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A haphazard and indeterminate series of posts about The Beach Boys’ Smile album; unfinished and unreleased in 1966 and 67, Smile was finally made available, as The SMiLE Sessions, in November 2011.

As an unexpected (and possibly not-unrelated) follow-up to Smile‘s release, The Beach Boys have reformed, and there are a few posts that relate to the band’s 50 year anniversary ‘celebration’.

Observations made, questions asked (and any conclusions reached) come from 25 years of listening – plus reading and watching anything that related to The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks and Smile. This quarter-century personal distraction was never meant to be ‘research’.

Page will be updated as new posts are added; any youtube links may well be dead as soon as posted, but uploaders are dogged, if you care enough to hear tracks referenced, youtube is still free to search…

Prooimion  (15 September 2011)

Simulacra and Palimpsests  (20 September 2011)

a note about sources  (21 September 2011)

20/20′s Vision? (22 September 2011)

Summer Dreams – The Story of the Beach Boys (TV Movie, 1990) (1 October 2011)

A Smile-Collector’s Fakebox (1 October 2011)

Smile Sessions Taster (Linett 2011 mixes) (4 October 2011)

The Beach Boys – An American Family (TV Movie Special, 2000)  (5 October 2011)

Brian Wilson – Songwriter 1962-1969 (2DVD, 2010)  (6 October 2011)

The Beach Boys – An American Band (1984)  (12 October 2011)

Good Vibrations – 30 Years of The Beach Boys (CD box set, 1993)  (12 October 2011)

I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times (1995)  (13 October 2011)

Endless Harmony (1998)  (13 October 2011)

a question never known to exist  (15 October 2011)

‘Smile’ – My First 25 Years : some comments so far  (18 October 2011)

Finishing ‘Smile’?  (25 October 2011)

‘Nobody’s Ghoul’ (1963)  (25 October 2011)

Fictions – ‘Grace Of My Heart’, ‘Glimpses’  (27 October 2011)

Dematerialisation and Rematerialisation  (27 October 2011)

Cabin Essence, lost and found…  (28 October 2011)

Cabinessence, uncovering the cornfield…  (31 October 2011)

Unleash the Love (1967 – 2011)  (1 November 2011)

Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE (2004)  (2 November 2011)

‘SMiLE’ – the next 25 years : ‘The SMiLE Sessions’ box  (3 November 2011)

Mike Love & Sunnydown Snuff  (9 November 2011)

The Beach Boys 25 Years Together (TV, 1987)  (14 November 2011)

summarising Smile on video  (23 November 2011)

some more sources  (24 November 2011)

Inside Pop – The Rock Revolution (1967)  (4 January 2012)

Inside Pop – some comments  (10 January 2012)

50 Years of The Beach Boys: Don’t Do It Again  (15 January 2012)

Van Dyke Parks, “damnedest thing I’ve ever heard”  (18 January 2012)

50 Years of The Beach Boys : The Grammy Awards 2012  (14 February 2012)

50 Years of The Beach Boys : What Do I Want To Believe? (19 February 2012)

He’s Goin’ Bald & Gettin’ Hungry (22 February 2012)

Where is The Love? (1 March 2012)

Where are the drugs? (4 March 2012)

some more comments so far  (13 March 2012)

50 Years of The Beach Boys : What Mike Love Wants You To Believe  (2 May 2012)

Canibessence, doobie doo or not doobie…  (3 May 2012)

readers?!?  (17 May 2012)

50 Years of The Beach Boys : Kokomo?!?  (23 May 2012)

50 Years of The Beach Boys : one last thing  (26 May 2012)

‘SMiLE’ – the next 25 years : ‘The SMiLE Sessions’ book  (28 May 2012)

Cabinessence and 20/20′s vision  (10 June 2012)

in the absence of a thesis…  (18 June 2012)

50 Years of The Beach Boys : Big Ones – In Aspic  (11 Sept 2012)

50 Big Ones : being protective of the Beach Boys’ legacy  (23 Sept 2012)

50 Big Ones : preserving the validity of The Beach Boys as a whole  (25 Sept 2012)

50 Big Ones : Cassius Love vs Sonny Wilson 2012  (28 Sept 2012)

Summer’s Gone, It’s Over Now  (4 October 2012)

50 Big Ones : Summer’s Gone – but it’s never over  (6 October 2012)

50 Big Ones : a Beach Boys Pitchfork reverse-timeline  (11 October 2012)

a reliable Beach Boys timeline?  (21 October 2012/updated 30 October)

what if Smile had been released in 1967?  (28 October 2012)

The Smile Sessions & ‘America’s Band’  (1 November 2012)

what if Pet Sounds wasn’t released in 1966?  (6 November 2012)

on being bloody sick of the bloody Beach Boys (2 March 2013)

Sanity, Madness and An American Family (18 October 2013)

post-Smile Beach Boys timelines (26 November 2013)

Keith Badman’s 2004 Beach Boys Definitive Diary is the most detailed chronological concordance currently available for any Beach Boys timeline – but its ‘definitive’ claim is challenged by astute Amazon reviewers:

Definitive?

I picked up this book and started to read the first substantive page, Page 10. The very first paragraph states: “Hawthorne is situated in rural southeastern Alachia County very close to the boundary of Putnam County.” Of course Hawthorne, California is, and always has been, located in the western part of Los Angeles County, near the Los Angeles International Airport. Further, there is no Alachia County nor Putnam County in California. If the book starts out with such a glaring error, is the rest of the book filled with other pieces of misinformation not so easily identified?

and a Comment concurs:

I was all set to buy this, but if they don’t know Hawthorne is in LA county what else is wrong with this book? Is it real??

Maybe it isn’t – maybe none of this is real. ‘Alachia County’ doesn’t even exist, but Alachua County (in Badman’s spelling) does. It’s in Florida.

Beach Boys Corp. have been comparably as inattentive with their own specifics through the ages; but narrative changes are more often agenda-driven shifts rather than errors – and even the latter can be more conveniently reliable than, you know, the facts.

(broadcast in US June 2012, UK Dec 2012, trailer here, don’t buy it here)

31 mins in, the 2012 Beach Boys are in conversation about Good Vibrations:

Al: Brian, where did you get the idea for the theremin?
Brian: Theremin? Uh, Carl.

Mike: Really?!?
Brian: He said ‘why don’t we use a theremin – and a cello’.
Mike: Come on!
Brian: Honest to God.
Mike: Carl Wilson said that?!?

Brian: Yeah, my brother Carl suggested using a theremin and a cello both.
Mike: I never knew that.
Brian: Yeah, absolutely.

Brian Wilson may seem convinced, but he is incorrect – and Mike Love himself is fully aware that it was Van Dyke Parks who suggested the cello for Good Vibrations. How could Mike forget? Why would Mike not correct Brian, instead of feigning surprise?

In another promotional group interview (in Mojo, June 2012),

Brian pipes up to state that it was [Van Dyke] Parks who turned him on to LSD and amphetamines. “We wrote Heroes and Villains on uppers”, he says, adding with delightful ingenuousness that “I’m not sure, but I think The Beatles took psychedelic drugs too”.

Al Jardine instantly disputes Brian’s claim about Parks, adding, in a near-whisper, “I wouldn’t say that”.

Well, if that’s Brian’s recollection…” interjects Mike Love.

Given that Parks has continued to voice criticism of Love over the years, hidden agendas may be jutting through here.

With all Mike Love’s claims of Good Vibrations co-authorship, he might not want it known that he was also collaborating by proxy with Van Dyke Parks…

‘Brian’s recollection’ became unreliable years ago; Peter Ames Carlin (in Catch A Wave), describes Brian Wilson in the 1980s:

Some observers concluded that he had suffered a stroke or was showing the latter-day side effects of the mountains of cocaine and the rivers of alcohol he had ingested in the 1970s and early 1980s. But when Brian made a surprise appearance at a Beach Boys’ fan convention in the summer of 1990, it didn’t take long for Peter Reum, a longtime fan who happened to work as a therapist in Colorado, to realize something else… Given his professional training, Reum suspected that Brian’s twitching, waxen face, and palsied hands pointed to tardive dyskinesia, a neurological condition that develops in patients whose systems have become saturated with psychotropic medications, like the ones Brian had been taking in quantity ever since Landy had taken over his life in 1983.

Mike Love knows all this (and how could he not?), but his cousin’s flawed memory suits Beach Boys™ when an incorrect answer fits the corporation’s agendas – either hidden, or more bluntly revealed. Ultimately it all becomes what Mike Love wants you to believe; whether he believes any of it himself is mostly irrelevant.

In the Front Row Center ‘documentary’ (and in common with any previous Beach Boys’ approved fictions), Smile is either treated as an aberration, or, like Van Dyke Parks, never existed at all.  And, despite the band’s actual 50th Anniversary celebration being November 2011′s multi-format Smile Sessions release, Doin’ It Again‘s chronology fails to mention Smile, leaving a larger data gap than their 25th anniversary revelry. In that, official, cue card-driven version of events,

this is Brian Wilson (c.1987):

and this is Brian Wilson (c.1966):

this is Mike Love:

and there was never any kind of Van Dyke Parks.

These are Beach Boys:

This, to the filmmakers, is what Smile was about:

(here, in its willfully-ignorant, ignominious, and shamelessly self-celebratory glory)

Maybe Keith Badman is correct: maybe Hawthorne is in Florida; maybe future official histories will reveal that the band’s birthplace was actually Kokomo instead.

Beach Boys history is a tale still in limbo, and it’s not yet apparent how it will all end. But, while not a ‘war’ as such, more a series of ‘preemptive strikes’, history will, as usual, be rewritten by the victors. The 2012 Doin’ It Again ‘revelation’ cited above is just one recent strike in this decades-long campaign of disinformation and willful obfuscation.

With the Beach Boys’ own 50th Anniversary Tour past and gone – and ending with some of the same vague acrimony that has consistently defined the band’s history over the past 4 decades or so – Beach Boys Corp now presents Made In California, a 4CD box set that puts Smile back into the corporate context it briefly escaped from with 2011′s Smile Sessions box set.

The September 2013 issue of UK mag Record Collector has a ‘definitive interview’:

rc418-Beach-Boys

The Beach Boys are about to release Made In California, a major box set where classics jostle with rare gems. The band talk frankly about their incredible career

and the ‘Editor’s Letter’ describes the piece as ‘a powerful and extensive interview of admirable honesty and integrity‘. It is of course no such thing, being instead a disconnected series of responses to a disconnected series of questions; the entire Q&A reads like a press release (the US Rockcellar Magazine has pretty much the same ‘interview’ online here; the entire thing appears to have been supplied to both publications, as opposed to sourced by either).

Ken Sharp’s questions often seem leading rather than probing:

Mike, your collaborations with Brian were extremely successful. Around ’64, when Brian began writing with Gary Usher and Roger Christian, and later with Tony Asher and Van Dyke Parks, did you ever question why he was “taking it out of the family”, so to speak?

With any foreknowledge of the band’s ignominious history, one need not read Mike’s response further, because he reiterates here his own selective memory about The Beach Boys themselves. Answers offered might as well be written in advance. On cue-cards.

Mike cites, again. The Ballad of Ole Betsy (an utterly obscure and mostly-disposable early album track) as one of the band’s more poignant moments; this song was his own ‘fuck you’ (in June 2012′s Mojo Magazine) to those fan fools that rate

in

(same 2012 issue of Mojo – The Ballad Of Ole Betsy does not feature. Nor Kokomo.)

Mike’s own constructed belief in his literary worth reappears in conversation with Ken Sharp:

I was the most well-read child in grade school, junior high and high school…I’ve always had a fondness for lyrics, prose and poetry of various kinds…

Etc. Etc. Etc.

If one were utterly unaware of the historical role Mike Love had and has within The Beach Boys, this interview could maybe pass for ‘honesty and integrity’ – but, even in its honesty, Beach Boys Corp still tries to keep Smile buried in the sand. And Mike’s role in Smile‘s non-release in 1967 is – again – dismissed (by Mike himself) as myth:

I think there’s a lot of brilliant music on SMiLE. Brian, thankfully, has gone on record as saying “Mike had nothing to do with the shelving of SMiLE”, though people have been saying I didn’t want it to come out. I had nothing to do with that. Brian freaked out on LSD and shelved it.

This new paradigm reached its apogee in his own appreciative essay for the 2011 Smile Sessions book, where, in the absence of any comment from the album’s lyricist, Mike Love says:

I have seen where [Brian] said that I didn’t like the SMiLE album. Others have said that it didn’t come out because I was against it. First of all, it was not my decision nor was I asked or involved in the decision to shelve the album.

Note the caution in his non-answer…however, while

the instrumental parts of the SMiLE sessions, are some of the most amazing recordings…the lyrics on some things were not my cup of tea, and the term I came up with to describe some of those lyrics was “acid illiteration”

(Mike seems as keen on the Celinian ellipsis as I am…and what was in the space taken by those three dots that his lawyers maybe removed?)

But where Mike’s responses in Record Collector/Rock Cellar show a tempered loquaciousness, Brian’s own answers are mostly brief, saying little of substance, and nothing new. And Mike seems keen to quote Brian where the latter has ‘gone on record’ removing Mike from the Smile equation; Brian Wilson has said elsewhere – and recently – that Mike did have more than a little to do with the shelving of Smile: A BBC Radio 4 promotional interview for its 2011 release has Brian saying, about Mike in ’67:

He was disgusted with it, he said “I’m DISGUSTED with this”

Would this recollection also be ‘on record’? Or does it need to be in print before it can be used as a legitimate ‘proof’? What is considered on or off the record might only stand up to scrutiny in a court of law. Mike’s lawyers have taken various family (and band) members there before (stuff about one his more ridiculous lawsuits is here – and as hilarious a read as it might be, there is a pertinence to Mike’s claims that will be revisited in a later post).

And while Smile (and Van Dyke Parks) is discussed in passing, no one in this interview mentions, even in passing, the release of The Smile Sessions in November 2011. Two historical box set releases in 2 years?!? The first receiving a Grammy for ‘Best Historical Album’ in 2013?!?

That ‘major box set’ wasn’t anywhere near as worthy (or as useful) as Made In California will be to a touring ‘Beach Boys’, which will persist on into 2014 – without Brian Wilson, Al Jardine or David Marks. Mike Love and Bruce Johnston’s geriatric karaoke conceit will be filling fairgrounds and farm dances across the US for years to come off the back of this new collection .

But if The Smile Sessions had remained The Beach Boys’ final, defining legacy statement, upon its release in 2011, where would Mike’s Moopets go then…?

Speculation. Idle thoughts. Back to this timeline.

Record Collector is correct, however, in that the current band narrative is ‘incredible’. It’s occasionally unbelievable, often contradictory, often lacks any real psychological insight on the part of participants, critics, readers…and with The Beach Boys’ history as kind of common knowledge amongst rock music’s middle-aged cognoscenti, there is, far as I am aware, only one person who feels The Ballad Of Ole Betsy usurps Surf’s Up as The Beach Boys’ greatest recorded lyric.

And it’s this perpetual ‘world turned upside down’ that persists, to deliberately and consciously undermine Brian Wilson’s proper place in the history of popular musics of the 20th century.

If one wished to attempt a journey into the life and the mind of Brian Wilson, the concerted efforts of Mike Love (as CEO of  Beach Boys Corp.) to further this disinformational obfuscation means that any such investigation can only ever be speculative. Brian doesn’t remember – but Mike does. He thus knows what has to remain unsaid, undiscovered, unexplored – and Mike Love will use whatever opportunity comes his way, in order to rewrite a story which might otherwise show him to have little real function in the actual history of why The Beach Boys were ‘important’ in pop music’s own story.

Brian Wilson’s own thoughts, motives and recollections from 1966 and ’67 are now mostly lost; any inaccurate utterance he might make this century – ‘on record’ – that supports The Brand (rather than The Facts) thus becomes part of the fragile and contradictory narrative maintained by the custodians of The Beach Boys’ trademark. The Record Collector interview offers no insight into The Beach Boys’ history that cannot be read anywhere else that Mike Love has been allowed to air his New Revisionism (try here and here, for starters and for laughs).

Therefore, regardless of accuracy (or inaccuracy), in the timeline that follows, an attempt is made to contextualise why Mike feels his history needs rewriting and reiterating ad infinitum. Any dates cited below use the Definitive Diary purely as a framework for a loosely-chronological series of postulations and speculations.

Looking beyond ‘what if Smile had been released’, there seem to have been many points in this post-Smile period where one small event could have completely altered Brian Wilson’s own timeline – and his 21st century destiny might have been rather more than as a mascot – and a trophy – for a 21st century Beach Boys™.

With their own history in perpetual rewrite, there are thus no obvious sources for The Beach Boys saga that can ever really be ‘definitive’. Least not on my bookshelf.

blog_bibiliography_nov_2013

Maybe you know better. Comments are open. Please cite sources.

1967.

(Brian Wilson, Hawaii, Sept 1967)

May 16, 17, 18: The last designated Smile sessions, for Love To Say Dada. [1]

Also on May 17, The Beach Boys were in Germany, playing at the Sportshalle Cologne.

On May 19 The Beach Boys performed at Berliner Sportspalast. On the same day:

Gold Star Studio A, sessions cancelled without required notice period. Brian does not show at a session intended for Love To Say Dada. Capitol, tired of numerous delays with the album, is forced finally to abandon the recordings for Smile.[2]

So what did happen next?

One can only speculate upon conversations and discussions amongst The Beach Boys about Smile, its consequences and its aftermath, where there are not Capitol studio session sheets, memos, or contemporary interviews.

What does exist, and has seen print, can obviously be read in differing ways. Details may also be incorrect, dates may be awry…ultimately, it’s all a weird kind of fiction. Rock history thrives on ‘myths and legends’, and verisimilitude in this self-made, self-perpetuated saga might only be what seems to be true.

However, as a family, The Beach Boys obviously resolved some difficulties in private. And, alas, it’s only surviving members of that family lucky enough to have their memory still intact that know ‘what really happened’.

June 1: The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album is released.

June 3: First Smiley Smile session, for Vegetables, at Hollywood Sound Recorders studio:

at Brian’s request most of the recordings made during the Smile sessions are now distinctly off-limits, and The Beach Boys find themselves in a bind for new material.[3]

June 5, 6, 7: Three further sessions for Vegetables are made at Western Recorders studio; June 7 is the last documented 1967 recording session in an outside  studio. Cool Cool Water is started, but the track is left incomplete. [4]

On June 9,

a Beach Boys session is booked to start at 3:00pm today at Western studio 3; no further details are known.

By June 11, all work is now at Brian’s newly-installed home studio in Bel Air. [5]

June 12, 13, 14: Heroes & Villains is completely rerecorded for single release:

The Beach Boys complete the vocal and instrumental recordings (Master no.57020)…following Brian’s brief re-mixes and final edits,sessions for the songs are conclude. This time, his decision is final. [6]

June 16 – 18: The Monterey International Pop Festival takes place at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in California. John Philips of The Mamas and the Papas (a festival board member) tells the LA Times:

Brian was afraid that the hippies from San Francisco would think The Beach Boys were square and would boo them. [7]

June-July: The rest of Smiley Smile is recorded at Brian’s home studio.

July 14

The rocker Gettin’ Hungry (Master No.58027) is recorded and finished after 27 instrumental tracking takes, followed by instrumentation and vocal overdubbing by Brian and Mike. With that, the Smiley Smile album is completed (and dubbed down in just one night).

July 25:  Capitol A&R director Karl Engemann circulates a memo discussing a 10-track Smile album, to follow the release of Smiley Smile. [8]

July 31: Heroes and Villains/You’re Welcome is released as The Beach Boys’ followup to Good Vibrations.

August 25 and 26: Concerts recorded at Honolulu International Centre for a live album, Lei’d in Hawaii. Brian Wilson performs with the band:

Unfortunately the taping is beset with technical difficulties, and the group decides that most of the recordings are not usable…according to those closely associated with the group, the problem that prevents the official release of this concert isn’t the recording quality but rather the somewhat mediocre performance.

Also on August 26, the Heroes and Villains single peaks at number 12 on the US Billboard chart.

August 28: Gettin’ Hungry is released as a single on Brother Records (through Capitol), credited to ‘Brian and Mike’. It fails to make either the US or the UK charts. [9]

On September 11, The Beach Boys use Wally Heider’s studio to rerecord new vocal parts to enhance the substandard Hawaii recordings, in order to complete a ‘live’ album suitable for release.

On this day Mike also records his Heroes & Villains ‘nuclear bomb’ monologue (‘Listen to these OUTSTANDING LYRICS! They’ll just amaze you, this nuclear disaster!). Lei’d in Hawaii is not released. [10]

September 18: the Smiley Smile album is released.

September 26: sessions commence for the Wild Honey album.

September 28: work is started on Can’t Wait Too Long [11]

October 14/15: At Wally Heider’s studio, Brian Wilson is in the studio with Redwood (Danny Hutton, Cory Wells and Chuck Negron), recording Darlin’ and Time To Get Alone (plus an unnamed third song). Darlin’ and Time To Get Alone were written by Brian specifically for the vocal trio, who are signed to The Beach Boys’ Brother label. These recordings are unreleased at the time, and both songs are rerecorded and released as Beach Boys singles. [12]

October 23: Wild Honey is released as a single; highest US chart placing  #31, UK number 29.

late October: studio work is done for Cool Cool Water, Can’t Wait Too Long, Game of Love, Let The Wind Blow [13]

November 15: The Wild Honey recordings are completed.

December 15: Mike Love, along with the rest of the touring Beach Boys,  meets the Maharishi in Paris. Of this meeting, Mike later said:

the Maharishi gave us an introductory lecture and then, in the afternoon, gave us another talk, and then he taught us the techniques of Transcendental Meditation. It was the most relaxed I had ever been in my whole life..I was very relaxed and it was very simple to do. I remember thinking, ‘I wish everybody would do it’, because it is so simple and if everybody would do it, it would be a totally different world. So, from the very first time I meditated, I was intrigued by this. A couple of months later I found myself in India.

(from a 1973 interview with Scott Keller) [14]

December 18: The Wild Honey album is released;

highest US chart placing #24, UK number 7.

Notes on 1967

[1] Edited versions of the Love To Say Dada sessions are included in the 2011 Smile Sessions box; Brian certainly doesn’t sound like he knows that Smile is finished with. There is a playfulness to the announcement of each take, over both days of recordings. Brian affects a humorous voice, which he maintains throughout. The ‘Part Two, Second Day’ recordings (ie. 18th May 1967) also has an additional slide-whistle ‘birds singing’ development that suggests that this track is in process, with a finished version in mind.

That the Smile recordings were abandoned the next day does not appear to be reflected in the work the day before. And Smile ‘legend’ would have one believe that these sessions became increasingly weird, and increasingly ‘out of control’. But the recordings show the same Brian Wilson that all the Smile sessions reveal: a composer and a producer in control.

