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Archive for March, 2012

I’ve had some interesting and encouraging comments to these thirty-nine or so posts, initially prompted by the impending release of The Beach Boys’ The Smile Sessions in November 2011. You can read all previous posts here.

I discussed some comments so far back in October.

A week later I got a more extensive comment, in response to an earlier post:

That book [Wouldn’t It Be Nice, Brian Wilson’s unreliable ‘memoirs’] is a complete fake. I don’t know why you spent so much time analyzing it. I don’t know why you repeated a bunch of conspiracy-type questions that only ignorant fans ask, refute them, but then turn around and place so much credibility in a book that Wilson himself has denied ever even reading, much less helping to write. I don’t believe your post has done anything to set the record straight (here).

and I thought these were interesting observations about the overall methodology at work here. I replied, but didn’t get a followup. Which was a shame, because its author set me thinking about a few different things, and, to a certain extent, influenced what was written subsequently.

I didn’t know that I had repeated a bunch of conspiracy-type questions (that only ignorant fans ask); the difficulty with any question on any topic these days, is that, somewhere inside the internet, every question may already have been asked – and you might find that question, but not necessarily its answer. And conversely, you may find an answer to a question never known to exist. I stay away from fan messageboards; apologies if, in that blinkered ignorance, I have covered old ground.

Another commenter (whose response somehow slipped into the spam folder) says

Look at this tremendous internet. If you decide you haven’t so much toured this task still, you’re the one omitted substantially

Unsure about the explication (I’ve ‘toured the task’, but what have I omitted? Myself?) – but yeah, good point.

Look at this tremendous internet. Take the Beach Boys fan universe as a microcosm of this digital Library Of Babel: regardless of how much ‘original research’ some guy on the interweb might try to do (in order to find some snippets of real, actual human truth in the multiplicity of myths that is The Beach Boys story, and as part of the much larger ‘rock history’ mythos), sources are limited (books, films, and of course recordings). The ever-expanding macrocosm of new information (on any topic) that the internet has become in the past 15 years or so makes ‘research’ a lot more problematic. Which is why so many internet-era researchers use wikipedia – it’s reliable.

I personally prefer books and other printed matter. They’ve usually been mediated by an editor – and there’s not some fucker rewriting them as you read.

Reliability and veracity are real issues in the internet world. Likewise (and back to its microcosm) the Beach Boys fan world. This recent update at Mike Love’s wiki page seems a fascinating insight into the Beach Boys – but it’s utterly unverifiable. If true (ie. is as written), it confirms a great deal. Depressingly.

And there is likewise a change in the notion of attribution of ideas – which can be read as they develop, in near-realtime, on any subject worthy of discussion: knitting, The Beach Boys, the secret rulers of the world…it’s all out there, being discussed, waiting to be found.

And so, apologies if anybody’s observations might have been reflected here without attribution – when I did read Beach Boys boards, I was only really looking for verifiable fact.

Repeating questions, only to then refute them, is thus a useful method of self-interrogation; it presupposes that someone else might have already considered the point in question. And, whatever I might ‘know’, someone else almost certainly knows more.

But then to turn around and place so much credibility in a book (Wouldn’t It Be Nice: My Own Story) that Wilson himself has denied ever even reading, much less helping to write? This is tricky. Brian Wilson has said quite a few seemingly-contradictory things about Smile – but, post-Landy medication, the gaps he now has in his own memory must really trouble him.

And, while Brian’s version of events (as filtered through Todd Gold and Dr. Eugene Landy) is at points unreliable, how much more trustworthy are Mike Love’s own recollections? Mike’s friend John Stamos must have checked some factual details with Mike when producing The Beach Boys – An American Family – yet this became a heavily-revisionist version of The Beach Boys’ history. Wouldn’t It Be Nice is a reference book in comparison.

I said in response to my annoyed commenter:

I wasn’t there. I don’t know. It’s all a bunch of conflicting narratives. If you can help me out here, please do. Were you there? And could you elaborate further on these ‘conspiracy-type questions’?

That was in October 2011, and I’ve been caught up in these conflicting narratives ever since. I was writing under the assumption that, by November, with the release of a 5CD Smile Sessions box set, there wouldn’t be much else left to say.

But, rather than finding a typeset and super-glossy Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile! inside the Smile box, discovering instead that these conflicting narratives had (presumably) been filtered through the offices of Mike Love’s attorneys (and that texts and contributors were also presumably cut, edited and mediated) was, shall we say, a disappointment?

