Archive for circles.

#59 Stairway to Heavan (sic)- In Praise of Half Baked Ideas and Unfinished things. The importance of not being earnest.

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2010 by Dr. David C Lowery

“C amper Van Beethoven” II and III.  I think the C fell off the paste up board and was incorrectly lined up again.  Camper Van Beethoven placed the Star of David on the album for no other reason than to confuse people.  The symbol has such heavy meaning while this record was purposely devoid of any coherent meaning, messages or interpretation. On Subsequent pressings the star was removed after we were hammered by Rough Trade about the symbol.  They were worried that the obliqueness of our songs and the record would eventually lead to terrible mis-interpretations of our intent. Some sort of radical zionist or anti-semitic interpretation of one our songs. who knows.

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Part of the charm of camper van beethovens earliest records that they sometimes contained half baked ideas,  studio experiments and things that were really only partially finished.

Some might disagree.  But when I look back on these records I think that it was cool we had the self confidence to not take things so seriously.  Most young artists tweeze their records to death.  Over polish and over arrange each song.  They remove every little imperfection.  They constantly fret how each song will be perceived.  We did none of this.  As noted above we put one of the most meaningful symbols of the  20th century on the cover of II and III for no apparent meaning.

In 1985 and 1986 underground rock music was a very serious business to most of our friends and peers.  Lyrics were serious.  The music was serious.  Everything was very important and burdened with meaning. We were very aware of this.

I noted this in earlier posts that Camper Van Beethoven was purposely messing with that notion right from the start.  From the choice of the band name,  to the non-sensical “Take the skinheads bowling”. We felt it our mission to be seriously unearnest.

But part the way through the second album and especially on the third album  we started doing this in a different way.  We started including weird sonic experiments and including them in the record.  Half finished songs.  We included these also.   They weren’t bullshit filler,  but neither were they 100% serious endeavors.  Some were accidents.Like putting the tape on the reel upside down.  so the wrong tracks played and were backwards.

We came to believe that if we tried too hard to arrange these accidents and turn them into a real song we would ruin the original flawed yet briefly beautiful idea.

Others were songs we felt  just weren’t enough of an idea to be a real song of proper length and scope. So instead of struggling to make them a second rate “song” with lyrics and a standard verse chorus verse chourus bridge chorus outro structure,  we let them be as they were.

We WERE earnest about some things. We had the earnest belief that we were creating a sort of demi-song,  an overlooked and under appreciated form of music.

04 Turtlehead

The first entry is a Chris Molla penned ditty.  A “small idea” I remember him terming it.  A small spinning tension.  Release in the repeated abrupt stops.  An explosive atonal bridge. Then release in the repeated abrupt stops.  No words.  The title ?  I have no idea.

12 Circles

Circles was created by listening to the song the song Oh No backwards.  We learned the structure and kind of played along with it. In the A and C sections. We added a few incidental melodies with guitar and keyboard but nothing that could be considered a focal point an actual melodic theme that ties the song together.  The only part of the song that makes an effort at being a real song is the B section where we let the words to chorus play backwards.

13 We’re All Wasted and We’re Wasting All Your Time

This was also done at about the same time as circles.  This is jonathan and victor singing along to Take The Skinheads Bowling backwards.  I thin anthony guess or chris molla is also drumming along with it.  It’s got a sort of reggae rock steady feel. weird.  But again. Its just a thrown away chorus.  Perfectly joyful and mischievous.

13 Dustpan

This hard driving collection of guitar chords changes and arpeggios would have been used by most bands for the basis for a song with lyrics.  Even CVB in a more traditional mood would have tied it all together with an instrumental melody line.  Neither of these happened.  It was left this way.

17 Cattle (reversed)

Another song that contains what would normally be a good set of riffs,  an A and B section that should have made a good basis for a psychedelic blues song that an early led zeppelin or fleetwood mac might have played.  There should have been some robert plant hobbit rock lyrics over the top of this.  but no we were content with the “response” lines of the guitars.  The fact the “call” vocal lines are missing qualify this as a demi- song.    Arguing against that is the strange interlocked guitar parts in the B section.  They are of two different lengths so they phase against each other.  This is more interesting and makes this part of the song a more full fledged instrumental.  The title of this song came from a randomly drawn celtic rune. (kind of like tarot cards)  we went through a period of naming songs in this manner.  Abundance (tarot card)  The fool (tarot card).

16 Zztop Goes to Egypt

This song really doesn’t  belong in this category.  The only reason i put it in this category is that it doesn’t have two traditional elements of a fully fledged CVB song.  A repeated consistent melody or lyrics.  The main feature of the song is jonathans multiple tracks of modal violin noodlings.  The song slowly builds in intensity. After the crescendo it pedals and slowly decays.  That is the arc of the song.  Building tension a climax and decay.  It is however the most successful of our melody less psychedelic demi-songs. People always shout out for it at shows.

03 Five Sticks

This is pretty much ambiguity song backwards.  Or parts of it.  It was the result of putting the reel of tape on the machine upside down.  We made a stereo mix of it and then figured out how to play along with it.  It has a strange beauty.  Like an ancient text in a lost language.  Untranslatable.  I assume we called it 5 sticks to continue the reference to Led Zeppelin’s fourth effort.   The Led Zeppelin album features a track called 4 sticks.  get it?  I mentioned in an earlier post we always considered this album our 4th album.  The second album was both the second and third album  hence the curious title II and III.  It was recorded in two different sessions.

