Monday, February 20, 2012

The Beach Boys, Still Spreading the California Dream

I didn’t watch the entire Grammy show this year. I’d never heard of most of the musicians and when I listened to a bit of their music, I’m fine keeping it that way. I had read that the Beach Boys were going to be on the show and wanted to see them. At the same time the Grammys were on, the latest episode of Downton Abbey on PBS was also on. I have to admit I’m hooked on this English period soap opera. So I was clicking my remote going back and forth between the two shows missing big chunks of both. I did manage to see the Beach Boys sing Good Vibrations. Whenever I watch old favorite groups from the past on current shows, I’m always afraid their age will have gotten the best of them and contaminate the performance. I was pleased that this was not the case for the Beach Boys. They did a good job with a difficult song. Good Vibrations came out of the Pet Sounds/Smile period when Brian Wilson was at his most creative. Paul McCartney said in an interview that Pet Sounds influenced the Beatles and the result was the Sergeant Pepper album. Once when I was in a Starbucks waiting for my latte, I was looking at the CDs on a rack. One album was a compilation of favorite and most influential songs chosen by other musicians. The song chosen by Keith Richards for this album was I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times from Pet Sounds. I love that song too, but never would have imagined Keith listening to the Beach Boys, much less choosing one of their songs as a favorite. The 5 members in the current Beach Boy band are Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks. David Marks was an original member of the group, playing guitar and singing on the first 4 Beach Boys’ albums. He quit the group in 1963, at age 15. According to Wikipedia, Marks was a neighbor of the Wilsons and he and Carl learned and practiced guitar together creating the unique Beach Boys guitar sound. Can you imagine being asked back into the group after all these years? Bruce Johnston began touring with the group early on when Brian was freaking out. He replaced Glen Campbell who was filling in for Brian and quit to pursue a solo career. Brian, Al and Mike are all original members. The original members who have died are Brian’s two brothers, Dennis and Carl. The lyrics of the Beach Boys’ music were never as sophisticated or politically topical as the Beatles or many of the other ‘60s musicians. But the intricate harmonies were a unique insertion into the world of rock & roll. It was like  Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins rock-a-billy sound blended with  Hi-Lows or Four Freshman back up. For a whole generation of young baby boomers, the Beach Boys captured a youthful exuberance and a unique carefree California lifestyle, of surfing, hot cars and tan bodies. There were other surfer bands at the time, but the Beach boys spread the California state of mind around the country and the world. Growing up in Missouri, I thought of California as a vacation dream. It was a wonderland of beaches, palm trees and the intoxicating smell of orange groves. As if that wasn’t enough, it also had Disneyland. I only went to one Beach Boys’ concert in my life. That was in the ‘70s when I was a student at the University of Oregon. I remember them putting on a good show. My college friend and I had seats in the balcony to the side and above the stage. I watched Dennis Wilson periodically abandon the drums and drop down on a mattress in back of and below his drum set where the audience in front couldn’t see him and drink an alcoholic beverage and snort something up his nose. Halfway through the show he was so wasted he just laid on the mattress while his stand-in drummer finished out the concert for him. I wasn’t surprised when he died. This April the Beach Boys will begin touring around the country and their first concert is right here in Tucson. I don’t think I’ll be attending it though. The cheapest tickets are over $100. As my very irreverent neighbor from Ferguson Missouri “Big Daddy Roy” used to say, “I wouldn’t pay that kind of money to see the last supper with the original cast.” But I’m glad the Beach boys have mended their differences and are back out there doing what they have always done best, spreading the California dream with some great music. My favorite early Beach Boys’ song is Don’t Worry Baby. It has beautiful harmonies and is like the movie American Graffiti crammed into one song. My favorite later Beach Boys’ song is Kokomo. This 1988 recording was not written by Brian, but by a committee of people, John Phillips (from the Mamas and Papas), Scott McKenzie (most noted for his song If You’re Going to San Francisco), Mike Love and Terry Melcher (long time Columbia record producer and son of Doris Day). Terry Melcher and Bruce Johnston were once members of The Rip Chords whose most famous song was Hey Little Cobra. Terry sings lead and Bruce supplies the falsetto harmonies. Something else I found interesting about Terry is that he refused to sign a music deal with Charles Manson. Terry used to live in the house where Sharon Tate and friends were murdered but had moved out. It is speculated that the Manson family were seeking revenge on Terry for his refusal to sign Charlie to a record contract.