Album: Telephone Free Landslide Victory
While every musical artist is at least somewhat a result of the time and place from which they appear, some artists could be doing that they do pretty much anytime in the past few decades – Drive-By Truckers or Oasis or Courtney Barnett – and it wouldn’t be radically different at the root. Other artists, however, are totally and completely specific to their time and space. They literally could only only arisen from whence and where they arose.
Like Camper Van Beethoven, who could have only come from the college scene of the 1980s. If punk rock changed our lives – and it did in two ways: 1) reminding us that anyone could play music and 2) do it yourself, you idiot! – then the American indie scene that spontaneously arose from sea to shining sea was the actual manifestation of that change.
Get some beer, get some instruments, get some weed, get a space, steal some electricity, start playing and see what happens. Because we all could be nuked any day now anyway. And, of course, eventually everybody figures out their style. They’re hardcore, or ska, or experimental, or country, or R&B, or folk, or even rock. Well, almost everybody. Not Camper Van Beethoven.
With the exception of R&B, Camper Van Beethoven, played just about everything under the sun. Sometimes all at that same time! And it was all natural, not calculated. It was just what they did, dude! If someone tried this now, it might be great, but it wouldn’t feel half as natural as their folk-rock Black Flag cover did.
As a proud 1980s California Bohemian (retired), it’s my duty to argue that the “everything but the kitchen sink, oh what the fuck include that too!” approach of fellow Californians Camper Van Beethoven is epitome of the 1980s American indie spirit, and not just because they seemed to love Fresno (or at least the girls in Fresno) enough to play for us several times (including a house party of which I have zero memories beyond them playing it).
Oh yeah, “Take The Skinheads Bowling,” a song with a catchy enough tune that it probably didn’t matter what David Lowery actually sang, but of course the fact that it seemed like he was making fun of skinheads or maybe just having fun with skinheads that made it even more catchy. And it featured one of my favorite bits of call-and-response ever:
Some people say that bowling alleys got big lanes
(Got big lanes, got big lanes)
Some people say that bowling alleys all look the same
(Look the same, look the same)
There’s not a line that goes here that rhymes with anything
I had a dream last night, but I forget what it was
(What it was, what it was)
Staying just on the right side of novelty song with the absurdist lyrics (novelty songs have a lyrical point) and straightforward music featuring Jonathan Segel’s violin hook (yes, I said “violin hook”), “Take The Skinheads Bowling” became an unlikely underground hit, and a fun cover to do when I was playing drums in Blackbird Stories.
“Take The Skinheads Bowling” performed live at Amoeba 2013
Video for “Take The Skinheads Bowling”