Also while on the subject.  We toyed with using symbols as the album title.  Just like Led Zeppelin.  However we did not.  What we did do was give the album a title that no one could find.  Unless you were looking very closely.  The album does have a title.  The title is “Soviet Spies Swim Upstream Disguised as Trout”  It’s right there in the liner notes.  And on etched in the inner groove of the first run of vinyl.  We titled it this way because we had an obsessive fan that would write us nearly everyday.  In one of the letters she (?) said she dreamed the next Camper Van Beethoven album was titled “Soviet Spies Swim Upstream Disguised as Trout”.  et voila.

07 Surprise Truck

This was simply a damn good riff that didn’t want to have a B section or anything other musical variatiion attached to it.  Relentless with just some off the cuff bullshit lyrics about “the surprise truck”.  (the “surprise truck” was the apparently the literal translation of hezbollahs code term for their then novel suicide bomb trucks).

08 Stairway To Heaven (sic)

So Led Zeppelin’s 4th and untitled obliquely titled record contained Stairway to Heaven.  Well we decided we needed a track of approximately the same name.  Of course we changed the spelling and added “sic” (Spelling incorrect). Largely because we had all just read Hammer of the Gods and we’re pretty sure Peter Grant or some english thug who worked for Led Zep  would show up and break our legs.  This track is the most accidental.  It starts with a live recording of CVB playing an after hours illegal show in The Icehouse in Fayetteville Arkansas.  It was a very early very slow version of the song processional.  Someone is playing a weird toy piano or something.  It then goes into a Mao Reminisces about his Days in Southern China.  With extra instruments dubbed in forward.  Most notably a distorted slide and a dumbek. But the great accident is when the previous song on the real comes in.  It’s Folly for two.  It’s backwards cause we were always flipping the tape upside down to do these manipulations.  We didn’t intend for that last bit to be on the recording but it did.

09 Pope Festival

Another interesting case is this song.  It doesn’t really count as a demi-song.  but there is something cool about the unfinished non-words and dense repetitive arrangement.  Later when it went onto Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart album,  it got “produced”  it has a better arrangement and structure but becomes quite inconsequential. It was also retitled “The Fool”.

12 The Fool

10 Interlude

And then all those demi-songs disappear once we start making our albums for Virgin Records.  With one notable exception the track “Interlude” from Key Lime Pie.   This is simply Garth Hudson – yes that Garth Hudson from the Band- warming up on his pump organ as the microphones and such are being placed and adjusted.

Later when the band reforms these demi songs these sonic experiments come back into play.  Camper Van Beethoven is Dead Long Live Camper Van Beethoven is largely made out of these pieces of music. Tom Flower’s 1500 valves being the most notable piece.  The drums are from a reel of drumbeats that Chris pedersen sent to us.  The strings are a chopped up bit of Dixie Babylon strings.  Jonathan and victor played along to this loop. I’d just watched a show on the Bletchley Park. This was Britain’s brilliant codebreaking enterprise in WWII.  Thomas Flowers was the unsung hero.  He built one of the first working computers if not the very first.  It used 1500 valves or tubes.  We made up the song in a few hours. Jonathan tagged on a very discouraging message to him from PJ Harvey, rejecting his suggestion she sing on his solo album.

03 Tom Flower’s 1500 Valves

finally I hate this part of Texas and Come out to show them are similar type songs from New Roman Times. But we already went into great detail about both of these.

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Tom Flowers 1500 valves

Contains recording of a phone message where PJ Harvey rejects music from a tape sent to her by Jonathan Segel.

Further info from David Lowery:
"Thomas Flowers was the British postal service engineer who with Alan Turing built the first (years before the americans) electronic computer (Colossus?), allegedly powered by 1500 valves.   I watched a BBC documentary on Bletchley Park some years ago, and i believe these are more or less the historical facts, of course its all a little foggy to me now.
Bletchley Park (sic?): the site of english and allied efforts to break german ciphers in W.W.II.
Cipher Girls: the corps of young women who were hired to work by hand all the possible permutations once a code was partially broken.
Monty: Montgomery.
Ultra: the Cipher Girls slang for decoded german communications
Valve: English term for Vacuum tube.
Tunnyfish: nickname for the german u-boat cipher, apparently the most
difficult to break."

[INTRO:]
[A]

[BREAK:]
[A][Bm][E][C#m][D][Bm][Esus4][E]

[A] Bletchley Park – [Bm] what a lark
[E] Cipher girls, they’re [C#m] dressed in curls
They [D] gave to Monty [Bm] the very best of their [E] Ultra

And Thomas Flower in his hour,
It’s 1500 valves were powered
And tunnyfish, is permanently broken

[BREAK] (unintelligible echoey voices)

[BREAK] (voice of PJ Harvey):
[A] “Hi Jonathan, this is Polly, [Bm] er, got your call, and thanks very much for [E] sending that CD and demo tape that Ann? showed my Mum?. Erm, I listened to the [C#m] tape and, er, I don’t [D] feel that it’s the right kind of #thing for me to [Bm] be doing, it’s just not, I don’t feel the [Esus4] mood is right for me, so I, [E] I’m sure you’ll understand. Erm, it was real good to [A] see you the other day. Errm, I-I [Bm] hope it all goes well for you, and er, [A] keep in touch, get your card? off?, and maybe you’ll find that [Bm] recording in Majorca/New Yorker? should last [A] through, kind of help proof? some different? songs?. [Bm] So, er, yeah, really good to see you Jonathan. [A] Take care. Bye.”

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

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven with tags , , on August 25, 2010 by Dr. David C Lowery


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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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