Archive for the Cracker Category

#48 Friends – 3 Guys Walk Into A Bar In Canoga Park. Why being backstage at a low grade music festival is like being in Iraq.

Posted in Counting Crows, Cracker, Johnny HIckman with tags on September 20, 2010 by Dr. David C Lowery

Patterson Hood, Johnny Hickman and I Perform Friends.

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In february of 1998 Cracker was mixing our Gentleman’s Blues album.  Don Smith our producer engineer had just acquired a mini estate in Agoura Hills CA. It had a smallish mansion and enough land that it cost a small fortune to water and landscape.  It also had some kind of  combo 6 car garage guest house at the bottom of the driveway. Don had set up a studio in the garage/guest house so he didn’t have to drive all the way to hollywood to mix his records.  He got to be near his family and at the same time stay up all night mixing albums. I didn’t understand that so much then.  Now I do.

“Costalot”

That was Don Smith’s playful nickname for the place.

Costalot was  little bit of a shock for Cracker cause we were used to being right in the middle of Hollywood or Manhattan when we were mixing a record.  We weren’t used to being in a gated community in the far western San Fernando Valley.  We weren’t used to being in the nuevo riche suburbs with the faux mission style shopping malls, upscale restaurants and wine bars.    As detailed in a previous post Johnny and I back then enjoyed our dive bars,  our funky old man bars, and the general seediness of Hollywood and Downtown LA.

 

So one night,  must have been a weeknight and late, like 1:00 am,  Johnny Hickman,  myself and the Austrian assistant engineer decided that we need to go find a seedy bar and get a drink.  First it’s difficult to even find anything open in Agoura Hills at this hour so we head south on the 101 back into the valley.  By my recollection we probably ended up in Canoga Park.  We finally found a place that seemed to be a sports bar that may or may not have had a country music subtheme.  Certainly some pop country was on the juke box when we walked in.  And the the only other customers in the place three vaguely jock looking dudes at the bar turned and blatantly stared at us in that particular way that california rednecks stare at you.

To be fair:

1)The Austrian assistant engineer Martin Pradler  was wearing tight leather pants.

2)I was commuting out to my cabin near pioneertown on the weekends so I was probably dressed in high desert thrift store hippy cowboy threads.

3)And well Johnny has always been the metrosexual of the group.

We ordered the usual,  bourbon on the rocks and a beer.  Martin may have ordered schnapps which also probably didn’t help.  But the three locals went back to talking amongst themselves. So we lost ourselves in conversation discussing the various songs on the new album and relative merits of the mixes.

After a while i noticed that one of the locals was standing right next to me.  He wasn’t the biggest of the three and he didn’t seem overtly hostile,  yet somehow i knew something was up.  His two friends were watching intently.

“Hey man” I said.  I think I kind of tipped my beer towards him in a friendly gesture.

“Can I ask you a question?”  he said as he peered around me to get a better look at martin in his leather euro-jeans.

“sure”

“Are you guys..  are you guys queer?”

I couldn’t believe the softball the guy had tossed my way. And before I could stop myself or consider the consequences  I shot back in the most friendly manner, smiling ear to ear.

“No,  but what did you have in mind?”

His two friends just about fell out of their chairs laughing. So did the bartender.

Johnny had initially alerted me to the guys presence when he suddenly acquired a guarded serious look and  slyly palmed a glass ashtray.  (you definitely want Johnny around if there’s gonna be a bar fight). Johnny now visibly relaxed and joined in laughing.  The Austrian was the only one not laughing.  He was convinced there was still going to be an altercation.  No. When everyone laughs at you it’s over with and the guy knew it.  He slunk back to his friends. His friends had completely joined our side.  They kept yelling at him “yeah what DID you have in mind?”

I did not write the song Friends.  Johnny Hickman did.  And I’m pretty sure he was not referring to this incident specifically when he wrote these lines:

If a fight breaks out and you’re the cause of it

In some redneck bar where you been talking shit

However it very well could have been about this fateful night in Canoga Park.

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

 

“it vas Terrrrrrrrefying” even his hair was frightened.

But it’s not just me that has this survival threatening smart-ass gene.  Virtually everyone in the band and crew has at one time or another done something like this. On reflection there are about a million of these incidents I could describe.  It’s something about being in a band,  being in close quarters driving around busting each others balls constantly that keeps us in this heightened state of smart-assdom. We are all always ready to pounce on the smallest opening.  There is intense competition to be the first one to the punch.  That’s why it’s funny when people attempt to heckle or make smart ass comments from the audience. They have no idea how practiced we are…

And now that I think about it not just our band.  The poor austrian Martin Pradler was also involved in a milder but similar incident with the Counting Crows.  That same year I hired Martin Pradler to help with the “This Desert Life” album.  Dan Vickery Counting Crows guitarist had taken to purposely referring to Martin as German.  This was driving Martin Crazy.

“I’m not German I’m Austrian”

“But it was once all the same country”

“no”

“Yes in World War II”

“No-No”  Martin was getting visibly flustered  ” We were invaded just like most of the european countries”

At this point Adam Duritz couldn’t stand it anymore and kind of runs out of the room in feigned terror  waving his hands above his head.

” IT VAS TERREEEFYING,  ZEY RODE IN ON BICYCLES!”

This was not only funny in a ball busting way but made a very valid historical point.  Austria was annexed by germany in 1938 when German troops-many on bicycles-rode into the country and were greeted with flowers and enthusiastic crowds. Ouch.

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

This trash talking and ball breaking is an important part of the band’s camaraderie.  In fact the old adage is that when people stop making fun of you,  you need to worry about getting kicked out of the band. So it is also important to acknowledge and repeat to others when you have been the victim of a particularly brilliant bit of ball busting.  It means you belong.

For instance.  I must dutifully report that  Thursday morning I was in Las Cruces New Mexico with Bugs my childhood friend and former cracker  guitar tech.  We were driving back from breakfast with our concert promoter when she pointed out a bunch of buzzards circling in the distance.  Bugs  happily chimed in:

“Oh  that’s just David’s career”.

Again all the crew guys and band members are quick this way.  Relentless training and repetition.  During the recording of Gentlemen’s Blues Bugs had gotten so good at these one liners that we started calling him Shecky Salcido after the comedian Shecky Greene.

We were all in a thrift store in Woodstock NY when a parked  car (with a dog in it) rolled down the hill and bumped into another parked car.  An older gentleman came into the thrift store and asked

“does anyone in here own a blue toyota sedan with a dog inside”

Bugs quickly fired back “That’s no dog! that’s my wife!”

We were pleasantly surprised that when we went to Iraq  the soldiers who transported us around Baghdad engaged in a very similar kind of trash talking and ball breaking.  Within our MRAP convoy  there were external and internal comms.  The external traffic  to things like helicopters or to destination bases was highly formal and proper.  The internal comms were  a profanity laden free association roast of virtually everyone and everything within view of the gunners and drivers. Iraqi women in traditional abayas became “Ninjas” and were treated with mock reverence as a lethal threat.
“Number 2 you got 3 ninjas at your 2 o’clock. Prepare for some wild monkey style”

Iraqi policemen got some of the funniest treatments. This centered on the very specific style the high ranking Iraqi policemen adopted.  Very large bushy moustache and 70’s style leather jacket. Like they’d been watching reruns of The Mod Squad. This was summed up best by one of the gunners in our convoy.

“We are training the Iraqi Army and the Paramilitaries.  Apparently the Ensenada Police Department is training the City Police”

The ball breaking included us in the band as well.  Sal with his thick NYC accent was for some reason a  particularly inviting target.  Sal also made the mistake of not buckling his 6 point harness properly when we were put in the MRAP rollover simulator.  When they flipped us upside down Sal  landed on his head with an audible thump.  This prompted the operator to ask over the intercom “Is everyone good?”

“I’m not good”  came Sals response over the intercom.

