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Author Topic: Van Dyke letter to NYT redux  (Read 16031 times)
SMiLEY
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« Reply #50 on: January 06, 2006, 12:00:21 AM »

the intimation, by van dyke and others in this thread, that brian was completely uninvolved with the "conception" of the american scope of the record also strikes me as both unlikely and a little silly. 

I don't think that's what ANYONE is arguing here!

Brian wasn't completely uninvolved. For God's sake, he went out and found Van Dyke and decided he'd be the right guy for the job. He then sat him down and sang, "Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba!" Van came back with, "I've  been in this town so long that back in the city...." Brian approved it and I'm sure a lot of discussion went on about it until it was done. But if it had been, say Tony Asher sitting there, it may well have been a song about emotions instead of Manifest Destiny. Van Dyke brought a particular viewpoint to the table and the fact is he's been pretty fucking humble about it. So much so that now people are taking his part for granted.
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« Reply #51 on: January 06, 2006, 02:27:24 AM »

The following passage from Brian's "biography" may help show where Brian's and Van Dyke's heads were at concerning the "American" thing.

Quote
One night while we were working, Dennis came to the house, complaining that the Beach Boys' stage outfits, the candy-striped shirts and straight-legged slacks that my dad had picked out in the band's infancy, had elicited ridicule in some of London's hipper circles. I sympathized, while Van Dyke immediately interpreted Dennis's tale on a much broader level. He saw it as a small example of the shame the U.S. was suffering throughout the world as a result of the Vietnam War.
"We should hit it head-on," he said.
"I like it," I said. "I don't know much about it, but my instincts tell me you're right."
Popping some speed, Van Dyke and I stayed up the rest of the night and wrote "Surf's Up," a song whose title was so utterly cliche and square that it couldn't be anything but hip.

If I'm reading the above correctly, Van Dyke Parks equates the Beach Boys' image (the stage outfits) with the United States of America.

Yup- great find there. Even if it's semi-apocryphal (do we know who actually wrote that bio?) it sounds plausible. Yeah Parks probably did equate the Boys with America-- even if, at that point in time, it was a novel idea.

I mean I still maintain that the average fan (which was certainly NOT Parks) did not necessarily see the Beach Boys  as a particularly "American" pop group. In 1966, it was still a world where "Americanism" was represented in popular culture by Pat Boone,  Guy Lombardo,  maybe Georgie Jessel (now forgotten) wearing his uniform... the Beach Boys were a rock and roll group , and a in 1966 there were still millions of mainstream Americans over 30 years old who assumed that all rock and roll was, by definition, Unamerican.
So Parks  was once again, way ahead of his time  in recognizing  the essential "American-ness"  of the whole Murry-directed  collegiate candy-stripe-shirt-cum-surfer-hodad image thing. He saw the Beach Boys as ambassadors of a culture that he thought was doing something horrible, and he wanted to play a role in redeeming that culture, by injecting some hip, cosmopolitan world-view  into Brian's baroque-bubblegum universe. Brian may of heard his ramblings, thought "I never saw us that way, I don't know anything about Vietnam, but now that you mention it..."

Well, before I got into them I think I perceived them as being five times Pat Boone, or surfing Doris Days as Bruce said it, and like Boone they also played a very cleaned up kind of rock'n'roll, with the barbershop harmonies and so forth. I think for europeans they represented that whole toothpaste-smile, hollywood happy ending  american thing, so I think they were actually perceived as being something very american all along and of course they were also Americas answer to Beatles. 

Søren
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« Reply #52 on: January 06, 2006, 03:15:51 AM »

Isn't there an interview with Al (Goldmine?) where he talks about heroes and Villains having its genesis in the very early days of the BB? I don't mean the lyrical complexity and this isn't to be interpreted as a dig at Parks... I think he was referring to the actual music.  It'd be interesting to know which bit...
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« Reply #53 on: January 06, 2006, 10:27:24 AM »

I don't have Van Dyke's exact "pan-patriotic/trans-presidential" quote in front of me but I think most folks know that one. Essentially Van Dyke says that the Beach Boys' pan patriotic, trans presidential, vibe was the perfect medium for Brian and Van Dyke to "talk about what we knew."

Van Dyke's comment appears to say that they could talk about "what they knew" using American (and therefore Beach Boys) imagery.

This summation is consistant with that derrived from Brian's bio quote from the above posts.

Another thing to consider regarding Van Dyke's letter to the NYT is that Parks seems to indicate that the American bit was not front and center in the Brian Wilson's mind. It was not the driving force behind SMiLE.

And because of this, popular interpretations of SMiLE that point to the Americana thing probably should rethink things a bit.
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« Reply #54 on: January 06, 2006, 12:53:13 PM »

strong posts on the "America" aspect of the Beach Boys by Bill and Barba.  i like those ideas about the uniforms and the lyrical accentuation Van Dyke brought to the Beach Boys' American quality.  Barba knows his stuff, but i still think, in agreement i think with some of teh other posts, that the Beach Boys were straight-up, California sun, blue-eyed manifestations of the American experience.  i mean, they perfectly encapsulated the adolescent flush of postwar prosperity in American culture, even emerging out of the sunny planned communities of California, land of Hollywood and the stuff of dreams the world over (inc. in Britain).  And they prominently wrote about American-centris fads like surfing and hotrods, both native cultural trends to America, and broke real big with zanily patriotic songs like "Surfin' USA" and "California Girls."  so i think there was no question that the beach boys were especially *American* in the moment of the sixties.  i don't agree that the "America's band" thing came later -- it was an outgrowth of what they always were.

and then another point i was thinking, which is really just a point of info -- remember the David Leaf "Story of Smile" documentary on Showtime and now DVD?  we've all seen it, it's what it is, etc.  in it the narrator himself describes Smile with words that basically say that Smile was going to follow the movement of a "bicycle rider from Plymouth Rock to Diamond Head."  i remember very much that it said that in the documentary, and David Leaf is probably the most unimpeachable Beach Boys authority.  why didn't anyone raise a fuss then if it's such a big deal when the New York Review of Books (www.nybooks.com / not the New York Times) basically says the same thing>? 

you guys can check the Leaf description if you have a copy of the doc.

CS
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« Reply #55 on: January 06, 2006, 02:52:28 PM »

The above poster noted that in David Leaf's SMiLE flick;
Quote
the narrator himself describes Smile with words that basically say that Smile was going to follow the movement of a "bicycle rider from Plymouth Rock to Diamond Head."

I'm pretty sure that the "bicycle rider" quote and the "how great America could be" quote from the DVD are not really David Leaf thoughts but rather thoughts from a knowledgeable Beach Boys authority. You'll notice that those two thoughts don't seem to fit neatly into the SMiLE DVD, they seem out of place. I tend to think that they were "throw in" thoughts used to justify the Americana thing because there wasn't any Americana stuff being offered up by the film's participants (the major SMiLE people; Anderle, Parks, Wilson, Schwartz, Vosse, etc).

Doesn't that speak volumes about SMiLE and the Americana angle.
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« Reply #56 on: January 06, 2006, 04:28:16 PM »

The above poster noted that in David Leaf's SMiLE flick;
Quote
the narrator himself describes Smile with words that basically say that Smile was going to follow the movement of a "bicycle rider from Plymouth Rock to Diamond Head."

I'm pretty sure that the "bicycle rider" quote and the "how great America could be" quote from the DVD are not really David Leaf thoughts but rather thoughts from a knowledgeable Beach Boys authority. You'll notice that those two thoughts don't seem to fit neatly into the SMiLE DVD, they seem out of place. I tend to think that they were "throw in" thoughts used to justify the Americana thing because there wasn't any Americana stuff being offered up by the film's participants (the major SMiLE people; Anderle, Parks, Wilson, Schwartz, Vosse, etc).

Doesn't that speak volumes about SMiLE and the Americana angle.

here we go again.  nothing against bill, but the thoughts didn't seem particularly out of place to me or thrown in to justify anything.  enthusiasts have posited the Americana bicycle rider trek since the beginning of the Smile saga, and it was always presumed that the cross-country conceit (with reference to the railroads and old west) was meant to give the album some kind of narrative/conceptual arc.  therefore it's no surprise that the documentary would have said as much.  also, again, "Beautiful Dreamer" was produced and directed by David Leaf.  so I don't agree he was blithely unaware of what was in the documentry's narrative script -- in fact, i don't doubt he had a lot to do with it's writing. 
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« Reply #57 on: January 07, 2006, 07:24:50 AM »

From Van Dyke's letter to the NY Times;

Quote
...Manifest Destiny, Plymouth Rock, etc. were the last things on his (Brian's) mind when he asked me to take a free hand in the lyrics and the album's thematic direction.




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« Reply #58 on: January 08, 2006, 07:52:35 AM »

Scott Staton replied to Park's letter;
Quote
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.


The big problem I have with this is calling the Americana stuff "Smile's thematic underpinnings." I think that this is the big mistake that slews of SMiLE people make.

During the "SMiLE era" Brian Wilson made it clear that his new music was "spiritual music." Songs of faith, religious music, that was "the whole movement." And at the same time Brian also stated that "psychedelic music" was going to be the new "happening" music.  There is no contradiction here. The mostly LSD inspired psychedelic movement used spiritual texts as a guideline and Brian's metaphysical literature endeavers go hand in hand with all of this. Brian believed that laughter could help prompt a spiritual experience and so laughter fits in there as well. Brain also believed that vegetables were an "important ingredient" in heath and "spiritual enlightenment." There are no contradictions here. If anything, the spiritual angle is SMiLE's "thematic underpinning"!!!!!!!!!!

It is when people throw the American thing into the mix that SMiLE becomes disjointed and problematic. What folks don't realize is that when Van Dyke Parks told Mike Love that the SMiLE lyrics "...don't mean anything," he wasn't kidding.

When London's hipper crowd criticized the Beach Boys' stage outfits in 1966 they were missing the point of how musically cool and hip (and DEEP) the Pet Sounds/Good Vibrations era Beach Boys really were. The same crowd probably would have missed the point again when SMiLE came out. But that may have been part of Brian's and Van Dyke's plan to show that beyond that surface appearance lay the heaviest of the heaviest, the deepest of the deep! If you are going to get hung up on appearances your aren't going to understand anyway.
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« Reply #59 on: January 08, 2006, 12:18:03 PM »

first, from Van Dyke MOUTH (www.ascap.com /audioportraits/vandykeparks.html).
< "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." >

second, from Scott Staton's piece on SMILE published in the New York Review of Books (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/18264):

< A work unified by recurring musical motifs, Smile was imagined as a collection of three suites composed of discrete musical segments that would evoke themes of frontier Americana and childhood, as well as the four natural elements—the movement of air could be heard, for example, in the song "Wind Chimes." Wilson intended the album to be the preeminent psychedelic pop-art statement.

The psychedelic era produced rock music's most recklessly innovative work. The use of the drug epithet "psychedelic" suggested the recording and arranging of songs in ways that would approximate aspects of an altered state of awareness. The result was music whose bizarre conventions demanded (and often rewarded) close attention from the listener. For Wilson, this psychedelic element had a spiritual quality. As he related in a 1966 interview,

"About a year ago I had what I consider a very religious experience. I took LSD, a full dose of LSD, and later, another time, I took a smaller dose.... I can't teach you, or tell you, what I learned from taking it. But I consider it a very religious experience."

Wilson hoped the release of Smile would set off the commercial eruption of psychedelic music that he and others (such as the Beatles) anticipated. "Psychedelic music will cover the face of the world and color the whole popular music scene," he declared. "Anybody happening is psychedelic." >

i personally wondered about the "3 movement" assertion in the passage above, thinking maybe that wasn't accurate.  but then i saw the following on the SMILE FAQ < http://www.thesmileshop.net/history_faq.html >:

< Q: What is this about 3 movements? Is that something he had planned from the 60s?

A: According to Peter Reum, yes. He apparently spoke to Brian around 1980, and Brian had revealed that a 3-movement structure for the song had always been planned. Darian and others have anecdotally confirmed that.

The 3 movements deal with the three main themes of the album. The first movement is basically the "Americana" movement, and its songs deal with the old west, western expansion, and American history. The second movement is the "Childhood" movement, and its songs deal with childhood, innocence, loss of innocence, and growing up. The final movement is the "Elements" suite. >

i don't believe that Van Dyke's lyrics don't "mean anything."  Few things in this world genuinely have no meaning, and no i don't think that Van Dyke lyrics, on Smile or otherwise, qualify.

CS
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« Reply #60 on: January 08, 2006, 05:35:54 PM »

Well, Van Dyke DID say that the lyrics have meaning for him (meaning Van Dyke himself) in Domenic Priore's latest SMiLE book. Similary, Frank Holmes' SMiLE pictures often contain meanings only known to Frank himself (this is documented in 1997's ESQ).

Here's something to consider. In the "stage outfits" story in Brian's bio Van Dyke says, "We should hit it head on."
Quote
One night while we were working, Dennis came to the house, complaining that the Beach Boys' stage outfits, the candy-striped shirts and straight-legged slacks that my dad had picked out in the band's infancy, had elicited ridicule in some of London's hipper circles. I sympathized, while Van Dyke immediately interpreted Dennis's tale on a much broader level. He saw it as a small example of the shame the U.S. was suffering throughout the world as a result of the Vietnam War.
"We should hit it head-on," he said.
"I like it," I said. "I don't know much about it, but my instincts tell me you're right."
Popping some speed, Van Dyke and I stayed up the rest of the night and wrote "Surf's Up," a song whose title was so utterly cliche and square that it couldn't be anything but hip.

You'd think that if they were going to "hit it head on," given the context, they would have come up with one of SMiLE's Americana type pieces. But when they "hit it head on" they come up with "Surf's Up" instead. Not exactly Plymouth Rock or Manifest Destiny.

But if you go with the spiritual interpretation of SMiLE then you DO think that "Surf's Up" is hitting it head on! "Surf's Up" seems to me to be the ego loss spiritual event in one song. The singer is "a broken man too tough to cry" who becomes transformed, and emerges a child (because he is reborn).

In the Jules Siegel article (Goodbye Surfing, Hello God) Brian is cited as saying "it was my whole life...life, death, and rebirth" and it seems that these three sections of Brian's life are played out in "Surf's Up" and, on a larger scale, in the three movements of SMiLE.

But, like I said, this stuff is the heaviest of the heavy & the deepest of the deep and probably not something the general public is going to understand. It is a lot easier, I guess, for most people to dig SMiLE as the American saga and to see Brian as an eccentric artist.
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« Reply #61 on: January 08, 2006, 10:42:49 PM »

Bill, straight up, i see what you're saying, but we should should lay things plainly.  check what you unfold in your post, which i think you don't see for all the simple beauty:

Van Dyke says, "We should hit it head on."

Quote
One night while we were working, Dennis came to the house, complaining that the Beach Boys' stage outfits, the candy-striped shirts and straight-legged slacks that my dad had picked out in the band's infancy, had elicited ridicule in some of London's hipper circles. I sympathized, while Van Dyke immediately interpreted Dennis's tale on a much broader level. He saw it as a small example of the shame the U.S. was suffering throughout the world as a result of the Vietnam War.
"We should hit it head-on," he said.
"I like it," I said. "I don't know much about it, but my instincts tell me you're right."
Popping some speed, Van Dyke and I stayed up the rest of the night and wrote "Surf's Up," a song whose title was so utterly cliche and square that it couldn't be anything but hip.

What about teh above makes you think "Surf's Up" is necessarily outside of the American aspect of Smile, when it's direct (whether mythologhical or not, see above quote) inspiration is a musing on a parable of the Beach Boys as symbolic United States of America, suddenly out of step with the new cultural reality, changing so fast. 

I agree with your suggestion that "Surf's Up" is about EVERYTHING.  but it's also famously a meditation on the defeat of empires and the cultural realities they determine (aristocracies, opera, diamonds and chandeliers.... war), as well as THE FALL of these empires/realities ("columnaded," "adieu or die" etc.).  there is an image of America in the midst of what many regarded as a senseless war, sacrificing the innocence of its citizens.  it is also about teh loss of self and the meeting with god, the RETURN, with the children's song, etc.  it is the psychospiritual ARC, that song.

so it all seems to me to be of a piece.  take the elements.  "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" is a specifically AMERICAN piece of folklore.  the "I wanna be Around" element is a quote from an American pop standard.  the brassy explosions of Wind Chimes and flute whistly parts of Holiday sound like oldfashioned Barnum and Bailey circus music. 

and frank's pictures are totally meaningful, i agree -- whether to him or anyone else.  just like all this other stuff.  and it all seems pretty clear to me that brian was involved in all of this, and van dyke brought the sharpness and intrepretive, gonzo depth to the lyrical texture of SMILE>  Brian famously went around telling people what certain songs "meant" at any given time, everything was laden with representation -- which is what made SMILE so cool and mysterious to begin with.  what was going to be the sum of all of this "significance"?  do you think it would have been right to say that Brian was n't envisioning crazy ideas about all things, in collaboration with Van Dyke and not? 

so isn't it really just splitting hairs when people suggest, 40 years later, with the guy mentally ill and in the throes of a crazy comeback, saying anything in front of microphones, being both honest and clueless, that he wasn't *responsible* for envisioning the record?  i mean, that's kind of what Van Dyke snootily says, "Manifest Destiny and such were the last things on Brian's mind when he asked (*guess who*) ME to take a FREE HAND in the lyrics and *thematic direction." 

Quit prancing 'round the floor, Mr. Parks.  we always gave you love, and you always said you were working with and for brian and that the whole thing was cool and Brian was in control and it was about this and that, blah blah, and now you're gonna say, "this guy didn't do it.  those are my ideas."  boo hickey. 

brian gave up his mind in the psychedelic FALL of teh self, he gave up a lot of himself because of SMILE.  "Surf's Up" preludes his FALL from greatness and the end of what had for him been a cozy reality.  that is just another reason why SMILE is truly Brian's, that's why it's his name on the finished album and not "Beach Boys" or "and Van Dyke Parks".  cos it's HIS and everything on it is his, and if you can't say that while giving proper props to Van Dyke for the special quality he brought and not offend him (Van Dyke), well then GOOD GRIEF. 

CS
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« Reply #62 on: January 09, 2006, 12:24:33 PM »

check this out, the British paper The Guardian comments briefly on this "skirmish":

http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,12084,1679924,00.html

· Expect more skirmishes from the old debate as to the literary value of pop lyrics - most usually formulated as Is Dylan Better Than Keats? Published this week is Bob Dylan and Philosophy (Open Court Press) in which 18 philosophers interrogate the work of a man who once warned that "counterfeit philosophies have polluted all of your thoughts". Soon after comes not one, but two new biographies of published poet Pete Doherty and then a re-issue of Paul du Noyer's We All Shine On: The Stories Behind Every John Lennon Song. There's ammunition for both sides of the debate in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books. In a letter responding to a review of Brian Wilson's album Smile, 30 years in the making and eventually released last year, Van Dyke Parks, the Smile lyricist, complains that his contribution was downplayed in the review, and sheds some light on the alchemical process that occurs when words and music combine. "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."
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« Reply #63 on: January 09, 2006, 04:26:46 PM »

Here's a bit of Brian Wilson's explanation of "Surf's Up" from Goodbye Surfing, Hello God. Brian explains;

Quote
"He's off in his vision, on a trip. Reality is gone; he's creating it like a dream."

Okay, we know that the spiritual work, SMiLE, was inspired by a very religious LSD trip and sure enough the above explanation of a "Surf's Up" lyric seems to properly locate us "on a trip."

Then there's the ego loss kind of stuff that Brian alludes to;
Quote
"A choke of grief. At his own sorrow and emptiness of his life, because he can't even cry for the suffering in the world, for his own suffering."

After this, his explanation heads towards "childhood" which, as I stated before, comes with being reborn.

Then comes the main thing;
Quote
"...the joy of enlightenment, of seeing God."

So, I'm afraid I do not think that "Surf's Up" is about EVERYTHING. "Surf's Up" is about the spiritual experience.

It is really interesting how Brian explains Van Dyke Parks' "Surf's Up" lyrics in an interpretive manner.

According to Parks, Brian wrote " da, da, da, da ,da, dah" and then Van Dyke wrote "columnated ruins domino" and then, based on the Jules Siegel article we know, Brian read Van Dyke Parks as "Empires, ideas, lives, institutions--everything has to fall...."

NOW THEN! If you then jump to the Surfing Saints article where Brian talks about the "Ultimate Religious Experience" you'll find Brian saying "...everything is always changing and time never repeats itself" which isn't all that different from "everything has to fall...." and then you wonder if the "Ultimate Religious Experience" is ultimately responsible for " da, da, da, da ,da, dah." And we know, by Brian's own statements to Tom Nolan about his inspiration for SMiLE, that this is precisely what Brian had in mind all along. It all finally fits together.

Another thing to consider with regard to the ego loss thing is Brian's claim that the Beatles' album REVOLVER is "religious" (this claim is from the Tom Nolan article). If Brian is thinking that the ego loss process is religious then he may very well have picked up upon such lyrics as "I know what it's like to be dead" and "it is not dying" from "She Said, She Said" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" respectively. REVOLVER would indeed appear as religious to Brian Wilson!