[2] With thousands of dollars spent on studio time for an overdue album, and with Brian working in the studio without The Beach Boys, who are in Europe promoting Good Vibrations, it’s safe to imagine that there were some lively Transatlantic telephone calls.

[3] Withholding Smile, and with the band having no immediate capacity to generate their own compositions or recordings, and with an album deadline well-overdue, and with the need for a suitable followup to Good Vibrations, Brian Wilson should have held considerably sway over the fate of The Beach Boys. For some reason he didn’t exercise that leverage. Or maybe he tried and failed.

There’s an odd moment in the October 2011 BBC Radio 4 interview with Brian promoting The Smile Sessions (as mentioned above): despite Brian stating that it was drugs that stopped Smile, the Front Row interviewer asks ‘what persuaded you to give up on it?

FR: …cos Mike Love your cousin -
Brian: – they didn’t like it FR: – he wasn’t keen on it -
Brian: The guys didn’t like it.
FR: Is that understated – they hated it at the time?
Brian: He was disgusted with it, he said “I’m DISGUSTED with this”, he said this is nothing like anything like a surf song or a car song or any kinda Beach Boy-type of song. I said “Mike. You gotta – if you don’t wanna grow, you shouldn’t live – if you don’t wanna grow, you shouldn’t live”. I said, “if you don’t wanna grow, you shouldn’t live”. (more here)

Brian’s reiteration of his response to Mike sounds, to me anyway, like a recollection rather than a reimagining. But even if it was a product of Brian’s own misremembering, it’s still pretty assertive – and quite specific:

if you don’t wanna grow, you shouldn’t live

I would imagine that, if Mike Love c.1967 were told something like this by Brian Wilson, Mike might, um, respond, maybe…?

[4] 2:21 of this Cool Cool Water session is included in the 2011 Smile Sessions release; the track was then abandoned, continued October 16, 26 and 29 1967, and then abandoned again. Part of the master take from the June 1967 session is used as the first minute of the version of the song, as released in 1970 – so whatever work and reworkings it underwent in its three-year gestation, some part of it was correct right from the start.

[Around] July 14th 1970, Warner A&R man Lenny Waronker decides to visit Brian at his Bellagio Road home in Bel Air. During the visit Brian plays Waronker a piano-and-vocal performance of Cool Cool Water, a song by Brian and Mike  [...] Waronker is moved by the song’s beautiful simplicity and insists that Brian include it on the group’s first album for the label.

Cool Cool Water, as originally recorded in 1967, sure as hell doesn’t sound like a Mike Love co-composition (although the Smile Sessions writing credits list it as a co-write). In the first session (Disc 4, Track 14 on The Smile Sessions) Mike is heard asking “is this the start of the song?”. Wouldn’t he know if he co-wrote it?

[5] So from now, and until further notice, Brian was no longer working in the familiar studios he has used for the last few years. Sporadic work using outside studios took place, but much of the Beach Boys’ recorded output over the next few years was constructed in Brian’s home.

One can only speculate on the reasons for this change.

However, contemporary reports suggest that Los Angeles studios were often quite social, and recording sessions had many people on ‘the scene’ dropping in, listening in…and Brian Wilson never appeared to be secretive about his work for The Beach Boys, never considered this a distraction, and never seemed to discourage these kinds of visits.

Visiting Brian at his own home/studio, after his ‘withdrawal’, would have been far more problematic – and certainly far less attractive – to his musical contemporaries (Mike’s post-Smile Beach Boys would have been there for starters…).

Some points that relate to this change of methodology, from the Brian Wilson – Songwriter 1962 – 1969 DVD.

Domenic Priore: (about Good Vibrations)

…it’s not just ‘the studio as an instrument’, that’s a vague saying – no, he knows the tone and the pitch like a string, or like you tune a guitar, you can tune echo in this room so it could  sound this way. And he took the diversity of those rooms, and played them. That big studio is his guitar. Y’know? It’s REAL specific when they say ‘the studio as an instrument’- Brian Wilson was the only guy who ever really utilised this in such a way – in three different studios, at least, for Good Vibrations.

And later, about Brian’s work post-Smile

Hal Blaine:

I think he did lose his mind for a while, y’know, because we moved up to his house, we started recording…

they took a beautiful den, and put a board over the fireplace -  that [the fireplace] was magnificent; up on the second story, they kind of cut out a little hole so they could talk to the band…

and we would record. But who was producing was Mike Love, and the rest of the guys, and it wasn’t Brian. And it wasn’t the same.

Peter Ames Carlin:

his bedroom was right above the studio, and he would lie in bed all day, not because he was spending his whole life in bed – he was going out at night, and partying with all his buddies – but he would lie there and listen to them record, and if he had any suggestions or ideas, he would either call them down, on his phone, or else he would put on his robe and shamble downstairs and suggest something…

So Brian’s familiar instruments, the studios where ‘he knows the tone and the pitch like a string, are replaced with impromptu baffles and boards in a spare room in his house?

Imagine you are Brian Wilson. And this is your house.

Try to visualise what Carlin says in bold (the emphasis is mine). While listening to Brian’s own In My Room, recorded four years earlier. And written when his bedroom was probably his only sanctuary.

Would you not also, eventually, lose your mind? I fucking know I would.

[6] The Unsurpassed Masters Smile Sessions bootleg box has some Heroes & Villains recordings, which session research now places as post-Smile recordings, being the process of constructing the new Beach Boys single. These sessions are not included on The Smile Sessions themselves as they were (ultimately) for Smiley Smile.

The Unsurpassed Masters bootleggers’ assumption was that these were Smile-era recordings; the seeming-ease that these multiple-vocal overdubs are laid down (the sessions are layer after layer of vocals) – wasn’t Brian too drug-addled to work after Smile‘s abandonment…? Obviously not.

He worked when he chose to, when he needed to. Capitol needed a single, so the Heroes and Villains ‘hitsville’ approximation was constructed in 3 days.

[7] In retrospect, and with hindsight, The Beach Boys would have seemed an unlikely, and possibly anachronistic part of the Monterey package. However a couple of earlier blog comments proffer a workable vision:

Imagine if they performed Smile at the Monterey Festival not unlike in the fashion of the Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE (possibly a more lively, psychedelic and natural performance which had all the boys and some of the Wrecking Crew). The world would be a very different place…I always imagine some grand stage show with the boys dressing up (like suits for Surf’s Up, Barbershop clothes for Heroes, psychedelic wear for Good Vibes, farm clothes for I’m in Great Shape thru Cabin Essence) and having some slightly animated Frank Holmes stuff going on in the background, and Van Dyke dancing on stage with an accordion or something.

Jimi Hendrix (and Otis Redding) get most of the Monterey glory for their ‘shock of the new’ – but imagine the above as witnessed by Otis & Jimi’s audience, the new Rock Music’s first sighting of the new Beach Boys…

[8] The Capitol Smile memo reads

After discussing a number of alternatives with Schwartz, Polley, and Brian Wilson, I agreed with Brian that the best course of action would be to not include [the Smile] booklet with the Smiley Smile package, but rather to hold it for the next album which would include the aforementioned 10 selections. The second album which would be packaged with the booklet would not include the selections Heroes and Villains and Vegetables. However, inasmuch as these two selections would have already been released, I believe the consumer would be quick to pick up the connection between the cartoon and these tracks. In fact, some word of explanation could be included in the liner notes of the second album.

(quoted in Brad Elliott’s The Facts About Smile, originally published 1984, reprinted 1988 in Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile! p. 160)

So discussions about this projected and then abandoned version of Smile involved Brian Wilson, rather than The Beach Boys.

With the Smiley Smile album finished and scheduled for release, it’s difficult to imagine Mike Love (for instance) being particularly enthused about an album featuring Do You Like Worms, Cabin Essence and Surf’s Up sharing the record racks with Smiley Smile. She’s Goin’ Bald, Gettin’ Hungry and Whistle In might look a little pointless in comparison…Dennis and Carl Wilson ‘loved’ Smile (The Smile Sessions book uses quotes from both saying as such), and would undoubtedly have conceded to this slimmer Smile, if Brian approved it, and an audience accepted it.

And if any potential buyer had already bought both Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains as 45s, it’s not difficult to imagine which album would be the more desirable purchase.

[9] See He’s Goin’ Bald & Gettin’ Hungry for comment on this particular track, and its role as a nail in the coffin (or a stake through the heart) of Brian Wilson’s Smile ambition.

[10] There is full transcript of Mike Love’s ‘live’ performance of Heroes & Villains here. These faked ‘Hawaii’ recordings were discovered in the tape vaults in the early 90s, and bootlegged in 1994. Prior to their rediscovery, they seem to have been unknown by bootleggers, and long-forgotten by The Beach Boys.

This track has undergone a few perceptual revisions since ’94:

To listeners, it appears that he’s mocking Brian’s song, and his talents, but Mike has since claimed that this overdub was all in jest, with his peculiar sense of humor biting a bit too close to the truth

(says beachboys.com, here).

Later it becomes a ‘skit’, and then, most amazingly of all, Brian Wilson becomes the author of its ‘script’.

There’s some commentary upon this disconnect here – but ‘according to various people who should know, it’s scripted, and, by implication, ‘all in jest’.

So this works how exactly? You really think that Mike Love (still rankling from the chart failure of a record he hated right from the start) needed a ‘script’ to exercise his schadenfreude, disdain and vitriol? You do?

The 1967 Beach Boys missed a trick by not releasing this recording. As a followup to the chart failure of Heroes & Villains, and with talk of the original single being in two parts, here’s an instant Part Two! Couple it with a You’re Welcome session from The Smile Sessions (15.12.66, disc 4, track 16, 6:18 onwards, where The Beach Boys’ vocals successfully impersonate tape flutter) – call it You’re Unwelcome…and there, on a 7″ single, would be Mike Love’s public ‘fuck you’ to Smile.

[11] Can’t Wait Too Long/Been Way Too Long was finally released in a couple of variants on the Smiley Smile/Wild Honey CD reissue in 1990, and on the Good Vibrations box in 1993. It would be nice to link to youtube audio, which has been up for years, but it was taken down (for obvious copyright infringement) a few months ago. It’s also no longer available digitally via Amazon, and is thus presumably also not available from any other digital outlet. Usefully the 1991/2001 ‘twofer’ CD is still available,  and is currently the only place this longer edit can be heard.

The 1993 30 Years of the Beach Boys boxed set Good Vibrations is Used & New, and is still available digitally, so the second, shorter version of CWTL/BWTL can heard and bought here.

The Hawthorne, Ca. - Birthplace of a Musical Legacy 2CD compilation, as a Band Brand conceit, contains a 49 sec ‘acapella’ snippet, and a few more vocal snippets are included on 2013′s Made In California box set. But neither of the versions that best demonstrate what this track could have been in 1967 are acknowledged by 2013′s Beach Boys.

All of these Can’t Wait Too Long re-edits were pieced together by engineer Mark Linett, from segments that Brian never finished either recording or sequencing; it’s difficult to imagine this as a song as such – it’s more of a piece, but most definitely a composition. Any ‘final’ version could ultimately have been just repeated variations over two sides of an album…but, unfinished, it’s almost impossible to imagine what Brian Wilson’s intentions were. This unfinished/unfinishable aspect of Brian’s post-Smile work is often cited as indicative (or even symptomatic) of some kind of ‘madness’.

But what if Pet Sounds had been rock history’s ‘great lost album’? The same could be said of Pet Sounds‘ instrumental tracks before the group’s vocals were added.

[12] According to Badman,

The Redwood/Brother deal will apparently be called off by Mike who feels that the group should be signed to the label for just one single. According to Beach Boys historians, Redwood’s material is left unreleased because Mike feels that the group’s vocals are not good enough.

Other accounts exist:

[Redwood] were just starting to work on the vocal tracks when Carl and Mike walked through the door of the Wally Heider studio where they were working, looking anything but happy. “Mike got us outside and said ‘Hey, what’s going on? we’ve got an album to do. Why don’t you wrap this up?’” Hutton recalls. “And Brian was physically afraid of Mike. Not that Mike used to beat him up, but he’s a tough guy physically, and Brian wasn’t like that, so Mike could definitely push him around mentally.”

(Peter Ames Carlin, Catch A Wave, p.130)

And, from Chuck Negron’s own memoir Three Dog Nightmare:

To me, Mike seemed an arrogant, self-serving guy, and when he walked in, it was as if a black cloud had suddenly surrounded Brian. I figured I would try to break the tension. Mike was wearing an expensive cashmere overcoat, and I said, “Wow, that’s a beautiful jacket.” He turned towards me and, in a condescending tone, answered, “Well, you just keep trying to do the right thing and maybe you’ll get one too, man.”

Later I heard he was bad-mouthing us to Brian, saying, “They’re nothing.” It soon became clear that Mike Love and the other Beach Boys wanted Brian’s immense songwriting and producing talents used strictly to enhance their own careers [...] It all came to a head several weeks later when Mike heard our version of Time To Get Alone…they manouevred Brian into the control booth and reduced him to tears. It was a cruel and pathetic scene. Danny, Cory and I were in the studio and could see it happening through the control-booth window. It was as if Brian had turned into a little boy. The conversation appeared quiet and calm, but we could tell it was emotional and intense. The others were doing most of the talking, like overbearing, controlling parents. Brian would move away, and they would block his escape. We couldn’t hear what was being said, but I think a good lip-reader would have picked up something like, “We don’t give a shit about those guys, and we want those songs for us.” we could actually feel Brian crumbling, and when he came out of the booth, a tear dropped down his cheek. His head was lowered and his shoulders sagged. it was the body language of a child who had just been scolded and punished. And this brilliant musical icon – whose songs defined on generation and influenced another – weepingly told us, “We can’t do this. I have to give the songs to them. They’re family and I have to take care of my family. They want the songs. I’ll give you any amount of money you want to finish an album, but I can’t produce it. They won’t let me.”

(quoted by Domenic Priore in Smile – The Story of Brian Wilson’s Lost Masterpiece, p. 128-9)

The Redwood version of Time To Get Alone is here (although this version is missing the brief orchestral reprise). It’s a great example of what kind of work Brian Wilson could have done, were there no Beach Boys, and had he continued making music as a writer/producer. It has a few production/arrangement quirks that The Beach Boys’ own version didn’t use. The Redwood version is, frankly, a more interesting recording.

Comparing the two versions, an overfamiliarity with The Beach Boys’ cover of Time To Get Alone creates an odd disconnect: in this single track is the basis of a Beach Boys album style that, in 1967, didn’t even exist; snapped up by Mike and co and assimilated by the band, what Brian was creating for Redwood was intentionally separate from his day job as Beach Boys writer/producer.

After leaving Brother Records without a release, Redwood became Three Dog Night soon after, and were hugely successful in the US (although kind of meaningless in the UK). Mike Love, in an uncharacteristically magnanimous admission, said in 1976

The thing is, that was one of the stupidest fuckups in the world of recording. Three Dog Night sold more records, singles that is, than anyone in the world, and Brian Wilson produced them originally

but then turns this around:

…but you know, it was funny. They’d go in, and they wouldn’t sing good enough for him; he didn’t want to hear any sharps or flats; he was at that period in his life when he was horrible to live with. But he’s great musically…the fact of the matter is that he had them in the studio for several days, and he was really funny. They didn’t meet up to his expectations, but they went off and made billions.

(from Mike Love: 14 Mins With A Beach Boy by John Tobler, reprinted in Back To The Beach, p.151)

So there was a fuckup – but it was Brian’s rather than Mike’s. Stupid stupid Brian – who ‘was at that period in his life when he was horrible to live with’; ‘that period’ being six months or so after his greatest work was discarded. That might have had some bearing upon his mood…but who knows.

Which one of these accounts is true? Which version of events has any verisimilitude? And which doesn’t?

Three Dog Night pop up at the monstrous 1987 25 Years of The Beach Boys – A Celebration at Waikiki cited above (minus Chuck Negron, out of the band for drug indiscretions); Brian Wilson and Two Dog Night sing Darlin’, as originally written and produced for Redwood by Brian. As Darlin’ was also co-opted and rerecorded by The Beach Boys, Danny Hutton and Cory Wells are singing a cover version of their own unreleased song, in tribute to the longevity of The Beach Boys.

[13] This seems like a productive few days. Were the Beach Boys in attendance, or was Brian working on his own impetus? Of the four songs logged, only Let The Wind Blow was released on the album the Beach Boys were recording. Was the 1967 Surf’s Up, a previously unheard bonus track on The Smile Sessions (which was on the same reel of tape as versions of Let The Wind Blow) also recorded at this time?

[14] From this point on, and until further notice, The Beach Boys’ destiny became bound to the ‘discipline’ of TM. The ‘spiritual enlightenment’ offered by Transcendental Meditation changed the fate and the fortunes of The Beach Boys, for years to come. Mike Love, as the band’s (the world’s?) most vocal adherent of Transcendental Meditation, has kept TM as a Beach Boys ‘theme’ since.

So, post-Smile, 1967 in summary seems to show a Brian Wilson somewhat at odds with the caricature The Official Narrative favours: someone that was able to continue functioning – as a person, as a composer, and as a producer. What he seemed least able to do, and least willing to be, was to continue being a Beach Boy.

And in 1968?

1968.

(Brian Wilson, at home, 1968)

February:

Friends session 1, Brian’s Home Studio, Bel Air, CA. During this month Brian records an early version of When A Man Needs A Woman and a backing track for You’re As Cool As You Can Be, which will remain unreleased. Another backing track recorded for Brother this month, I’m Confessin’, may or may not be intended for The Beach Boys. [1]

February 1 to 11: The Beach Boys play some smaller gigs, in Washington State, British Columbia, Portland Oregon, and at the International Ice Palace, Las Vegas.

February 16: back from touring, a Beach Boys studio session is cancelled.

February 17: The Beach Boys are at The Pawtuxet Ballroom, in Cranston, Rhode Island

February 28 to March 15: Mike is in India with The Beatles. On Mike’s birthday, The Beatles sing him ‘happy birthday’. The event is recorded by a film crew. In 2004 the audio recording is retitled Thank You, and is included on Mike’s (still unreleased) Unleash The Love album. [2]

April 4: Transcendental Meditation is recorded. Also, a planned US tour is either cancelled or rescheduled after the assassination of Martin Luther King. [3]

April 6: Dennis Wilson ‘crosses paths’ with two of Charles Manson’s girls for the first time.

April 11: Dennis Wilson crosses paths with Charles Manson for the first time. Brian records Busy Doin’ Nothing. No other Beach Boys participate.[4]

April 12: Diamond Head is recorded by Brian at ID Sound Studio Hollywood; meanwhile The Beach Boys play at Jacksonville Coliseum, Florida.

April 13: Be Still is recorded; the Friends album is complete.

April 14 to 27: The Beach Boys play various rescheduled dates on their projected tour. The band have so far lost $350,000 dollars in expected revenue after their tour cancellation.

May 2: A new tour is started – The Beach Boys will play 17 shows, with the Maharishi as support, lecturing audiences on Transcendental Meditation.

May 4: The tour is not a success thus far:  an afternoon show in Flushing NY is cancelled after the 16,000 capacity venue sells only 800 tickets; and

a spokesman for the 17,162-seater [Philadelphia] Spectrum says “the Guru couldn’t draw flies. Tickets went out for just $5 and $3 and people walked out before and during the Guru’s lecture. The attendance was about 5,800.”

May 5: The Maharishi leaves the Beach Boys’ tour to fulfill a movie contract.

May 6:

The TM tour is cancelled after 7 shows, due to poor ticket sales, plus the loss of the Maharishi to other commitments. The band lose another $500,000 in revenue.

May 11: Penny Valentine writes in today’s (UK) Disc & Music Echo:

“A carefully calculated warning to The Beach Boys — split up or get yourself together. There is something very stale in The Beach Boys camp. It is the smell of utter freedom run amok. It is the smell of staleness and inertia.

“It is not pleasant to reflect upon The Beach Boys and see what could have been and then face what is…This fact has been brought home to me by the group`s latest release. ‘Friends’ is about the ultimate in sadness. Whither the progressive Beach Boys? Whither the same spine·tingling sensation one got from ‘God Only Knows’, The Beach Boys’ answer to The Four Tops’ ‘Reach Out’? Gone, gone, gone. It has been suffocated in the same boring, muffled voices, the same trivial words, the same droning friendly-dull atmosphere.

“If The Beach Boys are as bored as they sound, they should stop bothering and retreat to the Californian foothills. If they`re not, they should stop boring their public and insulting them with below-par performances. Three years ago The Beach Boys gave us the the throttled heady taste of Californian summer. The sun always shining, the surf always coming into land, brown young bodies on a beach, summery love in the long grass. They gave it to us through a record, frothy as the top of a Coca-Cola and burning as a 350cc Honda.  They had a hardcore following here in gritty England, a mammoth one in America. Their final and complete connection with the public came with ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Good Vibrations’ and the beautiful Pet Sounds. It turned out to be their zenith.

“They had started something new and thrilling — a great kick in the stomach for pop music. Brian Wilson was lauded and acclaimed with all the power we could muster. But instead of leading us on to newer and more exciting things, they began a steady plunge downhill. Instead of thrusting us upwards, they led us no round the maypole with nonsense like ‘Then I Kissed Her’.

“Today, The Beach Boys are floundering pathetically in a mire of stodgy apathy. It is now time for them to stand still and take stock of themselves and the situation they are in today. They have been given too much freedom. Like greedy schoolboys in a sweetshop their sense has not prevailed -— their control has snapped. They are no longer the brilliant Beach Boys. They are grey and they are making sad little grey records.”

May 24: Recording of All I Want To Do commences, beginning the sessions for the 20/20 album.

May 26: sessions begin for Do It Again.

June 5: Brian records I Went To Sleep.

June 20: Bruce records his instrumental track The Nearest Faraway Place.

June 24: The Friends album is released.

It sells in the UK (highest chart placing number 13), but fails to make any impact in the US (highest chart placing # 126):

from now, [Brian Wilson's] influence on future Beach Boys recordings will falter at an alarming rate.

(says Keith Badman)

July: Charles Manson records in Brian Wilson’s home studio [5]

July 2 to Aug 24: The Beach Boys tour again.

July 8: Do It Again is released as a single – it is a hit, but the band’s last for 8 years.

July 24/26: Brian does more work on Can’t Wait Too Long, without the other Beach Boys.

August: Dennis Wilson moves out of his house to get away from Charles Manson’s influence.

September/October: Recordings – Never Learn Not To Love (aka Cease To Exist by Charles Manson, Dennis’ choice), I Can Hear Music (Carl’s choice, a cover version), Time To Get Alone (their rerecording of Redwood’s song)

November: Recordings – Bluebirds Over The Mountains (Bruce’s choice, a cover version), Cottonfields (Al’s choice, the Leadbelly song)

November 17: The Smile track Prayer has vocal overdubs added to it – it becomes Our Prayer. Brian Wilson is not involved in these recordings.