This was hilarious to the soldiers in our convoy.  We could hear them laughing  through the intercom system. If i fall and hit my head it’s tragedy, if you fall and hit your head it’s comedy. For the rest of our time in Baghdad every so ofthen someone would randomly and anonymously pop on the internal comms  with an “I’m not good.” Complete with thick NY accent.    This was later translated into latin “Salus Non Sum”,  and when we  made our official coin for the cracker tour  we included Salus Non Sum as our motto.

 

The ball breaking did not stop when we returned to the states.  St Patricks day we were playing in Myrtle Beach SC.  A typical city street festival thing. We got word that 5 or 6 of the guys from the 82nd airborne that had escorted us around Baghdad would be coming to the show.  I realized that they had only been back home in the states for a couple of weeks. I figured there would be some hard drinking that night so i put them in the VIP tent NOT backstage.  I just wanted to play it safe.  One of the soldiers was underage.  Frank took him backstage where Drivin’ n Cryin’ invited him on their bus.  This was not lost on the other soldiers.  Eventually their highest ranking NCO started bugging me to get take them all backstage.  Fair enough  I could tell at this point they were all pretty well behaved and didn’t need to worry about them.  So I led them all backstage.  At this point their sergeant looks around and says to me:

“This is backstage? Tents?  Porta-potties? Generators? Steam trays?  I can get this shit in Iraq”.

 



 

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Friends.

I’d [C] never sleep with [G] your ex-girl-[C]-friend
Even if she starts to flirt with me [G] again
Al-[F]-low me to a-[G]-pologise for my [C] slightly [Bb] wicked [F] thoughts
But [C] that’s the kind of [G7] friend that you’ve [C] got

If a fight breaks out and you’re the cause of it
In some redneck bar where you’ve been talking shit
I would not forsake you later in that parking lot
‘Cause that’s the kind of friend that you’ve got

CHORUS:
Through the [F] laughter and the tears
We go [C] stumbling through these years
A bit disfunctional [Bb] some might [G] say
But I’ve [F] got the dirt on you
Hey I got [C] plenty [Bb] on you[F] too
So I [C] pray we stay to-[G]-gether all our [C] days

When you’re on a date and you finally bring that girl home
you put a little captain beefheart on the stereo and disconnect the phone
I’ll show up drunk and ravin’, and then i’ll pass out on the spot
‘Cause that’s the kind of friend that you’ve got

REPEAT CHORUS
[Bb] [F]
Dear Lord I [C] pray we stay to-[G]-gether all our [F] days
[C]

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#41 Sidi Ifni -Cracker. Paul Bowles, Moroccan Space Rock and Old English Queens.

Posted in Cracker with tags , on August 31, 2010 by Dr. David C Lowery

Hotel Suerte Loca in Sidi Ifni

08 Sidi Ifni



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So the last i left off the band had broken up in Sweden and we had made our way back to the UK to fly home.

I however had always planned to stay behind in England. My girlfriend Mary (later my first wife) had planned to meet up with me in the UK and then we were gonna spend a little time time traveling around europe. But i had two weeks to kill till she got there. the first thing i did was go and visit my cousin John in london. We methodically explored quite a number of pubs in the the grimy yet colorful area of south london where he lived. John worked nights and i learned to ride the night buses around london. A helpful skill i relied upon many times since. I’ve never understood why one of the biggest cities in the world has a subway system that doesn’t run all night. Also the London tube map has a way of distorting your perception of the spatial relationship between different neighborhoods and boroughs of London. You get a much better sense from the buses. But i digress.

I then headed down to the Isle of Thanet. This is the very tip of land where the south eastern thames estuary meets the english channel. This is where my mother’s people live. At least for the last few generations. I have a large batch of cousins, uncles and aunts in this area. in particular my grandfather lived in a little seaside town of Westgate-On-Sea. We then explored the various pubs of this part of the UK.

By the time mary arrived in London i was ready to get out to of the UK. I had settled on a pretty wacky idea. A trip to Morocco. I was unwittingly taking part in a long rock tradition of visiting this cultural crossroads. Mary didn’t seem totally thrilled by the idea of visiting a predominantly muslim country, only because she had in mind more of a laying on the beach vacation, not a covering up her head, arms and legs vacation. On top of that she had spent time in Mogadishu not cause she was in the 10th mountain division but because her mother and stepfather were very ambiguously associated with the state department, always ending up in interesting places like the Mogadishu, Peshawar and Manilla. Read into that what you will.

On the balcony at Hotel Suerte Loca

But go we did. Ending up in the very unique city of Sidi Ifni.  (To arbabic speakers: I’m aware it’s redundant to say City when Sidi is already in the name.  But we notoriously monolingual americans won’t be able to find it on a map if i just say Ifni.)  We went to Sidi Ifni largely because of the strange description the Lonely Planet guide to morocco.  Since revised,  it used to say something that began this way:

“If Lethargy and Decay can be described as charming…

Hence this line in Sidi Ifni.

we drank wine, slept off hangovers

lethargy decay and forgotten loves

“Through the porthole see an epiphany I will never leave this place alive”

Inspiration for that line was this apartment building designed to resemble a Ship.  Sidi Ifni Morocco.

The second reason we went to Sidi Ifni was because of it’s hybrid culture and lack of pestering “guides”.  Sidi Ifni was part of Spain from 1860 to 1969.  It is a strange updated remix of Spanish and Moorish.  Remember Spain already contains a healthy dose of Moorish culture.  The architecture of the town is this spanish/arbabic/ art decco mix.  It is striking.  Also when we were there, the legal status of many of the mansions in the spanish quarter left them abandoned and boarded up.  That whole quarter which near the hotel suerte loca was largely vacant.  There was also a Spanish Consolate, in this quarter.  It was unlocked the two times we went to visit it, but no one was there.  Totally eery.  Another interesting feature was the grand promenade and staircase that ran down to the beach.  Although the city made an effort to maintain it, it seemed to be always on the verge of crumbling and being overgrown by shrubs and vines.  Finally as the spanish had land routes in and out of the city, the center of the city was a runway.  At the time Mary and I were there the locals used it as a giant pedestrian thruway. Whether it was unusable or simply used so rarely it seemed abandoned was never clear.  The whole town had the feel of Macondo the fictional town in 100 years of Solitude.  Indeed the french couple  that was staying at Hotel Suerte Loca brought it up conversation

“Is Gabriel Garcia Marquez translated into English?”

“You mean this city reminds you of Macondo?”

 


“Vines and Shrubs grew between the steps from the Spanish town to the African sea”

Another character at the Hotel Suerte Loca was an gay englishman of indeterminate age . Everyday he’d sit out on the balcony at 5pm to listen to the BBC worldwide service.  We’d often join him with a bottle of the local sulfite heavy headache inducing wine.  He had been in Morocco for some time.  He had been a composer of some kind.  This strangely mimicked the writer Paul Bowles history.  He makes appearances in both Dr Bernice and Sidi Ifni.

12 Dr. Bernice

Dr Bernice:

“The Soundtrack is played by some aged british queen on BBC radio one”

Sidi Ifni:

 

 

 

 

“We’d awake to the BBC
An old English queen, on the balcony”

There was an air of sadness to this man.  Or perhaps i projected my sadness from the demise of CVB onto him. Alone at the very edge of civilization.  And this time i really mean the edge of civilization.  This isolated coastal enclave hemmed in by the trailing edge of the Atlas mountains.  Only accessible by dirt road through the mountains via Tiznit or Guelmin.  The climate along the coast was like San Diego or Ensenada, but just south of us the Atlantic Ocean meets the sand of the Sahara.  It was as if we were at the end of long skinny peninsula between two seas.  Or with some poetic license between the Sea and the moon.

Between the sea and the moon.  Doing my best sheltering sky pose.

