The last time Weetzie stayed over at Casa T, we watched the movie, Love and Mercy; a biopic about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. The story was in two parts: the intersection of his complicated past and resolution with the present. Younger Brian was played by Paul Dano and John Cusack portrayed the vintage Wilson. Elizabeth Banks bore an uncanny resemblance to Melinda Ledbetter, a woman who came into Wilson’s life in the 1980s, and appeared just in time to release Brian from the grip of a demonic psychiatrist, Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Suffice it to say, all remarkable performances.
Because of it, I have developed a latent obsession with the Beach Boys; unceasingly researching music reviews, watching videos and listening to podcasts about their atypical lives, creative forces, and their incredible catalog of music. What took so long, and why?
Being a post-war boomer, I came of age when the Beatles first stepped foot onto the sandy shores of our side of the pond, appearing on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. Yeah, the Beach Boys were making hits that were fun to dance to, and reminded us of all the fun of distant and future summers (especially when sitting in math class). On the other hand, the Beatles brought out a new weird and wonderful feeling inside of me that my naïveté could not yet identify…hmmmm.
Taking a time-out to digress…We didn’t see “The Story of Menstruation” film until fifth grade. The reassuring voice of the female narrator told us that this bloody mess was to prepare us for eventual babies of our own, but never explained how babies got there in the first place. Could these new sensations possibly lead to the beginning of the final act of producing a baby? (Oh, wouldn’t it be nice!). But that was Catholic school for you, where a lot of “mysteries” were never clarified.
I consulted my therapist about this affliction that was beginning to spook me. Marnie told me that more than likely, I found contentment in their music as a relief from stress, and showed that I had the capability to appreciate fine works of art (at the same time, probably scribbling FUBAR on her yellow legal pad). I have always had an insatiable appetite for biographies; reading them in an attempt to figure out the impetus for a life lived, and what propelled the person towards (un)wanted notoriety and (mis)fortune.
It took me 50 years to give audience to the Beach Boys 1966 release of the album Pet Sounds, now considered to be one of the most influential records in American music. What can I say? Appreciation works at its own speed. At that time, a mental breakdown and sheer exhaustion caused Brian to quit touring with the band to stay at home where he felt more at ease, and to write, “the greatest album ever made.” If these songs were released today, we would probably accept it as being just another fab compilation produced by the group. But the concept of Pet Sounds was light years beyond the then tried-and-true, rock ‘n’ roll money making formula to be taken seriously here in the States. Fans in England and Sweden named the Beach Boys as being their “favourite group;” a notch above their own homegrown Beatles. (Add a little “Norwegian Wood” for good measure). After Lennon and McCartney replayed an acetate copy of Pet Sounds sessions over and over, they began to clone the same soundwave for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Commercially, Pet Sounds became a losing proposition for Capitol Records.
The movie focused on Wilson’s use of unconventional sounds, alien to 60s rock compositions. The tympani, sleigh bells, bass harmonica, harpsichord, various strings, brass, and winds; even a bicycle horn and a Coke can for percussion, became the “orchestra” of instruments played by musicians borrowed from Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound group called, “The Wrecking Crew.” The soundtrack was imagined by Brian, most of which had been the result of auditory hallucinations reverberating between his ears (one of which was 96% deaf), propelled with an elixir of not only Norwegian Wood, but Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds. (In one YouTube documentary “Beautiful Dreamer,” Brian discusses how he actually “saw” the notes appear like a vision in front of him). Most lyrics of Beach Boys songs had been penned by Mike Love. Instead, Tony Ascher stepped up to the plate, and wrote some of the most endearing lines this music planet has ever heard…. kinda like what Jesus would whisper in your ear if you earned your angel’s wings. Every time I play a cut from Pet Sounds and additional records from the Beach Boys, it seems as though I’m hearing it for the very first time. Some new gold nugget is always uncovered in any one of its measures and key shifts.
If you ask my own wrecking crew, they will vouch that my emotional sensitivity bubbles up to the surface whenever I listen to music. I weep when I hear our National Anthem played gloriously at the Olympic Games. I simulatenously conduct Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and drive my car. (I’m sure there is some kind of law against that). And now, I endlessly loop Beach Boys songs on my iPhone and in my head. My iTunes bill is through the roof!
Marnie, you were so right. There IS a built-in comfort zone in the soundtrack from a simpler time. (“Why Do Songs From Your Past Evoke Such Vivd Memories?“). Attempting to unravel and master their 6-part harmony is an entertaining challenge, especially if you can hit Brian’s falsetto range. As Wilson once said, “We make happy music. We want people to be happy when they hear our songs.” The Beach Boys, individually and collectively, lead lives that were permeated by extreme highs and lows, like a modern-day tragic opera. But, like Beethoven or Van Gogh or Oscar Wilde or any artist who endured critical torture for their visionary perspective somehow created the greatest works in cultural history. Add Brian Wilson to the company of his fellow geniuses. So, if something such as Pet Sounds, any Beach Boys song, or ANY song for that matter soothes my soul and untangles synapses in my mind; please press REPEAT.