Finding that The Smile Sessions‘ promotional campaign (radio and press interviews) centred around the drugs killing Smile, and that Van Dyke Parks had little space for comment (and none in the Sessions book itself, bar one unrelated quotation) was likewise disappointing.

But not a surprise; The Pet Sounds Sessions box set (released November 1997) was originally scheduled for the album’s 30 Year Anniversary (released May 1966), but was delayed 18 months so, that Mike Love could write an Introduction to this,

(5″ x 4″ approx., 126 pages, mostly text)

one of two books in the box set. It opens with a narrative way more speculative than Brian’s ‘fake book’, wherein Mike ‘remembers’ naming the album Pet Sounds (on p.23 in the same book, Carl says ‘I’m not sure who came up with the title. I think it was Brian’). Brian may not remember a lot of what he did in the 1960s – but Mike sure as hell must.

The other Pet Sounds Sessions book apologises:

(the other Pet Sounds Sessions book, p.13)

The inclusion of 55 minutes of Mike Love’s Hang On To You Ego/I Know There’s An Answer false starts and fuck ups on The Alternate Pet Sounds Vol.1 (a 4CD box, Vol. 2 is another 4CDs), released in 1998, does suggest some legal and editorial excisions in the Pet Sounds Sessions box.

Are these conspiracy-type questions?

And, if the Pet Sounds sessions needed that much mediation from Mike (in order to ‘put the record straight’), imagine how many lawyers were involved in The Smile Sessions? This might explain why its accompanying book (12″ x 12″ approx., 60 pages, flawless sessionography, plus reprinted lyrics) has, at best, 12 pages of (larger-print) text, and lacks any analysis beyond what has been long-known. Imagine the negotiations, the deals made, to facilitate its release!

The other factor that kept these posts coming, months beyond the self-imposed deadline of the 1st of November 2011, and ‘the two weeks I have left‘ (‘I’ll end it all with a picture of the postman handing over The Smile Sessions!’), was – SHOCK and SURPRISE – a Beach Boys 50 Year Celebration Anniversary Reunion Tour And Album Entitled Celebration (Because This Is A Term Mike Love Likes And Uses A Lot).

With The Smile Sessions just released, surely this kind of announcement would deflect attention away from Smile, and towards the newly-reformed band? Seemed like a poor marketing strategy to me.

The reunion itself wasn’t even an inevitability – on 29th September 2011,

Brian Wilson rules out reunion with the Beach Boys

Singer insists he will not reunite with former bandmates for planned world tour next year

…”There’s been talk that I was going to join the Mike Love group but it’s not true.” Although Wilson said in May he was considering rejoining the group, he is currently committed to solo projects such as his new album of Disney songs.

In the end, it may come down to the size of the cheque. Wilson has not commented on claims by Love and session drummer Eddie Bayers that he is working on new Beach Boys material. “I don’t really like working with the guys,” he said, “but it all depends on how we feel and how much money’s involved. Money’s not the only reason I made records, but it does hold a place in our lives.”

But then it was on. What changed? It cannot surely just have been money. Can it?

Pleading with The Beach Boys by proxy was, alas, to no avail: January’s Don’t Do It Again post went unheeded, and mostly unread. In February The Beach Boys brought Good Vibrations to an otherwise dour and downbeat Grammys (someone died, everyone was sad – some insightful analysis from Diamanda Galas on the cause of that distraction here).

There were a couple of responses to Don’t Do It Again, however. Here, someone else makes the mistake of trying to see The Beach Boys in human terms – you know, as people, rather than ‘legends’? What was said is worthy of quoting verbatim in a later post.

The other comment says

While I appreciate your in-depth investigation of this reunion thing, I have to say that it’s a big mistake to take any quote involved with the Beach Boys at face value. These quotes are made for publicity, not history.

So all this deceit and duplicity is acceptable? What am I supposed to believe? Who is telling the truth? And, more to the point, who is not telling the truth? And why?

Man, this is all so confusing!

I don’t believe your post has done anything to set the record straight.

I don’t believe that I am in any position to set the record straight.

As it was meant to be My First 25 Years, observations were intended to be personal. The internet is full of people going on about stuff; this is just some more stuff. Some details have been quibbled over, and one key text is still under debate; but I’d hoped that, despite digressions (there have been many, including a break for a cartoon), some central threads remain visible. But if not, well so what?