Finally the Hotel Suerte Loca.   This lovely and friendly place was our home.  The family that ran it had two adult sons who took an interest in the fact i was a musician.  They took me out and introduced me to other musicians.  They also had considerable knowledge of the western rock music and introduced me to many Moroccan and Magreb (western arab world) artists.  Most of these artists played traditional or arabic and berber pop music, but a couple of the cassettes i brought home were moroccan “space rock” bands.  Indeed many young moroccans would proudly tell you the influence that their music had on various icons of 60’s and 70’s rock music.  The music to the song Sidi Ifni also references the sound of these moroccan space rock band.  This was a conscious choice to do this rather than reference the traditional music of Morocco.

The phrase “Suerte Loca” means wild luck.  Or crazy luck.  I loved that this hotel was named this.  So i also dropped this phrase into the song The Good Life.

01 The Good Life

 

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Sidi Ifni


[INTRO:]

[Em] [Bm] [A] [Em]
[Em] [Bm] [A] [Em]
[D] [C] [Em]
[D] [C] [Em]We walked [Em] down a long prome-[Bm]-nade
Down a winding [A] stair, wide as boule-[Em]-vards
Vines and shrubs grew between the [Bm] steps
From the Spanish [A] town to the African [Em] sea

We drank [D] wine and toasted to the [C] day
When she was the [Em] Queen, before the long decay
We drank [D] wine, slept off hango-[C]-vers,
Lethargy, de-[Em]-cay, and forgotten loves

[BREAK:]
[Em]

We’d awake to the BBC
An old English queen, on the balcony
Wander round abandoned consulates
An old broken chair on the marble stair

And from the roof see Canary seas
The discarded runway of Sidi Ifni
We drank wine lying on our backs
On the warm tarmac, in a bowl of stars

Well I went down, mostly on my own
‘Til I was alone in that shipwrecked house
Through the porthole sea, an epiphany
I would never leave this place alive

I drink gin with the old ex-pats
We are broken things from a broken past
And it comes near, but just out of grasp
The alchemist words that would bring her back

[ENDING:]
[Em]

#32 Poor Mexico so far from God; So Close to Camper Van Beethoven

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker with tags , , , , , , , on August 18, 2010 by Dr. David C Lowery


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“¡Pobre México! ¡Tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos!” -José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori. President of Mexico 1876-1911.
Poor Mexico, So Far from God, and so close to the United States.

In #22 I ride my bike. I briefly mentioned  the borderlands of California and the Southwest. This is as important as the Inland Empire and Santa Cruz to the identity and development of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven.
So I Should explain the concept of a Borderland a little better.

Borderlands are a concept from Geopolitical theory. It comes in handy when trying to describe California. Borderlands are regions where the immigrant population is still culturally and economically anchored to their nearby ancestral homeland. The classic example is Mexican immigrants in the Southwest of the US. Coachella valley, large swaths of LA,  the southern Central Valley. All borderlands. These pockets are neither US or Mexico or both depending on your viewpoint.  While physically part of the US they are culturally and economically tethered to nearby Mexico. If you slide into one of these pockets from Mexico or from the the southwest of the US there isn’t really much of a process of adaptation.

Contrast these with the large pocket of Arab immigrants around Dearborn Michigan.  The weather alone would require adaptation.  But this immigrant population is isolated economically and culturally from ancestral homeland.   Sot this population is firmly part of the United States.  Exotic and unusual but not a borderland.

So this is what the members of Camper Van Beethoven and Johnny Hickman grew up around,  these transnational pockets called Borderlands. Jonathan, Greg and Chris Pederson grew up near these borderlands. Victor, and Chris Molla across the street from the Borderlands while Mike Zorn, Anthony Guess Johnny Hickman and I grew up inside one of these transnational pockets. This was especially true of Anthony Guess.

BTW Guess is really his last name. It was not a stage name. More than any other member of CVB Anthony was the most immersed in the borderland culture. He grew up in the farming and ranching town of King City California way “up” (south) the Salinas Valley. He showed up in Santa Cruz at the ripe old age of 18 and quickly gained a reputation as the great drumslinger in town. First we grabbed him to play in Box o’ Laffs. Later we talked him into playing in Camper Van Beethoven. He was a nut. In a good way. His music options in King City were limited so he learned to play everything. Rock, Country and of course the Norteña or Conjunto music. When we asked him to play with CVB he agreed only if he could play Conjunto style. I had no idea what he meant. But to him it meant he would only bring a kick drum, snare drum, high hat and sometimes a cowbell (pre-irony) or tambourine. The entire first CVB record is played with kick drum high hat and snare. Nothing else. Genius.
Not only did anthony play drums like he was from the borderlands he also talked the talk. His speech sounded vaguely chicano and he sometimes threw in spanglish phrases.

Camper Van Beethoven already had a little subset of norteña influenced ska:

01 Border Ska

04 Yanqui Go Home

11 Tina

But when Anthony Guess came into the band this stuff really started sounding very cool. Like i said we all lived in or near the borderlands so it was as if we were culturally fluent in this stuff anyway. Anthony Guess just took it to another level. Even the flat footed folk of Tina took on a Conjunto edge.

01 Heart

But long after Anthony Guess had left the band we continued to occasionally dabble in this style. Heart was re-recorded in 1987 with Chris Pederson and still retained it’s borderland feel. Although technically it was played more in the Tex-Mex style which was a later offshoot of Norteña.

A quick but important aside.  Some people are confused by the this lineage?Norteña before Tex Mex? Norteña is very old. It goes back to the 1850s and those german settlers bringing their music into northern mexico.  But it keeps being re-invented. Every 20 or 30 years.  Just when it’s about to become old folks music it transforms itself. And always by attaching itself to the most dangerous and edgy elements of the borderlands.  Most recently in the 70’s by groups like Los Tigres del Norte, and in the 80’s by Chalino Sánchez (who was born in mexico but spent more than half of his life in california ie a borderlander) In both cases these artists re-invented Nortena by popularizing the Narcorrido.

Damn it feels good to be a gangster. Chalino Sanchez while performing in Coachella CA  was attacked and shot onstage. Still standing  he pulled his own gun and shot and killed the would be assassin. It was The federales that finally got him in Mexico.

02 L’Aguardiente

The song L’aguardiente nods towards this as well but it was actually more of a play on South american and European music. This track was recorded in Vienna Austria in 1990. Note how enthusiastically the Austrians embrace the Waltz section of the song. That in itself illustrates my earlier German/Czech/Texan/ Northern Mexican musical connect the dots.

Finally there is a Camper Van Beethoven song that addresses the concept of The borderlands directly. Or at least treats it as the real geographical entity it is. Borderline from Key Lime Pie. Like all the songs on this album it’s bathed in melancholy and a dreamy figuratives. But it’s a couple driving from east to west, and west to east across the borderlands. Not into and out of the US and Mexico. They are observing that nothing is changing, they remain in this transnational space between the two Nations. The song even suggests that the Nations are fiction while the Borderland is real. Not to divagate too far but if the people of borderland are bound together voluntarily (which i understand is arguable) their transnational state is as legitimate as that of the US or Mexico. My Anarchist and Libertarian friends might say more legitimate.

06 Borderline

Politicians and Military strategist worry mightily about borderlands. Perhaps rightfully so. These areas tend to explode into violence and chaos. They tend to be flash points for much greater wars. But no one seems to learn from these episodes. We are always given two false choices. Make these areas part of one nation or another. The more obvious and successful choice:  Why not let them be? These borderlands have been with us throughout history and oftentimes-not always- they are places of great innovation, thought, music, art and even prosperity. From my political perspective it is often because of the very weakness of the official states in these areas. The governments have limited influence on the culture and economy. People often enjoy extra liberty. Grey market labor, less taxes, fewer regulations and contraband not available in the firmly controlled areas of the nations. They often enjoy less security. But not that much less.

