# 25 New Roman Times-Camper Van Beethoven. Part 1 The Republic of California vs The Republic of Texas.

New Roman Times- Camper Van Beethoven
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This is the title track of the Camper Van Beethoven album of the same name.  It was released in 2004.  Remember i told you that CVB reformed in 2000 and we didn’t really tell anyone?  In fact the band began to release new material as if it were “lost” and rediscovered tracks.  We did two albums this way: Tusk and Camper Van Beethoven is Dead Long Live Camper Van Beethoven.  In 2003-2004  we recorded the third of our post reunion records New Roman Times.  This one of course was the official reunion record.  The one that got all the press and fanfare.  And it was a good thing because it was an extremely ambitious record. It would have been a shame to waste that on Tusk (as much as i love Tusk).

New Roman Times is a Sci-Fi Alternate Reality  Rock Opera.  It is intended as a political farce.  A sarcastic commentary on the whole notion of a Red State/Blue State america. It is not directly a commentary on the Iraq war although i realize much of it reads that way.

It was 2003 and much of the media and our political elite seemed intent upon dividing us.   God fearing Christians on one side  vs decadent  secularists on the other. Conservatives vs Liberals. Pro-war Hawks vs Anti-War Doves etc etc. It was relentless and with it we kept getting this map flashed on the TV screens.  You’d see it on the TV screens in the airport, in bars,  in the lobbies of hotels,  always with the sound down and the closed capitoning crawl (with it’s occasionally hilarious mis-captions). A map of the US with a bunch of states colored red and a quite a few less (the ones with most of the population) colored blue. It was presented in the most somber manner. Like a holy artifact. Like the key piece of evidence in a trial.

That’s us?  I mean stand in the Atlanta airport a while and look at the vast sea of humanity.  You can really break it down into that?  You can do the same at O’hare or DFW.  Further most of this Red state Blue State stuff got all tied together into one nice neat little flaming shitball package centered on the invasion of Iraq.

The war in Afghanistan did not require such divisions and manipulations. There was a general -but not unanimous-sense Al Qaeda was a menace and we should probably do something about it.  But Iraq did not enjoy that kind of semi-consensus. So a lot of coercion huffing and puffing was required. By 2003 it was like a virtual Civil War was being fought on the US airwaves.

So my natural reaction was to take this notion and exaggerate it.   To follow it to an extreme conclusion. With tongue firmly in cheek I made an alternate reality where the Christian Republic of Texas opportunistically intervenes in the Republic of California’s Civil War.  The story of course is told through the eyes of a young soldier in the Army of Texas. Of course my sympathies are more naturally with the Republic of California but as usual i wanted to tell the story through the eyes of ‘the other’ the Young Texan. Actually  that’s a little too simplistic. I was torn.  In real life i was born in Texas but  raised in California. So once again it’s me doing battle with myself.  All fiction is autobiographical.

Most conservatives would accept Texas as a symbol of the triumph of Individual rights and Freedoms.  Most liberals would see California as that. In reality both are gross mischaracterizations, no matter what your political leanings.  I was being mischievous and playful by pitting these two against each other.

And you know what? it was really fun to make this record.  Once we had the concept the record came together really quickly. It was nearly effortless.  It was like Camper Van Beethoven had not been dormant for 10 years.

Tinky Winky was banned in the Christian Republic of Texas.  Elmo required a special permit. The Republic of California fined Jonathan Segel for holding his rabbit improperly.

As an aside.  Always be afraid when the politicians and the elites chatter on about doing something in the “National Interest.” Or something that is in the best interest of Civilization, the Economy  the Common Good etc.  Beware anything and anyone  that groups us all together and then applies “interests” to us as a group. This is almost always the beginning of some sad chapter in our history. There was a lot of talk like this in the lead up to the Iraq war.

Conversely from time to time our politicians or courts have stepped in to protect or expand an individual right. Often in the face of an argument that it was against the common good.  It was often the beginning of a good chapter in our history.  Think of various civil rights rulings.

Yet this talk of national interests  and collective good  is always seen as noble, despite it’s lousy track record. But when someone advocates for a particular individual right, they are oftentimes seen as dangerous, selfish or somehow immoral.  It’s a weird contradiction that few (except those on the political fringes) seem to notice.   I’m not saying we don’t have actual common interests.  But if we don’t naturally and without coercion of any kind  assemble as individuals around our “common interests”  they are usually not our common interests. The false division of us into Red and Blue states of mind, was -IMHO- evil not because it was some divide and conquer ruse. It was evil because it re-enforced the false narrative about a “common good” that was actually just in the narrow interest of a powerful elite.

