Backhanded validation, validation nonetheless.

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.

the whole band at the Troubadour! photo by Chris Williams

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.

play sweet potato!

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.

the old Owl Apartments

the old Owl Apartments

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.”

The Hippie Gypsy

The Hippie Gypsy

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Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Music, Sparklehorse, Touring
8 comments on “Backhanded validation, validation nonetheless.
  1. mylo says:

    Nice blog to read, especially for a guy who lives in Tucson, used to live in Davis, went to Porter and saw y’all at the Catalyst and Fillmore at the same time period The Smiths were still putting out albums. Really looking forward to seeing you guys tonight.

  2. I remember that first Tucson Camper show so well, but I don’t think we played with you until your next visit. That first time, my friend Peter (then Splat) showed up at my door unexpectedly, reminding me we’d made plans to go see this out-of-town band at Nino’s (“Not Just for Cowboys Anymore”). Nino’s was the place where most out-of-town bands played, for only three or four bucks, and we tried to see as many as we could. That night it was you. And yes, there were about six people there, so few that afterwards you had the bartender or soundman or someone take a picture of all of us with all of you. My lovely, eccentric friend Jeff danced with a milk crate on his head and Splat and I danced to the point of collapse. And you did indeed play as if it was an arena show. It became our standard, the show to which all others would henceforth be compared. If a band could play like that to just the few of us, they had us forever. There are shows that suck and shows that are boring. There are shows that are good enough that you buy the band’s cd. And if you’re really, really lucky, there are shows like your show, shows that change your life. Yeah, it sounds like hyperbole but it’s true. That night, that show, was magic. Wish I could be there tonight to be transported back to that hot, tiny, transcendent dot of time.

  3. Daniel says:

    One correction – it was 1974/75. I know because I went into 4th grade that year, and my grades always matched the year. Also, remember when Mom went out of town and had a grad student watch us who worked at the morgue? He took us to see Doc Savage and then to the morgue and told us stories about working there. No dead bodies, unfortunately. I also remember walking to Circle K to buy gum and shit – for some reason *that* has stuck in my memory. And I ended up at that same school after being expelled from the local one for telling my teacher to Fuck Off after a disagreement about the height of Mount Everest.

    I remember Barry’s Books well – it’s where I got most of my Star Trek novelizations (Star Trek Log 1, etc), which I still have.

  4. Daniel Segel says:

    One other memory of Tucson – I went to a summer camp out in the Desert. The kids were not kept track of very well. At one point, I was riding a horse and came upon a rattlesnake which caused the horse to rear up and then run off, with 9-year-old me holding on for dear life.

    Also, I stole some .22 bullets from the shed and took them home and tried to set them off by putting them in a crumpled up piece of newspaper and lighting it on fire in our tiny gravel-covered backyard. You were probably off walking to Speedway to check out the latest Led Zeppelin album.

    Not a lot of supervision back then – single mother working full time.

  5. gejarrett says:

    Great payoff with that last line.

  6. D.R. says:

    yes, that LA show was not publicized well, or I would have been there. Fooey.

  7. […] go there instead. That was sort of a drag, I’m not a big fan of Phoenix, sorry to say. I have an affinity with Tucson, having lived there in 1975-6, it held a special place in my heart for reason I think I wrote about […]

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