#38 Circles-Camper Van Beethoven. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas


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As long as I lived in the Inland empire I had never been to Vegas.  Not until 1985,  That was the  first time  Camper Van Beethoven went to  Las Vegas.  Very Briefly.  We played at a Record store I remember the guy who owned it.  Wayne Wheeler.  I can’t remember the name of the store, I think it was the Record Exchange.  But they had a giant mural of the first album on the wall.  We played for free, got burgers and hotdogs  and lots of beer.  It went really well and we decided we should come back to Vegas.  In fact we got sort of fascinated by Vegas.  But we had to got to albuquerque so we split.

In early 1986 we got a real gig in Vegas. So there weren’t a lot of choices for places to play.  I don’t remember if Wayne found the gig for us,  but somehow we ended up playing in a place that was a little odd.  I mean it was in some industrial park.  And we were opening for a band called The Joneses which featured LA Guns frontman Paul Black on drums!  I  just looked this up and was surprised by this myself.  It was probably more of a metal club.  I remember the owner was walking around wearing a sidearm in a holster.

<important update from greg in next paragraph>

So we all took acid.  I mean everybody,  the whole band, my girlfriend jennifer,  our sound guy andrew,  our friends john stein and edie.  We played some fairly psychedelic stuff for a somewhat mystified crowd.  I’m thinking it was stuff like Circles and Interestellar OD and ZZ Top Goes To Egypt. Greg couldn’t get his amp to work.  But we had a very short time to play, so we just kept playing.  Greg was trying everything.  Finally he found the drummer in the very first band.  I’m not making this up-The drummer had no legs but was totally eager to help greg. He went to his van and came back in his wheelchair with an amp on his lap. By the time he got his borrowed amp plugged in and working the sound man shut us down.  I mean like shut the whole PA off mid song and killed the power to the amps.

16 Zztop Goes to Egypt

12 Circles

15 Intersteller Overdrive

02 Cowboys From Hollywood

Jennifer had wandered outside into the parking lot.  When i found her she was barefoot and kicking around a giant spring.  Like a suspension spring for a heavy duty truck or some other piece of equipment.

“I love this spring.  I love the sound it makes”

Oddly I knew exactly what she was talking about.  I took turns rolling the spring around with my foot.

“No, no no!  you have to take your shoes off.  It’s better that way”

About then Andrew or Jonathan told me we had to come in and settle the show.  Which means get paid.  This was a problem all 3 of us were very high at this point. We went into the office anyway.  The owner wearing the sidearm was very nice, but kind of odd.  One of us just tried to accept the money and walk out.

“No i want you to count it. I don’t want you coming back and saying I cheated you”.

“We trust you”

“No count it”

Do you know how hard it is to count 500 dollars in 5’s and 1’s when you are high on acid.  Especially when there are three of you trying to count the damn money.

Eventually we got out of there without a pistol whipping.  We went out to the van.  I climbed way in the back with Jennifer.  She still had the Spring.  She was holding it like a kitten,  or  baby.  I know i’m really making Jennifer sound insane.  She wasn’t and is extremely smart.  But she was pretty quirky.

We  were still  out back in the van when some kids approached us.  They were CVB fans.  They started talking to us and after a while asked us:   Hey you guys are really high aren’t you?   We replied.   “wow how can you tell!”

They told us that they needed to be our guides, cause vegas is an evil place.  so what did we want to do? Jonathan said he wanted to go to Circus Circus.

WE DROVE TO CIRCUS CIRCUS!   WOW! who drove?  Jonathan says he did. WOW!  We wandered around Circus Circus for a while.  Casinos are weird anyway.  To walk around in one when you are tripping is a whole other experience.  It  felt like that underworld  experience I had in Victoria BC. ( Brides of Neptune #31) It’ best if I let Jonathan tell the story:

as we entered the circus circus, i saw many old people who appeared to be biologically attached to slot machines, they looked like they were vomiting forth coins that went through the machines with all the little tunes the machines played and then dripped out like chyme into a stomach-trough below, drip drip drip, where they were ingested again by the ancient cyborg to be vomited through the machine again. frightening.

we came upon a band playing, they had nice expensive new instruments that we were impressed by, but then after finishing “china grove” they proceed to humorously insult one another as their schtick (“that’s Jose, our utility musician, he’s the spic in the group”) and then said they’d be back in 20 minutes for their 5th set of the evening. I looked across the audience area and saw Victor and we silently made eye contact and an unspoken pact to never become that.