That’s what really got my dander up. This ends today divagation.

The Song New Roman Times picks up in the middle of our story.  It starts with the young Texan deployed somewhere in the middle east.  A small war.  A small intervention. Not unlike somalia or maybe afghanistan.  He has been there for some time.  He’s quite adept having been made a member of an elite unit  “The 51-7”.  He is however disillusioned by the war and his experiences.  Possibly because he is distracted in this way he steps on a land mine or IED and loses a leg.  He is discharged back to texas where he returns to his hometown in the Rio Bend region of west texas. He is bitter and starts drinking heavily. His life there becomes a disaster and he makes his way to the texas occupied part of California to start over.  Like so many before him. Las Vegas California.

My map is poorly drawn and the Republic of California should include a little more of southern nevada including Las Vegas.

The video for this doesn’t exactly stick to our story.  It however is very evocative of the wounded soldiers plight.

Finally the chorus with the children singing “my daddy’s got your back my mommas got your back etc” was inspired by something i saw on the eve of the Iraq invasion.  We were on tour and we stopped in a truck stop in northern georgia. All along the hallways down to the shower were dozens of drawings by children. They were portraits of their parents who were members of the National Guard (not regular army)  that had been deployed to Iraq. One boys handwriting below the picture of his mom said.  “my momma’s got your back”.   It was quite striking.

In parts two and three  i’ll cover the backstory and rock opera story in more detail.
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[A] [D] Ba ba ba [A] ba
[D] Ba ba ba [A] ba
[D]Ba ba ba ba ba ba[F#m] I’m sitting [E] in the sand [A] staring at my [D] shoe
[F#m] The birds they [E] sing tweet-tweet but [A] I don’t hear that [D] tune
[F#m] Sargeant [E] says something [A] close to my [D] face
Bells they [A] ring, [D] they ring and [A] ring [D]My daddy’s got you back
My mama’s got you back
My brother’s got you back

Hello Morpheus I think I’m going down
Ezekiel’s wheels spin I’m borne upon a throne
By Red Cross crusaders who wave from Galilee
Assyria, Samaria

My brother’s got you back
My sister’s got you back
My poppa’s got you back


The day we came home it was a shitty day
No ticker tape parade we rolled down Congress in the rain
And as we crossed across that Colorado bridge
The bats flew out darkened the sky

My brother’s got you back
My sister’s got you back
My poppa’s got you back

Living in a town on the big Rio bend
My case worker she’s always drunk and my wife don’t give a shit
I take a plane out to the province of Las Vegas
California, occupied, the Republic of California

My brother’s got you back
My sister’s got you back
My poppa’s got you back


(Child’s voice:)
I don’t wanna sing no more,
I just wanna dance!

23 Responses to “# 25 New Roman Times-Camper Van Beethoven. Part 1 The Republic of California vs The Republic of Texas.”

  1. Ethical Paul Says:

    It took five years for this album to become my second favorite CVB.

    It is my opinion that the guitar solo in Civil Disobedience is the greatest ever.

    • Agreed – the solo in Civil Disobedience kills me EVERY time. Incredible.

      David, when’s the next CVB album coming out? 🙂

    • Chris Baio Says:

      Been listening to New Roman Times on my drive to and from work this week. ‘Civil Disobedience’ gives me the chills. Haunting. My favorite song on the CD, for sure.

      My 7-year old daughter was just asking yesterday “Why are the kids saying ‘My Daddy’s got your back’?” Now I can tell her why. (her favorite is ‘Militia Song’, I have to play it over and over for her. not that I mind!)

      • duffmacduff Says:

        Too funny how kids pick up on this song.

        My 6-year old daughter loves to sing ‘My Daddy’s got your back’ etc., but asks everytime “Daddy, why do they say Las Vegas…California? Las Vegas is in Nevada, not California!”

        By the time I try to respond, she’s back singing the chorus!

    • VelvetElvis Says:

      That first appeared on one of Johnathon’s solo records (Rock Papers Scissors maybe?) I picked up a copy after talking to him about the song about after a show and he was nice enough to autograph it for me.

  2. I just want to say THANK YOU for this blog. I am most appreciative!

  3. Justin Watterson Says:

    Reading you describe your worldview really helps me feel a lot better about not fitting into any of the preordained factions that so many seem to want me to fall into. Our current media-propagated ideologies don’t allow for individualism. In fact, I’m sad to say that I watch my nephew as he is in high school, and he’s programmed, just like all his friends, to be something that isn’t his own making. That’s probably a divagation of my own.

    Great song as always. These back stories make your music even better than it was before.

