“Rocinante” one of the Cracker Vans.
A few days after I wrote post #37 Circles-Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas I was in Denver. And as it turned out 7 of the 9 people in that van on that vegas trip were all at the same dinner party. The discussion turned to all the various CVB and Cracker vehicles and how they were an important part of our band and every band’s story.
Here is a short list of the Vehicles we have owned individually or collectively for carrying our gear around, getting to rehearsals, getting to local gigs and most importantly touring.
1. 1968 Galaxy 500. $300. (1983-1985)
I bought it from a friend of my dad. A GI buddy. He cut me a deal. $300 dollars. It was a shitty yellow. It had a crumpled right front fender. But it was otherwise in fine shape. It was a great vehicle and we had a lot of good times in this beast. This was the first car I ever owned. I was 23 and had only ever owned motorcycles. Any car would have seemed like a beast.
I don’t remember how many miles it had on it. But it wasn’t much less than 100k. I drove this back and forth from Southern California to Santa Cruz many times. It was the primary vehicle for moving around Camper Van Beethoven and Box O’ Laffs gear for two years. Did I mention it was a beast? It had a huge V8 (390?). The trunk was enormous. It could fit the entire drum setset and both guitar amplifiers. Or alternately the SVT bass cabinet and all the guitars. The drums and guitar amplifiers fit int he backseat. It eventually developed a very serious engine issue. I don’t remember if it was a thrown rod, or what but it was bad enough that when it got towed for street cleaning, i never bothered to go and get it back. At first Box o Laffs used this car mostly. We took it to LA to play shows at the Anti-Club or to San Francisco. Later as CVB became more popular it became the CVB vehicle. Mostly for gigs in town or to go to Davis or San Francisco to play.
The only thing that was annoying about this vehicle was it’s poor gas mileage. And it had a huge tank. When you are 23 working part time and making $8 an hour you try to keep as little gas in your car as possible. If I had a half tank of gas in the thing I felt rich. One friday after cashing my paycheck, putting a half tank of gas in my Galaxy and buying a 40 at the AM/PM I came home and wrote this ditty. It never made it onto a record until the third CVB album.
2. 1968 Volkswagen Squareback. $800. 1985-1988.
This car was the bane of my existence. I was working at a farm near Freedom CA when my Galaxy 500 died. I needed another vehicle. The bus took nearly an hour to ride to the farm and i had to walk the last mile. Overall the farm was 11 miles from my house. A little to far to ride my bike. Although i often did in the summer.
My extremely generous (and extreme libertarian) boss lent me $800 dollars for another car. I stupidly bought a Volkswagen Squareback so I could be like all the cool Surfers who used these things. It looked about right to me. It could fit the Bass cabinet and two guitar amplifiers. But within a week the transmission failed. I rode my bike to the house of the asshole who sold it to me. He wouldn’t give me a dime back on it. So i used my bike lock to break the tops off all four of the sprinklers in his front yard. ”Hey man, very uncool! very uncool!” he sounded like Dennis Hopper. He repeated this over and over again as I merrily added 4 new fountains to the landscaping in his front yard.
“i’m calling the cops” he yelled after me as i rode off. I couldn’t resist i turned around and headed right back for him. I almost knocked him down with my bike.
“you call the cops and i’ll come back every two weeks and break all this shit again. and your car windows” pointing at his BMW. why do assholes always drive BMW’s?
I couldn’t help it. You can take the boy out of the Inland Empire but…he never called the cops.
I found a rebuilt transmission and talked a local mechanic into installing it for me after hours. We had a good run for a little while with it.
It had a couple annoying habits. First and foremost the hatchback door would unexpectedly pop open while driving. One time my bass cabinet slid out into the road. Richie West’s (?) french horn also went into the road, it was hit by a truck. the case was damaged but strangely the instrument survived.
But then on the way to a CVB gig in Fresno with the Meat Puppets and Minutemen the damn thing caught on fire. Seriously. One of the little hose clamps on the fuel line had loosened and worked it’s way off the carburator. This was a common VW failure. It happened to me all the time. No matter how fucking tight you clamped the hoses. I was told later this was happening because i clamped them too tight.
