This is a pretty-looking book, which I really wanted to like:
Brian Wilson: An Art Book (edited by Alex Farquharson, Four Corners Press 2005).
From its editor’s Preface:
This book on Brian Wilson is an art book in an unexpected guise. The essays, which form a Brian Wilson reader of sorts, are written by artists or critics who mostly write about art. Though rock music may be important to them, and might even influence their practice, they tend to approach the subject of this book as amateur enthusiasts…for expert musical analysis of Brian Wilson’s work you need to look elsewhere. Although few of the essays make direct reference to contemporary art, each one is an act of translation from one artform to another.
[Each essay] addresses an aspect of Wilson’s life and music from a different perspective. These approaches encompass the personal and anecdotal, the sociological and pop cultural, the poetic and philosophical, the psychological and art historical. This range reflects the ambition and multiplicity of Wilson’s achievement.
The colour section of the book is an exhibition that uses the printed page in lieu of the gallery space. Unlike an installation of works in a gallery, which is primarily a spatial situation, the book forces a linear form on the arrangement of images. Being small pages, juxtapositions of images tend to be restricted to pairs. I have tried to work with the medium’s structure to give meaning to the whole: facing pages set up dialogues between works – the pairings calling to mind various aspects of Brian Wilson’s life and work…’loose’ because few of the artworks were made with Brian Wilson or The Beach Boys in mind.
I bought this, cheaply, and in error, thinking that it was an art book about Brian Wilson; Richard Pettibone’s 1975 oil painting of Brian as The Good Humor Man (with Peter Blake’s The Beach Boys from 1964 on the back) makes it seem desirable. ‘An exhibition that uses the printed page in lieu of the gallery space’? Yeah! Like, crazy man, crazy! That’s a spooky idea big daddy – you’re waaaay out there man!
Or not – its introduction uses sequences of buzzwords in lieu of any meaning, beyond being ‘an art book’ that’s kind of ‘about’ Brian Wilson. Of 37 ‘works’ represented over 40 colour pages, 5 relate directly to The Beach Boys, and 2 of these are the cover images. The rest are only about The Beach Boys if you choose to imagine that they are. I choose otherwise.
Of the ‘essays’, More Than Real by Thomas Demand (and through his translator) asserts that,
up to [Pet Sounds and Revolver] the use of tape recorders had been associated with authenticity…what listeners heard on those two albums for the first time was a synthetically-constructed sound…the manipulation was now the original.
Are you sure about this? The advice that, if you want ‘expert musical analysis…you need to look elsewhere’ is at least honest…but Herr Demand might be at the mercy of a dreadful translation; I’m not going to snipe at the more risible of the ‘texts’ (the editor’s own being the best example) just because they were written using English as a first language.
Where ‘radical juxtapositions’ of ‘facing pages [that] set up dialogues between works’ are most effective is where Jeremy Glogan’s The Brian Wilson And The Beach Boys Monument (1997) has Frank Holmes’ Smile image opposite:
and without Jeremy Glogan’s visual deconstruction of the Smile shop, plus his essay The Beach Boys 100% And The Dematerialisation of Smile, this book wouldn’t need mentioning at all. I’ve talked about it way too much already.
Jeremy Glogan is an artist who painted the cover for The High Llamas’ Beet, Maize & Corn album; ‘his passion for The Beach Boys crystalised when he created The Beach Boys Smile Monument in 1997′. Initially I thought he was the design genius that co-opted ‘the Flair variant of italicised Torino’ from Tom Wilkes’ Song Cycle design for Gideon Gaye, but no matter. His Smile Momument, as you can see above, is a reconstruction of parts of Frank Holmes’ Smile shop on a large scale – I assume that you can spread it out on the floor and rearrange it yourself in any order. Though, as it looks like it’s in a real gallery rather than just in a tiny book ‘in lieu of the gallery space’, you’re probably not supposed to mess with it. There should be a super-limited The Smile Sessions megabox, with its own Smile Monument. Or at least a Fuzzy Felt Smile Shop.
