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Ted Kaczynski’s Santa Cruz vacation shack.
In 1982 I lived in the tiniest house imaginable. It was at most 400 square feet yet it boasted a kitchen, bathroom, living room and two bedrooms. My bedroom was 6 x 10 feet. big enough for for a single mattress on a small platform. The small closet could hold about a ½ a dozen shirts, a couple of jackets and a sweater or two. I rolled up four or five pairs of jeans and stuffed them onto the shelf at the top of the closet. The rest of my clothes I kept in a suitcase that I slid out from under my bed when I needed it. This is where I also kept my guitars. I had two plastic beer crates. I stacked these on the floor one on top of each other. I kept a few books, a couple of writing journals and my supply of cassettes for my cassette recorder. The cassette recorder was on the top of the stack. In the corner I kept a small fender amp. A Fender super champ that somebody with excellent cabinetry skills had reworked into a separated “head” and speaker cabinet. This was my songwriting workstation.
I can’t remember if the living room had any furniture in it. I know we had my roommate’s stereo in there and one wall was filled with our vinyl collections. The other side of the living room had a couple of guitar amplifiers, my full size SVT and some miscellaneous drum kit parts. I can’t imagine there was any room for any furniture. Plus I can not recall ever once sitting in that room.
The house was part of a collection of a dozen beach cottages crammed into the parking lot of the Santa Cruz beach amusement park. These were originally meant to be summer rentals. But this was during Santa Cruz’s deep nadir in popularity. Air travel had rendered Santa Cruz’s oceanfront irrelevant to the Bay Area’s middle class. Yes there were tourists on the weekend but they were a decidedly working class and rowdy lot.
This area was called Beach Flats. It was really just a sand bar barely above sea level. It was protected from the San Lorenzo river by a 12 foot levee. Aside from a few students living here the area was populated by Spanish speaking immigrants. Most worked in the local restaurants. Everything about the place suggested impermanence and transience.
In the summer it was occupied land. A foreign army of daytrippers from San Jose, Milpitas, Watsonville and Fremont encamped upon these shores. Their River’s Edge Baja Bugs, Low Riders and tricked out pickup trucks were like the chariot armies of Carthaginians to our Roman sensibilities. Thus we avoided their beachhead.
But most of the time, especially in the winter, it was a lonely outpost from the rest of the city. The city bus neglected the area and it always required a lonely and dark walk along the top of the river levee. Alternately you could walk across a small pedestrian bridge attached to the railroad trestle that spanned the San Lorenzo just as it emptied into the ocean.
During heavy rains directly below the bridge there was a violent mixing of river current and storm driven waves. If you fell into this you would surely drown. I’d often encounter neighborhood youth smoking pot or drinking beer on this bridge late in the evening. They stared at me warily. Their alliances were uncertain. I never knew if we were friend or foe. On many occasion I imagined they might throw me off the bridge just for their own amusement. For this reason I often carried my all aluminum Ultraflex skateboard. I rarely rode it, but both tail and nose were worn down into a sharp edge. It was like a 30” Celtic sword with urethane wheels.
Corry Arnold defines a music scene as a neighborhood or city that is a “net exporter of concerts”. In other words
Let A = the number of concerts performed by the bands in a scene outside their neighborhood or city X.
Let B = the number of concerts performed by outsiders within that neighborhood or city.
City or neighborhood X is a music scene If and only if A> B.
By this definition I’d say that Santa Cruz (barely) qualified as a music scene in 1982.
Arnold also notes music scenes rely on low property values in particular transitional neighborhoods. Neighborhoods that had once had another purpose but now had fallen out of primary use. Cheap space and a tolerance for noise are important commodities for bands.
You could argue that the old beach rentals along the lower end of Ocean street and the neighborhoods clustered around the old harbor qualified as in transition. Too seedy and rundown for beach rentals these houses were subsequently occupied by the more adventurous. Arty students, musicians and other slackers now occupied many of these cottages.
But our cottage was effectively cut off from these neighborhoods by the river levee. In retrospect I now see it was very Dungeons and Dragonsish of the locals to refer to the homeless population that slept in hideaways along the river as “trolls”. Indeed walking to my house at night I learned to steer clear of these trolls as many were quite aggressive or totally insane. You definitely felt penalized after unexpectedly making contact with these folks.
But the isolation was very good for a couple young mathematicians and songwriters. I was able to really dive into the most difficult proofs and songs in that cottage. Later when I moved to a better part of town I found that I had to go to the science library to get any deep thinking done.
My roommate was also a mathematician and songwriter. His name was Paul MacKinney. Recognize that name? We covered one of his songs on the 3rd Camper Van Beethoven Album. The song is LuLu Land. We also named our CVB fan club after him. The Paul MacKinney Fan Club. People were completely mystified as to why the Camper Van Beethoven fan club was named The Paul MacKinney Fan Club. Paul was also mystified. As always CVB was Inscrutable.
I’m not really sure what Paul had in mind when he wrote Lulu Land but in my mind I always associated it with that walk along the river levee. An unplanned conversation with one of the sad crazies was surely the root of this song! But who knows.
Also it should be noted that Paul, Joe Sloan (of Spot 1019) and I had a short lived band about this time called The Jaws of Life. It was actually during this time that I began performing the Black Flag song “wasted”. This was later carried over into Camper Van Beethoven’s repertoire.
Paul would often finish his math homework well before me. He’d come into my room and hover. Or he’d try to help me with whatever proof or problem I was working on. Once I was finished he’d celebrate by handing me a PBR (or joint). and dropping the needle on his well worn copy of Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown EP. Wasted was one of the songs on the B side. We became fixated on the simple genius of the 40 second song. How could we not cover it?
Beach Flats makes another small appearance in a Cracker song. Once I moved to the eastside of Santa Cruz I rarely went back to this neighborhood. Except to go bowling. Go figure.
Boardwalk Bowl (I remember it as Surf Bowl-anyone else?) was on the western edge of Beach Flats. Right where the land began to slope up and become Beach Hills. To be accurate it should be noted that the cheap beer was more of an attraction than the actual bowling. This and the two old dive bars The Asti Café and the Avenue were for a long time my usual hangouts in Santa Cruz.
But one day my girlfriend Jennifer (see fear and loathing in Las Vegas #….) ruined it for all of us. She had become fixated on the bowling shoes at the Surf Bowl. She wanted her own pair but the ones that were available commercially were nothing like surf bowls cool retro beauties. So one day she just walks out with a pair on.
When I discovered this I was quite mad. Because we were regulars and she was quite the beauty. There was no way the middle aged men who worked in the bowling alley would not remember us. No more Surf Bowl. All for a pair of shoes.
So in Surf City 85 I sing.
Then you stole some bowling shoes
What a pathetic criminal you.
What a pathetic criminal
Lulu Land- (Paul MacKinney)
How can you lose when you choose what you feel?
In [F#m] Lulu land, the [G] walls are soft and [F#m] dark
How can you lose when you live in the past?
Where innocent promises turn into bad debts
In Lulu land, the wall are soft and dark
Surf City 85
Schoolgirls walking down the street
Well days they seem to drift away
Nothing to do
Blair and goldie on the sand
They tried to go their separate ways
Nothing to do
[KEYBOARD SOLO then GUITAR SOLO (chords as INTRO)]
Filed under: Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker