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Author Topic: Van Dyke letter to NYT redux  (Read 16131 times)
Bicyclerider
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« on: December 28, 2005, 12:36:38 PM »

I wanted to carry this over from the locked board:

Van Dyke has writen a response to the big article on 'Smile' published by the New York Review of Books. i've seen the question of the collaboration between Van Dyke and Brian discussed here and this is of relevance.

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/18629

Volume 53, Number 1 · January 12, 2006

Letter
'SMILE'
By Van Dyke Parks, Reply by Scott Staton

In response to A Lost Pop Symphony (September 22, 2005)

To the Editors:

Re: "A Lost Pop Symphony," by Scott Staton [NYR, September 22, 2005].

For forty years, in numerous print articles, Brian Wilson has repeatedly stated he contributed music only to Smile. As well, I've maintained I only provided lyrics. Although I truly appreciate Scott Staton's take on the work, I must disabuse him of Brian's having envisioned the album as "an affectionate critique of America's mythic past" etc. Manifest Destiny, Plymouth Rock, etc. were the last things on his mind when he asked me to take a free hand in the lyrics and the album's thematic direction.

Music expresses feelings. Words, thoughts. In combination, they make songs. Still the most portable of all cultural goods, songs have consoled, amused, and even stirred peoples to nationhood. This broad potential of the song-form dates from the time of David to the present.

Brian sang: da da da da da da da da dah. I wrote "Columnaded ruins domino." I've lived to regret it for the majority of my adult life. Now, I'd like to enjoy it justly. Still, I thank Scott Staton for the print. Many more deserving talents never get a whit of recognition in their lifetimes. We got lucky, I guess.

Van Dyke Parks
Los Angeles, California

Scott Staton replies:

I'm disappointed that Van Dyke Parks feels I mischaracterized his collaboration with Brian Wilson. My piece did make plain Parks's important lyrical contribution to Smile. In describing him as a crucial participant, I referred to him six times and suggested that his departure from the project made it difficult for Wilson to complete it. I also referred to his first two solo full-length recordings as "minor masterpieces of idiosyncratic Americana," and much of the piece closely considered the substance of Parks's lyrics.

Despite these acknowledgments, Parks apparently feels that he wasn't given just credit in my piece. This is surprising, because past remarks of his have clearly indicated that he was hired by Wilson, with whom he shared an interest in American themes, and that he worked with him in a collaborative but subordinate role. As I understand it, his task as lyricist was to illustrate images that Wilson's music evoked. This is suggested by recent comments of his that are available on-line, in "audio portrait" sound files at the Web site of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (www.ascap.com /audioportraits/vandykeparks.html).

In these comments, Parks says of his collaboration with Wilson: "I was trying to follow his instincts, unquestioning, like a dog. Just be devoted and work hard to try to provide words to the phrases he came up with." He says that the music of Smile is "anecdotal, fragmentary, schizophrenic...and the lyrics were required to follow suit.... What comes first, the music or the words? In this case, it was the music." He continues: "Melody, it seems to me, provides the most fundamental, the deepest feelings, and I think feelings trump thoughts any time."

Parks goes on to describe Wilson's music as "image laden," and explains that "we just kind of wanted to investigate...American images.... Everyone was hung up and obsessed with everything totally British. So we decided to take a gauche route that we took, which was to explore American slang, and that's what we got." Parks's liberal use of the word "we" to describe Brian Wilson and himself implies that they shared an understanding of the album's thematic direction.

In an interview with Parks published by The Guardian in 1999, he stated that Brian Wilson "was completely in control." On the topic of possibly reviving Smile for release, he said, "I would like Brian to address this particular dilemma of his own life. If Brian would want to work on it, then I would be involved in that. But I don't want to be paid to go to the embalming room. It was his baby." For his part, in his 1991 autobiography Wilson recalled playing early recordings of Smile songs at a dinner and explaining the material to his guests. "The whole album is going to be a far-out trip through the Old West," he said. "Real Americana. But with lots of interesting humor." In spite of his failure to complete the work in 1967, it seems Wilson had an idea of Smile's thematic underpinnings.

None of this is to diminish the significance of Van Dyke Parks's contribution to Smile. I hold his work in very high regard and much appreciate that he wrote lyrics for Smile.


I think this guy is missing the point of what Van Dyke is saying.  He's saying that the lyrical content and thematic content was left to Van Dyke by Brian, and that Van Dyke came up with the manifest destiny, Plymouth rock to Hawaii, American West lyrical themes.  He's not saying that Brian's music didn't inspire him to come up with these themes, due to the images Van Dyke heard in the music, or that they weren't collaborating (clearly the musical ending of Worms wouldn't have been written without the lyrical Hawaii references coming first, right?) - but that Brian didn't tell him top write about that, it was Van Dyke's decision, with Brian of course agreeing and having the ability to veto whatever Van Dyke came up with.  Van brought the Americana trip into Smile - Brian brought the Elements, as Van Dyke has admitted having nothing to do with that (other than writing the lyrics to Vegetables - but this was a theme Brian no doubt came up with, as is evidenced by the Vegetables "arguments").
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SMiLEY
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« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2005, 11:23:30 AM »

This is another fascinating aspect of the greatest album ever made. Please excuse my understatement.  Grin
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SurferGirl7
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« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2005, 02:25:28 PM »

Is it me or does Van Dyke Parks have some superiority complex  Huh
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I. Spaceman
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« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2005, 02:39:19 PM »

Exactly, and for little reason.
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SMiLEY
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« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2005, 06:28:55 PM »

I disagree. I don't see anything seemingly superior about his remarks. But I think he would be justified to be proud of his work. I mean, the guy is a killer lyricist. Even aside from SMiLE, his own solo works feature densely-crafted wordsmithing of a very high order. Plus he's a damned fine arranger and skilled musician.

If you want superior, look into what's been going on with Carole Kaye lately.
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the captain
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« Reply #5 on: December 29, 2005, 06:38:48 PM »

I disagree. I don't see anything seemingly superior about his remarks. But I think he would be justified to be proud of his work. I mean, the guy is a killer lyricist. Even aside from SMiLE, his own solo works feature densely-crafted wordsmithing of a very high order. Plus he's a damned fine arranger and skilled musician.
I think it's safe to say the man enjoys the sound of his own voice. Don't get me wrong, I loved his earlier music and lyrics (especially), but come on...he comes across as almost insanely pompous.


If you want superior, look into what's been going on with Carole Kaye lately.
I hope this doesn't start another post about somebody being banned from somewhere.
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« Reply #6 on: December 29, 2005, 06:51:03 PM »




If you want superior, look into what's been going on with Carole Kaye lately.
I hope this doesn't start another post about somebody being banned from somewhere.

Oh Christ, not THAT again.
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the captain
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« Reply #7 on: December 29, 2005, 07:09:42 PM »

Exactly.
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« Reply #8 on: December 30, 2005, 05:30:22 AM »

I understand the writer's confusion. Van Dyke has always made a big deal out of his subordinate role on Smile and now all of a sudden he is pissed that he isn't getting enough mention.

Søren
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Old Rake
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« Reply #9 on: December 30, 2005, 05:37:31 AM »

Quote
and for little reason.

Apart from being awesome, and all.
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NimrodsSon
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« Reply #10 on: December 30, 2005, 06:59:30 AM »

I don't think "superiority" is the right word, but there is some sort of issue going on there, perhaps insecurity and a bit of jealosy.
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« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2005, 08:35:54 AM »

Van Dyke himself said hundreds of times that he didn´t work WITH Brian, he worked FOR Brian. But I´ve never read a review about SMiLE were he wasn´t mentioned and praised, so I think he gets the respect, which he highly deserves, imo. I just hope he doesn´t follow Carol in this aspect.

About that "superiority": Van Dyke is incredible talented in many ways, and he is also clever enough to know that. Should he lie and say "I´m not good at anything."?
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Jason
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« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2005, 08:39:57 AM »


About that "superiority": Van Dyke is incredible talented in many ways, and he is also clever enough to know that. Should he lie and say "I´m not good at anything."?

Yeah really. Look what happened to Brian.
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JRauch
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« Reply #13 on: December 30, 2005, 08:40:54 AM »

Brian could use some of the confidence that Van Dyke has.
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Dance as if no one's looking. Wrestle things out to bring moment to your own sense of discovery, and make the world a better place. This is no time for whiners.  –  Van Dyke Parks
Jason
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« Reply #14 on: December 30, 2005, 08:41:35 AM »

Therein lies the difference between Brian and Van Dyke.
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SMiLEY
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« Reply #15 on: December 30, 2005, 11:17:21 AM »

I think you guys need to re-read Van Dyke's letter. He is merely clarifying a point. The writer mistakenly assumes that Brian was the source for the manifest destiny aspects of SMiLE. Van Dyke simply points out the fact that Brian gave him no such framework. I still don't see the arrogance that some of you are sensing.  Huh
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the captain
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« Reply #16 on: December 30, 2005, 11:18:41 AM »

I think most people who are referring to it don't mean simply in that letter, but in the whole of their exposure to him.
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« Reply #17 on: December 30, 2005, 11:24:26 AM »

I think Van Dyke is very, VERY talented, but there's a simultaneous preciousness and arrogance to him that's very irritating.
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SMiLEY
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« Reply #18 on: December 30, 2005, 11:30:43 AM »

I disagree. I find him hilarious most of the time. He simply uses language in a more 'old school' way than we do. I think the closest example of what I'm talking about is Mark Twain. Serious lit credentials, but with that crucial touch of wit that balances it.
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I. Spaceman
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« Reply #19 on: December 30, 2005, 11:45:29 AM »

I find him funny, too, but not always intentionally. I mean, don't YOU laugh at him in the American Band documentary?
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Jason
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« Reply #20 on: December 30, 2005, 11:46:50 AM »

I find him funny, too, but not always intentionally. I mean, don't YOU laugh at him in the American Band documentary?

That's actually from the It's OK documentary.
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the captain
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« Reply #21 on: December 30, 2005, 11:48:28 AM »

I find him funny, too, but not always intentionally. I mean, don't YOU laugh at him in the American Band documentary?

Seeing that for the first time was among the greatest moments of my life. Somebody should use a pic of him from that as an avatar.
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I. Spaceman
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« Reply #22 on: December 30, 2005, 11:49:31 AM »

OK, well, the clip from It's OK shown in AB.
And that whole "You'll show them teabags" thing in Beautiful Dreamer, my god, that's a Mike Love moment. I think that's the reason Van and Mike don't like each other, because they are so alike.
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Jason
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« Reply #23 on: December 30, 2005, 11:51:02 AM »

OK, well, the clip from It's OK shown in AB.
And that whole "You'll show them teabags" thing in Beautiful Dreamer, my god, that's a Mike Love moment. I think that's the reason Van and Mike don't like each other, because they are so alike.

That's because they're both great and they know they're both great.
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the captain
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« Reply #24 on: December 30, 2005, 11:52:04 AM »

If we're poking fun at his, ah, idiosyncracies, how about the great bow on one knee during the first Smile show, as seen on Beautiful Dreamer? Brian seems awfully confused at that maneuver.
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