Cigarettes and Carrot Juice: The Santa Cruz Years – Camper Van BeethovenTusk – Camper Van Beethoven
During "Tania", on the final disc of Cigarettes and Carrot Juice: The
Santa Cruz Years, I hear David Lowery sing the words that become the
most appropriately descriptive ones for Camper Van Beethoven and why this
set matters — "how I long for the days when you came to liberate us from
In the song, he sings about Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of newspaper
magnate William Randolph Hearst who was kidnapped, brainwashed and then
helped her captors in the Symbionese Liberation Army. Tania was her SLA
This was pre-O.J. and pre-24 hour news channel — yet it was a national
sensation. Still, what Lowery says could easily have been ascribed to what
Van Beethoven did nearly two decades ago and continues to do with its fresh
CVB was alternative when the term actually meant something. Listening to
the five discs – three albums, one that compiles an EP and rarities, and one
that contains unreleased live material – that comprise this limited edition
box set and it's apparent that the band remains as far away from the
mainstream as it was in 1983 when members David Lowery, Victor Krummenacher
and Chris Molla moved from Redlands, California to Santa Cruz.
And that's a good thing.
The hybrid sound that the members of CVB created remains timeless because,
for the most part, it's settled within American roots music. The songs bear
the influences of ska, country, folk and Tex-Mex, usually all at once. Their
particular style can be heard on the very first track ("Border Ska") on
CVB's debut album, Telephone Free Landslide Victory.
On subsequent recordings, it's a matter of refining these styles. Also
thrown into the mix is the band's affection for the west coast punk/indie
bands that came up around the same time. This brings about the
of hardcore numbers into folk songs. Plus, there's the occasional bit of
psychedelia thrown in. Altogether, it would seem on paper to be a jumbled
mess. But it works. The ethnic and country-derived grooves regularly give
songs a light bounce while the melodies are never lacking.
Due to the members' diverse input into the overall sound, one could look
at the entire output of CVB as one long experiment. Then again, it's
difficult to gauge whether that's a fact just as it's hard to determine the
lyrical point of view because it sways from sarcasm and irony to stretches
sincere fondness and joyful absurdity.
While the band officially split up during a European tour in 1990, the
various members worked together throughout the decade. They even played the
occasional reunion and released an album of odds and ends.
The band's version of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk dusts off some old 1987
recordings that were made at the suggestion of a female friend as a
time-consuming endeavor after CVB's drummer broke his arm skiing. The band
was staying at her parents' cabin up in the mountains to work on new songs.
The tapes were discovered last year. Some songs were left intact, a few were
tweaked into better shape and others redone due to damage of the source
The ebullient atmosphere created on the early CVB albums are missing
here. In its place is a penchant to take the experimental flavor of the past
a little further. It's more of a deconstruction of the original than a
note-for-note tribute. The title track blurs the marching band rhythm with a
sound collage and then returns to it. "Honey Hi" sounds as if it was
at an outdoor Mexican cafith the sounds of cars passing by and a young
coming up to the musicians to sell his goods.
It has its moments but nothing really matches the original, which makes
Tusk an experimental excursion for fans and an interesting curiosity
those with open minds.
What both releases show is that Camper Van Beethoven still maintains its
eccentric creative approach along with its independent spirit. Together,
a welcome relief from the commonness of life.