If ever there was a rock 'n' roll band deserving a great deal of laud (Which is another question that, as-of-yet, remains to-be-decided), that band would, quite possibly be, Camper Van Beethoven. Few great ska/punk bands thrived throughout the 80's without watering down their sound with pop, funk, new wave, and other, decidedly, unpunk forms of music. The Camper kids managed to dodge the bullet entirely by meeting the trend head-on, absorbing literally dozens of other musical forms, many of which, even the most softcore punker might scoff at, while remaining, decidedly amusing, twisted, uncompromisingly talented, and perhaps, even more credible than many of the bands that stay true-to-the-art.
Born in the Santa Cruz of the 80's, a community that embraced dorkiness in its highest forms, Camper, a band comprised of Math Majors with punk rock aspriations, was able to, legitimately, pull off mixing ska and punk with heavy doses of eastern european folk, country, and western swing, as well as tinges of classical, folk, new wave, traditional Russian, Chinese, and Egyptian folk musics, loads of punk parody, and a unique form of emo that sounds more like the "post-emo indie" we know and love/hate, today, than Fugazi or Rites of Spring. They were one of the few bands that could pull off resonant, dismal songs about the joys and pains of small-town-living, high-energy, folk-fusion dance numbers, and ridiculous, comedy-rock gems, and put about a half-dozen of each on a single record.
Their approach was simple, take nothing seriously, meddle with everything and everyone, and if you need any proof, just take a look at their instrumentals "We Workers Don't Understand Modern Art," a Japanese-tinged 80's guitar cheesathon, "Eat Your Children," a rasta/ska piece, "Mao Reminesces About His Days in Southern China," a song that, somehow, combines Chinese folk and Raga, and "ZZ Top Goes to Egypt" a song that combined Egyptian violin with a ZZ-esque bass line. Their song subjects were equally ballsy and foolish, "The Day That Lassie Went to the Moon" is a direct adaptation of the episode where Lassie takes a ride in a hot-air baloon, and "I Saw Jerry's Daughter" is a relatively simple song about seeing the daughter of Jerry Garcia. Similarly, they managed to pull off several songs with an orchestra, a full cover of Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive," "Stairway to Heavan [sic]," which can be best described as something that vaguely resembles a chopped-and-screwed version of the Zepplin origional, as well as cover of "No More Bullshit" that lasts nearly three minutes and ends with a Van Halen -esque solo, and a full-album-cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk." However, their history was probably made with songs like "Take the Skinheads Bowling" and "Where the Hell is Bill," songs that mocked the elitism of punk rockers, and "Joe Stalin's Cadilliac," which rattled off a list of historical figures and their Cadilliacs, including, most notably, General Pinnochet, all of which figured in a ongoing campaign to put a little mud in the eye of anyone who took themselves too seriously.
The musical legacy they left can, almost, be seen as something in-between Gary Wilson, the unsung indie-disco hero, who blantantly mixed utter ridiculousness with ernesty, and Frank Zappa, whose music requires no explanation.
Whatever the case, the world would be a much nicer place if people stood on street corners
and passed out copies of their boxed set, Cigarettes and Carrot Juice, instead of the New
Testament, The Book of Moorman, or the Communist Manifesto. It is punk rock as it was
meant to be, somewhat hard, fast, with plenty of violin and pedal steel, lots of humor, and no causes to support
The song titles, catch phrases, some insightful commentary from the liner notes, and above image were cleverly stolen from Camper Van Beethoven and Pitch-A-Tent records, without even a semblence of permission, by a clever team of Soviet Spies, swimming upstream, disguised as trout, and is, currently, being used as part of a master scheme to overthrow your mommy-kissing, freedom-loving, capitalist way of life.