November 20, 21, 22: The Smile track Cabin Essence is sequenced and has vocal overdubs added – it becomes Cabinessence. Brian Wilson is not involved in these recordings.

With the completion of Cabinessence, recordings for the 20/20 album are finished. [6]

November 29: The Beach Boys begin a tour of the UK and then Europe. Penny Valentine (in the UK Disc & Music Echo) says of their current single Bluebirds Over The Mountains:

it’s probably the strangest record The Beach Boys have ever made. It really is so odd, disjointed and confusing. I can only see it being a hit because they’re here in person.

The single is a UK number 33, and a US #61.

December 2: With The Beach Boys in the UK, Brian Wilson records Come To Me with The Honeys (ie. his wife and her sister & their cousin).

December 13: Further recordings with The Honeys – Tonight You Belong To Me and Goodnight My Love (Pleasant Dreams). Capitol release these recordings in March 1969, but the single fails to chart. [7]

Notes on 1968

[1] More studio work without The Beach Boys, more Brian Wilson music that remains incomplete or abandoned. It is almost impossible to know why so much music written and recorded by Brian, in the absence of the touring band, seemed to get left unfinished. But it’s always possible that it was deemed ‘inappropriate for The Beach Boys’ – or maybe deemed ‘inappropriate’ by The Beach Boys…as a collective entity, the band seemed much surer of what it didn’t want to be than what it was, or could become.

If productions and compositions were knocked back by the band or an outspoken band member, or if solo work then became ‘collaborative’ once other contributions were made, one could imagine a certain ‘oh fuck it’ attitude might develop in Brian Wilson’s creative method. Indeed; why bother?

[2] The Beatles seem to mean a great deal to Mike Love. Brian was the competitive one, whereas Mike and The Boys (minus Brian) met The Beatles in London in 1966, and then Mike had his formative spiritual experiences in their company in India in 1968.

Fast forward to 2012, and Mike’s facebook page seems to favour The Beatles over The Beach Boys (and Dennis over Brian):

(snapshot March 2012)

Bruce Johnston talks about London in 1966 on the Brian Wilson – Songwriter DVD, and it’s touching how much it obviously meant to him – but he only became a Beach Boy months before; nothing in the job description would have prepared him. He retains the enthusiasms of a fan meeting his idols, even in his old age.

In the October 2011 BBC Radio 4 interview, Brian Wilson is asked about a specific Smile session:

FR: …there are some guest appearances in there, most notably Paul McCartney
Brian: Right
FR: – is said to have munched a celery stick on the track Vegetables
Brian: Right!
FR: - I’ve been listening for that, I couldn’t hear…it’s always been billed as a celery stick sound -
Brian: – you’d have to sit down and listen to all those tapes we made in order to find that one little part y’know…

(Vega-Tables is heard, with chomping)

Brian: (continuing) He was improvising, yeah
FR: So can you remember that session?
Brian: (pauses) No I can’t. No.

Brian’s own ‘collaboration’ with A Sainted Beatle has rather more substance than Mike’s impromptu ‘Happy Birthday’, captured accidentally, and then brandished as trophy tribute right through to the 21st century – and should also have been more momentous, were Brian himself not more preoccupied with the work itself…

Mike’s attachment to The Beatles thus seems a little more mysterious. I do not recall one interview or quote where he speaks of The Beatles in isolation from The Beach Boys, apart from in India with The Maharishi. And while he will talk about the latter unprompted, has he named a single Beatles song (apart from Back In The USSR, with Mike as ‘inspiration’) that means anything to him?

Does Mike champion The Beatles so because they ‘beat’ Brian? Once Sgt Pepper was released, maybe nothing Brian could do could ever match them. Sgt Pepper curtailed Brian’s ambition with Smile – but, without discouragement, his ambitions might have recovered. They didn’t.

Was this then, and remains so to this day, in some mysterious way satisfying for Mike?

[3] There’s an impassioned fictional monologue in The Beach Boys: An America Family ‘official’ TV drama, from a hirsute and serene ‘Mike Love’, to his philistine girlfriend:

There is too much bad karma out there. Look around: King, Kennedy, everybody with a message of hope gets cut down – meditating is so simple anyone can do it, and if everyone did it the world would be a totally different place. You won’t KNOW unless you try.

This generously-thatched Mike Love takes Martin Luther King’s assassination as a depressing manifestation of a negative world and a destructive worldview. Would it be uncharitable to consider the burgeoning Beach Boys Corporate identity to be rather less altruistic about their cancelled tour’s financial losses at the time?

[4] ‘No other Beach Boys participate’ is a recurring phrase in Brad Elliott’s Friends Era Chronology (in The Dumb Angel Gazette #3, 1989). Anti-Smile‘s various mythologies (usually perpetuated via the band’s mawkish TV and video self-celebrations) have Brian unable to write or perform, while simultaneously creating chunks of Friends with The Beach Boys absent. Obviously you can’t have it both ways. Or maybe you can.

[5] from The Definitive Diary:

Charles Manson, who hopes that Brian can work wonders with his musical career, tapes a number of recordings intermittently during this period at Brian’s Home Studio, allegedly co-produced by Brian and Carl. Dennis plays some part in the proceedings, as do members of the so-called Wrecking Crew, the elite team of LA studio musicians used by Brian, Phil Spector and others.

Nick Grillo will recall in Rolling Stone, “We recorded close to a hundred hours of Charlie’s music at Brian’s studio. The lyrics were so twisted and jaded.”

Charles Manson says in Rolling Stone that they “did a pretty fair session, putting down about ten songs”.

Steve Desper who engineers the sessions, remembers that some of the material is “pretty good [Manson] had musical talent.” Desper, who supervises three or four late-night recording sessions  by Manson, thinks of Manson simply as a ‘street musician’ friend of Dennis’ and reckons that Manson is desperately in need of a good long bath.

Contrary to the writings of later rock revisionists, the songs taped by Manson are not demos but completed songs — or at least are as complete as Manson wants them to be. Reportedly, he rarely records more than one take of a vocal.

The precise titles recorded are not known, but it’s safe to assume that they are the same songs that will appear later in different form on his Lie album, released not long after Manson’s arrest following the Sharon Tate murders in summer 1969 but recorded sometime during 1968/69, shortly after he falls out with Dennis. The songs on that album are ‘Look At Your Game Girl’, ‘Ego’, ‘I Am A Mechanical  Man’, ‘People Say I’m No Good’, “Home Is Where You’re Happy’, ‘Arkansas’, ‘Always Is Always Forever’, ‘Garbage Dump’, ‘Don’t Do Anything Illegal’, ‘Sick City’, ‘Cease Tb Exist’, ‘Clang Bang Clang’, ‘I Once Knew A Man’, and ‘Eyes Of The Dreamer’.

The versions on the ‘Lie’ album are not the Brian’s Home Studio recordings. In 1971, when Manson murders investigating officer Vincent Bugliosi of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office asks Dennis if he can listen to the musical tapes Manson made, Dennis claims he has destroyed them because “the vibrations connected with them didn’t belong on this earth”.

Charles Manson, like most charismatic celebrity psychopaths, holds a fascination for some people, to this day. And while members of Manson’s ‘family’ are still incarcerated, the story itself won’t go away – the LA Times reported in October 2012 the LAPD probing Manson family link to 12 unsolved homicides:

The Los Angeles Police Department disclosed Thursday that it has open investigations on a dozen unsolved homicides that occurred near places where the Manson family operated during its slew of murders four decades ago.

A reader’s comment on that story:

charles manson is awesome ! leave him alone fuvk

Etc.

My own (brief) interest in Manson in the mid-80s eventually lead to to The Beach Boys, 20/20, Cabinessence, and ultimately to Smile itself.

LIE, Awareness Records, 1970 (from here)

It seems, in retrospect, extraordinarily-poor judgement on the part of Dennis Wilson to indulge Manson’s musical pursuits – but, if one actually listens to the LIE album, there was far worse, less competent, less interesting music being made by Manson’s professional musical contemporaries. And if your tastes lean towards the creepy psychopathic troubadour, try Dino Valenti’s Dino Valente album from 1968. This is music made by a man no woman should ever risk being alone with – surely…

One could even argue that, had these now-missing Brother recordings been released (maybe by Brother Records themselves), Charles Manson would join the pantheon of ‘lost psych-folk classics’ now so fetishised by record nerds. But that’s a pointless and defensively-hypothetical argument for Manson as ‘personality’.

Strangely, psychopaths often attract followers, apologists, shills…what are those who defend poor music made by vile and arrogant ‘classic’ artists? And, cults, brutal murders, and a purported apocalyptic vision of a coming race war apart, does Manson, as aspiring artist, differ that much from some of the egotistical scumbags that now clutter the reissue racks and the ‘rock classics’ canon?

Psychopathy, contrary to anything Hollywood might say otherwise, rarely involves actually killing people; having a callous unconcern for the feelings of others – combined with an inability to experience guilt – just makes killing people easier. It’s a useful byproduct of being a psychopath – but not by any means an essential part of the job description. Manson himself, in a different milieu, could have used his notorious ‘people skills’ to become extraordinarily-successful corporate CEO.

And, if one wanted to be pedantic about what Charles Manson did and didn’t do, the attribution of personal responsibility for the murders of Sharon Tate et al to Manson himself is kind of moot: he wasn’t even in in attendance at Cielo Drive, and only tied up the LaBiancas, leaving their slaughter to his followers.

Manson is, bizarrely, available for comment – you can write to him in prison, and people have done. Here, a prison letter from 2007 is reproduced, where historical celebrity dirt is solicited:

Having been a gossip columnist, as well as an investigative reporter, I had often asked Charles to name some of his Hollywood friends.

Manson reminisces about life at Dennis Wilson’s beach house:

Neil Diamond used to come over, Mike Love of the Beachboys, Doris Day’s son, Angela Lansbury’s daughter, DeeDee, Nancy Sinatra’s daughter used to be at the beach pad. Dennis Wilson of (the Beach Boys) & I lived with 15 or 20 of the best. We kicked Jane Fonda out of that dream because her jewish boyfriend wanted to bring a black guy to play ping-pong with her & I said I don’t play mixing blood for phony christians that work for their money selling children. She had a big dog and a crummy camera & I said no no, I do what I do for love, not money.

It goes on and on. And on. And makes many unqualifiable statements about other second-rate or long-dead LA celebs.

Brian Wilson’s Todd Gold-authored ‘autobiography’ Wouldn’t It be Nice has a Manson story not recounted anywhere else:

The tales Dennis told made it seem as if he were living the life of Riley, which was more than enough to interest Mike. Although he was always wary of Manson, the notion of easy sex once enticed Mike up to a dinner party at Dennis’s house. Walking in with his date, Mike found the dining room table overflowing with food and the entire Manson family sitting around the table wearing absolutely nothing. They were stark naked.

“I’ve never been into group sex,” he mentioned as he told me the story. “Well, maybe two women.”

After dinner, according to Mike, the activity began to heat up and Mike slipped upstairs with his date.

“I was having a good time in the shower with this little chiquita,” he continued. “We were getting into it, washing each other. Suddenly the shower door swings open and standing there is Charlie Manson. I didn’t know if he was Jesus Christ or the devil, but there was fire in his eyes. Manson stood there, looking at us, and then said, ‘You must come down and join the party.’ Then he closed the door and left. Well, we finished up and split. Wasn’t my kind of party.”

With that book’s reputation, this is probably about as reliable as Manson’s own suggestion that Mike Love might been a more frequent visitor to Dennis’ co-opted beach house than reported. Funny story though.

The Manson saga, and Dennis Wilson’s connections to it, is obviously covered in much more (legitimate) detail elsewhere. The earliest published accounts of the Manson Family’s history and activities are Ed Sanders’ The Family: The Story of Charles Manson’s Dune Buggy Attack Battalion (1971) and Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter (published 1974. Here the Beach Boys’ fan community provide some comments about the reliability of declared Beach Boys/Manson connections, and usefully points any curious reader away from Tommy Udo’s Music Mayhem Murder book from 2002 (‘This was probably the most factually inaccurate book ever published‘ – what, on any topic?).

Nicholas Schreck‘s The Manson File (originally published in 1988; a hugely-expanded edition was published last year) looks to be the most extensive and most definitive study to date; and Schreck’s research and revisionism proposes a rather different explanation of ‘The Manson Murders’ than the story perpetrated and perpetuated by Vincent Bugliosi in Helter Skelter.

Hear, should one wish, a long (3 hours) and engrossing telephone interview with The Manson File‘s author here – Schreck’s personal research is extensive, and, on the basis of the radio interview alone, may shed light on a rather larger crossover between the Manson Family and the LA entertainment industry than the latter might lead one to believe. Read, should one wish, Dave McGowan‘s Strange but Mostly True Story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie Generation (in 21 parts!) for a deeper look into LA’s darker history (or wait for 2014′s print version).

Manson was always a small, but deeply unfortunate part of Beach Boys’ lore, but history now attributes the Manson connection to Dennis Wilson alone.

And while Dennis stopped answering journalist’s questions about it all quite soon after the murders in August 1969, ‘another Beach Boy, an anonymous one, is a little more talkative about it’:

We’ve got several eight track tapes of Charlie and the girls that Dennis cut, maybe even some 16 track. Just chanting, fucking, sucking, balling…Maybe we’ll put it out in the Fall. Call it ‘Death Row’.

It was a million laughs, believe me.

(from Tales Of Hawthorne by Tom Nolan, Rolling Stone 1971, reprinted in Back To The Beach; Keith Badman & Peter Ames Carlin reprint the same quote, but attribute it to Mike Love)

Imagine for a moment that you are Brian Wilson. And these recordings were made in your house, your studio, below your bedroom. Imagine that, in some innocence, you contributed – but, unlike your brother (or cousin, if one chooses to believe Manson himself), you didn’t fuck any of of the Manson girls. And then you discover, along with the rest of America, that Charles Manson and his ‘family’ are accused of committing these murders.

Try to visualise what a wry and dry Mike Love says above. While listening to Brian’s own In My Room, recorded five years earlier. Etc.

[6] In contrast to Brian’s own work alone, on sessions and tracks for Friends and 20/20, he does not appear to have been involved in the retrieval and reclamation of Prayer and Cabin Essence. That both tracks have survived intact, with some extra vocal overdubs on the former (plus its possessive retitling), and the new lead vocals (and final resequencing) of the latter, is probably only a reflection of the close-to-completion state of these session tapes.

It would be an error to consider that this Brianless band work was done with any reverence for the integrity of either track. 20/20 is, after all, the same album featuring Bluebirds Over The Mountain, Cottonfields, The Nearest Faraway Place…all mediocre (in comparison to The Beach Boys pre-67, and every other ‘rock artist’ post-67), all nonetheless deemed worthy of release.

That both Cabin Essence and Prayer somehow slipped out, and into an indifferent world – as a microcosm of Smileis fortuitous indeed. That the ‘acid illiteration’ of ‘over and over the crow cries‘, sung in 1968 by the Beach Boy who objected to it so vociferously in ’66…well, that’s kind of surprising: Cabin Essence, and it’s ‘meaninglessness’ to Mike Love, should really have precluded any future participation by its strongest critic. But there they are, as the last lines of Cabinessence, the last track on The Beach Boys’ last studio album for Capitol Records.

Over and over the crow cries, uncover the cornfield‘ thus becomes, in essence, the last words sung by the sixties Beach Boys.

Did something change Mike’s mind about the quality of that song? Subsequent history says otherwise.

Mike may maintain that the lyric was the issue; that he contributed to the completion of Cabinessence might imply that his issue was maybe with its lyricist instead.

[7] The Honeys, being Brian Wilson’s wife, her sister and their cousin, were obviously an easily-accessible ‘instrument’.  The Beach Boys own ambitions and aims, for the band under their control rather than Brian’s, probably meant that a Honeys session, where Brian Wilson is acknowledged as the writer, arranger and producer, and is deferred to as such, could maybe be more personally satisfying, and rather more free of the ‘creative tensions’ that a 1968 Beach Boys session might have. To borrow one of Mike Love’s time-reversing 2012 statements, it might even feel like ’1965 all over again’…that is, that Brian Wilson’s role in the studio might be treated with the deference this job demands.

That the resultant tracks weren’t a hit might not have mattered; that these sessions even got released at all seems slightly surprising: it was probably only the fact that both songs were covers that precluded The Beach Boys immediately co-opting and rerecording them as band singles.

So that was 1968.

Yeah, there is Friends, a small album with small glimmers of Brian Wilson’s previous skills manifest throughout (and more directly in the instrumental track Diamond Head) – but, as seen by Mike Love’s the band’s possessive behaviour over Redwood’s song Time To Get Alone (and their own structurally-inferior version), it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that, wherever Brian’s musical ideas strayed, even for a second, outside the rubric of what The Beach Boys was supposed to be, work on interesting tracks like Can’t Wait Too Long or Cool Cool Water seems to have been curtailed in favour of more digestible, containable, and substantially less adventurous (failed) stabs at the pop charts.

21st century fans seen to value these failures – failures of ambition, of execution, commercial failures…the history of the band, post-67, has long periods of these kinds of failures, peppered with an occasional success – ‘sad little grey records’; prior to 1967, their career was the diametric opposite of this.

Penny Valentine’s 1968 review of the UK Then I Kissed Her single says a great deal about how disappointing Beach Boys releases had become since Good Vibrations. While what she writes doesn’t acknowledge Then I Kissed Her as a pre-Pet Sounds recording, there is the tacit dismissal of both Smiley Smile and Wild Honey as wanting. When she describes Friends as ‘about the ultimate in sadness’, this perceived pathos is obviously in what the music lacks. Whither the progressive Beach Boys?

But isn’t the ‘staleness and inertia’ she berates strangely coincident with the point that Brian Wilson relinquished control of The Beach Boys to…well, The Beach Boys themselves? While Friends is more obviously a Brian Wilson album than, say, 1972′s Carl And The Passions, it suggests more where it sounds least like The Beach Boys. Even Transcendental Meditation has come to sound like some odd precursor of Faust (listen to that crazy saxophone!).

Had Friends included a Can’t Wait Too Long variant (as projected), it would have been a different album. Instead, in its sweetness, it’s mostly twee, trite and slight. And brief: its total running time is less than half an hour, but there was enough music recorded at the same time to give it a far less derisory length. Another instance of the lacksadaisical hubris of the band at the time: ‘fuck it, this’ll do’.

Audience expectations of pop albums continued to develop after Sgt Pepper. It’s not difficult to imagine Penny Valentine or her readership playing Friends, and then thinking ‘that’s it?!?’ Whither the progressive Beach Boys etc.

The band, as an entity, were maybe at their lowest ebb in ’68. And ’69. Oh, and 1970…as Carl says above, ‘we felt as if we’d been passed by’. The only thing keeping the Beach Boys brand alive at this time was inertia, and maybe a sense of, I dunno…entitlement? I mean, what else could they do? Would Mike Love relinquish the stage, the attention, maybe moderate his ostentation, accept his creative limitations, or even retreat into his meditation? Fuck no. Give all this up?!?

1969 was a big year for the Beach Boys’ public profile. Little that transpired, however, could be considered ‘good publicity’…

1969.

(Mike Love & Brian Wilson, in the studio, July 1969)

January 15: The Beach Boys begin another set of US concert dates.

February 10: The 20/20 album is released. Two 1966 Smile tracks (Prayer and Cabin-Essence) are released here in completed versions. [1]

March 31: Breakaway is recorded as a single, co-written by Murry Wilson, the father of The Beach Boys and their former manager:

by now the group probably know that this is likely to be The Beach Boys’ last single for Capitol, as they are about to leave the label. Eager to leave on a high note, Brian rises to the challenge and becomes involves in the song’s production, swiftly devising an impressive recording.

Released as a single in June, it is not a US hit, peaking at #63, although it reaches number 6 in the UK charts. [2]

May 27: Brian Wilson announces at a press conference that The Beach Boys are close to (financial) bankruptcy :

He says: “The Beach Boys’ empire is crumbling and in deep financial trouble…it’s got so bad that The Beach Boys are considering financial bankruptcy. We owe everyone money, and if we don’t pick ourselves off our backsides and have a hit record soon we will be in worse trouble. Nick Grillo, our business manager, says that if we don’t start climbing out of the mess he will have to file bankcruptcy in Los Angeles by the end of the year. Things started deteriorating about 18 months ago. Thousands of dollars were being frittered away and thrown away on stupid things…recently Nick told us how bad it really was. It was a big shock for us all. A really tough blow…I’ve always said be honest with the fans and I don’t see why I should lie and say everything is rosy when it’s not…the Beach Boys’ tour of Britain must be a success if the group is to survive.” [3]

May 30 to June 30: The Beach Boys depart for another UK/Europe tour

May 31: The Beach Boys play London’s Hammersmith Odeon. From David Hughes’ review of the concert in Disc and Music Echo:

Mike Love has grown his beard, grown his hair (on those parts of head where it still grows, that is) and has acquired an incredible white tunic/mini-habit. The overall effect is a cross between the Maharishi’s younger brother and the original hermit from the hills. All very incongruous, especially when he bursts into ‘well the East Coast girls are hip, I really dig those clothes they wear’. Mike has always looked the misfit in the group and gives the impression on stage that he doesn’t really know what he’s doing up there. His ad libs with the audience are becoming more and more outspoken.

June 8: The Beach Boys play Leeds Infirmary, with celebrated UK DJ Jimmy Savile in attendance. [4]

June 25 to 29: The Beach Boys spend time at a UK TM retreat. During this time Mike lectures a New Musical Express reporter about Transcendental Meditation:

I listened intrigued to Mike’s views on meditation and his beliefs in the teaching of the Maharishi…his conversation with the woman who studied life-after-death was captivating. Talk evolved about the planets, which Mike is currently writing a song about. But I must admit, a lot of it left me cold. [5]

June 20: The band’s contract with Capitol Records is fulfilled. The band are now without a record contract.

July 1: No other record company seems immediately keen to sign The Beach Boys – a deal with Deutsche Gramophon falls through, in part because of their wariness of the band’s financial needs, presumably via a notification of their financial state by Brian Wilson at the press conference in May. [6]

August: Brian Wilson records an album, in his home studio, A World Of Peace Must Come, for Steve Kalinich, a poet who also co-wrote Beach Boys songs with Dennis Wilson. It remains unreleased until 2008. [7]

August 9: The Tate murders.

August 10: The LaBianca murders. [8]

September: an interview with Dennis Wilson, given prior to the events of Aug 9 & 10, is published in Rave Magazine in the UK, which mentions Charles Manson as ‘The Wizard’, a mixture of musical associate and personal guru.