Another comment (also inexplicably spam-filtered) says

Thank you, I’ve just been searching for information about this subject for ages and yours is the best I’ve discovered till now. But, what about the conclusion? Are you sure about the source?

so at least one person has a grip on where this is going…but their doubts are justified. Alas, my only source for any overall ‘conclusion’ (as this all comes to a close; four five more posts after this and I think I’m done) is everything that precedes it.

(And many thanks to Enrique for audio sources)

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Where’s the fucking drugs?

You see, 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. The Beatles were so fucking high they let Ringo sing a few tunes.

(Bill Hicks, in Relentless, 1992, and from here)

Drugs are bad, m’kay?

(Mr. Mackey, school counselor and cartoon character, in a South Park episode entitled Ike’s Wee Wee, 1998 – some cultural analysis here)

Kids today don’t even do acid anymore – how can they make good rock and roll?

(‘Skip’ Spence, interviewed in 1994, and quoted in Lawrence of Euphoria – The Itinerant Life & Music of Alexander Spence by Martin Jones, published here)

I think that meditation, as opposed to drugs – and the result of promiscuous drugtaking is pretty evident in the lives of people that have done that – has given me a way to relax.

(Mike Love, in Endless Harmony, 1998)

I don’t know why people complain about drugs – I think they’re brilliant!

(a friend, toking on a joint whilst listening to Pet Sounds (probably), some time in the late ’80s)

So you like Pet Sounds and Smile, but not the drugs?

Yes, because I saw how weird people got on acid. It was just too weird and too destructive. And Brian may have told you, but he certainly admitted to me on occasion, that acid, LSD, blew his mind. And he shelved the Smile project. I had nothing to do with shelving the Smile project…[Brian] took a heavy toll because of the LSD and other drugs. For Smiley Smile he retreated to his home in Bel Air where we had a studio installed. He didn’t feel like he had to go out and conquer the world.

(Mike Love, Smile Sessions promotional interview, Mojo 60s, June 2011, from here)

[Mike] Love should study writers he professes to admire: Dickens; Poe; Conan-Doyle; then cite Beaudelaire; Satchmo; Freud, and a legion of similar creative authors whose civility brought beauty to their times, through deftly talented, although drugged doses.

(Van Dyke Parks, 3rd day of Christmas, 2011, from here)

We started to get indications that Brian was taking some hallucinogens, like LSD and stuff like that – a lot of the writers were doing that at the time – but it took a tremendous toll from him. He drove me around the parking lot of William Morris about 20 times, explaining to me about this great trip he had just taken, and I just wanted to be as far away from that as possible!

(Al Jardine, in Endless Harmony, 1998)

Acid was like everything I could ever be, or would ever be I came to grips with – you just come to grips with what you are, what you can do and what you can’t do, and you learn to face it.

(Brian Wilson, some time in the mid-70s, quoted in The Beach Boys – An American Band, 1984)

Mike Douglas: …when you’re experimenting with drugs you are really experimenting
Brian Wilson: Well, a lot of people – a lot of the hippies – in the 60s said ‘the Great Messiah’ was supposed to come in the 60s – and it came in the form of drugs. Which, I agree, there’s a certain amount to be said for that…but, in my personal story I have, to tell, it, er, it really didn’t work out so well, so positively, because I began to depend on the drugs – the cocaine was a beautiful high, I mean I could write songs, I’d get an elated state – but the comedown was so godawful. I mean it was so –
MD: How long did it last, this high?
BW: Two hours. You got at least two hours of a high, then you got another hour and a half of nothing but garbage –
MD: Describe that garbage
BW: Oh, its…well its called Heaven and Hell. Drugs are a definite balance of Heaven and Hell: you go to Heaven, and you go to Hell. I mean, it’s just…I gotta say on TV, if anywhere I’d ever say this: I wouldn’t advance on any encouragement to – the use of cocaine –
MD: Why does a a talented man like you need highs? Wouldn’t just having that talent be enough of a high? You have an immense amount of talent. You started as a kid doing things that most grownups weren’t capable of doing. Why in the world would a man with that kind of God-given talent need any help from drugs?
BW: OK. You said ‘need help. For what reason – for writing?
MD: Yeah
BW:OK. I don’t say that the drugs are not needed for a person of talent, that God blessed me with some talent – I never have utilised grass, or any drugs or cocaine, to actually – for a stepping stone to write or create music, or create even a thought.

