay.  It is just a strong hunch.  And I think I am probably right.  But what I know to be true is that Camper Van Beethoven acquired Gravitas when the BBC began to play us.

For a band like Camper Van Beethoven gravitas was an important property.  Without it we would have been regarded as  novelty or joke band.  We would have been regarded in the way our friends (and fellow travelers) The Dead Milkman were regarded: A cute band, an interesting and clever novelty.  (BTW I do not agree with this characterization of the Dead Milkman).

The Dead Milkman were a punk band from Philadelphia.  They put out their first album almost the same week Camper Van Beethoven released their first album. They were funny and irreverent like Camper Van Beethoven.  Like CVB they mixed serious songs with silly punk rock anthems like “bitchin’ camaro”.

Camper Van Beethoven was definitely a weirder ensemble but the bands were very very similar in many other ways.  Our fanbase overlapped a good deal.  They were also on a very small independent label.  The same college radio stations played us.  And they also were completely self directed.

For the early part of our career the two bands were traveling in parallel.  With the Dead Milkman being perhaps a little more popular than Camper Van Beethoven. But after the BBC airplay Camper Van Beethoven began to be to be regarded as more serious.  Serious mainstream journalists began writing favorable stories about us.  Spin magazine  and The Village Voice featured us.  We also began to garner interest from major record labels.  IRS records which was on a hot streak came a-callin’.  We turned them down but we were able to parlay our newfound gravitas into a distribution deal with Rough Trade Records.  More importantly  Rough Trade functioned as our label in the rest of the world bringing greater sales, publicity and radio play across Europe and Australia.   Camper Van Beethoven quickly surpassed The Dead Milkman critically and commercially.  It wasn’t until long after Camper Van Beethoven had disbanded that The Dead Milkman  had their big commercial success with the MTV hit Punk Rock Girl  and sadly they never acquired the gravitas that they deserved.

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So I don’t really know what made Take the Skinheads Bowling a hit.  I’m sure it was a lot of different things.   But I’m gonna drill down, and focus on one tiny element.  I know it’s not likely correct to attribute the success of this song to this one small event.  It’s simply an exercise to show how a tiny accidental decision can make a huge difference in the success of a song, album or artist.

Assume that the BBC playing Take the Skinheads Bowling was the primary engine of success for this song.  Then one little handwritten note on the beautifully designed Independent Project stationary made all the difference in the world for this song.

See someone told me that many of the BBC DJ’s did not accept unsolicited submissions unless  they were accompanied by a personalized handwritten note.  But this was not common knowledge .  Somehow this little factoid filtered down to us and when our album(s) were mailed they included a personal note to the DJ from one of us or Bruce Licher .  I don’t recall who wrote the notes just that they were included.   I like to think the handwritten note on Bruce’s  beautiful Independent Project stationary caught someone’s eye.  This made our album stand out from the stacks of albums that the BBC would receive each week.  And this small detail,  this tiny flap of a butterfly wing  made Take the Skinheads Bowling a  hit.

*  “throw ten records against the wall and see which one sticks”  This is often attributed to Atlantic records founder Ahmet Etegun.  I’ve googled it and find no evidence he ever said it.   Still the modern 1950-2000 music business was based on a success ratio of something like 1 in 10.  1 success for 9 failures.

*** It is know that there is “wild” variation in book sales and other cultural products. Since YouTube views of music videos seem to vary wildly and using YouTube views as a good proxy for album/single sales I’m not going out on a limb by stating album/single sales also vary wildly.

**** Actually this last statement does not really follow.  I know many of my readers are smart and will quickly point this out. For the sake of readability I am completely fudging here. I believe my conclusion is true but it’s a much longer argument and involves some induction.

“If a hit machine existed it would have to output wild variation in sales because in actuality the variation in sales of albums are wild”  No that doesn’t follow. Previously we were assuming that the inputs were exactly the same.  The only way this follows is if all albums in the known universe have the same inputs. Clearly they don’t.

Instead the logic is much more complex. It first involves the fact that there are known pairs or even triplets of albums that have substantially the same inputs.  The variation of sales in these pairs or triplets of albums is so great (thriller vs off the wall) that this inductively suggests the hit machine will produce a wild variation in sales.

Or another way of looking at it.  If there were a hit machine the market would eventually nudge the labels into using only the best inputs, those that produce the greatest sales.  These would all be virtually the same inputs. But the market doesn’t do this because  it “knows” the inputs don’t matter all that much.

(And the market may know this because at times in Nashville and Hollywood the record labels have come very close to using exactly the same inputs over and over again and they still got “wild” variation.  For instance in the late 1990’s at any time the top 10 modern rock tracks were usually mixed by just 3 or 4 mix engineers!)

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[INTRO:]
[C][Fmaj7][C][Fmaj7][C][Fmaj7][C][Fmaj7]

[C] Every day, [Fmaj7] I get up and pray to [C] Jah [Fmaj7]
[C] And he increases the number of [Fmaj7] clocks by exactly one [C] [Fmaj7]
[C] Everybody’s comin’ [Fmaj7] home for lunch these [C] days [Fmaj7]
[C] Last night there were [Fmaj7] skinheads on my [C] lawn [Fmaj7]

CHORUS:
[G] Take the skinheads [F] bowling
Take them [C] bowling [F][C] [F][C] [F][C]
[G] Take the skinheads [F] bowling
Take them [C] bowling [F][C] [F][C] [F][C]

Some people say that bowling alleys got big lanes (got big lanes, got big lanes)
Some people say that bowling alleys all look the same (look the same, look the same)
There’s not a line that goes here that rhymes with anything (anything, anything)
I has a dream last night, but I forget what it was (what it was, what it was)

REPEAT CHORUS

I had a dream last night about you, my friend
I had a dream, I wanted to sleep next to plastic
I had a dream, I wanted to lick your knees
I had a dream, it was about nothing

REPEAT CHORUS x2

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