If these areas manage to stay peaceful (an iffy prospect mostly because of interference byt the nearby nations). They are often powerful economic engines. I would say that this is generally true of the borderlands of the US, even if the wealth is unevenly shared. I know this sounds crazy if you look at the headlines in the newspapers. It’s stories of drug smugglers and violence. But the vast majority of the people who live in these regions live peacefully and contribute greatly to the wealth of both countries on either side of the border. And most of the Borderland is not lawless.  There are some marked exceptions. Juarez which is firmly part of Mexico (and so technically not a borderland) is currently bordering on anarchy.  Some of this spills into the real borderlands of El paso and Las Cruces, but Baltimore is more dangerous than El Paso.

There i go again looking at the big picture.

The Yaqui Nation straddled the border of the US and Mexico. They were still fighting to remain independent of the Mexico in 1918. My Niece who is very much a All-American Californian girl is 1/4 Yaqui, should she go back to Mexico?

Finally shouldn’t we say “immigrants” with quotation marks because a large portion of these immigrants are mestizo. that is mostly Amerindian. Their ancestral homelands straddle both sides of the border. In fact we should probably go even further putting quotation marks around “Mexican”. For many of these people’s ancestors could have just as easily identified themselves as Americans or Texans had history been a little different. Indeed many of their ancestors did identify themselves as such. The recent self-identification of many of these Mestizo people as Mexicans was the result of manipulative nationalists on both sides of the border.

Note in our New Roman Times story Texas has neatly dealt with the situation. Aztlan the semi-autonomous republic within texas is made up largely of the borderland region of the southwest. And in our story it is assumed that these people identify themselves as Tejanos rather than Mexicans, yet still remain culturally distinct. In the story the Texans and Aztlans are comfortable with this arrangement. In reality i don’t know if that would have been the case. But one can hope.

Oh and since i love flags so much the Yaqui have a Flag.

As a historical note. During the Mexican Revolution many of the great Mexican corridos were recorded in San Antonio Texas. Texans in general are more comfortable having a border and shared cultural traits with Mexico than the rest of the western states (except New Mexico). This is instructive.

And indeed Sir Douglas Quintet did in the 60’s in texas what CVB dabbled in 1980s. 20 years before. basically because they were Trxan.

Cracker pays tribute to Sir Douglas Quintet on this track.

It Ain’t Gonna Suck Itself- Cracker

And don’t worry Cracker heads. i”ll devote an entire post to It ain’t gonna suck itself.

Kenny Margolis.  It’s not the Violin that is the Devil’s Instrument.  It’s the Accordion. And Kenny keeps his DI in a Holster.   At least we think it’s a DI. Now that i’ve read about Chalino Sanchez I suspect it’s his pistol.

Finally  Kenny Margolis accordion player for Cracker had this idea to take the Bruce Springsteen song Sinaloa Cowboys and make it a Nortena song.   This song is very much about the borderlands of California.

04 sinaloa cowboys

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Todays words and music.

Borderline.

[INTRO & ENDING:]
[G#m][F#][G#m][B][Emaj7]
[G#m][F#][G#m][B][C#m]
[Emaj7][C#m][B][E]
[F#][Emaj7][G#m]

I will [G#m] sing
I will be [F#] passed on over [G#m] now [B] [Emaj7]
Take the [G#m] wheel
Take me [F#] down
Let me [G#m] sleep till we have [B] disappeared [C#m]
‘Cause we’re [Emaj7] moving from east
to [C#m] west
Across the [B] grain, it’s meaning-[E]-less
On the [F#] borderline nothing is [Emaj7] real except for [G#m] you and I

 

I have silver
And I have dollars
And papers, too
Bring me a mango from the south
Pour me a drink from the bottle
And one for you
‘Cause we’re empty as the desert
As we drift from west to east
On the borderline everything is empty, even you and I

[G#m][F#][G#m] Yeah? [B] OK [Emaj7]
[G#m][F#][G#m][B][C#m]
[Emaj7][C#m][B][E]
[F#][Emaj7][G#m]

‘Cause we’re [Emaj7] moving from east to [C#m] west
Across the [B] grain, it’s meaning-[E]-less
On the [F#] borderline nothing is [Emaj7] real except for [G#m] you and I

[ENDING]

#31 Brides of Neptune-Cracker. Did the ferry sink? Is this the underworld? Or is it just another gig in Victoria BC.

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker, Sparklehorse, Victor Krummenacher with tags on August 17, 2010 by Dr. David C Lowery

 

01 Brides of Neptune
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In summer of 2009, Cracker was doing a Northwest run with our sister band McCabe and Mrs Miller (Victor krummenacher). It was 4th of July Weekend. A terrible time to play anywhere in the US except right before a fireworks display. So as we weren’t booked at any fireworks displays our agent sent us up in to Canada for the Weekend.
It had been at least 13 years since I’d been to Victoria with Cracker or Camper Van Beethoven. So we didn’t really know what to expect. Victoria (which is confusingly on Vancouver Island and Vancouver City is not) can be an insular place. It’s a college town/government town. It’s only reachable by ferry and aside from  provincial government types and college students, the only visitors it gets are those peculiar weird tourists that visit the islands of washington.

The Northern part of the island is also very wild still. Parts of it can be very Northern Exposure. Our promoter was from somewhere up north on the island. It may or may not be a giant hydroponic pot growing operation.  Which is especially weird cause there is seems to be some kind of police training centre on the island as well.

But when you are downtown in Victoria,  it’s a fairly cosmopolitan place. which by nortwestern or Cascadia standards that means there are some Fluevogs mixed in with the Birkenstocks.  The couple times we played there when i was in Camper Van Beethoven it reminded us favorably of 1980’s Santa Cruz.

But back to our story. The ride on the ferry from the mainland was spectacular.  We all sat out on the deck took pictures of each other , it was hot by BC standards,  75,  and i realized i probably should be wearing sunscreen.  How do people get to live in this part of the world?  They must have done something very good in a past life: Pushed a pram of quadruplets out of the path of an oncoming bus.  damn.  Victor Krummenacher and I reminisced about doing this same trip with The Catheads in 1986 or 1987.  Mark Zanadreas and I were so hungover we quickly became seasick and ended up vomiting over the railings in tandem.  Much to the horror of our Canadian hosts.  We were young so i’m sure by 7:00pm we felt completely normal.

But back to our story. When we arrived at the venue  in Victoria July 4th 2009 we were a little surprised. It wasn’t really in the quaint victorian downtown but on the outskirts of town.  It was a pretty weird place. Just a gigantic cinderblock box.  It was a combination venue,  hotel, and liquor store on the ground floor. Around back in the basement it also had a strip club and a chinese restaurant.  We were pretty early so we all checked into our rooms.  About and hour after we got to the hotel,  the local promoter called jason our tour manager.

“I just drove down the Island, hey do you mind if i come to your room and take a shower”

And then it started to get weird.  There was also some sort of event center in the hotel and it appeared to be preparation for a wedding.  And not just any wedding.

I’ve always marveled at how multi-cultural is Canada.  Toronto Ottowa and Montreal are of course famous for this.  But the west also has it’s own pan-commonwealth queens dominion polyculture.  I can not think of any proper way to say this that is politically correct.  It appeared that preparations were underway for an Indian-dot/Indian-feather wedding.  Or at least the two largest pluralities at the wedding appeared to come from these two subsets of Canadians.  It was like a Fellini movie, paper mache elephants, people painted blue , heavily embroidered vests and many variations on the bear claw pendent.  Cowboy boots and Saris.

hmm interesting.

 

 

And when we went into the club it appeared to have a model of the Parthenon for a stage except there were multiple television sets in the walls between the columns.  The overall effect was that of a Russian mobster nightclub in Azerbaijan.  That night as we began to play to the handful of people who had shown up, I noticed at the door that one of the doorman had some kind of bulldog or pitbull mix on a leash.