SNIP

MD: You were in bed for over three years weren’t you…?
BW: Oh…two and half, three years – I hibernated, it was like…it’s like some kind of a Maharishi in the hills hiding in his bed, snorting cocaine, meditating…

SNIP

BW: Stereo, when it came in in the 50s, everybody was so flipped, and here I was, Brian Wilson, didn’t hear stereo. So you know I think I was a bit – robbed of that pleasure. And I still miss it…I think it’s like being born blind, you try to describe somethig to somebody, ‘what’s it like?’, you know…

(Brian Wilson, as a lucid and cogent guest on The Mike Douglas Show, 1976, recorded 23rd November, broadcast 8th December – presumably)

I say that one must be a seer [voyant], make oneself a seer. The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses. Every form of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he consumes all the poisons in him, and keeps only their quintessences. This is an unspeakable torture during which he needs all his faith and superhuman strength, and during which he becomes the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed – and the great learned one! – among men. – For he arrives at the unknown! Because he has cultivated his own soul – which was rich to begin with – more than any other man! He reaches the unknown; and even if, crazed, he ends up by losing the understanding of his visions, at least he has seen them!

Arthur Rimbaud, from his Lettre du voyant, 1871 (aged 17) (English translation quoted from here)

[By the late-80s] when circumstances required Brian [Wilson] to have face-to-face contact with old friends or family members, they often came away dismayed to discover that he could no longer remember some longtime friends and would often lapse into incoherence or even fall asleep in midconversation. Brian had also taken on some disturbing facial tics, which were often accompanied by shaking hands and a visible trembling in the legs.

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. Reum had met and spoken to Brian on several occasions during the previous fifteen years, and so he know the man standing before him in San Diego had changed in distressing ways. 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.

Reum’s suspicions were heightened by the many acquaintances who had seen Landy and his helpers dispensing pills to Brian […] when one of the Surf Nazis (as [Landy’s assistants] had all come to be known) accidentally left the medicine bag in the recording studio during the recording of [the album] Brian Wilson in 1987, a couple of the engineers couldn’t resist taking a peek inside. What they found resembled a portable doctor’s office, Mark Linett says. “It looked like every pharmaceutical on the face of the earth”.

Those stories and the many others that confirmed and expanded upon the dizzying quantity of drugs that had been prescribed to control what Landy often described as paranoid schizophrenia mixed with manic-depression added up to what Reum feared was a potentially dire situation. If Brian continued to ingest drugs at the current rate, his system would grow so overloaded that he would deteriorate into “a drooling, palsied mental patient”, as Reum puts it. And by that point, the damage to his nervous system would be irreversible […]

Presented with evidence detailing Landy’s many conflicting roles in Brian’s life, the court ordered Landy to remove himself from the musician’s life […] The ruling came down on February 3rd, 1992.

(Catch A Wave – The Rise, Fall & Redemption of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, 2006, by Peter Ames Carlin, p.271-3)

Brian Wilson and Bruce Johnston of The Beach Boys reflect on their never-released album Smile, recorded in 1966 and 1967 and now made available for the first time. Brian Wilson remembers the destructive role drugs played in the creation of this legendary ‘lost’ album, and unctuous music broadcaster Paul Gambaccini assesses how it sounds four decades on.

BBC Radio 4, Front Row

SOME SNIPPETS

Front Row: Brian Wilson, it’s taken 44 years for the Smile Sessions to be released. They’ve become almost the Holy Grail for Beach Boys fans
Brian Wilson: yes. Well y’know what it is, is that when Van Dyke and I were working, in the studio in 1967, we were taking a lot of drugs – y’know, very very many different kinds of drugs – and what happened was we were so slowed on drugs, we could only write like 20 seconds at a time , y’know. So it went on and on like that for like 3 months, finally we got some stuff recorded.

SNIP

FR: And there is almost a spiritual dimension to the record, and we hear it in these master tapes, particularly in the outtakes of a track like Our Prayer which starts the album, where you bring the voices together, and suggesting harmony parts, and there’s an incredible attention to detail – and there is a spiritual aspect to it
Brian: There was, The Boys’ voices definitely have a spiritual quality to them, and they were all very proud of me and Van Dyke, y’know, for coming up with such an advanced piece of music

SNIP

FR: And you’ve got the Beach Boys’ voices in there – and some guest appearances, most notably Paul McCartney is said to have munched a celery stick on the track Vega-tables
Brian: Right
FR: I’ve been listening for that, it’s always been billed as a celery stick –
Brian: You’d have to sit down and listen to all those tapes that 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.