After a while some plain clothes security types came up to us.  They didn’t like that Jennifer was carrying around this 25 pound spring.  Or they just didn’t like our looks at all. But mostly i think it was the spring.

Eventually we all managed to get back in the van.  Not before Jennifer kicked her spring around for a little while longer in the parking lot at Circus Circus.  John Stein began driving.  We had to play the next night at Berkeley Square in Berkeley. John decided we should just drive overnight.

About 5:30 AM  I woke up.  We were stopped alongside the road.  Highway 58  somewhere a few miles short of the Mojave.  It was cold and raining.   John Stein informed us the Alternator was dead and he was trying to  make it to Mojave.  We came up a few miles short.  He put on a coat and started walking up the road.  Jennifer woke and got out of the van.  She kicked her spring around for a while,  but it wasn’t the same when she wasn’t tripping.

John Stein did a couple tours with us as our driver.  He was like MacGyver.  He walked up the road to a junkyard. Stripped an alternator out of a truck,  hitchhiked back and installed it in our van. This whole process took about 3 hours.

Greg lisher did not wake up the entire time.  However somehow he lost a shoe.  I guess he took them off before he went to sleep, and with all the getting in and out of the van it ended up along the side of the road.  I am assuming.  When we got to Berkeley Square to play Greg discovered he really really really had lost his shoe.  It was not in the van anywhere.  He’d been looking for it fitfully the last couple hours of the drive.  “What are you gonna do Greg?” we all asked.

He played the show with only one shoe on.

post script:  greg says he didn’t play with only one shoe.  he went across the street to the pharmacy and bought some slippers.  Still for a man who cares about footwear this was quite embarrassing.

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

1985. There was a severe stylist shortage in Santa Cruz at the time.  The Govenor rushed stylists to Santa Cruz from Los Angeles but it was too late for Camper Van Beethoven.

Circles is based on the song the CVB song Oh No.  We are playing along to the original recording backwards. We were kind of making fun of the LA Neo Psychedelic Movement.  ie  The Three O’Clock,  Rain Parade,  The Long Ryders.  AT THE TIME we didn’t relate to these bands, as we thought they were more about the look than the music.  We didn’t find their music psychedelic at all.  But you got to understand we had Ray Farrell and Bruce Licher feeding us Kaliedscope and West Coast Experimental Pop Art Ensemble compilation cassettes.  Of course they wouldn’t compare.   Much later I developed an appreciation for all these bands. I mean it was LA.  They had to have a look!  And look how crappy we were dressed. A little too much authenticity.

Cowboys from Hollywood is also about the related cowpunk/country rock scene that was going on in LA at the same time.  They overlapped somewhat.  I mean cowboy hats crept into the neo-psychedelic scene via flying burrito brother/ the byrds. cowpunk?  well they came equipped with cowboy hats.  We played with Rain Parade  and several other bands in downtown LA in late 1985.  We were driving our friend from Wyomings 350 diesel 4×4 pickup.  One of the guys (who may or may not have been in rain parade, but there was a psychedelic western theme to his clothing) asked us:  Are you guys really from wyoming.   Jonathan was chewing tobacco as usual. “Yep”  spitting a stream of tobacco juice to the ground.  Me being the smartass said ” are you cowboys from hollywood?” or something to that effect. it’s just kind of stoner humor to sing a song with nothing but that as the words.

ZZ Top Goes To Egypt is called that because it sounds like that.   it’s purely a descriptive title.  However later we learned of Billy Gibbons was an amateur Egyptologist.

Intersteller  Overdrive is  based  on the Pink Floyd Song of the same name.  It will get it’s own post as it involves Eugene Chadbourne.

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22 Responses to “#38 Circles-Camper Van Beethoven. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”

  1. keirdubois Says:

    I first read the Vegas book when I was 16. Warped my mind forever after.

    The city itself sort of frightens me. Even Laughlin gives me the willies.

  2. I laughed and laughed reading this. More laughing WITH you than AT you.

    Definitely the ’80s.

  3. vlvtelvis Says:

    CVB playing a Vegas casino 5 sets a night is something I can’t comprehend.

    That would be like playing on an ocean liner or something.