It was then that the devastating reality sunk in. We were in the underworld.  While crossing the Strait of Georgia clearly the ferry had sunk and we had all drowned. For some bizarre reason in my minds eye i briefly saw us being accidentally torpedoed by the USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23). ( I’d recently seen a clip of it being launched or something.) And now like the crew in the song Brides of Neptune we had drowned but did not realize that we were dead.

The dog at the door? Well that was Cerberus.  Greek underworld. Remember the greek Parthenon behind us?  Also it seemed that the greek underworld shared space with the Indian-dot afterlife, as i was sure that at some point i’d seen Shiva walking around the hotel.  It wasn’t a wedding after all!

And now for eternity we would be playing this nightclub every night. Well nearly every night. When Shiva needed more room for a special holiday or  if there was a sudden influx of visitors due to a  disaster up  on the Indian subcontinent: Move over greek underworld!  And Hades would summon the ferry.  And that ferry would take us to the usual Russian-Azerbaijani nightclub only this time in Elysium, the Asphodel Meadows or  Tartarus.

 

And the reason the ferry had sunk was all my fault.  I had not remembered to play the song Brides of Neptune in Vancouver and Vancouver is a port city.   This was a superstition that I had  developed. Or maybe it was more like an OCD tic: Touch the doorknob twice with my left hand before opening it with my right or there will be a axe murderer in my hotel room when I open the door.  That’s more of a tic right?

My superstition went something like this. If we don’t play Brides of Neptune in a port city, then one of the ships that leaves the next day will sink, or a sailor will drown.  I developed this superstition as Johnny,  and I stood in front of the Seafarers Memorial in Homer Alaska sometime in 2001 or 2002.  I felt so stupid.  Some showbiz know-it-all writing about sailors lost at sea. There were over 100 names on the bricks and the population of Homer AK at that point was about 5,000.  What did i know about the sea? and the lost seafarers.

Nothing except that i seem to mention the sea and sailors a lot in my songs.  And the english side of my family were mostly sailors.  And my grandfather was torpedoed either 2 or 3 times in WWII.  I suppose that is the reason i mention sailors and the sea so often:

I want everything

Saint Cajetan

Take me down to the infirmary

Dr. Bernice

Minotaur

Be my love

there must be more right?

I also have the sneaking suspicion that i was a sailor in a past life and drowned at sea.

Alas the sea is also some kind of allegory for me.  A great and immense sadness. The place where all things are eventually lost.  We crawled from the sea in the distant past.  But it waits for us in the quick and near future.  And now I’ve mixed Hades with Poseidon. When you die you become a Bride of Neptune.  Neptune is just the Roman name for Poseidon.

But i can’t help thinking of the sea as the immense sadness when i hear this song.  For this is one of the songs that i worked up with Mark Linkous.  This is a song that he plucked from a pile of small unfinished ideas i kept on cassette tapes.  each titled something like “work tape oct 1997″.  These were snippets of song about 30 seconds to 3 minutes long. I’d record them onto an old cassette recorder I always kept handy.  We were listening in the basement of my studio when we came across this one.  ” I like that one, let’s make that a song”.  So we did.  The only words i had were “brides of neptune cross the waters bring us your sons and bring us your daughter”.  We created the music first and then eventually the story came to me.  And you can totally tell that this is Mark Linkous playing the bubbling gurgling keys and guitars.  It’s his signature sound.

 

I think of the sea as this immense sadness in this song because  March 8th 2010 Mark shot himself in the heart.  He had an immense sea of sadness in his soul.

I don’t have that. That darkness. I understand it mind you.  But it isn’t me. We are all lost at sea, but it’s not a tragedy.  It’s a black comedy. A giant clown cemetery with The Catheads just too damn hungover to dance on our clown graves.  While i don’t exactly dance around the seafarers memorial in the video,  I talk to the lost and dead seafarers.  I send them on a inscrutable voyage with monkeys and pot head mermaids.  I send the dead out with a mysterious cargo that they can never get near because it’s “guarded by monkeys”  (see post  #3 guarded by monkeys).  But they aren’t really sad.  They are lost but not sad.  Understand the distinction?

In the US and many other navies there is an ancient traditon known as The Line Crossing Ceremony. It is a complex ritual in which the sailors (regardless of rank) who have crossed the equator before (shellbacks),  ritually abuse and mistreat the sailors who have not crossed the equator before (pollywogs).  The simple chorus of Brides of Neptune came to me after my ex-brother in law who was a young US navy officer related to me his ordeal during his first crossing of the Equator.  It is too complex to explain here. But your best hope is that you become a Bride of Neptune.

Finally we come to the Horse and Cow.  I am not far from the Horse and Cow Bremerton WA as i write this.  The Horse and Cow is a bar frequented by Submariners. Neptune is often portrayed followed by a Horse and Cow.  In superstition sailors would sometimes tattoo a horse and cow on each ankle.  So they wouldn’t be sunk at sea.  In WWII this was especially common.  The fear was very high that they would be sunk by a submarine.  Somehow the submariners adopted the Horse and Cow as their symbol.  Both of the related  artists i have mentioned in this post,  Sparklehorse and the Catheads  worked Submarine into their album titles.  Both albums I produced.

Also I distinctly remember Mark Linkous telling me that the spanish flotillas would throw there horses and livestock overboard if they thought they were in danger of sinking.  And consequently spanish sailors believed the sea to be haunted by ghost horses. (see reference in the song Be My Love)  I’ve googled this but to no avail.

However I am superstitious. A clear indication I must have been a sailor in a past life.  I am going out now to get a horse and cow tattooed on each ankle.

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[INTRO:]
[C] [G] [C] [G]

[C] She says this is my movie, [G] [Gmaj7] [Em] [Em7]
[C] so you’ll do what i tell you. [G] [Gmaj7] [Em] [Em7]
[C] There’s a mixup in Bali – [G] [Gmaj7] [Em] [Em7]
[C] you get chased by a monkey. [G] [Gmaj7] [Em]

CHORUS
[D] Brides of Nep-[Em]-tune cross the wa-[C]-ter,
bring us your [G] sons and bring us your daughters.
I won’t forsake [Em] thee deep in the blue [C] sea;
I’ll take you home. [G]

[C] I tried dating a mermaid; [G]
[C] she buys pot from the first mate. [G] [Gmaj7] [Em] [Em7]
[C] That mysterious cargo [G] [Gmaj7] [Em] [Em7]
[C] is still guarded by monkeys. [G] [Gmaj7] [Em]

Then
REPEAT CHORUS x2

[INSTRUMENTAL SECTION: (Chords as intro)]

REPEAT CHORUS x2

Brides of nep-[Em]-tune [Cm]
Brides of Nep-[G]-tune [Gmaj7]
[REPEAT CHORD SEQUENCE THROUGH ENDING]
Brides of Neptune
Guarded by monkeys

#27 New Roman Times. Part 3. Start smoking weed now cause by the time you get to the end of this one you need to be really high to understand it.

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker with tags , , , , on August 13, 2010 by Dr. David C Lowery


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The album New Roman Times.  A song by song explanation of the plot.  Yes i know it varies a bit from the liner notes of New Roman Times.  And seriously this gets pretty silly by the end.

01 Prelude

An instrumental meant to invoke growing tension.  It climaxes with a backwards piano chord.  Meant to symbolize the catastrophic events that sets all the events in the story in motion.  A terror attack like 9-11 from a country in the middle east.  This causes Texas and it’s allies The CSA, Quebec, and Deseret to send troops to the middle east.  Despite their mutual defense pact California declines to send troops.

In parallel a Waco type event in California.  Fundamentalist Mormon offshoot in California Republic end up in a bloody clash with California Paramilitary Civil Guard.  This provokes an uprising among the large Mormon population in the Las Vegas, Bakersfield,  San Bernardino, Ensenada  and San Diego Provinces.  A state of insurrection exists. There is widespread sympathy towards Texas in these Provinces.  Especially with regards to their military campaign in the Middle East.