SNIP

FR: You were driving that creative process
Brian: Right
FR: And it took its toll on you, physically and mentally it was a difficult, a very difficult time
Brian: Yes
FR: And you say you taking lots of drugs at the time…?
Brian: Very many drugs
FR: And were you writing on drugs – was that part of the creative process, or was that just –
Brian: Was I writing on drugs?!? Of course! Without drugs there could not be any Smile.

SNIP

Bruce Johnston: I’m gonna tell you the negative, not the positive. The negative, simply, was that there were guys coming around to try and get drugs to Brian, which was VERY uncool. This is the wrong time to be doing it. I mean he’s making the next step from Pet Sounds.

Paul Gambaccini: You have to say, if he hadn’t done so many drugs, he probably would have made it, he probably would have finished Smile

Brian: But unfortunately with drugs, and Smile, there’s a bad brain memory. The drug takes you into a song, right? Then you become that song, and so how are gonna squeeze outta there back into reality?

Gambaccini: At one point in these Smile sessions you can hear him saying “you guys feelin’ the acid yet?” – they’re obviously (laughs) doing drugs while the record is being made

Bruce Johnston: The negatives were NOT coming from The Beach Boys, the negatives were coming from the people trying to – I always describe it as trying to – KIDNAPPING Brian – “oh you don’t need The Beach Boys Brian, you’re so brilliant, by the way here’s, take this, this’ll expand your musical horizons…”
FR: So these are the hustlers and the dealers then?
Bruce Johnston: Oh! I guess so …I just call them ‘journeyman pharmacists’

Brian: After we were done working on this, when we shelved Smile, put Smile on the shelf – it took us each about a half a year to recover from the brain damage. SIX MONTHS to recover from it. It was devastating what they did to our brains.
FR: So you gave everything to this album, you gave it all of your creative juices?
Brian: My All and All
FR: And you’re encouraging Al Jardine, and Mike Love –
Brian: And Bruce Johnston
FR: And Bruce Johnston, who was there at the time – taking over from you in the touring – was there in the studio – but who said ‘this is not working out’? Who said let’s stick it on the shelf?
Brian: (hesitantly) I did. I said “we gotta shelve it Van Dyke”, put it on the shelf. Took us 40 years to finally to (laughs) to realise we had a piece of Art in the can
FR: But you knew it was Art at the time  – what persuaded you to give up on it? Cause 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

(Child Is Father Of The Man is heard, as Brian continues)

Brian: 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”.

SNIP

FR: So you have fond memories of being in that studio, recording these background vocals then? You don’t think of it as a time of fighting, of animosity, of a sour relationship –
Bruce: The Beach Boys weren’t fighting! If The Beach Boys were fighting against Brian, you wouldn’t hear those harmonies. You don’t sing that beautifully when you’re mad.

SNIP

(Smile Sessions promotional interview, broadcast 21 Oct 2011 – listen again)

[Brian] Wilson gives a rare interview and discusses his early influences, his experiments with recording music on a tape machine aged just 16, the huge difficulties he had creating masterpieces like Good Vibrations and the Beach Boys great lost album Smile (which has been released this month, 44 years after the original recordings) and how drugs influenced his work and then, sadly, forced his withdrawal from music. 

While his fragile mental state does make Wilson a sometimes hesitant interviewee, his humour and passion for music still shine through.

(Smile Sessions promotional interview, BBC Radio 6 Music, 23 Oct 2011. Sorry, this programme is not available to listen again)

OK, panic over, found them – but now that I’ve smoked the spliff I just rolled, I’m fucked if I can remember what point all of the above was gonna illustrate. Bollocks.

And I also forgot this, from a lyric discussion on the smileysmile.net messageboard, July 2010 (here):

Dada: Sounds like a canny reference to pot, such as we see with “Cabinessence” (switch the B and the N around and you get “Canibessence”).
runnersdialzero: I’d say that’s a stretch, especially about “Cabinessence”.
cutterschoice: Frank Holmes (a friend of VDP, and the Smile cover artist) said that “Cabinessence” is a pun on ‘cannabis.’ I think he’s a reliable source.

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