So, as you can see, by taking a more spiritually oriented approach to SMiLE some of the confusing statements from the past seem to start making some sense.

And when Brian said, "Reality is gone; he's creating it like a dream" that may have been similar to  Brian's instructions for Van Dyke at the outset of SMiLE.





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« Reply #64 on: January 09, 2006, 07:04:35 PM »

c'mon bill, spiritualism and GOD and the self and its death/rebirth -- this is what i meant by EVERYTHING.  that is the STUFF, man!  i totally agree, but you gotta call it what it is -- which is ALL THINGS>   i am down with it, i am down with SMILE as the psychospiritual trek.  it is the TREK of ALL THINGS given american trappings. 

and brian all along had ideas about it, like you say, interpretative points and feelings that accumulated over those months of composition and recording.  he should deservedly be endowed with "envisionment", cos the guy had a vision, and van dyke had what it took to set that vision in stark lyrical relief.
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« Reply #65 on: January 09, 2006, 11:04:53 PM »

I always thought the "American History" part of Smile was just to use and incorporate different styles of popular American music like jazz, dixieland, acid rock, etc. I don't think there was a "concept" bigger than that.
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« Reply #66 on: January 09, 2006, 11:33:38 PM »

Have you read the lyrics, man?
You can't see the connection and overarching themes of H&V/Bicycle Rider, Cabinessence, Surf's Up and Do You Like Worms?
That's one of the most interconnected series of songs I've ever heard!
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« Reply #67 on: January 10, 2006, 04:34:01 AM »

Couldn't Smile originally have meant to be about the loss of Americas innocence or spirituality, with the indians a.o. representing the spiritual aspect, where the solution was spiritual/psychedelic regeneration a la "Surf's Up" and "Vegetables". In that way it would be a combination of the two themes.
It seems to be an age old theme among american writers and artists, that the "true" american dream has been lost and replaced by commercialism, imperialism and so forth and wasn't that also one of the agendas of the folk movement in the sixties. Couldn't Van Dyke and Brian not be just be two more lining up to explore that theme and suggesting "psychedelic enlightenment" as the solution.

Søren







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« Reply #68 on: January 10, 2006, 09:15:28 AM »

Couldn't Smile originally have meant to be about the loss of Americas innocence or spirituality, with the indians a.o. representing the spiritual aspect, where the solution was spiritual/psychedelic regeneration a la "Surf's Up" and "Vegetables". In that way it would be a combination of the two themes.
It seems to be an age old theme among american writers and artists, that the "true" american dream has been lost and replaced by commercialism, imperialism and so forth and wasn't that also one of the agendas of the folk movement in the sixties. Couldn't Van Dyke and Brian not be just be two more lining up to explore that theme and suggesting "psychedelic enlightenment" as the solution.
Søren

I agree wholeheartedly with this!
- In fact,that interpretation is what I've always  suspected on my own and been reinforced by  Parks' own ramblings-- that is when he wasn't saying "it doesn't mean anything"-
And I believe he takes that stance  on occasion when the oblique, weird qualities of his older lyrics may sort of embarrass him as being too "druggy" and symptomatic  of his 22-year old artsiness. After all, the mature Parks lyrics (e.g. for Orange Crate Art) are still loaded with word-play  but much more "conventional"-- and in recent years he probably wants to emphasize  that he is now   a much more "accessable"  writer  (with more... universal, hence commercial, appeal-?).
BUT the question remains, to what degree did this theme of American history  as a morality-play about reconnecting with spirituality-- come only from Parks' lyrics, and to what degree did it come from WIlson's spiritual /druggy obsessions at that time?
I believe the overall theme  as described above evolved in the course of the collaboration, from maybe roughly June-through-October of '66,  but that the Americana aspect came from Parks, and they BOTH realized  how that  tied in with the zeitgeist of the times AND  what Brian was trying to emotionally express.
And I still maintain that Parks was understandably peeved that the NY RoB reviewer, by talking about Ives and Manifest Destiny etc.  in the context of Brian ONLY, was unintentionally giving the wrong impression.

BUT neither Parks nor Wilson, over the years, have felt confident that they  wanted to still expound  on that theme-- and I believe  that Wilson  never reeally signed on to it completely. (At least, not all the political/historic implications)
So they've been back-pedaling  and avoiding  the "thematic"  issues for forty years. Wilson probably forgot  the whole thing (or even repressed it)  as part of  an era  he wanted to forget.
It's up to us now in retrospect   to piece it together, which Soren did quite succinctly.