Usually you noticed the gas smell and loss of power right away and stopped and fixed it. This time it immediately caught on fire. We managed to put the fire out before any damage was done and get the thing on the road again. But after that i refused to use it for touring.
3. Jonathan’s 1972 Datsun 510 Station Wagon (1983-1985).
This was the other half of the CVB touring convoy. We needed two vehicles with my galaxy 500 or the squareback. This car came to an inglorious end when I rear ended someone on the CA17/I280 interchange in Santa Clara. In the long run this was fortuitous. The tow truck driver launched into a monologue that became the basis for the song When I Win The Lottery.
Over the course of the 30 minute ride (to John Steins house our MacGyver like driver and roadie see post #37 circles) the tow truck driver confessed to a series of small felonies and a profound contempt for virtually every aspect of our society. most striking was his contempt for religion and patriotism. He was out of his mind but totally fascinating.
4. Pete C’s 1984 4×4 E-350 pickup truck. $20,000+ Dec 1st 1985- Dec 12th 1985.
We borrowed Pete C’s truck to do our first ever out of state tour. Santa Cruz to Austin. Eversince we drove this thing to Texas and back I’ve had a fascination with these things. It is the ultimate American vehicle. Lately they and their ilk (The Dodge 3500 and the Chevy 3500) have got a bad rap. These vehicles have come to represent extravagance and wastefulness. Outdated american technology. But to anyone who has owned a small business, is employed in the building trades, or owns a large piece of property these things are indespensible. And when used by small businesses and tradesman especially in the crew cab form they are really the most efficient and cost effective vehicle to own. They are also more technologically advanced then most people imagine. They wouldn’t be so popular if they didn’t make good financial sense to own. I think i’ll go and buy one now.
Who’s Pete C ? Pete was probably the first person to watch Camper Van Beethoven and fully “get it”. We had opened for one of the minor LA paisley underground or “cowpunk” bands at the Santa Cruz Art Center. I believe this was an opening slot he had arranged for us as a favor.
“Man you guys are on to something here. You guys could really go somewhere”
I only knew Pete as this mysterious rich cattle rancher and former opera singer. Lately he was leading a country/nortena band with our drummer Anthony Guess. They played these strange honky tonks all over the Salinas Valley. His family had ranches in Wyoming and Argentina. But most impressive was the ranch they owned in the upper Salinas valley south of King City. I mean having a lot of land in a place like Wyoming or Argentina is one thing but California? His father was rumored to be part of Reagans “kitchen cabinet”.
When Pete was in town he lived in this small hotel in Soquel. Above a bar notorious for it’s pot and coke dealers. Jennifer and I went to visit him a few times at this hotel. We usually ended up pretty high. He was a lot of fun. It was always a full on party with Pete. He was always surrounded by interesting people. Rich divorcees, low level movie business operators, and long haired mustachioed mexican hipsters or drug dealers. In those days it was hard to tell
Also we noticed that Anthony Guess’s very young (17 or 18) year old girlfriend was often there visiting. Jennifer raised an eyebrow at me the 2nd or 3rd time we found her with Pete. Pete was about 40 at the time. Women’s intuition is a remarkable thing. Because shortly after this Anthony’s girlfriend ran off with Pete to Wyoming. It was never exactly clear if they were romantically involved but they definitely went on a huge drug and psychedelics binge. When I saw her sometime later she mentioned tripping her ass off on LSD with a bunch of cowboys in some tiny town in Wyoming. And she said verbatim to me:
“Man watching cowboys on acid was crazy. They looked like some kind of Egyptian hieroglyphics to me. Animated like cartoons”
And thus the song Eye of Fatima was born.
Jonathan Performs Jazz and Modern Dance Moves 2:10-2:14
This is how life was for CVB in Santa Cruz. Everyday.
5. 1975(?) Dodge Tradesman. $3,000 (1986-1988).
