Sunday, August 06, 2006

Beach Music

From Bruce Handy's New York Times review of Catch A Wave, The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, by Peter Ames Carlin:

But is there really anything “new,” as they say, to say about Wilson and the Beach Boys? Not really, at least on the evidence here — don’t go looking for revisionist theories about Al Jardine being the group’s real genius — though Carlin seems to have spoken to everyone close to Wilson who’s still alive, and some who aren’t. He has also dug up some illuminating new documents and recordings, transcripts of family squabbles, druggy parties and such, that flesh out the story more fully than earlier tellings did.

Well .... not so fast Mr. Handy. I'm not gonna go out on any limbs about Al Jardin, or Mike Love, but on listening to my double CD of Sunflower and Surf's Up I was surprised to realize that a few of my favorite tunes were by Carl or Dennis Wilson or maybe even Bruce Johnston. I had always approached these post-Smiley Smile records by more or less just listening to the tracks by Brian Wilson, but I'm learning now that that was a short-sighted approach. I know, serious Beach Boys fanatics have probably been through all this. But it took me a long time. The band had better luck with their next record, Surf's Up, which featured a few tracks from the abandoned Smile album. Bruce Johnston's "Disney Girls" and Carl's "Feel Flows" are from that one. [You can see Johnston perform "Disney Girls" solo on piano on the second volume of the Old Grey Whistle Test DVDs (far-inferior to the first). I don't understand why the BBC doesn't just released the entire series of this show instead of making questionable anthologizing decisions.]

We learn from Keith Badman's exhaustive and comprehensive The Beach Boys, The Definiteive Dairy of America's Greatest Band on Stage and in the Studio, that Sunflower was the first Beach Boys record on which everyone shared production duties. After having initially been rejected by their record label in February 1970, it was reworked and eventually released in August, but Sunflower went on to be the worst-selling Beach Boys record to date. We also learn that during this time Mike Love, who had been following the instructions of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, had grown thin, weak and delusional from an extreme fasting regime (you'll notice that the awful "Student Demonstration Time" from Surf's Up is not inclulded as an example of the BB's unsung genius). As a result, Love had skipped out on a few performances, and Brian Wilson rejoined the band, briefly, for the first steady stage appearances with them since 1964 and the famous breakdown.

Surf's Up did far better than Sunflower, in terms both of sales and critical response, but it's a record about which the Beach Boys had some considerable regrets. In the 1990s, Brian Wilson said it was a "piece of shit."

I learned from Mojo that the surviving members of the Beach Boys put their famous differences and often litigious tendencies aside to gather this summer in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the release of Pet Sounds.When asked if the band had buried its hatchets, long-suffering but still plainly evil and gross Mike Love, a man who obviously hasn't benefited enough from all the meditation and fasting, pointed to his back and said "The hatchets are all buried here."

"Forever" - Beach Boys

"Disney Girls" - Beach Boys

"Feel Flows" - Beach Boys

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