November 4: Brian Wilson records a solo piano demo for a first draft of Til I Die. [9]

November 18: The Beach Boys eventually sign with Reprise/Warner Brothers, after the intervention of Van Dyke Parks, on their behalf, defending the band as ‘an American institution’. Their contract is for $250,000 per album, and the label insists that Brian Wilson be involved in all future recordings. The same day, Murry Wilson sells off the entire Sea Of Tunes publishing catalogue – the publishing for all of Brian Wilson’s songs – for $700,000.

Studio sessions over the next few months are for the band’s Reprise debut ‘offering’. [10]

Notes on 1969

[1] Rolling Stone, as post-Monterey tastemaker for the ‘rock revolution’, describes Cabinessence in its contemporary 20/20 review  as

one of the finest things Brian has ever done…the totally orchestrated cacophony was an innovation in rock when they used it in Smiley Smile, and is still done here better than anywhere else.

20/20 is, in summary,

a good album, flawed mainly by a lack of direction…more a collection than a whole.

How many other outmoded pop entertainers were likewise releasing flawed, directionless albums in 1969? But how many of them had a wealth of unreleased material to call upon that bettered all of their released work so far?

[2] Why is Murry Wilson collaborating with Brian Wilson in 1969? Maybe it’s the Wilson family closing ranks. In order to ‘protect’ Brian…

What might he need protecting from? His social life – and his access to drugs – doesn’t seem to have been curtailed; but his previously-unlimited access to recording studios has been mostly reduced to a room in his own home – and at a time when pop music and the ‘rock revolution’, dominating the LA music scene, was expanding outwards to dominate the world.

How many potential musical collaborators (with the catalytic capabilities of a Van Dyke Parks) might Brian Wilson have met if he were still in the working environment all his previous recordings were created within up to June 1967?

Was Brian Wilson’s father really the best co-writer then available?

[3] Brian Wilson said he should ‘be honest with the fans and I don’t see why I should lie and say everything is rosy when it’s not‘; this is at odds with every band whitewash since. The Beach Boys were probably unhappy (and understandably so) that Brian was so ‘honest’. This certainly scuppered their Deutsche Grammophon record contract – it’s difficult to make money out of a loss-making enterprise. More of this ‘honesty’ could have ended The Beach Boys. And then what would Brian have done?

[4] Celebrated UK DJ Jimmy Savile is currently much more renowned for his predilection for underage girls – at time of writing, a two years after his death, he remains ‘Britain’s worst-ever paedophile’. Francis Rossi of Status Quo (who collaborated with The Beach Boys in the 90s) recounted in a promotional interview how Jimmy Savile invited me to ‘sex party’ in his dressing room. Same day, elsewhere, Rossi Cringes At His Past Behaviour:

The Whatever You Want hitmaker found [a new Quo documentary] film, titled Hello Quo, impossible to view and confesses he would like to knock some sense into his cocky younger self.

Rossi, admirably, told Savile to “get out of it” when he suggested The Quo “come and see me tarts…there’s going to be something…some f***ing tarts we’ve got in”. And, in his response to his cocky younger self, Rossi appears to have learned yet more lessons about social etiquette since.

Age, experience, the passing of time, it generally brings ‘wisdom’, of a kind – even if it’s just an embarressment about one’s younger self.

[5] Dunno if Mike ever finished his ‘song about the planets’.

There is more to say about Transcendental Meditation, and Mike’s own application of it to himself. The NME guy obviously felt that Mike Love had a lot to say then.

In many ways, Mike Love could be seen as TM’s worst advocate ever. His insincerity, his bitterness, his legal proclivities, and an ongoing-acrimony with his family/friends/bandmates…these do not appear to be actions of an ‘enlightened’ being. However, in his continued success, as Mike Love of The Beach Boys, whatever hidden powers he is calling upon,  they’re still working their magic.

All power to him.

[6] One could speculate that, without a $250,000 advance from Reprise/Warner Brothers (or even a far smaller advance from a smaller company), the Beach Boys might have actually declared bankruptcy, and ceased trading. Of course this, historically, is rarely the end for members of pop groups broken up by circumstance.

The Beach Boys had existed for nearly 9 years when their contract was signed with Reprise, with over 20 albums released by Capitol with their names attached.

How many solo artists, writers or performers could a disbanded Beach Boys have yielded in 1969? Brian obviously. Dennis. Bruce. Carl, even just as a session vocalist. Maybe the same for Al; or maybe back to dentistry.

Mike?

[7] A World Of Peace Must Come was missing for years,  ‘then one day in the late ’80s the tape was rediscovered’; ‘twenty long years and a dozen deadend deals later’, it was finally released by Light In The Attic in 2008.

I imagine that Beach Boys fan world was holding its breath for something of substance when this reappeared – and, as a snapshot of 1968 Brian Wilson World, it must also surely have some historical value. Dunno how many purchasers were disappointed or not…

This album is very hard to like, mainly because it’s not very good at all. Alan Boyd’s 2008 sleevenote says that

it was Brian’s idea, initially. It would be a “home recording”, spontaneous and from the heart, a project which the process itself would take centre stage. As producer, Brian created an environment in which Stephen could express himself. And as the poems took shape and found their way, Brian then allowed himself to become part of the process, crafting an aural landscape that perfectly complemented and reinforced the ideas, thoughts and words that flowed through Stephen

and the words certainly do flow through Stephen…

An Amazon reviewer describes it better than I can:

bought this figuring it would be just another Brian Wilson related curio for my already over-crowded shelf. It turns out to be an intimate portrait of Los Angeles 1969, with sick tension and bad craziness hovering in the air like smog. Stephen Kalinich delivers his poetry with the tenacity of a deranged televangelist. His message is one of love, hope, and a desire for a better tomorrow. His words seem out of place in coordination with the fractured and desolate soundscape provided by the then reclusive and easily distracted Brian Wilson. The music is sparse, with long portions of the album featuring no backing at all, but even when Brian is silent his aura still seems to resonate through the room, as if his soul itself has been magically imprinted upon the wall of tape-hiss that rumbles ominously behind Stephen’s words. The atmosphere at the Bel Air house at this time was terrifying and twisted. I swear I can almost hear the Mason family in the next room sharpening their knives. Although I’m sure this wasn’t the intention of the creators, this recording is ominous, eerie, and totally essential for the Brian Wilson/Beach Boys fan. Don’t let this one pass you buy.

(5 stars, here)

People who hear Manson’s LIE album are often surprised by its competence – there are actually some pretty good songs; Manson’s playing and delivery have a looseness that would have been unacceptable prior to ’67, but doesn’t differ markedly from a whole bunch of psych/folk albums released by major labels in the post-Monterey flurry.

A World Of Peace Must Come sounds way closer to what any imagined Charles Manson album should sound like: it’s stark, and is a continuous stream of platitudinous ‘why is there evil in the world?’ sixties imagery. It all must have meant something pretty heartfelt at the time – but the words are untempered by the time-limitations of a song lyric, or Dennis’ tunes (Be StillLittle Bird, A Time To Live In Dreams), and thus most of the album’s words are cliched hippy doggerel. These tracks just seem to go on and on and on. And Kalinich’s poetry, and its delivery, has a Mansonesque imperative about it all – its aims seem didactic: a world of peace must come (hear two tracks here).

As Alan Boyd points out above, it’s the process at work, and the ‘aural landscape’ it creates, that makes any of this interesting. And the Brian Wilson process is pretty creepy at times: track 3, I Am Waiting/The Birth Of God has a vocal effect that has Kalinich pitchshifted down, which creates a kind of low, wordless shadow voice. Dicking about with left/right channel-cancellation in a digital audio editor reveals the effect – but, as heard on the album itself, there is a perceptual ‘trick’ at work here, which counters rather than complements its ‘message’, undermining any hope there might be in the words itself. The overall effect is just creepy.

Kalinich’s own guitar accompaniment is sparing and rudimentary (Manson is the way better player); as a singer, he’s just another poet with a guitar. Everything that philistines find unbearable about Robbie Basho’s voice is here, but with none of Basho’s joy, sadness, intensity or musical sensibility.

One of the stranger tracks is Be Still, a variation on the Friends track, usefully explained in the spoken intro:

(Brian enters the studio and chats with Steve, all through a reverb effect)
Brian: Hi Steve (sighs). Oh, ‘be still and know you are’ – wasn’t that a …that was a cut on…that was a cut on our album wasn’t it?
Kalinich: That was a cut on the Friends album, The Beach Boys’ Friends album
Brian: Dennis sang the lead didn’t he?
Kalinich: Yeah and Dennis wrote it didn’t he…?
Brian: You wrote a poem on that didn’t you?
Steve: Yeah I wrote a poem called, er, ‘be still is a thought to live by’, I thought it was such a meaningful song that I just didn’t want to let it stop at a song, I wanted to turn it into something
Brian: Do you want me to play some organ on it?
Steve: yeah, why don’t you er…
Brian: I’ll play you some organ. You wanna do it now?
Steve: …play the organ now, OK. (buzzy organ is switched on; Brian plays organ drones quietly throughout):
Steve: (reciting) Be still is a thought to live by. Be still and know you are. Be still. (it goes on. 4 minutes later it ends.)

Stranger yet is The Magic Hand. Steve opens with the statement that

poems can never make adequate explanations/for man and his many hesitations

(which, alas, is mostly only true of bad poets) Then the recitation pauses, as 14 seconds of Brian harmonies come in; then Kalinich continues, accompanied by chimes, clangs and echoes, becoming increasingly giddy and breathless – until, at 2:30, The Honeys’ (somewhat flat) voices fade in, as if via some kind of magic transistor radio, singing Little Anthony and the Imperials’ Tears On My Pillow:

you don’t remember me
but I remember you
it was not so long ago
you broke my heart in two
tears on my pillow
pain in my heart
caused by you

[8] The Manson murders. There’s obviously no need for commentary or description here, it’s all elsewhere, in whatever flavour of objectivity or prurience you prefer. Ed Sanders’ The Family is the closest, chronologically, to the time it describes. Chapter 17 is entitled Fear Swept The Poolsides, the point when the entire Los Angeles celebrity caste imagined themselves the next victims. Imagine you are Brian Wilson. Etc.

[9] This version of Til I Die is ‘a totally different recording to the one that will feature on the Surf’s Up album in 1971′ (says the Definitive Diary). I’m not aware of this having been bootlegged, although there are some session outtakes for Til I Die in circulation. In one vocal session, Brian Wilson is heard at the end  saying ‘can’t go any further’ (hear it here).

The work in collating information about these unreleased songs comes through sterling research by dedicated individuals – this list (hosted by Endless Summer Quarterly, and updated post-Smile Sessions) has an astounding catalogue of unreleased Beach Boys and Brian Wilson songs. Til I Die doesn’t feature on this list, so its earlier variant probably doesn’t differ in concept that much from the 1971 version.

Peter Ames Carlin, in his Catch A Wave  Brian Wilson biography, recounts that

Brian felt a little self-conscious about the song, considering how much of his wounded emotional core he revealed in its verses. But he also knew it was one of the best things he’d written in many years. So once it was finished, he sat down in the studio to sing it for the other guys, assuming they’d greet it with the same full-throated enthusiasm they’d shown for his efforts in the mid-1960s. But this time they seemed unimpressed. Those words are such a downer, Mike said. Aren’t pop songs supposed to be fun? Who would want to listen to something that grim? Blinking with surprise and hurt, Brian shrugged. Stung by the criticism, he put the song away for a few months, then brought it out again for the Surf’s Up sessions in early 1971, when the band came asking for more material. Brian cut an instrumental track – combining layers of vibes, organ, and an electronic drum machine – and ran the group through a rigorous series of vocal sessions so they could master the intricate vocal arrangement he had put together. But still conscious of Mike’s criticism from the previous summer, Brian fiddled with the lyrics for days, going so far as to record a version of the song with more upbeat conclusions to the first two verses – ‘it kills my soul’ became ‘it holds me up’,while ‘I lost my way’ became ‘I found my way’. But even the other guys recognized the thematic contradiction presented in the new lyrics, and so given the choice between having a new original Brian song on the album or not, they reverted to his original, darker lyrics.

For all the pathos of Brian Wilson’s emotional music, this is one of his saddest songs. The history that informs it is not a prerequisite in appreciating its sadness, it is apparent in every aspect of the recording itself. Where Good Vibrations is about feeling good, and makes the listener also feel good, Til I Die, is sadness, loss, and a resigned realisation that, ‘like a leaf on a windy day, pretty soon I’ll be blown away’. One cannot not be moved by it – if one listens. Context is irrelevant – it’s another example of Brian Wilson’s ‘objective art’ (more about this here).

Could The Beach Boys not hear its sadness? There has to have been someone in attendance who felt something on first hearing – something other than Peter Ames Carlin’s imagined ‘aren’t pop songs supposed to be fun? Who would want to listen to something that grim?’.

Brian Wilson’s wayward ‘autobiography’ claims that, at one point,

I’d ordered the gardener to dig a grave in the backyard and threatened to drive my Rolls off the Santa Monica pier.

Til I Die might be a manifestation of this vague death-wish. You think that someone in the band might have noticed, exercised concern, rather than denigrate the cheerless sentiments of the song…

Paul Williams’ collection of Beach Boys writing How Deep In The Ocean recounts (in 1997′s Smile Is Done) something Don Was said about Til I Die:

“I’ve known Brian Wilson about seven years and consider him a close friend. Yet whenever I think I really know him, I’m reminded that he is the single most enigmatic person I’ve ever encountered. I once summoned up the courage to ask him what I’m sure is a tedious question; I wanted to know what was going through his mind when he wrote the song “’Til I Die” …specifically, what prompts a person to write a song so chordally complex that it is impossible for me to tell you what key it’s in. He told me that he was sitting at a piano, creating geometric patterns with his fingers, trying not to move the fingers on the outside of the patterns, but limiting changes to internal movements. When he landed on a shape that both looked cool and sounded good, he wrote it down. So, essentially he created this masterpiece by contorting his lingers into really groovy shapes. Well, I thought that this was one of the most brilliant things I’d ever heard. If I were to sit at a piano for 200 years, I don’t believe such a method of songwriting would ever occur to me. But I must tell you that I’ve absolutely no idea whether this story has any basis in truth or whether he was just making it up on the spot to entertain me.”

Whichever is true (the musician-to-musician windup, or the actual technical and compositional process), this is a Brian Wilson that understands his compositional technique as something other than just writing ‘fun pop songs’. That it’s a ‘downer’ is irrelevant if it’s Art.

[10] The Beach Boys’ new recording contract with Reprise/Warner Brothers should have been a fresh start for the band. And, as the contract stipulated a substantive contribution from Brian Wilson in any future album release, the band were beholden (legally bound even) to meet this demand.

History shows their career continuing to founder, despite the support of a US major label – and a hip major at that. Late 60s/early 70s Warners had an amazing repertoire of (popular and unpopular) ‘cult’ artists, and they seemed willing to develop (or indulge – depends upon your perspective) people like Randy Newman, Ry Cooder, Little Feat, Van Dyke Parks (amongst others) through years of critical acclaim, but nominal sales. Van Dyke never gave Warners a single hit, but, as a catalyst, he’s everywhere.

Signing to the label that cultivated this New American Music, and with Van Dyke Parks as their low-key champion, there was a place here for a new Beach Boys; they actually couldn’t have been on a better label for a reinvention, as a far more dignified ‘American Institution’.

But, to Mo Ostin and Warners, The Beach Boys were not a ‘cult band’. Their small audience, by 1969, might suggest that their following was more ‘selective’ (to use Spinal Tap’s terms) – but it wasn’t,  it had just waned, substantially.

Warners needed The Beach Boys to be a success, and, on the basis of their $250,000 investment in them, had to recoup, somehow.

Had Warners known that, like Tap, The Beach Boys would also eventually end up at the fairgrounds and amusement parks, they might have asked for their money back.

(“if I’ve told them once I’ve told them a hundred times: put Spinal Tap first, and puppet show last”)

So 1969 was another fallow year for The Beach Boys. But 1970 looks more promising: a new decade, a new record contract.

1970.

(the Good Humor Man in good-humoured headgear;
his normally ill-humoured cousin in beatific robes, 1970)

January: Sessions for Sunflower continue at Brian’s Home studio. More work is done on 1967′s Cool Cool Water. [1]

January 18 to 20: Reprise album #1, version 1:

Twelve days after completing the last batch of recordings , the groups sets to work mastering the album, the first for their new label…within days, the master tape is submitted to Warner/Reprise Records. However, the company cannot hear an abundance of potential hits and rejects it, considering the album too weak as a debut for the label…the label requests another batch of songs be written and recorded; The Beach Boys, dejected but undeterred, duly oblige.

February 23: Add Some Music/Susie Cincinnati single is released, the band’s first record for Warners. It only reaches #64 in the US charts [2]

April 4 to 17: Brian produces a country and western album for Fred Vail at Wally Heider’s Studio, Hollywood. It is unfinished and remains unreleased. [3]

April 14:

Warner A&R man Lenny Waronker decides to visit Brian at his Bellagio Road home in Bel Air. During the visit Brian plays Waronker a piano-and-vocal performance of Cool Cool Water, a song by Brian and Mike  [...] Waronker is moved by the song’s beautiful simplicity and insists that Brian include it on the group’s first album for the label.

April 20: The Beach Boys’ last single for Capitol is released in the UK, Cotton Fields (The Cotton Song). It reaches number 2 in the UK charts. Released in the US in May, it fails to chart.

May: The Beach Boys’ last album for Capitol is released (in the UK only), Live In London. It reaches number 75 in the UK album charts, and has no equivalent US release.

May 15: Reprise album #1, version 2:

a reworked new album [is delivered] to the record company’s headquarters in Burbank, California, entitled Add Some Music (An Album Offering From The Beach Boys).

Warner/Reprise again rejects the recordings. They are somewhat disappointed in the music on the album, but also wish to distance themselves from anything that bears the name Add Some Music, an abridged title of the group’s first and unsuccessful single with the label. The relationship between the two parties is at a low, and The Beach Boys are told once again to come up with a new batch of stronger recordings.

This version of their new album has a tracklist that differs from the original submission in January. Cool Cool Water does not feature on either version.

June: more Sunflower sessions.

June 29: Slip On Through/This Whole World single is released, the band’s second record for Warners. It fails to chart. [4]

July 1 to 9: Cool Cool Water is revisited at the labels’ insistence for inclusion on Sunflower.

July 21: Cool Cool Water is completed. [5]

Reprise album #1, version 3:

After this (Cool Cool Water) session the final master for Sunflower is delivered to Warner Bros…the label finally announces itself satisfied. The record is scheduled for a US release on August 31st.

August: Reprise album #2 sessions begin. [6]

August 31: The Sunflower album is released, the band’s first album for Warners. [7]

(Number 29 in the UK, #151 in the US album charts)

The same day Sunflower is released, The Definitive Diary chronology has Brian, Bruce Johnston and Mike Love on KPFK Pacifica Radio, in a full-length radio interview conducted by ‘DJ John Frank, also known as Jack Rieley III’. [8]

Jack Rieley becomes The Beach Boys’ manager after this meeting. [9]

October 12: Tears In The Morning/It’s About Time is released, the band’s third single for Warners. It fails to chart. [10]

September 1:  A sequence is prepared for Reprise album #2; version 1, briefly entitled Landlocked (according to Jack Rieley). But

I heard the songs, among which were titles like ‘Loop De Loop’ and others which were even more forgettable. I was totally perplexed. No strategy was worth anything without the goods, and the goods were just not there. Embarressed, I met with Mo Ostin, a true Brian Wilson fan, at Warner Brothers, who listened to the album, and he declared: “No way”.

In truth, there never was going to be a Landlocked album. At best, it can be considered as a a working title for what became Surf’s Up[11]

October 3: The Beach Boys play two shows at Big Sur Folk Festival ‘following an invitation by Brian’s friend Van Dyke Parks’:

These shows will come to be seen as landmark events in the chequered history of The Beach Boys. The performances in front of a crowd of 6,000 help to establish the group’s image in the eyes of the rock hierarchy, and they are subsequently ‘rediscovered’ as an important live act. [12]

November 4 to 7: The Beach Boys play 4 nights at Los Angeles’ Whisky A Go Go, ‘their first Los Angeles appearance since June 25th 1966′. Brian Wilson also performs with the band. These shows are another live success.

November 17: The Beach Boys (without Brian) are in Europe for a tour

December 18: The Beach Boys play a late-starting show at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Holland:

when the show starts, the enthusiastic audience shouts for new songs from the group instead of the old favourites. In an interview…Carl later announces: “I love this audience. Our last albums sold poorly in the US, our financial situation is disastrous – and here we have success. I like this country”

Notes on 1970

[1] Was it The Beach Boys themselves that held up Cool Cool Water‘s completion? The 1967 sessions – and the incomplete track produced – would be persuasive enough that Brian Wilson could still make interesting music.

With the band’s new 1970s ‘collective identity’ now a seeming-democracy, they might have thought that, even with Brian Wilson, they could show their audience and their label that The Beach Boys were comparably capable of making music as valid as the back catalogue that made their reputation in the first place.

The label, however, seemed unpersuaded by the Boys’ own self-belief, and hence the repeated rejection of Sunflower album sequences.

[2] Where would Smile fit in Add Some Music‘s litany of musical genres? There is ‘blues, folk, and country, and rock like a rollin’ stone‘ – but there’s no probably little room for it in a world of ‘walkin’ by a neighbor’s home‘, heard ‘faintly in the distance when you’re on the phone‘, or ‘sittin’ in a dentist’s chair‘…all this isn’t art, it’s elevator music. Muzak. And it’s a world in which Smile has been subtracted.

Its lyric was written with

Mike and Joe Knott, who was a friend of mine who wasn’t a songwriter but contributed a couple of lines. But I can’t remember which ones!

(say Brian in Timothy White’s CD reissue notes)

and I suppose that the lyricists felt that this track maybe ‘says something’ about the redemptive power of music – but, although ‘your doctor knows it keeps you calm‘ and ‘your preacher adds it to his psalms‘, music is ultimately an adjunct to your day-to-day existence.

This is Brian Wilson in 1966, listening to a studio playback.

This is an immersion in music – but also in sound. For the time that Brian is full-face in the playback monitor, everything else is irrelevant.

Adding Some Music To Your Day puts music on the periphery of more important preoccupations: walkin’, making a phonecall, or getting your teeth straightened; you may hear it in church – but it’s also at the doctor’s surgery. And its lyric suggests music to be of equal importance (or insignificance) at both.

Warner Brothers might well have worried exactly what they just paid a quarter of a million dollars to The Beach Boys for…

[3] Fred Vail was The Beach Boys’ promoter, co-manager and a Brother records employee, but had no ambitions as a singer other than enjoying country music; quoted in The Definitive Diary, he recalls

Brian was…in the control room – but he just wasn’t into it. It wasn’t like a Beach Boys session. It was never finished. I think Brian did it to get out of the house.

