#16 Ambiguity Song- Camper Van Beethoven. A Happy Song for Living Under the Threat of Nuclear Heck™.


Ambiguity Song-Camper Van Beethoven

I wrote this song in 1984. I’ve always associated this song with the strange cheery optimism of President Ronald Reagan.I’m not entirely sure why but i’m gonna take a guess.

Reagan had been president for 3 1/2 years. I don’t know if his re-election campaign was in full swing yet but it was on it’s way.   He ended up using the slogan “Morning in America” as the basis of his campaign.  Certainly this sentiment was in the air and being carefully pushed out by the the White House.  All the while he was threatening Nuclear Heck™ on the Russkies and fighting them tooth and nail in Central America and the Caribbean.

So on the surface everyone was optimistic, happy and Wall Street was booming.  But at the same time unemployment was still 8 1/2 percent and recently the stock markets had begun to drop again.  And if you were looking for work  ( I was) it didn’t seem like things were getting better. Sound familiar?  Things seemed downright bleak at times.  There was a lot of cognitive dissonance caused by this optimism. (thank you Mr Rathman for reminding me of this term).

But “cognitive dissonance song” was not as good a title as Ambiguity Song.  Especially as i wanted to convey a cheery yet fractured mood. Like the sing-a-longs in  Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow.    Cognitive Dissonance is all fracture and doesn’t work.

Also when you are 23 your girlfriends tend to be oh say 18 or 19 and they have a bad habit of saying things like “I have some really special feelings for you, but i’m moving in with my field hockey coach”.

Sing along everybody.

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*Nuclear Heck™ was the subtle sabre rattling that our presidents used against the soviets that somtimes made us remember what we had pushed to the back of our minds: “oh yeah we still got all those missiles pointed at each other…”.

[G] Everything seems to be [C] up in the air at this time [G] [C] [G]
[G] Everything seems to be [C] up in the air at this time [G] [C] [G]
[C] One day [D] soon, it’ll [G] all settle [C] down
[G] Everything seems to be [C] up in the [D] air at this [G] time [C] [D]

All across the nation, people are gettin’ together
From many ideas they form a single goal
Some people are gonna benefit
And others gotta sacrifice
But everything seems to seems to be up in the air at this time


I got some certain special feelings for you
I got some certain special feelings for you
I don’t know if they’re good or bad
But I just might give you a call
Everything seems to be up in the air at this time


13 Responses to “#16 Ambiguity Song- Camper Van Beethoven. A Happy Song for Living Under the Threat of Nuclear Heck™.”

  1. Ade Brown Says:

    This is my life’s current theme tune.

    Not for the 19 year old girls reason but the “up in the air” one.

  2. dennism Says:

    I just did some quick flipping through Gravity’s Rainbow and indeed could make this tune work for several of his songs. Could be an interesting album project if one could track him down in that bar in northern cal to get permission. Ade would buy it anyway, I’m sure.

  3. Jeff Weiss Says:

    One of my all time favorite CVB moments – October 1987 O’Cayz Corral Madison WI. Camper brought the house down and went into overtime, taking an acoustic set out onto East Wilson Street at 1am. Ambiguity Song closed it out. I brought a bunch of friends that night, turning them all into life-long CVB fans. We still talk about that night…..

    This is great stuff, David. Thanks.

  4. Michael Dill Says:

    When ever I share some CVB to friends who haven’t heard them (yes, there are people who have never heard them) I make sure they hear this song. It’s ambivalance seems to pretty well sum up CVB’s “stance toward reality”, as Charles Olson would say. That and Good Guys and Bad Guys. And a whole lot of other great tunes! Thanks.

  5. lynn marie Says:

    “But “cognitive dissonance song” was not as good a title as Ambiguity Song”

    yeah, I can see that. nice to hear another tale behind a cvb classic.

  6. Lou Fried Says:

    Thanks for bringing me back to those vinyl/cassette days when it was cool to be a poly sci major even though I had no idea what the hell I was talking about and reagan was an easy target. More photos please.

  7. Ken Johnstone Says:

    Ahh, one of my all time favorites…… but the list is long.

  8. McCrackerD performed that song while touring with Lauren Hoffman at the Local 506 club in Chapel Hill. I thought it was brand new and based on then current events. If sin binds you to time, then this song is sinless because it’s timeless.

  9. Chris Rathman Says:

    1984… fun times. The same year Reagan outlawed Russia with bombing to commence in 5 minutes – all as a practical joke. (Probably watching too much Kubrick at the time) :-)

  10. Anth Cer Says:

    Always loved this song. And since reading this wonderful entry it’s been playing in my mind on a nonstop loop. Very nice tune to mull over while walking the streets of old Amsterdam! Kudos on this most excellent blog.

  11. Wait, did I miss this? What does this have to do with womens field hockey?

  12. unclefrank77 Says:

    Always loved this song. The first time I saw CVB in 1987? at Cinema In Your Face in SLC they ended with Ambiguity Song. The entire band came out to the edge of the stage and sang it acapella–although somebody strummed on a ukelele; I don’t remember if it was David or Greg Lisher. One of my favorite rock show moments ever!

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