Struggling Weekly, May 1, 2014
I received the news that the Beach Boys will perform at this year’s Ashley for the Arts festival with mixed emotions. While that California band has provided part of the sound track for more than a half-century of my life, the musicians that entertained me when I was young are looking, like me, rather — old, for the want of a better word.
The Boys were one of the staples of the Top 40 AM radio that I began listening to in the early 1960s. But they were something more than just pop fare; the Beatles and the other English Invasion acts dominated the airwaves in the mid-1960s,
The Beach Boys, though — along with the Byrds, Dylan and the Rascals — were the best answer Americans had back then. Those artists, and Motown, kept us from being totally overrun by the Limeys.
The Boys started out as a “surf band,” which was kind of unfamiliar to those of us beached here in the Midwest. But it wasn’t long before they joined acts like Jan and Dean in celebrating the evolving American car culture, and car-crazy teens like myself, my older brother and our friends could better appreciate songs like “409,” “Little Deuce Coupe” and “Shut Down,” which fed into our Chevy vs. the Other Guys biases.
We didn’t have auto CD players back then — it was even pre-eight-track tape — so we couldn’t pick our music when “cruising the Circuit” in Janesville. Odds were good, though, that we could hear “I Get Around” on the car radio at some point during the evening. And when I was manager on the high school basketball team, road trips featured repeated singing of “Barbara Ann” (and the Kingsmen’s “Jolly Green Giant”).
The Beach Boys, though, like the Beatles and many of the other rock bands of the ’60s, started expanding their horizons in the second half of the decade. Not all the acts had the musical skills to go beyond the three-minute single and the 12-bar blues format; the Boys did.
I picked up on that, nearly wearing out the grooves on my 45-rpm copy of “Heroes and Villains.” Albums like “Pet Sounds” took the Beach Boys in directions other than catching a wave or stoplight racing.
Like a lot of the big-name acts of the ’60s and ’70s, the Boys foundered in subsequent decades, original members leaving over disagreements and personal problems. They remained popular, though, and never succumbed to the “super group” madness that saw bands breaking up and forming other combinations, often at the expense of the synergy and musical quality.
The band that will be coming to Arcadia, though, will include only one of the original members. That’s not uncommon on what I call the “Geezer Circuit,” where a few surviving members from a group round up back-up musicians — often too young to remember the music the first time it came out — and start playing casinos (after the intra-band lawsuits get settled).
The Beach Boys were basically a family act, consisting of brothers and cousins, the Loves and the Wilsons. That was probably part of the reason for their success; like other great brother acts — the Everlys, the Louvins — the commonality of their voices helped make the sound.
Two of the Wilson brothers, Carl and Dennis, are deceased. Most notably missing — as he has been for much of the last several decades — is the Wilson brother most responsible for writing the songs. Bob Dylan once said of Brian Wilson that “somebody ought to cut off his ear and put it in the Smithsonian,” or something to that effect — an acknowledgement of that Beach Boy’s genius from one of the other great songwriters of the modern era.
So, no, it won’t be the people who performed that part of the soundtrack of my teens and 20s who will take to the Memorial Park stage in early August. But those guys created a musical legacy that will be on display — and that music was fun, and had the magic of eternal summer and youth about it.