When we returned from our trip to Texas Pete’s truck was a little worse for wear. We had 3 people in the front seat and the rest of us and the gear in the back in the camper shell. We also slept back there some nights. In a sleep deprived daze i started the truck in gear and scraped a light pole with the bumper. Upon return Pete decided he was done with loaning us the truck and instead offered to loan us money to 1) buy a touring van, and 2) fund the recording and manufacture of Camper Van Beethoven’s second album.
This time we did our research. We found a 1978 dodge cargo van that someone had converted into a homemade conversion van. We had John Stein check it out. He crawled all around underneath of it, did a compression check and drove it around.
“Well it’s seems pretty good but you never know!” this would prove very intuitive when on it’s maiden voyage we lost the alternator and were briefly stranded in the Mojave. (See #37 Circles) . But after that we had little trouble with it. We also did not realize that because it was the extended version, when we piled the gear all in the back of the steering got very soft. Floaty. It was more like steering a houseboat than driving a truck. This would cause problems later. As only certain people were trusted to drive it.
But otherwise this was a great van. It also had this enormous utility rack on the roof. I mean it had a complete deck. It wasn’t just some crossbars. It was made of heavy duty spread metal. We strapped our luggage on it when we traveled and often used it as a party deck when we got to the gig. We dragged lawn chairs up and sunned ourselves on the roof. One night we met a young kid in Columbus OH. We invited him up on the roof of the Van. He had some dreams of becoming a indie rock touring musician. He told us he loved the Minutemen. D Boone had recently died. One of us said in an offhand manner. ”Why don’t you go out to San Pedro and see if those guys need a new singer/guitar player?” We didn’t realize that he would actually do it. This young man turned out to be Ed Crawford or Ed fROMOHIO and Firehose was born. From Wikipedia:
Firehose was formed in the spring of 1986 shortly after the untimely death of D. Boon brought an end to Watt and Hurley’s previous band, Minutemen. Crawford, a then 21-year-old Ohio State student and Minutemen fan heard a false rumor that Watt and Hurley were auditioning guitarists for the band and having found Watt’s phone number in the phone book, called him up and expressed his desire to come out to California and play with them. Still mourning the loss of his friend Boon, Watt initially was not interested and in fact had lost much of his desire to play music, however Crawford’s persistence eventually paid off when he showed up unannounced in San Pedro and asked Watt for the chance to come over and play for him.
I had forgotten all this until one day we ran into Ed again. He introduced himself as the kid that sat on the top of the van with us. He told us the whole story. I told him “dude, do you know how high we were when we told you to do that?”
The Tradesman van got a great nickname. Topo Gigio. I think it was our sound guy Woody Nuss who later named it this. Topo Gigio started out as a full on hippy live in van. Greg Lisher and his father modified it so that it had a bench seat, a high bed in the back with storage underneath for our gear. so only 5 people could sit. The others had to lie on the bed or sit on the floor. It was pretty cramped. That’s why we added another vehicle to the fleet.
Topo Gigio may have gone on to other adventures with other bands. In 1988 we donated Topo Gigio to a WFMU for charity auction.
6. 1972 volvo 145. $1200 1987-1988
About the time we were to go on Tour with REM. We decided we needed a second vehicle. the Volvo 245 station wagon was ubiquitous around Santa Cruz. And relatively cheap. We found a 1972 for $1200. We drove that thing all over the country for 2 years. Other than changing the oil and buying tires we never did a damn thing to it. The Volvo gave us more space and since it was a car not a heavily laden truck it was easy for everyone in the band to drive. And we all really enjoyed driving it. Even Chris Molla.
This was the only Vehicle we ever let Chris Molla drive. Chris was the true mad scientist of Camper Van Beethoven. Some of the instrumental weirdness attributed to Jonathan is actually Chris Molla. He could also play pretty much any instrument. He was in his head a lot and that didn’t make him the best driver. So after the show with REM at University of Colorado we decided we needed to get down the road towards Lincoln NE. So the plan was to drive for a couple of hours and then get a hotel. We let chris drive the first shift. I was in the front seat and wanted to nap. Someone else in the Van had given Chris directions. ” take 36 to I 25 south then take 76 west”. I went to sleep. about an hour and a half later i woke up and we were somewhere south of Colorado Springs.