Why wasn’t Brian using the studio in his home, beneath his bedroom? If this was an experiment of some kind, or even just for fun, would it not be easier, cheaper to record at home, here:

A ‘home studio’ would have been an expensive thing in the late sixties. And also an enviable thing – studio time is usually paid for on an hourly basis, and those used by Brian Wilson for all recording (up to June 1967) would not have been cheap; these were, after all, LA’s most-used studios – and the ones that Brian knew ‘the tone and the pitch like a string, or like you tune a guitar’. Domenic Priore’s comments above demonstrate a distinct appreciation of the difference between a room with a tape machine and a ‘recording environment’.

These days, anyone can have a ‘home studio’, at almost no cost; but in 1969, unlimited studio time assumes unlimited reels of recording tape (where modern hard disc recording removes this need). There are innumerable other costs (an engineer, on a hourly wage; session musicians where needed, likewise), plus the maintenance of a working studio system (mixing desk, tape machines, effects units, equalisers, microphones, amplifiers…). However, as a recording artist, with instant access day or night, there must have been many writers, singers and musicians more than a little envious of the facilities Brian Wilson had in his own home.

Marilyn, Brian’s ex-wife, says in the 1995 documentary I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times

Marilyn: He would slowly just stay in the bedroom, and let the guys record in the studio, since The Beach Boys paid for the studio, and it became more and more he would stay in bed – let them do their thing.

So it would seem that the studio – installed in Brian Wilson’s home – was not necessarily his to use. If The Beach Boys were recording Beach Boys Music (without Brian), and Brian wanted to record Brian Wilson Music (without The Beach Boys), the band’s needs seemed to have taken precedence over his own.

He may have been recording for fun, or for distraction, or experimentally – but the band undoubtedly wanted their success back. That their success originally came from Brian Wilson’s own work on their behalf (and the familiarity he had with ‘the studio as an instrument’), plus the fact that, post-Smile, what work was deemed ‘inappropriate for The Beach Boys’ might have nonetheless been ‘appropriate for Brian Wilson’, doesn’t seem to have registered with any custodian of the band’s fate at the time.

The Beach Boys might have been unhappy that the recording facilities they paid for, and had to have ready for their own use when needed (with all the commensurate costs suggested above), might be an ‘inappropriate’ place for Brian to record for fun, or for distraction, or experimentally.

[4] The Rolling Stone Record Review (from 1971) reprints representative reviews from the magazine’s first three years. Rolling Stone may only reflect the new-founded arrogance of rock writing (and thus a dismissiveness about music its journos deems ‘unfashionable’), the review of Slip On Through is typically unforgiving – it is

a clumsy pseudo-Rascals thing, hardly worthy of a listen.

Its author recognises the worth of its B-side however:

“This Whole World” has got to be the best thing the Beach Boys have done since “Good Vibrations”.

This Whole World is a fully-formed Brian Wilson Beach Boys song, one of a handful of seemingly-authentic BW productions post ’67. ‘Fully-formed’ because it’s neither half-assed, nor compromised by ‘collaborative input’ from people other than Brian Wilson. It’s Sunflower‘s most dynamic track, and its most obvious single.

Its chart failure may have been due to the emphasis placed by the label instead on Slip On Through. Fred Vail’s doggedness in promoting The Beach Boys at US radio stations was heartfelt, and based on a genuine enthusiasm – an extra on the Brian Wilson – Songwriter DVD has Fred emotionally recounting the rebuffs he had from radio programmers, who liked the Add Some Music single, but wouldn’t schedule it for airplay.

Fred Vail saw that The Beach Boys had become deeply unfashionable. And without a nominally ‘serious’ body of work to fall back upon bar one album and one single (from 1966 and 67), their ‘legacy’ was mostly a burden to their success. Maybe they should have changed their name to ‘Beach’…

[5] The Beach Boys’ own embellishments on the Sunflower version of Cool Cool Water must be ‘part 3′ (2:07 onwards), plus the very un-Brian segues between sections, papered over with synthesiser water sounds.

This third part (which isn’t even hinted at in the 1967 recordings) are surely Mike’s contribution – the insipid lyrical conceit (‘in an ocean or in a glass/cool water is such a gas‘ etc), plus the much more pedestrian pace, suggests that this is the work of the 1970, Brianless Beach Boys. It’s a kind of ‘pop-remake’ of what the track was originally conceived as, but with none of its complexity, and with dumbass lyrics that say nothing much about how great water is.

And the first part, as bootlegged and then released officially on The Smile Sessions, was also remixed for its 1970 incarnation. Any comment on this difference is obviously aesthetics…but technically, the mix, and the compression settings used for the 1970 rejig of the 1967 recording are quite extreme, and in contrast to the third part:

(Cool Cool Water, from Sunflower vinyl)

The segment as utilised in 1970, and its session as available on Disc 4 of The Smile Sessions, has its transients (the spikes in the waveform) intact, even with 21st century remastering/compression – but these are lost in the 1970 amalgam. ‘Part 3′ of Cool Cool Water, ie. the 1970 addition is also in a different key, and has a much more pedestrian tempo – and retains its transients, thus making the latter part the more dynamic, and the former relegated to an ‘intro’ (part 2 is padding – an ad hoc ‘bridge’ between two disparate, and otherwise only superficially-similar pieces of music).

Aesthetics, as I say. But the lightness and dynamics of the 1967 versions are utterly flattened by the 1970 production.

It’s difficult to imagine the 1970 version as the final outcome of what was started in 1967. Brian’s own input in the structure of the version as released may have been nil. Looking at his own work rate in ’67, the track could probably have been completed in a couple of days; instead it took 3 years. What held it back? The lack of this third part?

Cool Cool Water was completed (for Sunflower version 3) on July 21st 1970. As a single release in March 1971, and after all that effort, it failed to get a US chart placing.

[6] These sessions eventually lead to the Surf’s Up album – but prior to the co-opting of the unreleased Smile track as its title track, this would have been just another Beach Boys album for Reprise.

[7] Rolling Stone‘s 1970 review of Sunflower, despite its praise, uses Add Some Music as indicative of the overall function of the album:

hip supermarkets might program this album for contented browsing among the frozen vegetables and canned fruit.

A lot of Sunflower sounds like an ersatz music. It’s all highly polished, but undynamic: there is little of the ‘drama’ of pre-67 Beach Boys. And Cool Cool Water‘s 1970 additions are likewise ersatz – this is not Brian Wilson Music. But, due to the non-release of Smile, no one in 1970 had actually heard enough Brian Wilson Music to judge otherwise. Which must have been convenient.

Beyond Beach Boys fan world, there is little about Sunflower, as a whole, that demands a listener’s attention, except in the absence of any better album. It’s pretty.

Nick Kent described Sunflower in 1975 as

pure Beach Boys fluff – supremely-packaged musical confectionery with deceptive soft-centres

and this might not be a demerit; Sunflower has survived its era fairly intact, and is maybe ‘the last great Beach Boys album’ (while being their first of the 1970s…)

Bruce Johnston describes Sunflower to Nick Kent as:

the last real Beach Boys album, simply because it‘s the last album Brian personally directed — the last album which recognised the need for a monarchical figure to be up there calling the shots as opposed to the pussyfooting democracy which ended up splitting all their subsequent albums up into sections.

Fan site Beachboys.com, ‘the complete guide’, says that

“Sunflower” is one of the Beach Boys best albums,  right up there with “Today,” “Summer Days (and Summer Nights!),” and “All Summer Long”…An unforgettable album, and many fans favorite

and the 1970 Rolling Stone review concludes that

as a whole, Sunflower is without doubt the best Beach Boys album in recent memory, a stylistically coherent tour de force.

But

It makes one wonder though whether anyone still listens to their music, or could give a shit about it….it is decadent fluff, but brilliant fluff. The Beach Boys are plastic madmen, rock geniuses. The plastic should not hide from use the geniuses who molded it.

The Beach Boys must have fucking loved this review – and despite its projected ‘who could give a shit’. They could each quote Jim Miller’s review and say, like Mike’s Uncle Murry: ‘I’m a genius too you know!’

[8] In this interview, and in Mike Love’s company, when Brian Wilson is

asked about his still unreleased Smile-era recording of ‘Surf’s Up’, Brian explains “It’s just too long. Instead of putting it on a record, I would rather just leave it as a song. It rambles. It’s too long to make it for me as a record, unless it were an album cut, which I guess it would have to be anyway. It could never be a single”.

It’s impossible to know exactly which version of Surf’s Up Brian is referring to here – the album version wouldn’t exist until June the following year, but solo versions of the song (recorded in December 1966, twice, for the Inside Pop film crew, and then again a year later, as first released on the 2011 Smile Sessions box) were only ever ‘demos’ for one of Smile‘s intended centrepieces.

Brian’s own ambivalence towards the track in Rieley’s radio interview may have been exacerbated by his cousin’s presence; but the mercenary aspects of a band desperately in need of ‘success’ made Surf’s Up into an Artistic Statement as an album track in 1971. Mike’s change of mind about Surf’s Up reflects his same turnaround with Cabinessence in 1968 – again suggesting that objections to either song might be more likely lyricist rather than lyrics.

[9] Jack Rieley immediately makes some fundamental changes to the band’s own image and self-perception:

First, there will be no candy-striped shirts or matching outfits. Second, Carl will become the official musical leader of the band. Third, [Rieley]announces his intention to turn the group into a socially-conscious band of songwriters, ditching typical love songs and pop-oriented lyrics in favour of a more topical stance.

And thus The Beach Boys’ second reinvention of the seventies commences. After the proven failure of their first reboot.

[10] Tears In The Morning is a classic Bruce Johnston tearjerker. But the place for Bruce’s songs (rightfully earned later with I Write The Songs) is in MOR (and its AOR successor). In the context of Sunflower‘s co-compositional democracy it’s an album track, but as a single, it is the band’s third flop 45 in a row. On the 1993 30th Anniversary Good Vibrations box set, Tears In The Morning is there, but in a UK-only 5 track Mike & Bruce compendium of shite. It’s an adjunct to even the worst stuff compiled on Good Vibrations (the speedy trip through time that is Disc 4), and, I suppose, a small snapshot of what The Beach Boys must have meant to a few of its members.

[11] Keith Badman’s ‘in truth’ says a great deal. For all that Jack Rieley did for The Beach Boys, he seems to have exercised a fair amount of flexibility with ‘the truth’. According to Peter Ames Carlin, Rieley

was a bit of a huckster, at one point going so far as to claim that he had won a Pulitzer Prize for his work in NBC’s Puerto Rico bureau. This was despite the fact that NBC doesn’t have a news bureau in Puerto Rico, which Rieley apparently didn’t know because he had never worked for NBC, and he had never been told that broadcasters aren’t eligible for Pulitzer Prizes. But what are a couple of elaborate lies between people whose common pursuit is gaining some momentum?

In 1975, Nick Kent was a little less forgiving, calling Rieley ‘an out-and-out opportunist’…

Even with the internet, reliable information about Rieley is thin on the ground; he’s kept a low profile since The Beach Boys returned from Holland in 1971, initially leaving him behind to manage their affairs remotely. Various searches turn up dead links, and a two part 1996 pet-sounds@lists listmail correspondence takes some finding – it’s archived here, and is a fascinating read.

Rieley is initially wary of the list, enquiring about its function:

Historical society? Trivia collectors? Freaks? Musicologists?

but then opens up somewhat. He also hints about Smile throughout:

I certainly have a something to say about that, but must save it for another time. Suffice it to say, the “Smile” tapes as they are reportedly being circulated are not exactly kosher.

One could ponder equally whether Rieley himself is ‘kosher’ here, as a 1996 internet contributor needed little to prove that they were who they said they were – but the fan community accepted his version of events. And while he is no more forthcoming about this purported Smile ‘conspiracy’, there is a great deal of confirmation in what Rieley says here.

Jack Rieley thus joins the cast of characters of this sorry saga, initially in an advisory capacity – but, as the opportunity was there, he quite quickly became a band collaborator.

Of Kent’s 1975 NME articles, and his representation therein, Rieley says:

I read the article and had legal counsel act. A prominent apology and retraction of all negative references to me — they were all provably false – quickly appeared in the NME.

Whether Nick Kent’s Last Beach Movie Revisited article (in 1994′s The Dark Stuff) acknowledges this retraction when he calls ‘this clown Rieley’ ‘a terrible old fraud’ is difficult to say; but it’s indisputable that Jack Rieley saved The Beach Boys from the oblivion they seemed otherwise incapable of avoiding. In his own words,

I got involved with them because I believed then, as I do today, that Brian Wilson is the greatest composer of this century. At the same time, having seen their absurd, hideous live show (string-of-hits, striped shirts, bullsh*t), I felt it criminal to see how the group so misrepresented / ignored / negated / yeah, even violated that unf***inbelievably gorgeous music. So I was determined to change things.

and

i dropped the string-o-hits bullsh*t in favor of a 2-hour concert that included the then-current songs, stretched-out lesser-known jewels, etc. in that period i had them save the surfing schtick for the encores.

His observations about the state of the band  from 1970 onwards are no surprise:

The Beach Boys has been a bitter power struggle since shortly after the beginning. Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson represented the creative side: the appeal to musical beauty and romance and funk and get-down and freakz/fanz; Love, Jardine and Johnston represented unbridled commercialism and power. Before I got there, [Mike] Love, [Al] Jardine and [Bruce] Johnston had control…When I arrived and changed the group’s direction, it signaled a change in the power-center as well…Upon my departure, the Wilsons went back to disarray…Love and Jardine saw the hole in their armour and rammed through to renewed supremacy. Their musical/ideological vision of the Beach Boys was totally different from that represented during my period there. Love’s bitter resentment of Brian’s musical genius and his newly re-won power meant it was back to shuck and jive. Within a year the Beach Boys had returned to the state they were in before I came along

He also supplies some vivid personal anecdotes:

Near the end of recording of the Surfs Up album, in a parking lot off Sunset Boulevard where Love, Jardine and Johnston requested that I join them at some awful vegetarian restaurant, following a meal that they raved about and I detested, after they had complained with particularly venomous fervor about the brothers Wilson, Love took me aside, stared furiously at me, curled his lip and snorted nastily, “Long after you are no longer part of the Beach Boys, I will be writing songs with Brian, and don’t you ever forget that.” He stabbed the air to emphasize “don’t”, “you”, “ever” and “forget.” That wasn’t all. I…” he exclaimed, “I AM the Beach Boys!

And, as applicable in 2013 as it was when he said it in 1996, Rieley summarises:

[The Beach Boys] blew it, they blew it consistently, they continue to blow it, it is tragic and this pathological problem caused The Beach Boys’ greatest music to be so underrated by the general public.

[12] With Van Dyke Parks as instigator, and presumably with Jack Rieley’s encouragement, The Beach Boys’ Big Sur appearances are a success. It’s not difficult to imagine Parks’ intentions here – placing the band in the broad-context of a ‘folk’ festival, alongside Linda Ronstadt, Kris Kristofferson, Mimi Farina, Joan Baez etc., The Beach Boys can develop their role as ‘American Music’ (if not America’s Band – too many other better, and more worthy combos around at the time), as envisaged by Warners’ signing an ‘American institution’ in 1969.

At this point in time, it must have still been conceivable that there was a place in Warners’ self-made repertoire of ‘new American music’. Gram Parson’s own term ‘Cosmic American Music’ is often used quite narrowly, as if it only applies to the country music that was creeping into West Coast music – but what are The Beach Boys, at their recorded best, if not Cosmic American Music?

These various opportunities would have been just too good to piss away – Jack Rieley and Van Dyke Parks both knew this; neither were fools: Van Dyke could undoubtedly justify the faith Mo Ostin of Warners had in him, and Rieley could maybe make a shitload of money out of the new Beach Boys. The band themselves had little to lose, and so much to gain.

One track recorded live at Big Sur was included on a festival live album called Celebration, and

with the exception of the Beach Boys — who were rumored to be releasing their entire set at one point — each artist donated a pair of performances to this package. According to the original LP jacket, “With this record, the money that ordinarily goes to the artists and producer, will go to the institute for the study of non-violence, Palo Alto, CA, to be shared with the united farm workers and war resisters international.”

(says the AMG)

These recordings are included on the Vigotone 5CD bootleg box Goodbye Surfing, Hello God, and stage announcements are retained – and despite Big Sur’s role in their change in fortunes (and despite ‘the people there in the open air, one big family‘ as recalled later in Holland‘s California Saga) Mike cannot help but snipe:

we’re gonna do a song that was just recently – uh, was it Number Two? It was Number One in the union of South Africa. And it was pretty big in Finland, in Poland, and very big in Sweden and Denmark and Norway, and it was very popular in Britain – and it didn’t get played in the United States. Cos a little people thought that it was too trite on heavy AM radio. So uh we all missed it that time, folks

(introducing Cottonfields)

and, introducing Good Vibrations,

we invite you all to join in on any particular part…do the snake dance or whatever, you know…

and thus winning over any heads in the audience with an appreciation of their culture…

So, as recording artists, 1970 wasn’t the fresh start that The Beach Boys had hoped for – a new album, but with only moderate sales, suggesting audience indifference, plus three successive singles that fail to chart. With the rise of the ‘rock revolution’, it was becoming possible to be an ‘albums artist’ and bypass the singles chart completely; the former were often perceived as the more ‘serious’ artists. But, so far, at least on record, The Beach Boys have failed to find an audience in either pop or rock.

But their proposed re-reinvention as ‘a socially-conscious band of songwriters’ may yet have some currency, and their live successes at Big Sur and the Whisky A Go Go suggest that there is still an audience for The Beach Boys: in Holland their audience wants to hear the contemporary Beach Boys.

1971 has got to be a better year.

1971.

January through early April: sessions continue for Reprise album #2:

Beach Boys manager Jack Rieley tells Scott Keller in 1974: “Carl and I began to write…Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston began to get irritable about it all. There was a long meeting during which they tried to force me to march into [Warners boss] Mo Ostin’s office and sell him on their 1969 track ‘Loop De Loop’. I refused and Brian, Dennis and Carl backed me up. Love, sensing that I might be on to something by rejecting their ‘string-of-hits’ crap as out of date, suddenly came up with ‘Student Demonstration Time’, which had Carl and I blushing with embarressment and which thoroughly disgusted Dennis. Then Jardine demanded that his track ‘Take A Load Off Your Feet’ should go on the album” [1]

March: Cool Cool Water/Forever is released, the band’s fourth single for Warners. It fails to chart.

May 24: Long Promised Road/Deirdre, the band’s fifth single for Warners is released. It fails to chart. Re-released in October, with Til I Die as a second B-Side, it reaches #89 in the US charts.

Early June: Surf’s Up, Smile‘s most anticipated unreleased song, is somehow OKed for inclusion on Reprise album#2 – version 2. The song becomes the album’s title track.

Mid June through early July:

…shortly before the new recordings are set to begin, Brian changes his mind about revisiting the song…generally Brian stays away from the song, presumably because of the negative memories associated with the Smile era… [2]

August 30: The Surf’s Up album is released in the US; it is a commercial and critical success. [3]

(#29 in the US album charts. A successful album)

November: Surf’s Up/Don’t Go Near The Water is released, the band’s sixth Warners single. It fails to chart. Don’t Go Near The Water is the UK A-side, with Mike Love’s Student Demonstration Time as B-side. It fails to chart. [4]

Notes on 1971

[1] Rieley reiterates and embellishes upon this in the 1996 petsounds@ listmail discussion (archived at smileysmile.net), often using some of the same phrasing:

Meanwhile, Carl Wilson and I began to write. Long Promised Road began to be created. Then came the seed for Feel Flows. Til I Die became a must. Tree was born. Love, Jardine and Johnston began to get testy about it all. There was a long meeting during which they tried to force me to march into Mo’s office and sell him on Loop. I refused and Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson backed me up. Love, sensing that I might be on to something by rejecting the string-o-hits crap as out of date, suddenly came up with Student Demonstration Time, which had Carl and I blushing with embarrassment and which thoroughly disgusted Dennis. Then Jardine demanded that his Feet song go on the album. Johnston got Tears. When Carl and I compiled the album running order, most versions had the Wilson songs on one side and the jive on the other. It was uncool, so we changed to the running order you know.

This all sounds like a real sorry state of affairs, and obviously a product of the ‘bitter power struggle’ Rieley worked with and within from 1970 to 73. The ‘pussyfooting democracy’ Bruce observed (and Rieley’s dismissal of its product as ‘the jive’) combines to produce a fairly damning verdict of The Beach Boys’ collective goals. That Warner Brothers got anything useable from the band is actually quite surprising.

Had Rieley wrested control from the ‘unbridled commercialism and power’ represented by Love, Jardine and Johnston, and handed it back to Wilson, Wilson and Wilson, Mike would not have been able to proclaim then or now that “I AM the Beach Boys!”. However, four decades later, Mike was proven correct:

“Long after you are no longer part of the Beach Boys, I will be writing songs with Brian, and don’t you ever forget that.”

Mike’s collaborative aim (as reported by Rieley in 1971) is fulfilled in 2012, with co-credits for three songs on That’s Why God Made The Radio, plus a rare solo work (Daybreak Over The Ocean). Mike’s personal goal seems to have always depended upon having Brian Wilson in tow; without Brian, Mike’s attempts at making his own mark on the world of music barely reached the record shops, never mind the pop charts. But here he obviously knows the power that an association with Brian Wilson holds for him, into the future.

[2] Surf’s Up, as widely heard in 1972, is not Surf’s Up as composed and conceived in 1966, just a clever approximation, like a jigsaw with pieces missing, and no picture on the box. But it became the template version for 2004′s Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE, in the absence of any other working version, and is still acclaimed as one of The Beach Boys’ greatest songs.

And their own version thus made it their own recording (if not their own composition), and, as their new album’s title track, went a good way to rescuing the band’s artistic reputation from the dustbin. But it’s still the song that ‘nearly split up the band for good’ in 1967. And it’s still one of two prime examples of the ‘acid illiteration’ Mike Love so ridicules about Van Dyke Parks, sorry, Smile.

[3] The critical success of the Surf’s Up album was mostly due to Jack Rieley’s repositioning of The Beach Boys as ‘socially conscious’ artists. But Rieley understood, far better than band themselves, that without this kind of rebranding, their career was mostly done with. And that any reference to their past achievements needed to be selective, and to emphasise what might be most saleable to a 70s audience – which was ultimately any Smile remnants.

[4] Maybe the band – and WB – should have stopped considering ‘The Beach Boys’ as a singles band, and concentrated instead on constructing a few halfway-decent albums…after all, Brian Wilson was the person who (along with the Beatles) pretty much invented the idea of a pop album ‘statement’. Pet Sounds, as that statement, increases to gain currency as the decades pass. Smile would have been the far larger statement, on a far broader canvas; instead, The Beach Boys’ 1970s ‘offerings’ (to cite the deeply pretentious subtitle of Sunflower) were all consistently inconsistent.

