Today is November 1, and the first anniversary of the release of this:
which was promoted as
Buy The Smile Sessions here.
In Beach Boys Band World, the aftermath of a seemingly-unrelated anniversary continues to prompt debate within Beach Boys Fan Universe: did Mike Love ‘sack’ Brian Wilson from the band? It’s unclear – to audiences, to the press reporting this…even ‘the real Beach Boys’ themselves aren’t sure.
But it’s still ripe fodder for a soap opera, with story lines that can unfold across a season, or even years…how much longer can this saga sustain itself? The tension of an unresolved plot twist remains only for as long as there is an audience tuning in.
Now might be a good time for a repromotion of The Smile Sessions, after a successful Beach Boys concert tour – but next to nothing from The Smile Sessions got an airing on the 50 Big Ones tour. Recent audiences could easily be oblivious that Smile is now officially available – or even happened in the first place.
Instead it’s yet another Best Of, and yet more reissues. Their reunion album, That’s Why God Made The Radio, has Brian Wilson’s Summer’s Gone ‘suite’ (which may or may not be about the end of The Beach Boys) – but there’s also Mike Love’s Spring Vacation:
we’re back together.
here’s ya money
they’re not buying
it’s not up to ya,
So their ‘celebrated’ 2012 reunion is actually just another Beach Boys album – neither one thing nor the other. Maybe their next album will be better. Oh wait…
‘America’s Band’ marches onwards into the past. ‘It’s 1965 all over again’ says Mike Love.
So what is ‘America’s Band’?
I’m in the UK – Americans might suppose that The Beatles are ‘Britain’s Band’, but you would be hard pressed to find anybody here who would make that claim.
Being in England, I may not be the best person to interrogate the self-made conceit that is America’s Band™ – one contributor to a Fan World messageboard said (about this blog) a few months ago
He’s also in England – proof positive that he’s not to be taken seriously in a debate about America’s Band.
So, rather than run the risk of ‘not being taken seriously’, I solicited an American Perspective:
Growing up as an American, it’s somewhat impossible to avoid America’s Band. You may not even know their name, or at least be able to connect it with anything other than “Kokomo” or “Good Vibrations”. You might even think that “California Girls” was written by Dave Lee Roth. However it may be, it is unavoidable to have a familiarity from a very young age with the Beach Boys.
I am a 36 year old white, American, male. I have two kids aged 6 and 10, a mother who is 68, and a father who just turned 69. Represented by these 3 distinct generation are 3 very different American perspectives on The Beach Boys. My father was a “greaser” growing up mostly in the 50s. He along with my mother were a little too old to really get on board with the hippie movement and were adults by the time “Surfin” was released. My father’s biggest memory of the Beach Boys would be the car songs and specifically “Fun, Fun, Fun.” My mother on the other hand was a bit too cool for the Beach Boys and by the time their music made it all the way over to Pennsylvania, she had already lived in France for year. Recently, she said to me, “You know…the Beach Boys weren’t exactly considered hip.”
I suppose it is my doing that my family has been forced to think so much about the Beach Boys here in 2012. It is rather a strange thing, a 36 year old man, deeply and passionately in love with the music of Brian Wilson. Maybe not as strange as it was 15 years ago when my obsession (as many have described it) began. Before any of this began, I remember hearing the Beach Boys on the radio during one of many cross-country trips that my family took together. I can’t say which song it was that I heard, but I like to think it was “Good Vibrations” – and it’s as likely as anything else to have been on the radio. On these road trips, my parents would lay flat the back seats of their wood-paneled station wagon and place a twin mattress for my brother and I to sleep, wrestle, kick and punch, and otherwise be normal American boys. My Dad preferred to drive at night as he never needed more than 2 hours sleep a day but the excitement of the road would be too much for me to sleep and the loneliness of the night sky would often haunt me. With my head lay close to the rear speaker, I would stare out the car window and listen to the music. On one such occasion, the Beach Boys came across the radio and the warmth of the sound put my mind at ease.
At 21 years old, I rediscovered the Beach Boys who I am told is also known as America’s Band – though I should be clear in indicating that I was fully unaware of this title for the better part of my 15 year fixation. At 21 years old, I didn’t listen to much of any vocal music. If pushed to describe my favorite music or the type of music I played (I started playing guitar in bands and writing at 15) I would invariably default to “experimental.” When asked which bands I liked, I would have to awkwardly lead the person asking to the conclusion “none you’ve ever heard of.” Which reminds me of joke. “What’s an indie rockers favorite band? Pffft…you’ve never heard of them…” In reality, there was no pride to be found in this because I often felt isolated by my musical tastes. When I was 20, my girlfriend, who was trying her best to listen to an album of music that I made (and I was desperate for her to see its value), said, hesitantly, “Maybe you are hearing things in this that others can’t.” But what she might have meant was “maybe you are hearing things that aren’t there…like a song.”
