I will now achieve apotheosis.
My seriousness streak continues like a runaway freight train howling off the tracks, through a village of straw huts and screaming women; laundry fluttering in the air and catching like kites in my toupee-raising windripple; women’s skirts snapping upwards in a naughty rush of warm air. I am close now. I can smell history.
But I grow impatient. I tire of all the hard work. I will attempt to force apotheosis early. Check it out. Watch closely.
In moments I will become a Golden God of seriousness.
I will do it with a deadly serious poem about unrequited love.
Nothing can stop me.
And so let it begin…
Just one thing first.
The Beach Boys.
Do you know they have a new album called “That’s Why God Made the Radio” coming out, with Brian Wilson on board? Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnson too?
Do you realize how major this is?
Do you understand that The Beach Boys, during their brief creative climax, were very much equal to the Beatles? There was the Beach Boys and the Beatles and then everyone else. Do you realize that this new album coming out on Tuesday is, in a strange way, the closest we can come to a new Beatles album? You don’t, do you.
I don’t even want to continue talking until I hit up this link for the 18th time. It’s a new song from their new studio album.
I can’t stop listening to it.
I won’t stop listening to it.
I shouldn’t stop listening to it.
How is this song so good? And how is this song, the album’s title track, so good too (listen to it a couple times before you judge)? And how come the samples on iTunes for all the rest of the songs on the album sound so promising? Brian Wilson, my antisocial/nervous-breakdown role model, somehow wrote an album chock-full of impossibly-fresh, refreshingly inspired material. It’s like the 1960’s Beach Boys had been abducted by the baby midget-aliens and their unlikely animatronic spider-mother from the end of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and have now finally been returned to us in exchange for Richard Dreyfus. We’re talking 70-year-old men sounding as inspired and bright as ever! What the hell is going on here? Yes, I’m sure in putting this album together Brian got plenty of help on the songwriting/producing end from his very-talented touring band, but that only makes me love and respect Brian Wilson even more. Any great producer of anything knows: it’s the final product that counts.
For the past few weeks I have put my life on hold (AKA: I proceeded with my regular routine) in anticipation of this new album, which will drop this coming Tuesday. I have been bumping into walls at work thinking about it. I have been singing deep Beach Boy cuts LOUDLY in my car at intersections in downtown Los Angeles, teardrop-tattoo gangsters giving me worried looks from their lowriders as they thumpingly pull up alongside me.
I have no intention to not listen to this album.
Damn I love a good comeback story. It takes a certain kind of person to fully appreciate the Beach Boys, to be able to get past their “Surfin’ Safari” image. To get past the fact that at their impressionable inception they’d made the quick, conscious decision to roll with a randomly-chosen theme (the idea of singing “surfer songs” had taken root after a very innocent suggestion by Dennis Wilson, the only original Beach Boy ever to surf). To realize that if the Beatles had decided early on to call themselves the Library Boys, and to have predominately complemented all of their beloved melodies with lyrics concerning the Dewey decibel system and “late fees”, the world today might not be so uniform in cherishing the Lennon/McCartney back catalog.
At least the world agrees that Pet Sounds is a masterpiece, but that’s where the respect seems to begin and end.
Yes, there’s the recently-assembled “Smile” too, but because it was never released back when it was supposed to be released, back in the sixties, one can’t really expect it to have any real-estate in the American public’s overall consciousness of the Beach Boys.
But there is so much more greatness in their catalog!
In fact there’s another “masterpiece” that I never hear anyone talking about. Not even people who claim to know and love the Beach Boys.