02 Sons Of The New Golden West

A shadowy Cabal of Southern California business leaders,  politicians, paramilitary and military officers.  They have pro-Texas sympathies.  With the terror attack, the Mormon uprising, and the President of California Paul MacKinney refusing to honor the mutual defense treaty with Texas they challenge the constitutionality and legitimacy of the Government of California.  The leaders of The Sons of The New Golden West set up a parallel government in Pasadena. Much of the paramilitary California Civil Guard,  and key elements of the California Military side with the Pasadena Government.  The  entire California Air Force defects or stands down.  But most importantly Admiral Krummenacher in La Paz allows the entire Texan Pacific Fleet out of the Bay of California.  In support of the Government in the Pasadena,  the Texas Navy defeats the California Navy at San Diego and seizes the Port of San Diego.  Admiral Krummenacher is rewarded by being appointed Minisister of Defense for the Pasadena government.   California is now effectively divided into two separate countrys.  The Pasadena government controls the coast from Monterey to  Cabo San Lucas.  The Pasadena Government controls all of the central valley south of  sacramento.   The south also controls the cities of San Jose and Fremont  in the South Bay.  The provinces of Las Vegas, San Bernardino are occupied by Deseret Troops.  Texas also send troops to support the Pasadena Government.  The Civil War/Invasion last for about 3 weeks.  Then for reasons that are not entirely clear The Grey aliens intervene and destroy half of the Texan Pacific Fleet and most of their Aircraft using highly advanced energy weapons.  The Greys and Blues then force a truce upon the warring factions. The aliens revealing themselves publicly is a big shock to most of the population of the world. However most governments had long been aware of their presence in the deserts of California.

But wait this is an instrumental.  Yeah exactly. So we can say it’s about whatever we want. If it were real opera the dancers would act all this out.  Oh yes and Chris molla wrote this song and just emailed it to us.  we did loosely describe that we needed a whole tone instrumental that had a very warlike feeling.  Or something like that.  It’s a fantastic piece of prog-rock in my opinion.  We kept parts of Chris guitar and keyboard parts from the demo.  He wasn’t actually in the studio with us ever. He actually also sent us the sheet music, because the damn thing is  totally complex. it took us days to learn to play the melodies.  Kudos Chris Molla.

Also Chris Molla cleverly combined the Masons-like “Sons of the New West”  and the pancake restaurant “Golden West Pancake House”, to come up with the name of this Cabal.

03 51-7

This is where you meet the protagonist, the young Texan.  He is eager to join the an elite Texan military unit known informally as “The 51-7”

The Lyrics tell the story well enough.

I’ve been through all kind of changes
Cut my hair dyed it black in stages
Been in trouble with the law, but that’s all over now
I’m ready for the big time: 51-7

Left home don’t think my five brothers ever noticed
Mom half-baked on weed and scientology
My father if I ever find, well don’t you never mind
I’m ready for the big time: 51-7

CHORUS:
You think you’re strong enough
You think you’re tough enough
You think you’ve got what it takes to be 51-7
You think you’re smart enough
You think you know everything
But you don’t know anything ’til you’re 51-7
51-7 51-7 51-7 51-7

Nothing to believe in except God and country
Can’t stand to see ourselves pushed around or fucked with (clean alternative = or disrespected)
Well give me a chance to show the world what I’m made of
Come on, come on, 51-7

CHORUS (x2):
You think you’re tough enough
You think you’ve seen everything
But you ain’t seen anything ’til you’re 51-7
You think you’re smart enough
You think you know it all
But you don’t know anything ’til you’re 51-7
51-7 51-7 51-7 51-7

04 White Fluffy Clouds

The young Texan is deployed to the middle east.  When he arrives the older more experienced soldiers sing the praises of their favorite  weapons system.

The music in this song deserves some mention.  The instrumental passages are a tip to the great 70’s prog rock bands. In particular the later King Crimson albums  Larks Tongue in Aspic and Red.  Also if the original Camper Van Beethoven broke apart into pieces (like a urinal cake remember).   This was me trying to incorporate the pieces back into the whole. This song is all about exploiting the  prog-rock leanings of The Monks of Doom.

Also known as “My Baby Is A White Fluffy Cloud”. Weapons: OH-58 (a Bell helicopter), JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munition – thanks Rob Buntz for this info!) M-9 a little handgun, hence lowly. The 3rd verse is omitted from the version on New Roman Times, but is present on the iTunes digital MP3 EP release and on earlier demo version.

[INTRO:]
[E]

My baby’s in the [A] white fluffy clouds
She’s [D] miles above but she drops [A] J. [G] DAM.s [E] down
My baby’s an OH-[A]-58
She’s [D] like a flying rough rider [A] mo-[G]-tor-[E]-bike

My baby’s an M-4 Carbine
Good for close combat gets you home alive
My baby’s an M-24
Put a condom on the muzzle keep the desert out

[INSTRUMENTAL BREAK:]
[C] [G] [D] [A] [E] [B] [C]
[REPEAT CHORD SEQUEUNCE]

[E]

[E] [D] [E] [D]

[E]

My baby’s an 82-A
for less than ten dollars take a jet plane down
My baby’s a lowly M-9
When you’re left-handed it works mighty fine

[E] [D] [E] [D]

[C] [G] [D] [A] [E] [B] [C]
[REPEAT CHORD SEQUEUNCE TO FADE]

05 That Gum You Like Is Back In Style

Meanwhile back in California Northern sympathizers in the occupied regions of the southern California have formed an underground insurgent group known as The CVB.  It is never clear why ” CVB” but it is rumored to be a reference to a very poplular band from a parallel alternate reality. How is that for being self-referential!  The entire song is a Crypto key.  OK?

Well i suppose i do have to explain it: a Cyrpto key is something that allows you to encode and decode messages.   The CVB and the northern California government have developed an unbreakable quantum encoding system.  They use this to communicate intelligence and other information. The CVB and Northern Californians  learned this method from the Mexican Intelligence Services.  The Mexicans in turn probably learned this technology from the Blue or Greys.

As an aside  Mexican scientists have been making extraordinary breakthroughs in genetics,  mathematics materials and guayabera shirt technology at an unusual rate.  It appears they alien races are specifically helping the Mexicans or they have access to a super strong versions of the new Marijuana known as “Flower” or “Chocolate” that dramatically increases intelligence.  This marijuana in turn likely came from one or both of the alien races as they are Chronic Flower smokers.

Back to the crypto key.  It’s a little too hard to explain in great detail.  Suffice it to say that it’s based on small seemingly insignificant differences between two parallell universes.  For instance the crypto key being used here based upon Three distinct Variation Axes.

1.Differences between the plot lines of  Twin Peaks in two different parallel universes.  In one universe this line is spoken in a dream by the familiar bright green Doberman Pinscher, in another it’s spoken by a little person.

2. Differences in autobiographical details  of one of the main dancers in Cirque Du Soliel franchise at Morongo Casino in Cabazon.  In one alternate reality she suffers an episode of Bells Palsy and for the rest of the 6 week engagement she paints her face in the manner of a Sad Clown.

3. Differences in the career of the obscure English  60’s Garage Rock group The Beatles.  In one parallel universe the lead guitar role is not filled by guitar legend Keenan Wynne, instead that role is (bizarrely ) filled by Conservative British Prime Minister George Harrison (1989-1992).

Now of course this is all made up after the fact.  This is one one of a handful of songs that existed before the New Roman Times album was even conceived.  This is the story that we made up to fit the song into the album.   The truth is, like many of my songs, the words don’t mean shit.  They were meant to evoke a mood.  In this case a very werid david lynch type mood.  Further this song was actually written by Cracker guitarist and co-founder Johnny Hickman and myself.  It should have been a Cracker song i suppose.  But it was so much more a part of the Camper Van Beethoven ouevre that it got thrown to Camper Van Beethoven.