In sum: Parks had the intellectual fuel in his lyrics, Brian had the spiritual ignition...
 
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Lester Byrd
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« Reply #69 on: January 10, 2006, 11:52:24 AM »

What we need to remember is that the music of the Beach Boys has always been about an American (specifically Californian) mythology. This is something that Brian took from Chuck Berry. Berry's classic stuff was always less about typical boy/girl stuff than about creating a mythical Teen-Age America "where hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day." It's not a coincidence that "Surfin' USA" borrows its tune from Berry, or that its title alludes to "Back in the USA." "Surfin' USA" is Brian's first grand attempt at creating the California Myth:

If everybody had an ocean
Across the USA
Then everybody's be surfin'
Like californ-aye-yay.

This is the genius of "Surf's Up", that VDP understood the myth-making ideal of the BB's surf songs, and took it to a higher level.

Tony Asher's lyrics for Pet Sounds didn't add anything new to Brian's music; Asher simply created a more refined and sophisticated version of themes stretching from "Surfer Girl" and "Don't Worry Baby" to the second side of Today. While VDP's lyrics might seem like a radical departure for the BBs, I'd argue that they were simply a much more sophistical and literary version of a mythological impulse that runs throughout the BB catalog.
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« Reply #70 on: January 10, 2006, 06:01:29 PM »

Based upon my research it seems highly probable that Brian Wilson's spiritual transformation had something to do with putting a bad past behind him. Being reborn implies ditching some of your past and this sort of thing would have helped Brian given his troubled upbringing.

So for instance, in BWPS we have the fire music which is related to his 2nd LSD trip (in which he revisits his embattled past, reliving fights with his dad--check it out in Brian's bio!). After this Brian has the ego death thing "if I die before I wake I pray the Lord to take my misery" somewhere "in a plastic pool, and sink" only to find that he is really reborn and "in the pink."

Or take, if you will, "Surf's Up" with the openining battle scenes. We follow the same basic scenario. The embattled past, ego death, and then rebirth (see some of my above posts for more "Surf's Up" ego loss stuff).

And since I said that those same basic three things (birth and death and rebirth) are also essentially SMiLE's 3 movements then we must conclude that the first movement of BWPS is the embattled past movement. And sure enough, we have the battling "Heroes & Villains," and then the  Native Americans vs. the Manifest Destiny driven Eurocentric bicycle rider in "Roll Plymouth Rock," and then the strong musical contrasts of "CabinEssence" dipicted by Frank Holmes' contrasting the cabin with the teepee, it's nature vs the machine, the crow vs the thresher. To sum, I think that the Americana stuff (which is set in the past) depicts Brain Wilson's spiritual experience by using American imagery.
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« Reply #71 on: January 11, 2006, 02:08:02 PM »


This is the genius of "Surf's Up", that VDP understood the myth-making ideal of the BB's surf songs, and took it to a higher level.

As far as I remember from one of Tom Nolans articles, Van Dyke was quoted for saying something about the BB's wanting to get rid of their image, but that he didn't understand it, because he thought the whole image of the beach and the ocean had everything. I don't remember exactly what he said, but something about the ocean being the answer and I think he also saw it in terms of ecology.

Søren
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« Reply #72 on: January 12, 2006, 06:56:54 AM »

I seem to recall Parks mentioning ecology in Prioie's latest SMiLE book.

One thing that we tend to do when we analyze things is break them into categories. People tend to break SMiLE down into various categories. The spiritual experience out of which SMiLE arose most likely didn't involve a number of categories. That experience most likely offered up a new way of seeing things, a new perspective.

There is a part in an older Beach Boys book that describes "Good Vibrations" in a way that also describes this "new perspective" and also relates well to my prior post about reborn Brian ditching his fight filled past.
Quote
"'The new pastoral landscape suddenly being uncovered by the young generation provided a quiet, peaceful, harmonious trip into inner space. The hassles and frustrations of the external world were cast aside, and new visions put in their place. "Good Vibrations" succeeds in suggesting the healthy emanations that should result from psychic tranquility and inner peace. The word "vibrations" had been employed by students of Eastern philosophy and acid-heads for a variety of purposes, but Wilson uses it here to suggest a kind of extrasensory experience.'" ~Bruce Golden, The Beach Boys: Southern California Pastoral

So if Brian's personal vision is painted by Van Dyke Parks using American imagery there may be a message to be had. Brian's personal past had been filled with many battles with his dad and the spiritual vision had offered relief from and a break with that past. Similarly, America's past had also been filled with battles. We have the Old West style gunfights, or the taking of the Native American's land, or the battle to conquer nature. Many of these battle have been waged in the name of God.