But although Brian Wilson essentially created the modern pop album conceit, there isn’t a single Beach Boys album after Pet Sounds that capitalises upon this. Friends, Sunflower and The Beach Boys Love You are functional album sequences, but it’s only hardcore fans (then and now) that consider any of these on par with Pet Sounds itself – never mind Smile…Brian, removed from the band equation, leaves The Beach Boys with little more than the simulacra of albums, music, ‘art’ – or even craft

But with Surf’s Up‘s critical and commercial success, 1972′s followup work should have made the most of their new lease of life…

1972.

(The Beach Boys, 1972)

February: Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar, formerly Flame (the only artists other than The Beach Boys signed to Brother Records) are now both Beach Boys. Ricky Fataar says in 2002:

I was with Jack Rieley one evening in his home in Topanga and he brought up the the suggestion that Blondie and I should join the band full-time. I looked at him as though he was out of his mind. Sure we were playing with the band and all that, but joining…on a permanent basis seemed ludicrous. he suggested it to the rest of the band and I guess they agreed. But I think the idea had come from Carl originally.

February 25: The Beach Boys start several months spent in Holland:

The Netherlands…will be the base from which they will administer their forthcoming UK/European tour, and that the excursion will wind up in Holland where they will stay to record their next album.

February 28:

En route from Amsterdam to their homes in California, Carl, Dennis, Ricky [Fataar] and [Jack] Rieley arrive in London and hold a press conference

This is the first official announcement of the addition of Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar to the band’s live and studio lineup; Carl says that:

This will add two more personalities and two more emotions to our music. Blondie and Ricky sing and they both compose and they’ll be allowed to express themselves within the group.

Also,

during the conference Carl surprises everyone by announcing the imminent arrival of the famous unreleased 1967 Smile album. Naturally Carl’s statement produces a barrage of questions. [1]

April 3 to 13: Sessions for Reprise album #3. Ricky Fataar said that

it was all done very piecemeal. Somebody would be cutting a track at Village recorders and somebody else would be recording at Sunset…it was an ‘in between touring’ kind of an album…there was always a deadline that had to be met: record as quickly as you can and go back on the road. We kept changing studios all the time. Perhaps that’s why it sounds so bad. If Carl had mixed it, it would have been really good. But it ended up really terrible.

April 10: Bruce Johnston leaves The Beach Boys. There are various reasons cited by various parties for his departure, but Bruce says in his own press statement:

I also realised that Brian probably wouldn’t be playing an active role in The Beach Boys again and that the group was like a beautiful harmonic orchestra without a composer or arranger. It actually took me three years to realise that he was not coming back to the group. Unfortunately he set standards for the group, and even some of the records The Beach Boys did after he quit were very good, they didn’t reach Brian’s standards.

May 1: Good Time/Sweet Mountain by Spring is released as a single by United Artists. Spring are Brian Wilson, his wife Marilyn and her sister Diane, both formerly of The Honeys, plus non-Beach Boys collaborator David Sandler.

May 15: The Beach Boys release Carl and the Passions – So Tough as their new album.

(Number 25 in the UK; #50 in the US)

You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone/Cuddle Up is released as a single the same day, both tracks taken from the album. The single fails to chart.

Carl and the Passions – So Tough comes packaged with Pet Sounds in the US, and thus suffers immediately in comparison, critically and commercially. Bruce Johnston, as a recently-divorced Beach Boy, says of Carl and the Passions:

I don’t think it’s as good as Surf’s Up and I don’t think it matches anything that Sunflower did…I would like to see more Brian Wilson involvement with The Beach Boys. I spoke to Brian a couple of weeks ago and he told me that he didn’t really have too much to do with this album…I don’t hear his voice very much on the album. [2]

Van Dyke Parks visits Brian Wilson the same day, at the instigation of Warner Brothers Records, his employer, and the band’s label

The entire group [had been]had been working on a record for delivery to the Warner Brothers label. Mo Ostin [WB head] held great expectations for that record and suggested that my working with Brian again might goad him to similar creative heights we had reached with Smile.

Mo was astonished that Brian wasn’t participating in [Carl and the Passions or its followup recordings], and, feeling somewhat deceived, thought I should step forward, as I was in large part the reason for their commitment to the group.

A draft demo of Sail On Sailor is written and recorded, a Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks co-composition. [3]

June 3: Sessions commence on Reprise album #4 in Holland. Keith Badman says this is

the last group LP where Carl rules supreme.

June 26: Marcella/Hold On Dear Bother released as a single. It fails to chart.

July: The Spring album is released by United Artists Records. [4]

August 5: The Beach Boys leave Holland and return to the US.

September 11:

Brian returns to his home in Bel Air to find that his home studio has been dismantled by Marilyn

October 10: The original version of their fourth Reprise album, entitled Holland, is submitted to Warner Brothers, and is rejected. Studio work commences on Sail On Sailor;  it is reworked and rewritten by various other writers until it becomes the version as released. [5]

Notes on 1972

[1] Finishing Smile might have seemed feasible to Carl and the band after the completion of their version of Surf’s Up – the reconstruction was substantially more complicated than either Cabinessence in 1968 or Cool Cool Water in 1970, and everybody (bar Brian Wilson, who was barely involved, and who labelled it ‘atrocious’ in the 90s) seemed pleased with the results.

What would this 1972 Smile have sounded like? In actuality, probably not that great. Sequencing – the great Smile mystery – might have been somewhere closer to intention, with only 5 years passed since it was left undone; memories would be much fresher. And Van Dyke Parks was around, even appearing briefly on the Surf’s Up album (but not the track) – he may have even been allowed to complete Smile with Brian Wilson himself…

But, of course, he also might not. The Beach Boys would probably lash together some simulacrum Smile, rerecording parts, editing out anything more wayward, inexplicable, or ‘inappropriate’ – and this would have to be a Smile without Heroes & Villains, Cabinessence, Our Prayer or Surf’s Up itself, all already reappropriated, their short-term currency already exhausted.

For Beach Boys™, as burgeoning corporate mind, it might have been better to let this Smile happen – and then put it away, forever. A substandard but completed Smile could have drawn a line under the whole debacle for the band. Here was a missed opportunity for the anti-Art advocates within the group itself.

[2] ‘Carl and the Passions’ is, I suppose, one vision of where they might have gone, and, as a ‘Beach Boys’ lead by Carl, could have continued functioning as a band – but without either the baggage of the band’s name or its previous (and now unmatchable) successes – and without Brian Wilson as a key selling point.

It was therefore possibly the dumbest of dumbfuck promotional strategies to pair this new album with Pet Sounds…if Carl and the Passions were a success in its own right, and with the acknowledged absence of both Bruce Johnston and Brian Wilson, this could have been a pretty dignified continuation of Carl, Al, Dennis and Mike’s careers in music. And an end to ‘The Beach Boys’.

Who thought up the free Pet Sounds strategy? The label? The band?

[3] That Warner Brothers were ‘feeling somewhat deceived’ (to quote Van Dyke Parks, who is, I suspect, paraphrasing what Mo Ostin might actually have said) is not really that surprising. They believed that they had actually signed, paid for, The Beach Boys under the directorship of Brian Wilson.

But it’s to the collective credit of Mo Ostin, Lenny Waronker, Van Dyke Parks etc. that there was any belief left that this Brian-led band might one day reappear – even if it had to coaxed into being, at Brian Wilson’s home and in their absence, by Van Dyke Parks, visiting with a tape machine and an agenda.

[4] (American) Spring was not in any way commercially successful – and possibly not helped by the utterly hideous US cover art:

spring_US_front

The Spring album was still, however, obviously the work of Brian Wilson – and much more so than large chunks of Sunflower and Surf’s Up. The album as a whole seems to inhabit a weird little Brian Wilson World – and a world without ‘The Beach Boys’.

Further post-album Spring sessions took place, and, had some kind of coordinated promotional campaign been created that emphasised Carl’s ‘Passions’ as Carl’s band, and Spring as Brian’s, this all could have turned out rather differently.

Dennis Wilson might have contained his own solo work (eventually released as Pacific Ocean Blue) within Carl’s ‘Passions’, and the band could then have reinvented themselves – with a new, more contemporary style, a new sound for the ’70s, and with Dennis as principal songwriter. Dennis Wilson: The Real Beach Boy (a BBC4 documentary from 2010, watch it here) contains the observation that Pacific Ocean Blue was an ‘adult’ music, and as opposed to Brian Wilson’s own ‘teenage’ music. And while Brian Wilson’s (musical) sensibilities may have stalled prior to an imagined ‘adulthood’, the Spring album shows, on its best tracks (and on Sweet Mountain’s weird little suite specifically, here) just how odd and unusual music this could be.

Brian’s collaborator in Spring was

David Sandler, an aspiring young songwriter/producer [Brian] met at a recording session. Sandler, who had grown up in Minneapolis idolizing Brian, came to Los Angeles in 1970 hoping to make some connections. Happenstance led him to Bruce Johnston, who liked what he heard on Sandler’s tapes and invited [him] to watch teh group record at Brian’s home studio. That afternoon they were trying to record a horn arrangement to go with ‘Good Time’, but when Brian finally woke up and padded down to the studio, the eight horn players he found waiting for him didn’t knopw what to play. “So he went to his office and wrote horn charts while talking to me,” Sandler says. “It was an amazing horn line, with this overriding French horn riff, and he did the whole thing while having a conversation with me”.

(from Catch A Wave, p.176)

Good Time wasn’t released by The Beach Boys until 1977, but was first heard in Spring’s own version in ’72, with the brass line Sandler saw written by an inattentive Brian.

Brian Wilson, had he kept his attention upon the work, could maybe extend his extracurricular activities into a permanent sabbatical from the mainstream, continuing his pop experimentation, allowing Dennis and Carl to assist the Beach Boys in growing up. Letting their music reflect how their audiences were also maturing.

But whither Mike Love in this temporal lacuna? What would be his role in these two divergent pursuits? Nostalgia, after the success of Surf’s Up, was not the most obvious route for the Wilsons to follow – and Mike’s own attempt at ‘hip’, Student Demonstration Time, was then, and remains to this day risible, cynical, and, musically, in some ways beyond awful. This is rock music made by someone who just doesn’t get rock music; lyrically it exploits ‘student demonstrations’ as something vogueish (in its clever rewrite of Lieber & Stoller’s Riot In Cell Block No.9), its only commentary that

I know we’re all fed up with useless wars and racial strife
But next time there’s a riot, well, you best stay out of sight

a non-committal, and ultimately conservative view of the ‘four martyrs‘ who ‘earned a new degree/The Bachelor of Bullets‘ at the Kent State University shootings…

If Brian Wilson were thus freed from the necessity of his role as mascot, and let back into the company of his actual musical contemporaries at Warner Brothers, things might have likewise turned out very differently for him – this was, after all, the label that released Song Cycle in 1968, but still kept approving Van Dyke Parks projects right into the late 80s. And in this timeline, under Brian’s control, Beach Boys fans could look back at Mike’s Student Demonstration Time as the nadir of the band’s 1970s work.

But alas…

[5] Anyone discovering Smile in the mid-80s, and then picking up post-Smile back catalogue Beach Boys albums, and for pennies – and then pondering on what more worthwhile purchase these pennies could have been used for instead – might consider Smile to be a ‘quirk’ of some kind. Beach Boys history over-labours Smile as an aberration: it was in some ways ‘out of the blue’, and, after 1969, Brian Wilson never wrote or recorded anything comparable (either stylistically or conceptually) ever again.

That Sail On Sailor was a Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks collaboration meant that I had to hear it immediately – and it was found very easily, for less than a quid, on any one of however many copies of Holland cluttering most secondhand shops’ well-stocked Beach Boys section.

However, despite what is good about the song, compositionally there isn’t that much to suggest it’s the product of Brian and Van Dyke’s collaborative Third Mind. In comparison to, say, Cabinessence

But, in the mid-80s, Sail On Sailor was useful filler for an otherwise skimpy fake Smile cassette comp -  and, on this compilation, while it sort of ‘fits’ conceptually and historically – it does much less so musically.

Discovering that this song’s authorship was in flux for a while might be some explanation for this, as it gains and loses co-authors with each reissue:

(UK CBS Nice Price 80s CD reissue)

To then discover that Brian Wilson’s involvement in its recording was mostly nil reveals Sail On Sailor as a cover version of a rewrite of a song that might once have been a rather different, rather better composition. And it thus suffers the same fate as Cool Cool Water and Surf’s Up: as an approximation, ‘completed’ by The Beach Boys, in a hurry and at a time of great need, due to the demands of their label and their contract.

It’s still a great song nonetheless – and, in comparison with every track that follows it on Holland, it’s an absolute fucking masterpiece – but with other names claiming compositional credit, it’s not even necessarily a Wilson/Parks song.

So the Beach Boys’ 1972 ‘offering’, Carl & The Passions – So Tough was maybe their worst album to date. If anyone then could have conceived of just how much worse their records could get…

1973.

January 8: Holland (with free 7″ Mount Vernon & Fairway) is released.

#26 in the US album charts; number 20 in the UK.

But,

While Holland is a respectable commercial success, the disc marks the start of a depressingly unproductive period for the group. From this point, The Beach Boys go into a creative dead end [1]

March 8:

Steve Love, Mike’s brother and Beach Boys assistant manager, types a memo to the group:

“The purpose of this memo is to inform you that, pursuant to the terms of the contract between Warner Brothers and Brother Records Inc., The Beach Boys’ Smile album is supposed to be delivered to Warner Brothers no later than May 1st or $50,000 is to be deducted from any advance to the group after May 1st” [2]

May 1: Warner Brothers deduct $50,000 from the next payment to the group. [3]

February: Sail On Sailor/Only With You single is released. It reaches #79 in the US charts. Its UK equivalent is California Saga: California (with Sail On Sailor as B-side), chart high number 37. Sail On Sailor is rereleased in June 1975, highest US chart placing #49.

May: On My Way To Sunny California/Funky Pretty single is released in the US, highest chart placing #84.

November 19: The Beach Boys In Concert album is released in the US. It reaches #25 in the US album charts. [4]

Notes on 1973

[1] The Holland album is a favoured 1970s Beach Boys album – and especially in the UK (where the band’s album and single releases were consistently more successful than in the US). 

Holland‘s critical reputation seems to benefit from being preceded by Sunflower and the Surf’s Up album (with Carl and the Passions immediately forgettable and very quickly forgotten). But there is a sense of diminishing returns (creatively rather than necessarily commercially) through this series of records. And if The Beach Boys meant to reinvent themselves for the 1970s, Carl and the Passions’ US pairing with Pet Sounds put paid to that.

Holland, however, does go places none of its predecessors dared…

The 1983 Rolling Stone Album Reviews book collates new and revised reviews, and Sunflower, treated a bit more favourably upon release (‘without doubt the best Beach Boys album in recent memory‘) becomes ‘sweet and strangely indistinct‘ in retrospect, and

Deidrie could be Beach Boys-influenced anybody.

Rolling Stone‘s editorial eyebrow appears rather more raised in the 80s than it seemed in the 70s, and Holland gets 2 and a 1/2 stars, described as

one fantastic track [Sail On Sailor] and a veritable shitload of meditative drivel

and the Deidre comment above is as applicable to Holland: this is music that could easily be made by any bunch of working musicians in LA at the time. And yet it took The Beach Boys thousands of dollars and a geographical shift to achieve this…

It would be easy to assert that Holland is a dull and mediocre album, but this is not the place for unsupportable opinion; however, try to imagine hearing Holland blind, and for the first time, with some foreknowledge that its perpetrators had at one time participated in the creation of some of the most advanced pop music of the 1960s…this was how I heard the album in 1986. Having bought Holland for Sail on Sailor (and the free Mount Vernon & Fairway 7″), and leaving it running past its opening track, I cannot be the only listener who came to The Beach Boys via Van Dyke Parks – and the promise of Smile – to wonder ‘what is this shit?’.

What isn’t plain bad is average (Steamboat, The Trader), disappointing (Funky Pretty is the token Brian song apart from Sail On Sailor) or mawkish and insincere (Mike’s lyrics for Dennis’ Only With You, which promise that ‘I know one thing for sure I want to do/I want to spend my life with you‘ – has Mike serenaded each of his many wives in turn with these lines?).

Usefully padding out the bulk of Side One is California Saga, Mike and Al’s 3-part celebratory ‘song-suite’ about the beauty of their home state. And its this leaden yet lightweight overextended pretention which really highlights just how miserable and inept a proposition this post-Smile Beach Boys actually was. California Saga is the apotheosis of The Beach Boys’ post-60s ‘artistic’ mediocrity – and the last band album to aspire towards anything other than self-celebration.

California Saga could be considered as the Brianless Beach Boys’ own ‘Elements Suite’ – its three disparate sections, and its conceit (California’s history, the need to conserve its environment as articulated via Robinson JeffersBeaks Of Eagles poem, and as a destination for anyone in search of the ‘American Dream’) could have become something of substance as a Brian Wilson composition – but there’s no Brian here, except for an ad hoc vocal contribution in Part 3.

But if this artistic vision had any validity at all, its potential expansiveness suddenly contracts with its last lines:

have you ever been to a festival
the Big Sur congregation?
where Country Joe will do his show
and he’d sing about liberty
and the people there in the open air
one big family
yeah, the people there love to sing and share
their new found liberty

Ultimately its subject becomes The Beach Boys themselves, and their new-found ‘hip’ after appearing at ‘the Big Sur congregation’.

Jack Rieley, in staying on in the Netherlands after the Boys returned to Sunny California, did briefly continue a music career – in collaboration with Machiel Botman, a young songwriter and musician, Dutch EMI released Western Justice in 1975.

Western+Justice

And there is a distinct audible crossover between Holland and Western Justice.

Also, the Surf’s Up album’s ‘environmental themes’ (all introduced and then capitalised upon by Rieley for The Boys) reappear in Western Justice – from the album’s (2002) CD reissue page:

WHAT WAS (AND STILL IS) THE MESSAGE OF WESTERN JUSTICE?

The essence of Western Justice is that it does not reflect the political, but much more the social events and emotions during an imaginary change in climate. Continuing dryness in the Western World (America & Europe) does cause that international relations are shifting and that the balance of power has turned to the Third World (Africa & Asia), which still has access to natural resources. The social events and emotions are reflected by someone somewhere in the Western World in a diary and songpoems, whereby especially in the songs themes such as happiness and sorrow, hate and love, hope and despair are expressed.

and

The diary was written by ex-journalist and ex-manager of The Beach Boys’ Jack Rieley. He wrote a.o. lyrics to outstanding Beach Boys albums such as “Surf’s Up” and “Holland”. Together with Machiel Botman he also wrote the eleven songpoems.

As a ‘concept album’, Western Justice comes with a pretty booklet containing its ‘diary’, plus lyrics (all Rieley’s work) and illustrative photos; but it’s all mostly ignorable while listening to the music itself (same as with Mike Nesmith’s The Prison). Musically, Western Justice has more than a passing resemblance to the early 70s Beach Boys – or rather, it sounds how one would imagine a 1970s Beach Boys album to sounds.

Take a non-partisan listener, with a peripheral interest in the music of The Beach Boys post-Pet Sounds, and play them parts of Western Justice alongside Holland (skipping Sail On Sailor) – and then ask ‘which of these is The Beach Boys’? A hypothetical, obviously – but the waltz-time nasal whine of Big Sur, followed by Beaks Of Eagles‘ ponderous intonation, has nothing that marks it out as the work of a band that were former innovators – originators even – of a new pop vocabulary. If Western Justice were Holland, and Holland was the work of any early 70s LA band caught up in their own self-importance, the album would never have troubled the charts, even for the brief moment that the real Holland album made its mark.

To borrow Rolling Stone’s dismissal of Bruce’s dreary Deirdre, parts of Holland ‘could be Beach Boys-influenced anybody’, and others parts could be any functioning Los Angeles pop rock band. Musically, it’s only really distinctive to Beach Boys fans. And, on the broad canvas of what was possible in American music at the time, Holland is barely a footnote to that extensive discography.

So how much of either Surf’s Up or Holland is Rieley’s, and how much is the work, creativity and concerns of The Beach Boys themselves? Jack Rieley’s musical and compositional skills are maybe on par with those of Mr. Mike Love (ie. rudimentary), but, stylistically, comparing Western Justice and Holland, it’s Rieley that appears to be the common element; in the light of Western Justice, The Beach Boys’ role on Holland could be considered more collaborative than contributory.

rieley_botman

(from the Western Justice album booklet)

Obviously Western Justice isn’t any kind of ‘lost classic’ – its own website would dearly love to believe that it is, stating that the album

was issued with great critical acclaim, but failed to make substantial commercial impact. Most likely its message then was too complex.

Most likely. The album’s 21st century owners also share the same blind self-belief that sustained The Beach Boys through their fallow 70s recording career…

Hear Stuck (The Circle) from Western Justice here (from a ‘seriously crappy needledrop’).

[2] Despite Carl Wilson’s press conference announcement about the imminent release of Smile in February 1972, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that work took place over the following year – if there was anything, it would undoubtedly have been released since. Plans may have been made to work in their transplanted Holland studio, but all its intendent problems barely produced any new releasable music.

If one reads Brian’s Holland EP Mount Vernon & Fairway as something other than

in reality a post-Sartre essay on the nothingness of being

(as Jack Rieley claims in Holland‘s Making Of promo bollocks), or the fairy-tale re-presentation of Brian listening to Mike’s radio as teenagers (as Mike would have one believe), and instead as something substantially more personal (as attempted here, alongside some other alternate readings), one could assume that Smile itself was probably on Brian Wilson’s mind at that time. But Smile, to Brian himself, may have just been the actual manifestation of something a great deal more diffuse. With less than 6 years past since its abandonment, the possibility that whatever remained of Smile‘s own ineffables might have been remade by Carl’s Beach Boys (as macrocosm to Surf’s Up‘s misshapen microcosm) may also have been on Brian Wilson’s mind throughout this period.

Pure speculation. Guesswork. And on the basis that Brian Wilson was at that time not yet 30, and maybe mostly done with ‘The Beach Boys’. More speculations come later.

[3] And of course, Smile just wasn’t going to happen in 1973. Because it couldn’t. Rather than the band themselves floundering in its complexities, and making a hash of its intricacies (any contemporary live version of Heroes and Villains audibly demonstrates the lack of nuance and aptitude at work in their music), they instead just didn’t bother.

But again, where there is dense documentation for parts of this saga, whatever was discussed amongst the extended Wilson family can never be known. But Warners probably knew by now that they wouldn’t get a releaseable Smile -  and probably got some sense of satisfaction in holding onto a chunk of money they might otherwise have pissed up the wall for another unsaleable bunch of Beach Boys records.

Anyone at the label actually holding out hopes for Smile in 1973 must also have given up on the band themselves doing much else worthy of getting into the record shops.

