Camper Van Beethoven is out on tour right now in the Southwest. We are supporting a new album, “La Costa Perdida” that came out earlier this year (and it is awesome, it literally inspires awe.) Also we are in our thirtieth year as a band.
Wow, says I to that. We’ve been playing some of these songs since 1983. I’m still trying to get them right! I am one of those musicians who never seems to play the same thing exactly twice, so it’s an interesting phenomenon to play things like “Take the Skinheads Bowling” for 30 years. You’d think I would have it down by now…
We left Santa Cruz after the boardwalk show and drove to LA, something we’ve done a thousand times. We usually drive down Highway 1 past Watsonville, then cut over to Prunedale to 101, then cut over at 46 to Lost Hills and then down 5. Same as it ever was. We got to the Troubadour at about 5 to load in. Now the Troubadour is supposedly a cool place, or it’s hip to play there… and it looks sorta cool with the wide low stage. But it’s pretty grimy. And the backstage is a couch. It’s not really all that cool. It does have an intense history with all of the 60s and 70s acts that played there, but relying on that still is sort of dumb. I last played there in 1999 with Sparklehorse. I was actually living in Hollywood at the time, and playing here as part of a tour was really cool for me, for many reasons. One was that David Lowery was in town (producing maybe?) and so he joined us and we played “All Her Favorite Fruit”, which was the first time I had ever performed the song, actually, as I worked with him on the demos for it, but then was out of the band before it was recorded or performed. Mark Linkous loved the song and always wanted to do a cover of it, so we did. This may also have been the first time David and I performed together since 1988, I think. (Brett Netson of Built to Spill, who was at the show, claims David also sang “Sick of Goodbyes” with us, though I don’t remember!)
(Also, at this show I met a really pretty girl, and after the tour we got together and were actually together for about a year. In the end, though, she was a terrible girlfriend. So you never know. I mean, I met Sanna (my wife) at one of the shows I played with Sparklehorse also, and she is incredible. So there you have it.)
So anyway, Camper comes back to LA to do our 30th Anniversary show at the Troubadour. To be frank, there was very little pre-coverage by any press. Sort of the story of what’s going on these days, it seems like in the last 5 years a new generation of press and audience has taken over and they simply don’t know or don’t care about old bands much. Same in Europe, I find, so these tours this year are very much reminding me of 1987, like we have to start to get the word out again. It’s a bit weird, but you know after 30 years, we can really play.
Which is what the review in the LA Times said, pretty much (that and “they burst forth with quick bursts of melodic energy”. Do they not have editors?) These guys can really play, they are very competent. I guess that’s a good review? The show did fill up, after all, though there was a weird match for an opening band, nobody knew who they were or why they were there, and they played covers. Very weird.
After the show we drove out to stay at a hotel in Ontario California, rather than park an equipment trailer in LA. And then off to Phoenix. This show was at The Crescent Ballroom, which was a nicer place than we’ve played here recently, I thought. Also good Mexican Food! Phoenix was a place we used to play back in the early CVB days quite a bit. The single of “Take the Skinheads Bowling” has an amazing picture of a hung over Greg Lisher on the cover, in the 100º heat outside the apartment of friends we stayed with. I think the first time we played with Eugene Chadbourne might have been there at the Mason Jar. But then it sort of morphed into a Cracker-centric city. Every time we play with Cracker (as we did this evening) half the audience just stares at Camper uncomprehendingly. They seem to not be able to figure it out, while the other half of the audience is singing all the words. People called out for “Sweet Potato” while Camper was playing! I said, wrong band, they were confused and muttered to one another.
The show itself was good, despite that. We stayed nearby at some hotel in the revitalization-in-process part of downtown, then found a nice cafe for breakfast, bought some guitar strings at a guitar center and drove off to Tucson, where we didn’t actually have a gig until the day after. But the Hotel Congress put us up, as we’re playing here tonight.
Now, I lived in Tucson in 1975/76. I was 11 years old. The Hotel Congress is on the corner of Congress St and where the 4th Ave underpass comes into downtown. When I lived here, I lived at 1011 N 4th Ave, by Speedway in the Owl Apartments. (and my phone number was 834 9645. Why would I remember that?)