A little forgotten gem called “Today” (check out that link for the entire album on youtube. If you find yourself with time to kill go ahead and listen to the whole thing all the way through — it’s a pretty quick listen). This album was Brian Wilson building up the nerve to conquer the world. In some ways I like this album even more than Pet Sounds because it perfectly outlines the creative-conflict Brian Wilson the minute he decided to venture beyond “fun, surf songs.” This is the album where he breaks through and lets his creativity explore the woods beyond the backyard. On this album you actually experience the moment he becomes a genius, and it’s a moment of warm triumph. It happens directly in the middle of the album. In vinyl form, it happens the moment you flip the record over to side 2. It happens when “Please Let Me Wonder” taps you on the back of the shoulder and you turn around and see the rest of the album standing there. Last thing you heard was “Dance, Dance, Dance” and then all of a sudden you feel weak-kneed and have to steady yourself. This song hits you hard. Basically, the album abruptly changes from particularly-good surfin-type songs (I challenge you to listen to “Don’t Hurt My Little Sister” and NOT listen to it again directly afterwards) to lush, pain-drenched ballads about real, real issues, like being annoyingly too young to marry anyone.
In typing this I just caught my second wind of infatuation with that particular song. It’s called “I’m So Young.”
Side B. Nobody was ready for it except Brian himself. The existence of Side B set the stage for one of my favorite moments in the history of rock and roll. The moment when a nervous Mike Love, supported by ill-at-ease record executes, took Brian into a room and asked him in a deadly serious, grave tone: “Brian, we need to know: what are your musical intentions?” They were afraid. They had wanted Side B to be a lot more like Side A. They pressured Brian to bottle up his greatness. In a cold sweat they forced him to postpone his apotheosis for one more album. Pet Sounds was coming, but first there was to be “Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!),” where we find a Brian barely managing to restrain his creativity in such a way as to please the then-influencers of his career.
This album is not the clean cut masterpiece of “Today,” but it’s also very, very good and should be talked about when people start claiming they respect the Beach Boys. This one doesn’t have the heart-melting sneak attack of its predecessor—Brian no longer had the element of surprise. Instead, the whole thing is peppered, in a general way, with elements of Brian’s maturing genius. A couple of true gems near the end. “You’re So Good to Me” being one.
Really, I could go on all day about the Beach Boys. I can do a big complex list ranking all of their albums leading up to their last gasp of post-Smile goodness “Sunflower.” I’d stop there, because everything after that was just exploitation of past accomplishments, and by then Brian was thoroughly nervous-breakdowning. Then there was “Kokomo” in the 80’s, an unexpected, late-inning hit, without Brian’s involvement, and after that it seemed that the Beach Boys were out of surprises and just old.
But then, in the late nineties, Brian came out his reclusion, a little worse for the wear, but committed to fighting his way back into game. Though his voice had grown a bit clumsy and hoarse (these days he sings somewhat slobberishly out of the side of his mouth, perhaps his penalty for all that heavy drug use in the 60’s and 70’s and maybe 80’s)—yet this doesn’t stop me from lovingly recreating Brian’s “side-singing” whenever I sing his songs at the top of my dog-yelping lungs in the privacy of my softtop jeep) he demonstrated over a series of solo albums that he still had a little something left in the creative reservoir. He’d been building up a little momentum with each one, taking him through to his own fully-finished version of Smile. He’d been fighting back slowly but surely.
Still, it seemed safe to say that Brian’s most effective years were long behind him.
But now the Beach Boys are celebrating their 50th anniversary and they seem to have mutually decided that they’re all too old to keep on suing each other when they could make far more money packaging themselves as a newly reformed touring band. They convinced Brian to join them for the first time in more than 20 years. They made an album and it sounds much, much better than anyone could have reasonably expected such an album made under such circumstances to sound.
With the still-mostly-intact voices of Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnson to help take some of the pressure off his own weakened singing ability, it seems that with “That’s Why God Made the Radio” Brian was able to focus more on the writing and the producing. When Brian does sing lead on this album, from what I can tell, it’s done in short bursts, and quickly bolstered by the energizing harmonies of the reach of the Beach Boys. The result: a kind of litmus test of Brian’s present-day songwriting ability. His solo albums featured a little too much of Brian’s battle-damaged voice to be taken too seriously, but here’s something that very much demands to be taken seriously. These songs sound awesome. They sound like classic Beach Boys goodness.
Turns out maybe “Kokomo” isn’t the last trick they had up their sleeve.
I love a comeback story.
As for my own apotheosis…yeah, I really don’t feel like writing a deadly serious poem anymore. Not after all this Brian talk. I’m just going to listen to this song two more times and then publish this post.