[4] The tracklist for In Concert shows the contemporary live Beach Boys playing a mixture of current songs (Sail On Sailor, The Trader, Leavin’ This Town, Funky Pretty, We Got Love), older songs (from Pet Sounds and Wild Honey, plus Heroes & Villains). But the last three tracks are the real premonition of a future Beach Boys: Surfin’ USA, Good Vibrations and Fun Fun Fun. Only thing missing is Kokomo.

1973 shows any band creativity yet further on the wane. For anything worthy that Holland might have contained, the bill for The Beach Boys’ holiday abroad (with studio in tow) must have been way in excess of the album’s profits. And none of its singles were hits.

However, their success as a live band did not seem to depend upon their current record releases, and, with the increasing exploitation of their pre-65 glories, an unbridled commercialism (and its commensurate power) was becoming increasingly lucrative for The Beach Boys. And because all recorded efforts post-Smile were more concerned with commercial success rather than a consistent critical approval, in ‘following the money’, the band reached their apotheosis the following year.

1974.

(Brian Wilson, in his pool, with Endless Summer’s gold disc, Summer 1974)

May:

All Summer Long/Surfin’ Safari single released in the UK…to capitalise on the fact that several Beach Boys songs are featured in the hit movie American Graffiti. However, the 45 fails to chart.

May 13: Pet Sounds is reissued in the US by Brother-Reprise-Warners. [1]

petsounds_WB_front

June 24: Endless Summer is released in the US [2]

October: Friends & Smiley Smile are reissued as a 2LP set. This peaks at #125 in the US album charts. [3]

December 23: Child Of Winter/Susie Cincinatti is released in the US as a Christmas single. It fails to chart. [4]

Notes on 1974

[1] This was a single disc reissue of the same mono Pet Sounds master included free with Carl and the Passions‘ original release. Or maybe just a re-sleeved rerelease of the returns from those shipped and unsold doublepacks…

As a Warner Brothers 1974 release, this version of Pet Sounds is a very attractive looking album, with the pointless Japanese tour photos gone, and the anachronistic typography of Capitol’s 1966 issue rejigged by WB’s Ed Thrasher, a designer whose work is all over American  albums from the 1970s (see which ones you own here). The back cover of Pet Sounds makes it interchangeable with, say, Tim Buckley’s Starsailor or Pearls Before Swine’s Beautiful Lies You Could Live In:

petsounds_WB_back

It’s worth remembering that Pet Sounds‘ status as ‘classic album’ came much later, being a 1980s/90s construct – here it’s an album from a very distant past (ie. the mid-sixties), revived in a smart new sleeve, and ‘pressed in monophonic sound, the way Brian cut it’. Had the band split up at this point, or never recorded again, Pet Sounds could have gained its ‘classic’ status far sooner. Were it not for the success of Endless Summer

[2] The success of Endless Summer is the death-knell for The Beach Boys as a creative entity.  As an increasingly-successful live band, performing older hits learned in their day through relentless touring, most of the songs featured on Endless Summer must have been a piece of piss to play live.

Mike Love takes credit for the album title – but it’s borrowed from The Endless Summer, Bruce Brown’s documentary about surfing from 1965. The ‘endlessness’ of The Beach Boys persists on through Endless Harmony, as a Bruce-written self-celebration, and then as the title of a later 90s video celebration. The various factors that dictated the success of Endless Summer (the album) seem to be what Paul Williams refers to as ‘co-incidence’ in his 1967 piece Outlaw Blues, being a conjunction of factors from a variety of sources that facilitated the ‘rock revolution’.

To Williams it does not seem an inevitability that ‘rock’ became as ‘important’ as it did; without Endless Summer‘s various coincidences, was there an absolute guarantee that The Beach Boys would get this new lease of life? EMI UK’s reissue of All Summer Long/Surfin’ Safari earlier in the year was aimed at the same market, but its lack of success didn’t prompt a followup until after Endless Summer became the hit it was in the US, and EMI released their own equivalent (the TV-advertised 20 Golden Greats)

Had the heavy promotion for Endless Summer not resonated with a US audience, would the band have had anything left to justify their continued existence? Apart from their In Concert album, there had been no new Beach Boys record for over a year; and all other prior reissues weren’t anywhere near as successful.

It’s not difficult to imagine how, when this new success suddenly came along, the democracy that balanced out band responsibilities (and thus made their early 70s studio albums so fragmented) might have prompted some dissent, as well as a power shift – something ‘as well thought out as a military coup’ – might have been fomented by the success of Endless Summer. Like that album’s title, like Good Vibrations (as ‘collaboration’), like Kokomo (co-opted from a child molester), The Beach Boys themselves being appropriated by Mike Love.

And, in contrast to the renewed Pet Sounds, Endless Summer‘s cover is monstrous, The Beach Boys as escapees from The Planet Of The Apes…

[3] The reissue of the two lacklustre albums that followed Pet Sounds as a double album could not have done the band’s commercial standing much good in 1974. Smiley Smile was critically panned on its release, Wild Honey was always stylistically a retrograde step; that The Beach Boys retained the rights to these albums after leaving Capitol was a contractual  coup – but to what end? Nobody much wanted or needed these post-Sgt Pepper irrelevancies in 1974.

Warner Brothers’, without any new Beach Boys material, would probably have tried to sell anything with the band’s name on it if it meant recouping any of the advances paid out so far.

[4] This is the Christmas single released too late for the Christmas market…

So despite the lack of any new material bar a seasonal displaced Yuletide 7″, 1974 was a very good year for The Beach Boys. But not for their current label.

It’s difficult to imagine Brian Wilson having that much fun either.

1975

Notes on 1975?

There aren’t any really. There are only so many ways to reiterate the same core truths about The Beach Boys’ self-directed decline into the pits of pop music mediocrity they inhabit to this day.

The above summary, scanned from Keith Badman’s The Beach Boys – the Definitive Diary (p.344) is essentially all there is to say. Capitol followed up Endless Summer with Spirit Of America, which was another success; this was Capitol’s successful attempt to exploit what band back catalogue they still owned (and maybe a way to recoup on major financial losses post-Good Vibrations). The group had no opportunity to air their opinions about the selection of tracks on the compilation, but as it peaked at number 8  in in the US album charts, its content was maybe less relevant to the band that its currency in the marketplace.

(Spirit Of America’s gatefold band pic.
My copy is SIGNED – you’re jealous, I know…)

But Capitol’s own losses (ie. everything after Good Vibrations) were historical; WB/Reprise, in showing faith in the band as a ‘creative force’ (and through the intervention of Van Dyke Parks on their behalf), had a rather greater recent debt – plus the promise of some form of Smile album – and could only penalise the band for non-delivery.

Their Warners albums (and associated singles) were either increasingly-telling commercial failures, reissues (of mostly unsaleable records), or fragmented group efforts needing a single Brian Wilson track, as demanded by their contract, to make each a worthwhile purchase. Imagine Sunflower without Cool Cool Water, Surf’s Up without its title track, or Holland without Sail On Sailor

Good Vibrations – The Best of The Beach Boys (released by Warners in June 1975) covering their career from 1966 to ’75, is actually a pretty good sampler of their ‘best’, and reached #25 in the US charts.

And, somewhat separate from all this celebratory hoopla, was Brian Wilson, somewhere else in Beach Boys world.

That psychiatrist Eugene Landy was called upon for the first time in ’75 to extract Brian from his ‘almost hermit-like existence’ was at his wife’s instigation, and was presumably exercised out of love, care, concern…and Landy saved Brian Wilson’s life. This is indisputable. But it seems to have been the initial stirrings of this therapeutic success that most caught the ear of The Beach Boys, in need of some new hits to sell once their back catalogue of old hits was completely milked by Capitol.

1976.

And so, at the first sign of an improvement in Brian’s condition, he was suddenly a Beach Boy again.

1977 and beyond.

Brian Wilson’s return to The Beach Boys, following the Endless Summer/Spirit of America US successes, concerts, and that campaign’s two new albums heightened further the disconnect between The Beach Boys as creative entity (as defined prior to 1967, through the work of Brian Wilson) and ‘The Beach Boys’ as the putative ‘America’s Band’ (as defined post-1974 by everybody but Brian Wilson).

Brian Wilson observes about himself (in the I Wasn’t Made For These Times 1995 documentary) that

I dropped out somewhere in the mid-70s. And the chief reason why I dropped out was I had experimented with too many drugs, and the drugs, that I took, REALLY messed my brain up, really FOULED my mind up – my thinking process was somewhere else.

If one were to consider Brian as a human being (and as opposed to either the ‘legend/genius/fuckup’ that rock history and fandom would rather have him as), and as a person both sensitive and insightful (and where his best music utilises both of these traits so absolutely), what personal insights about his own worth might he have made on the upcoming 10 year anniversary of the disappearance of Smile?

And, as a celebrated ‘family concern’, what sort of empathy might his brothers and cousin have exercised towards him?

Brian being ‘back’ prompted Mike to write a touching tribute to his cousin. It exists in a few different versions: its original recording is from 1976, part of the tracklist for Mike’s first-ever solo album (still unreleased officially), fittingly-entitled First Love.

It exists in a 1978 version too, released on the 1998 Endless Harmony compilation.

And it was recorded again, updated for the 21st century on Unleash The Love (AKA Mike Love Not War), another of Mike’s unreleased solo albums. This song obviously means a great deal to Mr Mike Love.

‘Brian’s Back’ (Mike Love)

teenage gambler sitting in a rambler
listening to the radio
and then standing in the grandstand
following the game plan
watching life’s plays unfold

you fell in love with the pretty cheerleader
i even married one
and we once rode a cab out of salt lake city now
coming up with fun fun fun

they say that brian is back
well i’ve known him for oh so long
they say brian is back
well i never knew that he was gone

they say brian is back
i know he’s had his ups and downs
they say brian is back
but in my heart he’s always been around

i still remember you sounding sweet and tender
singing danny boy on grandma’s lap
and those harmony highs
could bring tears to my eyes
i guess i’m just a sentimental sap

good vibrations are such a sensation
not to mention old pet sounds
and we travelled the world as the banners unfurled
i guess you’d have to say we got around

they say that brian is back
well i’ve known him for oh so long
they say brian is back
well i never knew that he was gone

they say brian is back
i know he’s had his ups and downs
they say brian is back
but in my heart he’s always been around

(listen. If you can.)

Brian’s Back is, in many ways, the seal upon the tomb of a ‘progressive Beach Boys’ – that the song itself remained unreleased until 1998 is tribute to the tastemakers and gatekeepers of LA’s mid-70s record labels.

But Mike’s solo work, released or otherwise, is not The Beach Boys – although one does eventually blur into the other. And, after 1976, the band proved themselves more than able to produce consistently shit singles and albums – when it often seemed that their releases couldn’t get any more miserable, they better themselves with worse.

That this Brian’s Back song were ever written at all is the more baffling thing. With everything that Brian Wilson experienced between 1967 and 1976, and with his brothers and their father, his wife, her sister and cousin, the hired therapist…with all of these people involved in the life and career of Brian Wilson, that anybody could have the poor taste to write and sing

good vibrations are such a sensation
not to mention old pet sounds
and we travelled the world
as the banners unfurled
i guess you’d have to say we got around

citing the works that marked the end of Brian Wilson’s freedom to create…it beggars belief. Talk about rubbing his fucking face in it.

That there seems to be an absence of compassion here feels like a stating of the obvious. And maybe fans might argue that the sentiments expressed (from a self-described ‘sentimental sap’) show care, concern – but watch here (skip to 2:46) as Mike Love, in 1994, cannot hold back the tears, as he cites his own lyrics in support of a lawsuit:

Mike Love: (spoken) and those harmony highs could bring tears to my eyes – (choked) i guess i’m just a sentimental sap

It’s a campaign. It has nothing to do with Art. And certainly bears little resemblance to any kind of authentic familial empathy.

In this version of events, in the post-Smile timeline above, there can only be one conclusion: after Smile, the subsequent cessation of Brian Wilson’s own creative work was due to the ambitions and expectations of the rest of the band, as eventually lead by Mike Love – gaining complete control over The Beach Boys Brand over the next few decades via inter-band lawsuits, arrogant self-affirmations, shameless insincerities and outright untruths – and an endless endless negation of Smile.

This was, of course, a foregone conclusion, right from the start. Everybody used to know this, but Mike’s periodic renewals of the corporate brand over the years – and the fact that Mike Love will use any platform for self-publicity, as spokesperson for The Beach Boys – means that a publicity opportunity like the Made in California 2013 Record Collector/Rockcellar interview enables him to say that

Brian, thankfully, has gone on record as saying “Mike had nothing to do with the shelving of SMiLE”, though people have been saying I didn’t want it to come out.

People have been saying this. For decades. Because it was, until fairly recently, The Truth.

You think that, upon hearing Brian’s Back – with its crocodile tears and its miserable, miserable mediocrity – Brian Wilson felt this was somehow an appropriate acknowledgement of ‘his ups and downs’ over the previous decade?

You do?!?

Brian Wilson may have chosen not to participate in post-67 Beach Boys work – but this choice was probably dictated by circumstance: why create when it’s impossible to create?

‘Artists’ in the new, post-67 music business had all kinds of ‘experimentation’ indulged, and many miserable ‘artistic failures’ were still released and promoted by the record companies that commissioned them. This is the climate that The Beach Boys were recording within from 1969 to 1976, and this is possibly the only reason that their half-realised album ambitions were tolerated at all. But even the most wayward of Brian Wilson’s loony music, if channeled through The Beach Boys, could have had more artistic currency than the ‘offerings’ they actually released between 1967 and 1976.

That superior Brian Wilson music was either rejected (Can’t Wait Too Long), reappropriated (Time To Get Alone, Darlin’), or ‘finished’ as pedestrian approximations of whatever Brian originally envisaged (Cool Cool Water, Surf’s Up, Sail On Sailor), is less an indicator of Brian’s own inability to function as a creative artist, more that The Beach Boys’ were unwilling to concede that their entire artistic career was formed and formulated by Brian Wilson alone. And the continuation of that ‘progressive’ Beach Boys into the 1970s depended absolutely upon his participation. No Brian Wilson? No more advances from Warner Brothers. And, eventually, maybe no more Beach Boys.

And it couldn’t happen now – Beach Boys Brand themselves must have realised, with the self-release of their abominable Summer In Paradise album in 1993, that, without Brian Being Back, The Beach Boys would probably never have their blinkered vision bankrolled by a major label again.

Regardless of an endless historical revisionism, whether from inside or outside The Corporation’s purview, ultimately it’s the entity that now trades as Beach Boys Corp. which, consciously and deliberately, ended Brian Wilson’s creative career.

Any ‘evidence’ – for any thesis – must be by nature selective; all of the above is mediated through second- and third-hand sources; I wasn’t there. Neither were you. Keith Badman’s book may be taken to task over inconsistencies, but much of the narrative of this ‘diary’ kind of speaks for itself.

And if, for balance, there’s a different way of reading all this – a yarn where Mike Love’s own (wildly-inconsistent) celebration of his past ’50 Big Ones’ makes any kind of fucking sense – please, do tell. This version offers little respect – and nothing resembling redemption – for Brian Wilson himself; and it would take nearly another 20 years of this shit before Brian was freed (briefly) from the burden of association with the redundant little pop group he formed in his late teens.

It would be pointless continuing all of this beyond 1976 – anything else is overstating an already-overstated, but mostly self-evident point.

Timothy White’s 1976 Rolling Stone review of 15 Big Ones, their ‘Brian’s Back’ album, is eerily prescient in its dread:

God help us if The Beach Boys lust after the Sha Na Na crowd.

Who?

Billing themselves as “from the streets of New York” and outfitted in gold lamé, leather jackets, and pompadour hairdos, Sha Na Na performs a song and dance repertoire of classic fifties rock and roll, simultaneously reviving and sending up the music and 1950s New York street culture. Sha Na Na hosted the Sha Na Na syndicated variety series that ran from 1977 to 1981.

The degree to which their act was truly nostalgic, as opposed to the degree to which it was “invented nostalgia”, has been called into question (wikipedia)

This ‘question’ links to Sha Na Na and the Invention of the Fifties (by George J. Leonard), discussing the ‘invention of history’ in their 50s rock and roll nostalgia show. The Beach Boys’ invention, some cartoon version of pre-1965 America…well that’s their line of business; it’s what they now celebrate. It is what they mean.

Timothy White concludes his 1976 Rolling Stone review on a more hopeful note:

I am more convinced than ever that

(1) Brian, for better or worse, remains the guru of the group, and

(2) the greatest obstacle The Beach Boys face is that of five divergent personalities, fraught with jealousies, fears, foibles, conflicting interests and basic stylistic disagreements.

Of course, history shows that Beach Boys™ eventually overcame their greatest obstacle.

1976′s 15 Big Ones and ‘Brian’s Back’ rumbled on into the future; their 2012 ‘reunion’ tour became 50 Big Ones – and look, Brian’s Back! It’s like 1965 all over again.

Brian Wilson’s career, separate from The Beach Boys, from 1988′s solo album, through I Wasn’t Made For These Times – then Orange Crate Art, Live At The Roxy, the solo tours, Pet Sounds Live, the momentous Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE, and then That Lucky Old Sun, Reimagines Gershwin, In The Key Of Disney…it all culminates in the final, absolute vindication of Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks’ 1966/67 work, with the 2011 Smile Sessions release itself.

And a question that is rarely asked, with Smile as the stumbling block, concerns the potential that Smile suggested: this was Brian Wilson at the absolute peak of his creative capability – and at such a young age.

If everything that Brian Wilson wrote and produced for the band prior to 1966 was preparatory for Pet Sounds, which is now ‘the greatest album ever made’, as well as the first great pop album ever made – and was designed to be both of these things – what could Smile have been?

Even in its unfinished state, seen through the prism of The Smile Sessions, this was such an advance upon its predecessor. Imagine what might have come after Smile, instead of the series of progressively-mediocre second and third rate albums that followed its absence…

All of the factors that negated this work in the sixties eventually lead to the need for Brian Wilson’s own artistic rehabilitation. And Brian Wilson’s first definitive assertion of his right to his work was the lawsuit in 1992 that regained control over his publishing catalogue, lost in 1968 after being sold off by his father for a pittance. One would imagine his family would have been proud of this uncharacteristic (if legal) independence; so what was his cousin’s response? A counter-suit from Mike – and a successful one: Brian immediately lost half of the $10 million gained.

The 2012 reunion tour and album, like all reiterations of The Beach Boys since 1974, again took the spotlight off Brian Wilson, and back onto Mike Love, who can now dictate their fate as a band, holding fast to The Brand itself. And, depressingly, that distraction appears to have worked. Made In California is a ‘major box set’, the reunion tour became its promotional campaign.

In an increasingly corporatised world, ‘The Beach Boys’, as corporation, may ultimately be remembered more for the genius of Mike Love’s business strategy than any genius in Brian Wilson’s music.

For all that might be declared ‘definitive’ in any annotated chronology or biography (as constructed by people or parties that weren’t there), a string of regurgitated data, ‘facts’ and anecdotes, regardless of research, may be no closer to The Truth than even the cheapest of biographical fictions.

Popular histories and biographies thrive on drama, and Mike Love has kept up this drama’s twists and turns, season after season, decade upon decade.

The Truth might be something much more nebulous, as Brian Wilson’s daughter Carnie ponders in 1995:

Carnie Wilson: I knew from 5 years’ old that he wasn’t a normal father, we didn’t live in a normal household…my memories of him are him wandering from room to room…THINKING about SOMETHING – I always wanted to know what he was thinking, you know? Who knows what he was thinking in his head

Between 1967 and 1976, who ever actually asked what Brian might have been thinking? Who actually cared?

Getting inside Brian Wilson’s head would probably demand an author and a book like Emmanuel Carrère’s I Am Alive And You Are Dead

to take a journey into the mind of Brian Wilson.

From the dustjacket blurb:

Drawing on interviews as well as unpublished sources, Carrère traces Dick’s…paranoid fantasies, and vertiginous encounters with the drug culture of sixties California

and from the author’s preface:

The book you hold in your hands is a very peculiar book. In it I have tried to depict the life of Philip K. Dick from the inside…This is a book about the mind, its alterations, its remotest and most dangerous territories. It’s about drugs and mystics, about the Zeitgeist of the sixties and the seventies and its legacy to our New Age. As I say, it’s a very peculiar book – how could it be otherwise?

Amazon’s infallible One Star Review system does not disappoint:

Got to page 48 and stopped reading it, too much intricate, intrepid, vague factual “details” of PKD’s life, while unable to locate the distance between Berkeley and Orange County; and page 48: “She took him down to the cliffs to show him a secret cove- the most westerly point in the United States, she said.” Obviously a reference to either Point Reyes or Bodega Bay, which in the vicinity of Point Reyes Station, and no where near the “most westerly point” in the U.S, which in fact is Cape Mendocino, south of Eureka, CA. One star, because I could not give it NO STARS.

And while this author’s geography seems as wayward as Keith Badman’s (‘is it real??‘), his speculative psychological biography suggests one model for a useful counter-fiction. Because where Brian Wilson is asked about key instances of his creative past, and, as demonstrated by 2012′s Front Row Center ‘documentary’, or the ‘admirable honesty and integrity’ as aired in September 2013′s Record Collector ‘interview’, it becomes obvious that, where Brian’s own partial or wayward recollections are incorrect, it is left to stand when it serves the Corporate Agenda. And, worse yet, it goes ‘on the record’.

Well, if that’s Brian’s recollection…” as Mike Love interjects:

Brian, thankfully, has gone on record as saying “Mike had nothing to do with the shelving of SMiLE”

With the Corporation’s fraught legal history as precedent, Mike Love may yet test ‘the record’ again in court…and Brian Wilson’s creative reputation – separate from The Beach Boys – will take yet another beating from his enlightened cousin’s determination to keep The Beach Boys ‘lovingly irrelevant’.

Brian Wilson surely deserves better treatment than this. From family. Surely.

Currently, the best journey anyone can take into Brian Wilson’s mind are The Pet Sounds Sessions and The Smile Sessions. But even the latter has edits, exclusions, excised characters, and revisionist contributions from Beach Boys Corps’ editors. Similar thing happened in 1996 with The Pet Sounds Sessions: one character rewrote their own role, and added an entire, irrelevant, and frankly unbelievable opening chapter, delaying publication for over a year.

Beach Boys™ continues to produce consistently poor fiction, right into 2013. The ‘endless harmony’ of Mike’s reunion with his childhood chums stretched the bounds of credulity right from the start. But look at the cliffhanger last season ended on!

If all of this were a novel, it would be more poorly-reviewed than the Summer In Paradise album. In its complications and its machinations, it bears more resemblance to a soap.

“like sand through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives”

 Since Days of Our Lives began in the 1960s, there have been many unbelievable plot twists and turns. Characters regularly change roles, identities and actors; psychology and motivation is often baffling and contradictory. International espionage, satanic possession, regular returns from the grave, impossible gadgetry and time-travel patents are just a few of its simpler complications. And throughout all of this there is deceit, duplicity, jealousy, bitter rivalry and family betrayals.