This was an extremely important experience for me. I grew up in Davis, California, and had lived there from age 2 to 11, then my mom went on sabbatical to work at the University of Arizona for a year, then we moved back to Davis. We drove in our VW camper with all our stuff and moved into this little apartment on 4th Ave and my mom slept in the living room, my brother and I got rooms. I went to Roskruge school (where Linda Ronstadt went!) which was close by, but I absolutely hated the other kids. They were assholes, actually, people were mean and dumb. So I stopped going to school. Instead, I went to the University every day and worked in the Bacteriology lab, making agar for petri dishes, autoclaving things, etc. The lab people that worked with my mom didn’t care and appreciated the help. Eventually the school district caught up with me and decided to put me in the MGM (Mentally Gifted Minor) program at a school called Tully. This school was somewhere on the south edge of town, and had two wings, one full of MGM kids and one all the locals. The local people who lived on the south edge of town were very poor and hated the MGM kids, of course, and being 11, some of them were pretty big already. I got beat up a lot, but mostly by kids who didn’t really know what they were doing, so I could tighten my stomach muscles (like Houdini!) and not really get hurt. Of course I internalized it somehow, so when I got back to my class, I got in fights too. But I liked my class there, my teacher, Mr Shulman, was a hippie and played guitar for us, and I had a friend named John and girlfriend named Maricela. (we were 11, remember.) Unfortunately for me, John lived all the way on the other side of town by the Rolling Hills Country Club, so riding my bike to his house was a 45 minute ride. I got knocked over by a car even, one time.
(a note on John: in about 1993 I was working in San Francisco bartending at the Rat n Raven on 24th St, so I’d walk to work and stop at Real Foods for a snack on the way. One day this dude was checking me out in line at Real Foods, and he followed me out of the store and called my name. I was a little perturbed, actually, as I thought he was trying to pick up on me after hearing my name from the girl at the cash register. He said his name, but I didn’t recognize it, and then he shook his head and said he was John. He had escaped Tucson, come out of the closet and changed his name and moved to San Francisco! And he recognized me from being 11 years old, and it was confirmed by the cash register person saying my name. I haven’t seen him since!)
So for me, the average day after school was a walk from Speedway to Broadway down 4th Ave. 4th Ave was freaky, and had all the record stores, head shops and thrift stores, and then at Broadway and 4th was Barry’s Books, which also had comic books. So here’s this freaky 11 year old with stringy long hair, and needless to say, every record store clerk was like “hey kid, what are you listening to? Elton John? Ever heard Alice Cooper? Or Led Zeppelin?” or “Kid, you like comics? Ever see Zap comics?” Oh boy did my life change. When I got back to Davis for 7th grade I was a full on freak.
Also, I had my first experiences of talking with insane people, learning what paranoid schizophrenia was! These life lessons are important. Another big Tucson event for me and my brother was that the University hosted a Science Fiction film festival for 3 days, and we went the whole time and watched movies for three solid days. The first thing they showed was “Un Chien Andalou”. (again, I was 11.) I also won tickets to see Lynyrd Skynyrd on the radio, but my mom wouldn’t let me go, so I gave them to one of here grad students… such a drag.
Camper has always had a good time in Tucson. We came here early on, maybe 1985 or 86, and played with the River Roses. The first show had maybe 6 people, so we pretended it was an arena show with thousands of people. That worked, as the next time the club was pretty full.
Anyway, Camper came into Tucson last night, so I had all day today before the show to wander around, so I walked down 4th Ave to my old apartment, then back up. It’s a mile either way, and it was only 32ºC/90ºF. Not bad! Well, 4th Ave is trying to be recreated into a “historic district”, but it looks like the era they are recreating is the 1970s! Some of the thrift stores are still there (I bought a Hawaiian shirt.) They are building a tram line from University Blvd that turns onto 4th and goes downtown. So 4th Ave from there is pretty nice, but below University it’s still pretty scummy, I walked to look at the Owl Apartments, still there (the building is anyway.) And the park next to it, where I once found $40 stashed into a knot in a tree and my mom freaked out and thought drug dealers were going to hunt me down.
Coming back up 4th Ave, I stopped in some of the shops. No record stores anymore, but I did walk into the Hippie Gypsy, which is a bona fide head shop: incense, tie dyes and bongs. Straight outta 1975. Except that the music they were playing when I walked in was Camper Van Beethoven’s “Eye of Fatima.”