A lot had happened since that night in the back of the wood-paneled station wagon. And there’s “Kokomo” – a song that literally everyone in this country has heard and one that will guarantee moans and groans from ANY group of aesthetically conscious individuals no matter what their taste, creed, ethnicity, socio-economic standing, religion, or otherwise. At the same time, if you ask a random stranger on the street to name a Beach Boys’ song they will invariably say “Kokomo” and perhaps “Good Vibrations”. In this same way, when I heard that the Beach Boys might actually be “hip” it caused a reevaluation of “Good Vibrations” which had been, in my mind, trivialized by the very ideas that “Kokomo” represents. If these songs are the backdrops of our trips the grocery store, our trips to the Ron Jon’s Surf Shop, etc. it is hard to hear a song like “Good Vibrations” as a masterpiece when it is paired with “Kokomo”. It requires a relistening, a restart; it requires a beginner’s mind.
Jumping ahead to the present day, my children wake up to “Our Prayer” every morning before school. For now, the Beach Boys are the hippest band in the world as far as they are concerned – although already my 10 year old realizes “other kids my age don’t listen to this kind of music.” Every time the Beach Boys come up around my parents I have to justify why I love Brian’s music and over time I may have to do the same with my kids. To my parents, America’s Band represents a Disney-like fabrication of an innocence they believe never existed in this country. To my kids, America’s Band represents a deep and happy connection with their father. To me, America’s Band represents a connection to the eternal and something that is so far outside of any notion of nationality, race, creed, gender, or any other polarity. Through music, Brian’s heart is revealed and as it turns out, it’s the same heart that is in all of us – this is why I believe he is so deeply loved by so many people around the world including myself.
Where to begin with this ‘beginner’s mind’? If you care about music one iota, and you ‘moan and groan’ at Kokomo, and then you hear Cabinessence…
And is this ‘wood-paneled station wagon’ actually a woodie?
So how does America’s musical history perceive America’s Band?
This is an interesting book:
(“a superb, all-encompassing survey of music in America”)
From its back cover blurbs:
The definitive history of music in the United States is sure to delight music aficionados and history buffs alike, and is a must for anyone interested in what music has meant to America and what America has meant to music (says Publishers Weekly)
Crawford’s superb book presents the whole sweep of US cultivated and traditional music – from 16th-century native American music through late-20th century hip-hop culture (says Choice)
This book was cited in an earlier post (here):
While Dylan and Janis Joplin are pictured on the front cover collage, popular music, as perceived by post-1967 consumers, begins on page 714, with rock and roll; rock music starts on page 799. Who are all these other people? Well it’s obvious who some of them are, and that’s Leonard Bernstein at bottom left. But, these days, of what relevance are pages 1 to 713? Didn’t this all get swept away by The Beatles, Sgt Pepper, and The Rock Revolution?
Page 799 onwards is Chapter 38: From Accessibility to Transcendence. A chronology precedes the following excerpts:
These events outline a fairly clear path: immediate public acceptance on a grand scale; a retreat from public life; a new trajectory of artistic growth; a continuing appeal to record buyers; and the growing pressures of wealth and fame…from an artistic standpoint, the 1966 entry marks a basic shift in the life of the group. The audience had grown so enormous that touring and live performance lost their appeal. Therefore the group concentrated on the recording studio. The new musical ideas they explored, especially in the years 1965-67, lead them away from their early stage-band sound; they experimented with new textures and forms, with a breadth of view that came to include avant-garde techniques from the classical sphere…with each new album in these years, the group broke new musical ground…
It goes on for 9 pages.
Chapter 38’s full title? From Accessibility to Transcendence: The Beatles, Rock and Popular Music.
In this ‘all-encompassing survey of music in America’, America’s Band get mentioned how many times? From its index:
Beach, Amy (Mrs. H.H.A), 352, 353, 354, 356, 363-71, 369, 403, 496
compositions of, 367-69
Beach, Dr. Henry H.A., 364
Beardslee, Bethany, 705
The Beatles, xviii, 799-809, 811-12
This ‘definitive history of music in the United States’ fails to acknowledge America’s Band; they’re not even a footnote in ‘what music has meant to America and what America has meant to music’. ‘
‘Britain’s Band’ matter more to America in America’s Musical Life.
So what is The Beach Boys’ place in modern America’s cultural life?
Is it in ‘a soap opera, with story lines that can unfold across a season, or years’? Is it in ‘the tug of an audience that loves drama, villains, heroes, and talk’?
All of the above are excerpted from an article published October 31 2012, Is the UFC entering the Talk Era?
It’s about pro wrestling, and martial arts as entertainment.
Would the release of Smile in 1967 have shifted Richard Crawford’s focus in Chapter 38 away from the UK, and back to the US? It would be hard to argue otherwise. Look at David Oppenheim’s Inside Pop documentary.
Could the release of The Smile Sessions a year ago have done something to rectify this historical omission?
Maybe. But only if Beach Boys™ (as the corporate controllers of America’s Band) had actually acknowledged its release.
(thanks to Darin Hughes for permission to use correspondence)