Tomorrow in Part 4 we’ll finish it up.

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This is the PEDAL STEEL intro, as played by David Immergluck and transcribed by John Lockney (thanks for this John!)

. D           A           Em               G      D       A        Em
1 __________|___________|_____3__________|______|_______|________|_________|
2 __________|___________|_____3__________|______|_______|________|_________|
3 __________|___________|__3_____________|______|_______|________|_________|
4 __________|___________|__3____3___3____|_3__3_|_5__5__|__5_ 5__|__5~__3__|
5 __________|___________|_______3~A_3~A__|_3__3_|_5~_5A_|__5A~_5_|__5~__3__|
6 __________|___________|________________|____3_|_5~_5B_|__5B~_5_|__5~__3__|
7 __________|___________|________________|______|_______|________|_________|
8 __________|___________|________________|______|_______|________|_________|
9 __________|___________|________________|______|_______|________|_________|
10__________|___________|________________|______|_______|________|_________|

.  G              D
1 ____3_______|___________|
2 ____3_______|___________|
3 _3__________|___________|
4 _3___3______|___5__5____|
5 _____3__3___|___5~_5A___|
6 ________3___|___________|
7 ____________|___________|
8 ____________|___________|
9 ____________|___________|
10____________|___________|

INTRO
[D] [A] [Em] [G]
[D] aah [A] aah [Em] [G]

CHORUS:
[D] That gum you like [A] is back in [Em] style, again [G]
[D] Haven’t seen [A] ya for awhile, [Em] my friend [G]

[A] Spent all of saturday pining away [Em]
[A] For that strange Quebecoise girl in Cirque du Soleil [Em] [G] [A]

REPEAT CHORUS

I was daydreaming of better days
At the Chelsea Hotel before I scared you away

REPEAT CHORUS

[D] [A] [Em] [G]
[D] [A] [Em] [G]
[D] aah [A] aah [Em] [G]
[D] aah [A] aah [Em] [G]

Who could be calling waking me from my dreams
Of John, Paul and Ringo with Keenan Wynn (no George)

REPEAT CHORUS x3

#22 I Ride My Bike-Cracker. The Inland Empire: A Love Story.

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker, Johnny HIckman, Victor Krummenacher with tags , , , , , , on August 6, 2010 by Dr. David C Lowery

 

I Ride My bike- Cracker

 

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Blatant Plug:   Don’t forget to buy your Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven Campout Tickets. Only those that by advance tickets get the cool laminate.  Sept 10th and 11th Pioneertown California in the fabulous Joshua Tree region of the Inland Empire.  Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven, Gram Rabbit, The Bellrays,  Miss Derringer, J Roddy Walston and the Business, McCabe and Mrs Miller, Ashley Raines, The Dangers, Jonathan Segel, Johnny Hickman,  The Dangers  and more.

Buy tickets here.

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In early 1992 shortly before  we released the first Cracker record we went back to the Inland Empire to rehearse.  Five of the key members of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker were from the Inland Empire. John Hickman, Victor Krummenacher, Chris Molla, Davey Faragher and myself. In a way it’s the spiritual home of both bands. It was where we first learned to play  where we started our first bands and it was where most of our families still lived.

The Inland Empire? Sounds exotic. Not really.  I briefly described it in an earlier post. But let me go into a little more detail.

First the Inland Empire of California  consists of the far eastern exurbs of Los Angeles, much of the Mojave Desert, the San Bernardino Mountains and the Coachella Valley.  But what you really need to know is that the Inland Empire is to Los Angeles what New Jersey is to Manhattan.  And it is held in the same contempt.  The Inland Empire is not  “The Valley” as in valley girls.  The Valley is relatively affluent and sophisticated compared to the Inland Empire.  From here on out we refer to this area as the locals do, it’s “The IE.”

 

The IE starts as you enter the San Bernardino valley. After the long hill on I-10 past Covina. The San Bernardino valley finished a poor third when the giant postwar migration to California began.  The suburbs of the San Fernaando valley and the San Gabriel valley were preferred choices of eastern immigrants. They were also more expensive.  The San Bernardino Valley was dry semi-desert and hot as hades in the summertime.  Bucolic ranches, vineyards and citrus groves yes, but alongside industrial decay, steel mills, chemical plants, and the general detritus that surrounds all military installations.  There were at least 7 military bases there when I was growing up in the early 70’s.  So we got the poorer immigrants,  the less affluent,  a lot of southerners,  and folks fleeing the driest coldest parts of the great plains.

You continue east on I-10 and around Colton you begin to hit the barrios, and you feel that you are now in The Borderland.  That area that is neither the US nor Mexico. It covers a large areas of the southwest. Mostly along the border but it is not contiguous.  So here even 100 miles north of the border there are pockets of The Borderland. (Borderlands is a real term used in Geopolitical theory i didn’t make it up)

 


Continue further  east on I-10 and just as you go up into the San Jacinto pass you realize you have definitely left Los Angeles and are in The West. You might as well be in West Texas.  The buttes, the steeply cut dry creekbeds, the chaparral, the brushy hillsides with horses and cows scattered in the distance. Same if you head north towards Las Vegas through the Cajon Pass.

 

 

This was a wonderfully weird place to grow up. It was a place in constant transition.  But more importantly balkanized.  One moment you were driving through an abandoned industrial site the next minute you would be in a beautiful orange grove.  Fragrant and like an Eden with running water in the stone lined irrigation ditches. The ditches themselves ancient. Dug hundreds of years ago by the Spanish missionaries and the Indians.

You would exit the gates of Norton Airforce base and immediatel pass the row of strip clubs and bawdy drinking establishments,  then old postwar cinderblock houses long in decay, now barrio and part of The Borderland, then suddenly more farmland ranchland and orchards.  Here and there gleaming pockets of McMansions.  They seemed to pop up overnight like mushrooms. The new residents seemed to always be peering warily over their fences at those of us who lived in the older decaying serttlements amongst the dying vines and orange trees.

 

Every once in a while a dying orchard would be bulldozed.  Every day as young teens we stood and watched. Eventually the area was flattened into the neat outlines of streets and houses.   The day the surveyors came and planted their flags was the moment for which we were waiting. For that evening after dark we would creep out of our neighborhoods and pull up the surveyors stakes.  We didn’t know why. Something told us those were OUR groves and the surveying stakes only brought those that peered warily over their fences at us.

Our older brothers were more devious and cunning.  They would carefully move the surveying stakes a foot or so.  Wrecking the squares and rectangles. Leaving behind subtle trapezoids.

We lived in places like Okieville,  Mentone,  Greenspot, Crafton and East Highlands.  The newcomers lived in developments like Rio Vista or Hacienda Heights.  They came from Los Angeles and Orange County.  We came from dull and poor towns in the Midwest and South.

There were constant booms and busts.  I remember at least four times my parents modest lower middle class neighborhood suddenly emptying out. The cul de sacs dotted with overgrown lawns and bank repossession signs.  In the late 70’s a new development up the road failed and entire cul de sacs were empty.  But it was nothing new. It’d been going on for centuries.

The Cahuilla and Serrano came and failed. The Spanish missionaries the Mexican ranchers came and failed. Then came the Mormons who settled this area, prospered  for a time and then suddenly abandoned this godforsaken place. Railroads came and failed.  The steel mills came and failed.  the defense companies came and then failed.  Even the military bases. But each wave left a few people behind. Generally the weakest and the misfits. And this created a strange patchwork, a balkanized country.

