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


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12 The Long Plastic Hallway

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

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

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

14 Ice Cream Everyday

11 Flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What time do we load-in?”

“How much do we get paid?”

“How long do we get to play?”

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

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

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

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

Now to quote the lyrics from the third verse:

playing on a flying saucer

box o laffs was supporting talking heads

everyone was high and having a real good time

they was having a real good time.

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

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


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

At this point David Byrne backs away almost imperceptibly.

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

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

“I’m joking… well sort of…”

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

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

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The Long Plastic Hallway

La la la la la la
La la la la
La la la la
La la la la


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

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


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

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


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

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






17 Responses to “# 68 The Long Plastic Hallway-Playing on a Flying Saucer with The Talking Heads.”

  1. “Catch the Colonel” wow I always thought it was “quezacotl”

  2. Good post.

    I always wondered how Box o’ Laffs scored a gig opening for Talking Heads. Now, as Paul Harvey would say, I know “the rest of the story.”

    Did you guys play anywhere on that occasion, or did you just hoof it back to Northern California?

  3. Did the aliens help you with your equipment, or was it a typical load-in?

    • by contract we were supposed to have 4 alien stage hands. but by the time we were done with the set they were so high on catnip we could hardly, they were covered in drool and wouldn’t stand up.

  4. It really is an HST line from “Generation of Swine,” but it ain’t about the music industry. It’s TV journalism, or maybe televangelism, or maybe the Roberts court.

  5. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but are there 8 Track tapes on the shelf behind Eric? Too cool. Love reading the stories and this is no exception. I have a somewhat similar story where my band White Glove Test was supposed to open for CVB at a joint in Encinitas, CA. called La Paloma (circa ’86 – ’87.) This shortly following an acoustic in store y’all did at the local record store, Lou’s Records. The show obviously never materialized…CVB was OUR Talking Heads and no flying saucers involved in my story.

  6. Welcome back! “Flowers” goes back to Box O’ Laffs? I hope there’s more on this song in the future, especially in its KEY LIME PIE context. For me, the first few notes of that song — elastic yet grave and quizzical — are the sonic parts that stand in for my sound memory of the entire album. I really dig the imagery of the lyrics, too, and the backing vocal aahs towards the end. Were the lyrics created (or improvised) during Box O’ Laffs’ warm-ups at UCSC, or were they added later? Listening to the song again, just now, having read your post above, I guess I don’t hear a narrative as much as I hear a lucidly constructed description of, say, a Dalí painting or some such surrealist sight.

  7. Ya know, I just stumbled across your web site and these blogs. I think it’s great what you’re doing. Listened to your music for years, but this really puts a personal face on it all. I’ve really enjoyed reading your stuff. Thanks. So you mentioned being on military bases and being born in San Antonio, so I’m guessing your dad was Air Force. I used to do a lot of work at Kelly AFB. When people asked me how I liked living there, my stock answer was always “well, you can damn sure get a good cheap taco”. Thanks again for the interesting reading.

  8. I love this part of CVB gigs.

    Someone should edit together a mix of between song monologues:

    “Talking Heads Flying Saucer”
    “Werewolves of Romania”
    “Brighton’s Midget Prostitutes”

    Anyone got any more highlights?
    Actually the werewolves one has to end with “My Path Belated” so it probably should include the relevant songs.

  9. bruceterrell Says:

    I have a David Byrne story involving popcorn when my band opened for them at VCU in the 70s. He was a squirrely kind of dude. Tina was, however, very cool.

  10. dennisthem Says:

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

    It’s hard, we spend hours with your work and you touch us, then there you are and we feel connected and blurt, then later comes the regret, ‘why did I say/post that? stupidstupidstupid’. My only comfort then is that someone else at some time must have done it worse.
    I really like this song and consider it one of your anthems. The double-track bit that then splits (they were having a real good time) is a great effect that I don’t think I’ve heard elsewhere.

  11. David – that was me on that road trip. I drove my ’61 Ford Falcon down to Pasadena and Joe had my drums in the back of his pick up. I don’t remember the gig on the spaceship either. I can’t recall a lot of things I don’t remember any more…

  12. Byrne was probably freaked out because somewhere in the back of his contorted mind, he actually *believed* you for a second. Or maybe a minute. Or maybe he has actually had abduction experiences where they told him about how they have the ability to appear as humans. He thought you were One of THEM. That’s the only explanation – people who don’t believe in UFOs wouldn’t have given it a second thought. He wouldn’t have backed away unless there was some genuine fear there. Anyway, anyone who can freak out someone as weird as David Byrne is alright with me.

  13. […] 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 him this story in our […]

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