“um chris where are we going?”
“going to exit 76 then west”
Look on a map to see why this is funny.
7. 1986 Ford E150 Club Wagon. $9800. 1988-1990.
Finally in 1988 we totally sold out. We got a loan (Formal Capital!)and got a slightly used 15 passenger van. We kept Topo Gigio but stripped it out entirely so almost the whole back was a cargo cage. Only a narrow bench/bed remained behind the two bucket seats in the front. We ran with both vans for 1 or two short tours. The most memorable moment (aside from Howie and Jackson stranding them in the Salt Flats) was Howie and I simultaneously spinning donuts in a dirt lot and behind the University of The South and briefly colliding. Nothing happened to the new van but we dented in the side of Topo Gigio. Later that tour a couple of us got inside the cargo section of Topo Gigio and popped the dent out by laying on our backs and kicking the dent out with our feet.
Shut us Down.
Odd time signature alert in chorus.
[E] I’ve got a ‘lectric gui-[D]-tar and half a bottle of[A] warm beer[D]-[A]-[D]
[E] I’ve got some
funny i-[D]-deas about what sounds good[A]-[A]-[D]-[D] [A]-[A]-[D]-[D]
What sounds good[A]-[A]-[D]-[D] [A]-[A]-[D]-[D]
Better shut us down[A]-[A]-[D]-[D] [A]-[A]-[D]-[D]
Better shut us down[A]-[A]-[D]-[D] [A]-[A]-[D]-[D]
I’ve got a dollar fifteen and nothing better to do
I’ve got a half tank of gas and nowhere to go
Better shut us down
Better shut us down
Better shut us down (frequent live aternative: Better pull the plug)
When I Win The Lottery.
Well I[Bm(7)] lost an eye in Mexico
Lost two teeth where I don’t know
[Em] People see me comin’ and they[D] move to the[A] other[Bm(7)] side of the road
I robbed a liquor store or two
Made myself at home a few times
Borrowed myself a car when I needed it
I got me a shack at the bottom of the road
Fixin’ cars and givin’ tows
Spend all my money on the lottery
[G] When I win the lottery, gonna[F#] buy all girls on my block
A[Em] color TV and a[D] bottle of French per-[G]-fume
When I win the lottery, gonna[F#] donate half my money to the city
So they[Em] have to name a street or a[D] school or a[A] park after[G] me
[Bm] When I win the lottery[G]-[F#]
Never run a flag up a pole
Like Mr. Red, White, and Blue down the road
But I never called myself a hero for killing a known communist
Now I can walk into any old bar
Find a fight without looking too hard
But I never killed someone I don’t know just ’cause someone told me to
And when I win the lottery, gonna buy the house next to
Mr. Red, White and Blue
And when I win the lottery, gonna buy Post 306 American Legion,
Paint it red with five gold stars
When I win the lottery
When the end comes to this old world
The rights will cry and the rest will curl up
And God won’t take the time to sort
your ashes from mine
‘Cause we zig and zag between good and bad
Stumble and fall on right and wrong
‘Cause the tumbling dice and the luck of the draw just leads us on
And when I win the lottery, gonna buy all the girls on my block
Silver-plated six shooters and a quart of the finest highland scotch
‘Cause when I win the lottery, the rights will shake their heads and say that
God is good but surely works in mysterious ways
When I win the lottery
Eye of Fatima
He’s got the[G] Eye of Fatima on the[Em] wall of his room
Two[G] bottles of tequila, three[Em] cats and a broom
He’s got an[F] 18-year-old angel and she’s[C] all dressed in black
He’s got[G] 15 bindles of[F] cocaine tied up in a[D] sack[D7]
And this here’s a government experiment and we’re driving like Hell
To give some cowboys some acid and to stay in motels
We’re going to eat up some wide open spaces like it was a cruise on the Nile
Take the hands off the clock, we’re going to be here a while
And I am the Eye of Fatima on the wall of the motel room
And cowboys on acid are like Egyptian cartoons
And no one ever conquered Wyoming from the left or from the right
But you can stay in motel rooms and stay up all night