  4. Christian Says:

    What I love about this concept album, is that it doesn’t beat a theme into your head constantly. The wall is insanely obvious and most people understand it instantly within the first listen. I’ve been listening to this album in it’s entirety for years; Now I’m 17 and slowly I have grown to identify deeply with the protagonist and understand it more. This is definitely one of if not my favorite concept album.

  5. On the eve on the invasion of Iraq I stood on Market St. in San Francisco to say ‘hell NO-don’t go’ with about 80,000 like minded souls. My son was in the US Army Reserves at the time. Damn, you bet I was BLUE.

  6. Doug E Rotten Says:

    I thought you guys really nailed the mood at the time. Found myself listening to this cd over and over, often I’d start with this song and go to the end…as time went by and the war hype died down to be replaced with the wisdom imparted by a bad experience, the earlier brash songs didn’t seem to fit as well as the later, older, wiser songs on the record.


  7. Joel Hoffman Says:

    New Roman Times got a lot of play on my stereo and in the car. It was kind of neat time for me when it came out. My wife and I moved to Richmond VA from the SF Bay area in 2002. Seeing CVB at the Star Hill Brewery in Charlottesville, VA for the first time in-I don’t know how many years-was kind of a magical thing. I was teetering on nerdy-CVB-superfandom because CVB was playing around Richmond fairly often.

    I love the pedal steel playing on this song, and think David Immergluck always does a great job with it live. Any interesting notes on the recording of the song?

  8. The political concepts of “red” and “blue” are the opposite in Canada, so talk of these ‘states’ in the U.S. is a little mind-bendy for me. Also up here, we are not afraid to use capital letters when we talk about Conservatives and Liberals.

  9. Dr. F Zen Hinkopf Says:

    The dichotomy foisted upon us by the gutted news media, and the destructive moiety that results, was captured most famously (and, I would argue, most effectively in the academic sphere) by our erstwhile colleague Dr. Lesieg in his monograph “Red State, Blue State: The Media Masturbate.”

    Meanwhile New Roman Times was (and remains) some of the best fiddling available as our own empire declines.

  10. I just finished a new biography of Mithridates VI of Pontos, “The Poison King.” This scourge of the Roman Republic, if you didn’t know, was second only to Hannibal in the fear and loathing he generated among Romans.

    When tax farmers and other Roman economic leeches descended on Anatolia in the 100’s BC, their oppression of the Greco-Persian natives was so complete that Mithridates led a great uprising in 88 BC, gruesomely killing every Roman man, woman, and child in all of Anatolia.

    Several Roman generals then chased Mithridates all over the middle east. They could not capture him despite dealing his forces defeat after defeat. His detailed knowledge of poison, immunity, and antidotes also kept him alive much longer than expected. Meanwhile a financial crisis befell Rome due to the Anatolian massacre of Roman merchants and lenders. The Senate became hopelessly ineffective.

    Sulla, Lucullus, and Pompey all chased Mithridates around the Caucasus region, but they never got him. He died in the Crimea, betrayed by his son the king of that region.

    Sure, the parallels are obvious, but it brings to mind Twain’s quote about history rhyming vs repeating itself.

  11. My brain likes to make right things wrong and wrong things right. Here’s what I get after the bats flew out:

    My brother’s got your bat
    My sister’s got your bat
    My poppa’s got your bat

    • As a biologist who spent several years studying bats, I LOVE this lyric!

      • note that the verse about crossing the colorado river bridge and the bats flew out is illustrated with sounds of the bats flying out (recorded in austin tx.)

      • yes. jonathan is like wim wenders that way. one of the reasons we never did that album based on burden of dreams is cause our indie rock arms were too spindly to carry a ship over the andes.

      • Ethical Paul Says:

        Listening to this song a year or so ago made me wiki congress street, the bridge and the bats. CVB is educational

  12. Albany John Says:

    Alot of the Crumbs now that I was up for a job last year with the federal government specifically working for the Department of Homeland Security. In the end run I didn’t get the job due to a federal hiring freeze but this album specifically the song 51-7 became my mantra for the months of training and the exams and the such. The lyric “Give me a chance, show the world what i’m made of” stuck in my head in a profound way. Even though I never did become 51-7 so to speak that song speaks to me in a way I did not think music could. And without going all mushy about it the song is what helped me make the transition from a lanky couch potato with a beer belly into a man abeit with a minor beer belly. That feeling of being 51-7 will never go away.

  13. David,

    After 20 years of CVB freakdom, this blog is a god damned gift. Thank you. Thank you. A thousand and one times: thank you.

  14. This is a good map. I will start referencing these countries when talking about the places that fall in these jurisdictions.

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