The script is often laughable and unbelievable, and plotlines would not stand up to any critical scrutiny – but frankly improbable events and explanations are taken at face value by its fans, because this is part of the endless saga’s appeal. And, as with most melodramas, viewers are aware that, ultimately, it is all a fiction.

The Beach Boys™ and its universe (band and supporters) sometimes seems less capable of making this distinction. There are plot flaws, continuity errors, and uncharacteristic actions and statements from actors throughout The Beach Boys Drama. But, where one could imagine life in Salem continuing when Days Of Our Lives is offscreen, in reality its actors go back to their real lives. The Beach Boys’ California Saga carries on offstage – and may be as dark and as stark as the weirdest of Days plots.

So, in 2013, what is true? In this shared timeline, it’s whatever Mike Love wants you to believe.

And a last word from somebody who was there – and who, at the time, probably cared more for the well-being of Brian Wilson than any band member or any fan: in the 1995 documentary I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times, Marilyn Rovell (ex-Honeys, ex-Spring, and Brian’s ex-wife) says about her husband during the decade described above:

it was very tough for him because he thought that they all hated him…I think it was like ‘OK you assholes, you think you can do as good as me or whatever – go ahead – YOU do it. You think it’s so easy? You do it’.

 …and I don’t think ever really came back. I don’t think he ever had the need…he was just torn down, he really was. They slowly tore him down. I hate to say it, but they did.

But they did it. And they showed Brian – showed their audiences, showed the world what the name ‘The Beach Boys’ really meant, and means to this day: nostalgia; mediocrity; conservatism; insincerity; stasis.

Hubris.

In an interview with Mojo Magazine from 1995, Mike Love asks his interrogator a rhetorical question:

Who wants to hear about Brian’s mental problems anyway? [Smile is under discussion] I mean, to call a record Sweet Insanity, imagine that. A whole album of Brian’s madness that no one wants to release and still everyone says he’s a genius! I make Kokomo, it goes to number one in the charts and l’m still the dumb, know-nothing, talentless Mike Love.

Sweet Insanity was Brian’s second solo album – produced, co-written and mentored by Gene Landy, Brian Wilson’s psychiatrist (and then collaborator) until 1992. The album was rejected (in two different versions) by Warner Brothers:

the entire album is saddled with psycho-analytical word-play which is undoubtedly the result of Brian’s total immersion in the care of Dr. Eugene Landy, who controlled every aspect of Brian’s life.

(from here)

sweetinsanity2

(purported projected second album sleeve art)

There are some apologists for Brian’s Sweet Insanity album (claims wikipedia), and it has been released on various bootlegs. Mike Love has a back catalogue of albums that ‘no one wants to release’ (read more here), but his comments to Mojo in 1995 reflect a general consensus about Sweet Insanity (and its most insane track doesn’t address Brian’s mental state at all, but Smart Girls does still need to be heard to be believed…some confounded commentary is here).

Brian Wilson’s self-titled predecessor from 1988 was a critical success (if not a commercial hit comparable with past glories), and came unburdened with psycho-babble lyrics, but Mike was comparably as unforgiving of his cousin’s previous attempt at a creative independence from The Beach Boys: asked by Goldmine Magazine (in 1992) ‘did you like [Brian's] first solo album?’ his response is quite direct:

Mike: No.

Goldmine: You didn’t like it?

Mike: Fuck no.

GM: What didn’t you like about it?

Mike: First of all the lyrics. Second of all the arrangements weren’t commercial enough. Third of all it sounded like shit compared to what he could sound like.

(full interview here)

Kokomo, as the Beach Boys other biggest ever hit, made its mark on the world the same year Brian Wilson was released. And in making Sweet Insanity somehow synonymous with Smile, Mike reinforces the legend that it was Brian Wilson’s ‘madness’ (exacerbated by ‘the drugs’) that brought into being the career blip that Smile has become to The Beach Boys Corporate Mindset.

Mike Love’s own sanity has never seemed in doubt – and he persists in modeling himself as The Beach Boys’ moderator: his collaborations with his cousin were at their most successful when Mike tempered Brian’s weirdnesses.

The band’s own Endless Harmony documentary from 1998 contains the core details:

Mike: and then I came up with the part i’m picking up good vibrations – he had the track, but he didn’t have the i’m picking up good vibrations. And the REASON I chose to come up with that part was, firstly that it was the bassline, but second of all, the track was so WEIRD (laughs).

Mike: Everything else up to the time was like I Get Around, Fun Fun Fun, Help Me Rhonda, Surfin’ USA – and then all of sudden (makes car skidding sound) – here’s Good Vibrations, with that weird mystical-sounding track – and I thought ‘oh my GOODNESS, our fans, the public, is gonna freak out when they hear this, they’re not gonna get this’ – so what I said was ‘well the one thing that people understand is boy/girl, attraction: ‘I’m picking up good vibrations, she’s giving me excitations’. So I wrote it from a boy/girl perspective.

The fans, the public, did freak when they heard Good Vibrations, along with everyone else, making it a Number One record. But Good Vibrations was only the first of many ‘weird mystical-sounding tracks’ Brian Wilson was producing for The Beach Boys until Smile was curtailed, and ‘weird’ thus became a defining part of the myth of Brian Wilson. And Mike has been consistently intolerant – and strangely unforgiving – of any manifestation of Brian’s weirdness since, especially where it affects The Beach Boys.

So who does want to hear about Brian’s mental problems anyway?

Mental illness, like drugs and spirituality, can be difficult to discuss objectively, especially when countered by the kind of sound and robust mind Mr. Mike Love possesses. Any mental illness that was maybe precipitated by drugs becomes even more problematic. And, like the experience gained from drugs, or dedication to a spiritual discipline, ultimately anything experiential is personal – to guess what goes on in the troubled mind of Brian Wilson can only ever be speculative, imagined.

But to assume that his ‘madness’ was some vague thing without point or ‘purpose’ is mostly an insult to Brian Wilson, and to anyone else intelligent enough to have some comparable insight into their own problems.

In Mike’s 1992 Goldmine interview he talks about the power he has gained through Transcendental Meditation – but TM’s benefits, as described by Mike Love, feel less about an internal struggle with oneself:

Mike: There’s a line in “Kokomo”: “We’ll put out to see and we’ll perfect our chemistry. By and by we’ll defy a little bit of gravity.” [...] Why did I say defy gravity? Because in the practice of the TM city programs there’s sutras, where you develop the ability to levitate.

GM: Have you ever levitated?

Mike: Yeah, I practiced doing this as part of my TM city programs.

GM: And it’s worked?

Mike: Yeah, well, I mean we’re fledging hoppers. But the idea is with perfection of the mind and the body you can actually defy gravity. So it actually showed up in the song “Kokomo.” A hundred years from now people will be defying gravity as a normal course.

See, there’s a thing called survival of the fittest where evolution marches forward and people who are ignorant and violate the laws of nature, then their societies pass out of existence. People who are more in tune and in harmony with nature are gonna be those who survive. I want people who survive one hundred years from now to realize we were relevant now.

Readers of any of what has been written here since September 2011 will know that the writer of all of this has no issue with recreational drug use; Bill Hicks says it better

I think drugs have done some good things for us. I really do. And if you don’t believe drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor. Go home tonight. Take all your albums, all your tapes and all your CDs and burn them. ‘Cause you know what, the musicians that made all that great music that’s enhanced your lives throughout the years were rrreal fucking high on drugs.

(more here)

Spirituality has been mentioned on and off, and will be tidied up with some small conclusions in some future Final Post; that Smile was originally planned as a ‘teenage symphony to God’ says a great deal about Brian Wilson’s own creative mindset at the time. The Good Humor Smile Site (formerly the Zen Interpretation of Smile) discusses the sources and inspirations for Smile with some admirable (and dogged) rigour – essential reading for anyone who actually cares about what Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks (and Frank Holmes) were up to in 66/67.

But ‘madness’, mental illness, Brian being bonkers, all those anecdotes about his loopy behaviour…it’s a topic that has been mostly avoided here. Because getting inside Brian Wilson’s head is a hypothetical.

Recently, a friend had the good fortune to meet Brian backstage with a VIP pass at a recent ‘solo’ performance (with a band containing more Beach Boys than ‘The Beach Boys’, currently resting from wowing the fairgrounds with classics like The Ballad of Ole Betsy). Conversation with Brian was curtailed in advance – but, given the opportunity to ask questions, what would one ask? What can poor Brian even recall about his past? Maybe better to ask him about his favourite cartoons…

Who can say what currently goes on in the mind of Brian Wilson? And who can really say what was in his mind after Smile was abandoned? Peter Ames Carlin’s Catch A Wave Brian biog recounts a visit to Brian’s home by Reprise Records execs in 1969, checking on their possible new signing:

The group had just emerged from their cars when Brian came out, his long hair combed, his clothes neatly pressed – and his face painted a vivid shade of green.

“He came out and said ‘Oh hi!’ and goes about the whole thing as if nothing is wrong” says Stephen Desper [Beach Boys engineer], who observed the entire scene from the opening handshakes to the farewells an hour or two later. “Brian was the perfect gentleman, very astute and polite, only his face painted green. And he knew damn well what he was doing. But the funniest thing was that no one said anything”.

Not until the Reprise guys left, at any rate. Then [Nick] Grillo, sensing that another all-but-signed record deal was about to fall through his fingertips thanks to Brian’s efforts, went into full freak-out mode. “Brian!” he shrieked. “What the fuck are you doing? What the fuck are you doing?” Brian, Desper recalls, smiled innocently and shrugged. “Just seeing what would happen.”

(Catch A Wave, p.150)

Carlin makes a subtle argument throughout Catch A Wave that Brian Wilson made conscious efforts, through the post-Smile years, to sabotage any future career for The Beach Boys – or at the very least to estrange himself from the band; that he could contribute to this meeting for ‘an hour or two’ with his stupid green face while still ‘astute and polite’ suggests a subtle kind of ‘madness’ – a very conscious and self-aware one. This anecdote suggests a tactic at work.

Mike Love himself remains untouched by the wind of the wing of madness, if one discounts ‘a rather dramatic breakdown’ in February 1970,

spurred by some combination of overambitious fasting and what [Mike] liked to call his “tainted Wilson blood” and climaxing in a long, high-speed car chase through Hollywood as he attempted to evade cars driven by his father and brothers

(Catch A Wave, p.167)

As Mike observes himself, it’s the Wilson ‘taint’, rather than any failing of his own…but his accounts of levitation quoted above, however informed by the tenets of TM, still should sound insane – and worse, delusional. However it’s Brian Wilson’s ‘madness’ – and as most tangibly manifested by Smile itself – which remains the key to what happened to The Beach Boys throughout the 1970s. There are other anecdotes that show Brian as comparably wayward (although minus the drama and the car chases), but these are often cited out of chronological sequence and out of context.

Brian Wilson’s (widely-quoted) paranoia connecting John Frankenheimer’s Seconds with Phil Spector appeared only once in print, in Jules Siegel’s Goodbye Surfing, Hello God! piece, published late 1967; Siegel himself is essentially eavesdropping on Brian, at home, talking with ‘a friend’:

“I walked into that movie…and the first thing that happened was a voice from the screen said ‘Hello Mr. Wilson’. It completely blew my mind. You’ve got to admit that’s pretty spooky, right?”

“Maybe.”

“That’s not all. Then the whole thing was there. I mean my whole life. Birth and death and rebirth. The whole thing. Even the beach was in it, a whole thing about the beach. It was my whole life up there on the screen.”

“It’s just a coincidence, man. What are you getting all excited about?”

Brian jabbers about ‘mind gangsters’, and Spector getting involved in films; his paranoia is tempered by his friend’s common sense:

“Brian, Phil Spector is not about to make a million dollar movie just to scare you. Come on, stop trying to be so dramatic.”

“All right, all right, I was just a little nervous about it…I just had to get it out of my system. You can see where something like that could scare someone, can’t you?”

and then that’s about the end of it.

This brief conversation appears, again and again and again, in biography, hagiography and hackjob, as ‘proof’ that Brian Wilson, during the ‘Smile era’, was crackers.

Brian Wilson’s various paranoias may have been fueled as much by the fact that the Good Vibrations master tape disappeared from the studio tape store for 3 days prior to release; there were also rumours that his father had hired a private detective to investigate Brian’s drug habits. And Brian’s Spector-fear had some reasonable foundation – Phil’s ‘symphonies for the kiddies’ would be surpassed forever by a ‘teenage symphony to God’. For all Brian’s admiration of Spector, he was also a commercial rival.

These kinds of suspicions and worries might easily put one slightly on edge (stoned or straight)…and, had Jules Siegel not overheard this conversation, it would not have seen print, and would not have be the ‘proof’ it has become.

But it’s the dismissal of Brian Wilson music deemed ‘inappropriate for The Beach Boys’ that often gets the shortest shrift – the revisionist US TV drama The Beach Boys: An American Family represents this band dismissal quite succinctly, somehow putting Can’t Wait Too Long (one of the great unfinished post-Smile Brian tracks) into the same niche of psycho otherness as its imaginary Charles Manson:

Brian plays something not dissimilar to Been Way Too Long/Can’t Wait Too Long, repeating the theme again and again. The guys (Carl and Mike) are unimpressed.

LATER ON.

Charles Manson is in their studio.

Charles Manson: solution girl you get my gist (Jandek-style strumming) do you love me do you love me do you love

Carl (to Dennis): This guy’s stuff is NOT for us.

An American Family successfully reinforces (and rewrites) the ‘Brian is mad’ motif for a TV audience that might otherwise not give a shit either way – and usefully summarises what has given Beach Boys Corp/Brother Records Inc. such traction since. In and out of court.

While using the free facilities of WordPress to post this overextended series of observations and meditations, I’m unsure whether this is actually ‘blogging’ or not -  however, esteemed US news source The Onion has a helpful recent item, Internet Rocked By Blogger With Sarcastic Sensibility:

Hailed by members of the online community as “a groundbreaking and radical new voice,” blogger Charles Edo has taken the internet by storm in recent weeks with a series of posts in which he conveys his opinions using the rhetorical device of sarcasm, sources reported Thursday.

Astounded readers of Edo’s Tumblr blog reported that the 26-year-old has found a way to write about both politics and popular culture with a sarcastic tone, in the process creating an entirely unique style of commentary never before observed in the blogosphere.

“A couple weeks ago he posted this thing saying he really loved the Dexter series finale, but it was weird—he kept calling the episode ‘great’ while detailing all of its flaws,” said reader Ryan Zalch, explaining his initial puzzlement with Edo’s sarcasm. “Then suddenly it hit me: This guy didn’t actually like the show at all. Somehow, he was writing the literal opposite of what he meant, going way over-the-top with what seemed like praise to express his hatred.”

“It’s this whole new way of conveying ideas about something,” Zalch added. “It’s confusing at first, but once you understand how it works, it’s incredibly impressive.”

Furthermore,

Internet experts have declared that Edo’s ability to use sarcasm to hide meaning “between the lines” is nothing short of revolutionary.

“How on earth did he ever come up with the idea to start writing in this voice—and on the web, of all places?” said Laura Hudson, culture and entertainment editor of Wired.com. “That’s the question everyone is asking right now. We’d never seen anything like it until this guy came along. There’s even a certain tone in his work that’s almost kind of snarky, you know? And that kind of thing could become a real game-changer for voices on the internet.”

I can only aspire to the subtle levels of snark this ‘radical new voice’ utilises in commenting upon popular culture and its icons – but Mr Edo and his ilk obviously thrive upon attention for their opinions, whereas my own ‘web-logging’ has but a handful of readers. Which is a great luxury: there was always an end to all of this, and having been waylaid by life’s other priorities (while also taking a break from the toxicity of The Beach Boys’ ongoing drama), no one much has been on tenterhooks awaiting The Next Installment.

And, usefully, there are times when it all writes itself: please welcome another guest submission (previous offerings here and here) from another disinterested party, having something more to say than I can currently be arsed to do myself

With apologies to The Onion, I believe that The Sixties, in its self-admiringly capitalised version, has usurped the Titanic as the world’s largest metaphor. Nesting Russian doll-like at the heart of that is The Beach Boys, and Smile in particular. They synecdochically encapsulate that decade of idealistic over-reaching and Icarian descent. Smile is such an infinitely reverberant story that I feel any exploration of it should be signposted at the outset with a warning sign marked with the message “Beware Deep Waters”. The most real danger being that the extraordinary music at the centre can be reduced to little more than a MacGuffin. It is true that the music existed for years purely as an absence, a blank area on the map of the ‘60s, a situation which in itself is rich with resonance. Before chasing echoes we should be mindful that Smile is not wholly about what didn’t happen and what might have been, but does refer to a tangible, documented suite of songs. Whatever missed opportunities the Smile Sessions box may represent, it did also make Smile into an undeniable object of significant weight and solidity. That in itself seems to have caused some strategic upheaval in Mike Love’s 40-year campaign of tilting at windmills.

But chasing echoes is so much fun and I don’t think Brian would wish to deny anyone that. The vapours of theory, speculation, desires, allegations and rhetoric can be intoxicating, and have certainly played their part in fuelling the fascination with Smile. It has long been a truism that part of the allure of Smile is its place in the canon of great lost expressionist art works. As with The Magnificent Ambersons or Greed, the lacunae are as integral to its mythical status as are the genuine touches of genius that do exist. It’s the allure of that blank area on the map, an allure that this blog so eloquently mines.

It is the vacuum left by Smile’s non-appearance that is central to its metaphorical fecundity. The process of critical osmosis freights Smile with a weight of subjective but equally valid significances. All viable responses to Mike’s nagging “but what does it actually mean, Van Dyke?” questions. A large part of my own fascination with Smile has been what the story reveals about mental illness, something that exists in the same chimerical space as Smile, both allegory and inescapable actuality.

Mental illness also seems to be another lacuna in the Smile exegesis. It’s there as part of the anecdotal colour, crazy Brian in those crazy ‘60s. Or as another explanation for the non-appearance, or as a cautionary lesson against chemical experimentation. The “it fucked with my brain” interpretation always struck me as bathetically simplistic. Far more intriguing and equally convincing is the brain-fucking potential in the Atlasian position of being able to divert the current of popular music, which in the crux of 66 seemed to equate with the current of history. From that perspective, the parallels with Bob Dylan are more illuminating than any Beatles rivalry and, with the privilege of hindsight, one wishes Brian had been more aware of those at the time. Dylan’s breakdown in ’66 was a conscious choice, his playing of a “get out of jail free” card to escape a position of generational spokesman that he never sought and which carried with it similar weight of expectation. His retreat also saw a period of stunning musical productivity, most notably The Basement Tapes; as equally mythologised as Smile but birthed in antithetical conditions of a near amniotic environment, no pressure, and supportive collaborators.

Dylan’s elegant untying of the knots in which he was entangled in ’66 contrasts to Brian’s own struggle. That seem more akin to something described by another of the decade’s pioneering psychic explorers, R.D. Laing. The knots of Brian’s own multiple double binds seemed ever tighter. But then Dylan only had the whole world anticipating and criticising his every move; Brian had his family.

The Smile story could be narrated as a very convincing case study from Laing and A. Esterson’s classic Sanity, Madness and the Family, a book which my Penguin edition claims “suggests that some forms of madness may largely be social creations and many of their symptoms no more than the tortured ruses of people struggling to live in unliveable situations.” That phrase “unliveable situation” seems a marvellously compact description of Brian circa ‘66/’67. Music is the keystone of his world and a way to approval and inclusion within his family, from father and brothers. But Smile met with hostility, and the alternative family he had gathered around him proved less than stable and protective in itself. Drugs provided some measure of creative freedom but like the mass experimentation of the ‘60s as a generational whole lead to dead ends and further entrapment. My hypothetical chapter of Sanity, Madness and the Family, titled “The Wilsons”, reveals that a psychotic reaction by a highly emotionally sensitive person to the situation would be clearly understandable in Laingian terms. It is a double bind so inextricable it has continued for decades and can be discerned at work in the machinations surrounding the release of the Smile Sessions box and the 50th anniversary reunion tour. One of the many merits of Laing’s work is that it never loses sight of the real emotional distress that exists beyond analysis and speculation. “Every day is a daily struggle”, says Brian in a 2011 interview, and also mentions the “derogatory voices” that he hears, like an internalisation of decades of malignant family dynamics.

It is in this sense that I feel the term “America’s band” to be highly apposite as a description of The Beach Boys. Nothing seems more American to me than that sunny Californian façade constructed over unresolvable tension and conflict, artistic ambition stymied by commercial demands, beauty and madness in fractious union. And the absurdity of trying to negate all that with such as Kokomo. Smile has an inexhaustible psychic resonance; like mental illness, it cannot be contained by metaphor. Such is Smile’s totemic significance Brian seemed physically afraid of the power of this music for decades. Ironically Mike has also acted as if afraid of Smile. Of course, Smile is rich in bible black irony. Much as Albert Ayler claimed that Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe on his final, pre-suicide album, Brian wanted to make the world Smile, before retreating to his bed and chemical numbness for a couple of decades. Should my untrained long-distance psychoanalysis have any point, it is to stress that it is too easy to get caught up in Smile as metaphor. The story is even replete with fairy tale elements – a (L.A.) mansion, baddies to hiss at, goodies to applaud. But I find it hard to contemplate the knotted strands of Smile or to listen to the utopianism of Brian and Van Dyke’s musical vision without being disturbingly aware of the emotional pain at its heart, unmitigated by any pat falsities such as creativity birthed from madness. In that way, Smile continues to reflect the terrifying extremes of our individual hopes and fears.

(cheers Pete Coward; read his piece on The Art Of Dion McGregor here)

The ‘emotional pain at its heart’ is something that has become more and more prevalent throughout the time of writing all of this: from the excitement and trepidation about an official Smile release (March to September 2011), through its arrival in November 2011 – and then the dissipation of Smile via The Beach Boys reunion tour, album, CD reissues, the Made In California box set…returning to The Smile Sessions, there cannot not be some kind of great sadness to it all. The Sessionography in the Smile Sessions book, and the band narrative as mediated via Keith Badman’s Beach Boys Definitive Diary, offer versions of a tale yet to be told in full, without its contradictory counter-narratives, personal revisionism, and ‘on the record’ utterances which could yet see their day in court.

There surely cannot be any debate about music as The Healing Force of the Universe (although ‘blogger Charles Edo’ or equivalent could probably outwrite me saying otherwise) – and with the damage done to Brian Wilson since Smile (and mostly because of Smile), one would think that familial breaches and personal competitiveness would have dissipated in the 40-odd years since. But, even in its self-celebration, The Beach Boys’ reunion in 2012 ended on a somewhat sour note

Will this American family ever stop bickering?!?

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