No one is from the IE.  Your family came here usually to escape something.  To erase the past and start anew.  To quote Joan Didion:

“Here is the last stop for all those who come from somewhere else. For all those who drifted away from the cold and the past and the old ways”

(Curiously that quote I just found is in a book of her essays titled “Slouching towards Bethlehem” also a quote from The Second Coming)

The weather here is brutal.  It’s not uncommon to have temperatures in the summer of 110 or 115 degrees.  In the fall and winter brutal and strangely warm Santa Ana winds whip down through the passes at 70 miles an hour.  It is a startling experience the first time it blasts you in the face.  From may through september the mountains lock in the smog and dust from Los Angeles.  The sky and the land are often grey and a horizon can’t often be distinguished. And then there are the terrifying wildfires.  They would often blacken the sky so it was like night in the middle of the day.  A snowstorm of ash would cover the cars and sidewalks.

Pretty gim right?  Not really it was a fun and diverse place to grow up.  We rode bikes on the empty roads and abandoned places. Skateboarded in abandoned pools and reservoirs.  We shot bb guns in the citrus groves or chased the wild peacocks through the chaparral. I kissed a Mexican girl under a backyard trellis’ of bougainvilleas climbing roses, another I met secretly at night along the eucalyptus windbreaks that demarcated the ancient settlements. Yes even the plants were immigrants, and balkanized.

And it seemed that a curiously high percentage of us played music. Sometimes at night from my bedroom I could hear two or three competing bands.  There was the Tex-Mex/Norteña (or Conjunto) band a block to the north.  A latin rock ensemble to the west and 2 doors down a Steely Dan knockoff.

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

In an earlier post I mentinoned the blog Rock Prosopography 101.  One of the writers of that blog has a theory that there is an inverse relationship between the vitality of a music scene and property values. In other words cheaper towns and suburban areas produce more bands and musicians (as long as they don’t become outright ghetto).

In my experience this is very true.  For when we were young teenagers and we wanted to start playing electric guitars and drum sets, we would just set up in the garage, or the family room of some sprawling rancher and play.  If our family didn’t tolerate us, there was always some old barn, empty storefront or farmhouse that some kind adult would let us use.  As we got older and more serious we often rented little spaces.  They became our little clubhouses.  One was the unused office at the front of an industrial park $50 a month in 1980.  Another was the old waiting room at an unused train station.  I think we payed $75 dollars a month for that one 1982.  And then there was always the older brother or stoner friends that had the little farm cottages in one of the semi rural areas like Devore or San Timeteo Canyon. you could stage a full on PA and blast away like you were Led Zeppelin. Johnnys band actually rented and practiced in an old bar deep in the barrio in Riverside.  They also put on their own underground shows their and a lot of the time the drummer lived there.

When I went away to college in Santa Cruz I realized what a great advantage this had been for me.  I had many cool friends. I wanted to play music with some of them cause they had such advanced tastes.  But they were always much less experienced than I.  These folks had grown up in places like San Francisco, New York City or Boston.  They just hadn’t had their hands on the equipment very often.  So when the CVB guys came to Santa Cruz we were more experienced than our peers and this seemed to give us an advantage.  (Jonathan segel grew up in Davis in the central valley and had the same advantage we did).  I also get the sense that the IE produced a fair number of hollywood studio “cats”.  I mean just check the discography of two guys that went to my high school  John Jorgensen and Davey Faragher.

So looping all the way back to the beginning of the story.  Davey Faragher, Johnny Hickman,  Josef Peters and I decided that we would meet up before some Cracker tour and rehearse for a couple days in Redlands CA in the IE.  And this is the way we did it in the IE: We didn’t rent a rehearsal space. There weren’t any.  We just called around until Johnnys brothers found some friends who had a little house out in the old sheep pastures.  They were just your usual Southern California Heschers*.  Rockers of no real denomination.  Pot-heads, harmless ne’re do wells.  We could rehearse in their converted garage/ party room as long as their friends got to come over and party and listen.  Mind you these rehearsals were in the middle of the day.  We spent a day refreshing the songs from the album.  The second day we got into this trippy jam.  I mean it had a couple really good guitar riffs and chord progressions the kind that made a traditional punk song.  But then we kept trying to get it to explode into this freak out middle sections.  Punk rock riffage into a 1969 bad acid biker jam.  It wasn’t the window pane acid jam. It was the shitty stuff that came later. the stuff cut with speed.  Angrier. Post-Altamont.     And at some point we nailed it.  We walked outside into the bright December or January sunlight,   the grass was impossibly green. ( In the IE our grass is green in the winter).  A couple of the Hescher dudes followed us out “Dude that shit was trippy”.  Yeah it was.  It was the song I Ride My Bike.

And that’s the Inland Empire. And that’s the story of I Ride My Bike. Almost.  I forgot the most important part of the story.

 

In the IE we also rode motorcycles. Small on off road bikes.  Yamaha and Honda 250 four strokes. They were ubiquitous and everywhere.  It was part of the fabric of everyday life. There was nothing like riding one of these bikes through the narrow orchard roads late at night. Especially in the summer when the only cool air in the entire IE  was trapped in those groves.  It was liberating. Especially half buzzed.  That is what this song is about.  A simple incantation to take me back to this time.  “I ride my bike, I drive my car  take me back to you”  The rest of the song isn’t really intended to describe that place and time.  But  to just evokes the general feeling.  A feeling and an energy I associate with that place.

*Heschers are sort of surburban white trash but also rockers. Despite what urban dictionaries say I believe it was a slang word originated by a small group of punkers in the IE.  And i may be able to prove it.   It believe it to be a mispronunciation of our word “Hessian”but this is for another post.

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[INTRO & BREAK:]

[Em][F#m][G][D]
[Em][F#m][G][D]
[Em][F#m][G][D]
[Em][F#m][G][D][REPEAT BREAK]

VERSE 1:
[Em] And I [F#m] ride my [G] bike [D]
[Em] And I [F#m] drive my [G] car [D]
[Em] I drive it [F#m] all a-[G]-round just to [D] take me back to [Em] you [F#m][G][D]

VERSE2:
[Em] And I [F#m] comb my [G] hair [D]
[Em] And I [F#m] wear a [G] dress [D]
[Em] I wear it [F#m] all a-[G]-round just to [D] take me back to [Em] you

CHORUS:
I ride my [A] bike, [G] take me [D] back to [Em] you
I drive my [A] car, [G] take me [D] back to [Em] you
[Bm] I ride my [F#m] bike, [C] I drive my [G] car, [D] take me to [Em] you
[Bm] I ride my [F#m] bike, [C] I drive my [G] car, [D] take me to [Em] you

REPEAT BREAK

REPEAT VERSES 1 & 2

REPEAT CHORUS
[Bm] I ride my [F#m] bike, [C] I drive my [G] car, [D] take me to [Em] you

[MIDDLE SECTION:]
[Em(Em+6 and Em7 embellishments) throughout]
This is a story about a dog, a dog
When I ride my bike
And my hair is blowing straight back
I think of you wearing that brown mohair sweater
Soft mounds of breasts underneath
Or better yet one of those spindly aluminum lawn chairs
I’m putting sun tan lotion on your long legs
A-wearing a broad rim straw hat
Pair of Mickey mouse sunglasses
Looking just like lolita
Looking just like lolita
White sheets hanging on the line
White sheets blowing in the wind
A satellite dish pointed straight up at the heavens

[G][A][C]
[Em] A satellite dish pointing stright up at the [G] heavens, Isis![A] (Isis) [C] (Isis)

[Em] Isis! [G] Isis! [A] (Isis) [C] (Isis)
[Em] (Isis) [G] Isis! [A] Isis! [C] Isis!

[Em] Isis! [G] Isis! [A] Isis![C] Isis!
[Em] Oh yeah! (Isis) [G] arrrrrrrrrr
[G#][A][A#][B][C][C#][G][C#][Eb][E][Eb][C][Eb][E][(random sliding bar chords above 12th fret)][(FADES INTO:)]
[E]

[Bm] I ride my [F#m] bike, [C] I drive my [G] car, [D] take me back to [Em] you X4

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