Smile and conceptual art both emerged from the same Era. each signalled a radical from what had preceded in popular music and art respectively, and each heralded a shift away from ‘the art object’, whether LP record or formal art object, as a definitive self-referential statement….What follows is a brief discussion about [Mel Bochner’s The Beach Boys 100% from 1967, the third plate in the Art Book], its author and their relationship to Smile.
As Mel Bochner’s The Beach Boys 100% is Glogan’s own rediscovery, look for it elsewhere, or buy the book. But he also says that,
since the time that Smile was abandoned in May 1967 it has been re-materialising in myriad forms…an abundance of high quality bootlegs…co-exist alonside the occasional official Beach Boys releases. this…has resulted in Smile being rebuilt over and over. Many of the constituent parts are on offer, but there is no precise blueprint, which means that each version is different.
Smile has given rise to a community of fans, thriving on the internet, who make, exchange and disseminate Smile in countless versions. Smile was to dematerialise only to instantaneously rematerialise with new signification as bootleg, as MP3, as rumour and as myth.
‘Smile’ was surely a trigger for Brian’s nervous breakdown, if not the breakdown itself. Only now, after Brian’s triumphant reunion with Smile can it also be seen as a source of regeneration for him.
It’s nice to think that the ‘art audience’ this book is aimed at get a glimpse of Smile‘s infinite permutations, plus its redemptive power. Think they fucking need it. Radical juxtapositions my arse.
November 2011’s The Wire magazine has a great two page article about The SMiLE Sessions box, A Grin Without A Cat :
As The Beach Boys’ sprawling, unfinished song cycle is finally unveiled,
David Toop meditates on the pleasures and frustrations of SMiLE
and its value as an inclusive history of America.
David Toop has been waiting for Smile for far longer than I have, yet still manages to contain his enthusiasm, and within two pages…this is my 20th post so far, and I’m not done yet. He interviewed Brian in 1986, and asked ‘about the balance of power between sound and lyrics’ on Smile, and whether ‘words were essential to his creative process’:
‘The sound and the words were both important’, [Brian’s] voice somehow flat and agitated at the same time…’Words,’ he replied, sounding impatient, losing focus, slipping away from me. ‘Always vocal, yes’. Did he regret leaving these songs unfinished and unreleased? ‘No, not really,’ he answered, ‘because they were all kinda contrived. They were contrived with no soul’. (from Exotica, page 136, Serpent’s Tail 1999)
In The Wire piece, he can hear that
buried within [SMiLE’s] musical legacy are so many contradictory templates: Frank Sinatra, The Lettermen, The Four Freshmen, Martin Denny, Patti Page, Chuck Berry, Spike Jones, Nelson Riddle, Jackie Gleason, Phil Spector, Bob Dylan, The Penguins, The Mills Brothers
and rightly assumes that the reader is familiar enough with all the above to know how contradictory they are. Obviously, this is neither tick-box music journalism nor the ill-informed ‘art mind’ of The Art Book above (Jeremy Glogan, Mel Bochner and Peter Blake excepted). David Toop’s Crooning On Venus compilation places the Smiley Smile Wind Chimes between Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Diabaram (taken from an album where Brian Wilson and Robert Wyatt sing ON THE SAME TRACK), and Hari Hosono‘s original version of Honey Moon, and it works better here than it does on Smiley Smile.
What becomes clearer now is that all those bootleg assemblies hypothesizing a real SMiLE were misguided, as was the newly recorded simulacrum released by Wilson and The Wondermints in 2004. SMiLE existed in a memory house into which Wilson invited all those who could extrenalise its elements…[but] no matter how long you listen, how intimately you know the fragments and the hit records, this is a labyrinth…Can a song say it all, depth breadth and flow, break its banks in flood yet still be a song?
Good question. Does The SMiLE Sessions illustrate where and why it went wrong, rather than how much of it went right? Was it really all ‘just pieces’, and impossible to complete? Is there even one extant Smile song that can ‘say it all, depth breadth and flow, break its banks in flood yet still be a song?’. I think there is, and there always was.
Cannot wait to hear its variations after November the 1st. It says here ‘The SMiLE Sessions‘ is out now on Capitol/EMI’. Fuck, is it?!? Where’s mine? Ah, it’s the November issue. Phew. Less than a week to wait.