  4. @velvtelvis: Would Branson be comprehensible? 🙂

    Last time (1982) I tried to turn on, tune in, drop out, I ended up spending five intense hours trying to solve a rubik’s cube. Before I decided to give up, I think I managed to get two adjacent squares to match in color. Numeracy and spatial skills definitely are not part of the experience of heightened awareness.

  5. adrichuabiet Says:

    whoa, harder to leave a reply now. This post had a nostalgic air that brought to mind lyrics from Chelsea Hotel #2–Circus Circus on acid is a whole nother story though. (we are ugly but we have the music)

  6. I was recently involved in a dinosaur “dig” in a nearby quarry. One of the older palaeontologists found one of those exact same springs lying around. He wasn’t on acid, so didn’t remove his shoes to kick around the rusty spring, but did nonetheless spend a long time picking it up and throwing it to the ground, which made an excellent sound as it bounced dangerously. I think almost everybody had a go. Not too many bones were found that day.

    • so you understand what i’m talking about. too bad you couldn’t have got it rolling on some concrete or blacktop.

      • No, only lobbing it hard at the ground caused the impressive industrial twang. The old palaeo bloke *nearly* brought it back from the quarry, such was his fascination, but probably felt a bit silly in the end and left it.

        I’ve never heard ‘blacktop’ before – for some reason hadn’t occurred to me that Tarmac is British slang.

      • you know what’s weird about the word tarmac? we use it in the united states, but only for runways at airports. and those are never actual tarmac.

  7. Did you ever use the spring in any of the songs? It would have made a great instrument.

  8. David, Priceless memories, Thanks for sharing!

  9. Speaking of Interstellar Overdrive, I just got Jonathan’s “Honey” CD recently–the title “Interstitial Undertow” is great.

    Live (sort-of) Interstellar Overdrive with Syd, plus some advice from Paul:

  10. littletomato Says:

    I really love the visual of the pistol-packing club owner watching it take all three of you to count out $500. I’d love to have been a fly on that wall…

  11. What is it with tripping and coiled metal? In college, my friends and I were tripping one night and my friend Doug became fascinated with a piece of metal that looked something like the grate from a smokey Joe grill. He carried it around all night. Like your friend, he was not insane either- just quirky.

    Looking forward to the Intersteller Overdrive post. Intersteller Overdrive is what first introduced me to CVB. Chick Evans Fieldhouse in Dekalb, Il, opening for REM, October 1985 or ’86. I think ’85. I was/am a big Syd and Pink Floyd fan and we were goofing around, not paying much attention, when I heard the familiar riff. I watched with intrigue and thoroughly enjoyed the remainder of your set. I’ve been a fan ever since that night.

    See you guys (Cracker) in September!

  12. wrynginger Says:

    It’s the Joneses. Not The Jones. No big deal, but the librarian in me craves accuracy, even if seems like minutia.
    I once did acid at a big amusement park. It was the last time I did acid. I can’t even imagine dropping acid in Vegas. That place is like a Fellini film anyway….

  13. Lynn Marie Says:

    so funny. can’t tell you how many times that the songs in this post have been part of a vitamin a experience. loved hearing about your “trip” to and from vegas. I bet one of the funniest short films in history would be one of you guys trying to count that money. I can just picture it. sounds too familiar.

  14. bigj53222 Says:

    Spring, lost shoe and Circus Circus…..priceless

  15. Would this be the lost shoe that is mentioned in the incredibly hard to read liner notes (at least for the cassette version) for Key Lime Pie? That has stuck with me since that album came out. Mystery solved, I guess.

  16. Is there any story to the origin of the lyrics you sing to “Circles” live (“Elise ana chaionga, lisa de romati-yov”)?

  17. unclefrank77 Says:

    Another great post David! This one hits me personally for several reasons. First of all I knew Wayne Wheeler as I was a college student in Utah in the early and mid 80’s and used to go record shopping at his store every 2 or 3 weeks to pick up music for my college radio show. He would say “Hey Utah” when I would walk in. He had a kid about 8 or 9 with an orange mohawk who was always hanging around and they were always listening to obscure 50’s rockabilly.
    In fact Wayne is how I discovered CVB when during Thanksgiving 1985 he was playing Telephone Free Landslide Victory and telling me about this great new band. When Take The Skinheads Bowling came on I bought it. My friends and I really wanted to come back for the in-store but we just could not afford a 6 hour drive back to Vegas the next weekend.

    Great memories; I wonder where Wayne is now?

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