Brian's "teenage symphony to God" seems to have come out of an experience that Bruce Golden sums up nicely.
Quote
'The new pastoral landscape suddenly being uncovered by the young generation provided a quiet, peaceful, harmonious trip into inner space. The hassles and frustrations of the external world were cast aside, and new visions put in their place. "Good Vibrations" succeeds in suggesting the healthy emanations that should result from psychic tranquility and inner peace.

And if we apply that same vision to America one would see a past they would not be particulary proud of. But one would also see a vision for a better future.

When Domenic Priore asked Brian and Van Dyke about SMiLE in the late 80s Brian responded, "if it helped out spiritually then I'm glad we did it" and Van Dyke said "we accomplished something. we got out of Viet Nam." These comments seems right on target with the thoughts that preceed them.

Some people have said that BWPS was important for America NOW! And I agree, it is.
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« Reply #73 on: January 12, 2006, 07:33:19 AM »

I......There is a part in an older Beach Boys book that describes "Good Vibrations" in a way that also describes this "new perspective" and also relates well to my prior post about reborn Brian ditching his fight filled past.
Quote
"'The new pastoral landscape suddenly being uncovered by the young generation provided a quiet, peaceful, harmonious trip into inner space.
Brian's "teenage symphony to God" seems to have come out of an experience that Bruce Golden sums up nicely.
Quote
'The new pastoral landscape suddenly being uncovered by the young generation provided a quiet, peaceful, harmonious trip into inner space. .........

And if we apply that same vision to America one would see a past they would not be particulary proud of. But one would also see a vision for a better future.
..............................
When Domenic Priore asked Brian and Van Dyke about SMiLE in the late 80s Brian responded, "if it helped out spiritually then I'm glad we did it" and Van Dyke said "we accomplished something. we got out of Viet Nam." These comments seems right on target with the thoughts that preceed them.

Some people have said that BWPS was important for America NOW! And I agree, it is.

Yes- great post, Bill!
Of course  we should be careful maybe about taking specific quotes too seriously over the years- These two guys have said all sorts of things. But the gist of it is  I would guess pretty close to your interpretation
And those quotes,  and even the possibility that they are out-of context- do lead me to this observation-

Van Dyke is a "maximalist" - always drawing connections between seemingly unrelated things, looking for the Big Picture, and in interviews  he   has so MUCH  to say,  in so  many complex ways,  that often he jumps from a question  that is  specific  to an answer that is actually general, or vice versa-  i. e.
"What did SMiLE accomplish, Van Dyke?"
answer: "we... we got out of Vietnam"
meaning, in a sense, "we"  as a generation, by creating works with the perspective and vision of SMiLE, encouraged a cultural climate  that forced a government to amend a policy. Van Dyke's mind works like that- always drawing connections from the particular to the general  and back to the particular, seeing puns  and strange echoes  that others ignore.

Brian by contrast is a minimalist- in interviews and in art, he always bringing a thought or expression  down   to a specific factoid, a discrete emotional state, a mundane (but perhaps transcendant) experience ("Busy Doing Nothing", to see an example of this in lyrics form)  and avoiding  the connections   that threaten to swamp him. His M.O. in 1966  was the recording  of discrete little "feels"- pieces of music   that might just be  20 seconds or so,  fleeting snapshots  of an emotional attitude  expressed with his amazing talents  and command  of the studio.

Clearly, SMiLE needed the Maximalist  technique  of a Van Dyke Parks   to be anything  but  a chaotic  collection of fleeting impressions. And to the extent   that SMiLE  functions  cohesively,  I believe we have to thank  the  bedrock  of their complimentary collaboration  in those few months in '66.
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« Reply #74 on: January 12, 2006, 05:49:59 PM »

Nice post by Barba Yiorgi who said;
Quote
Clearly, SMiLE needed the Maximalist  technique  of a Van Dyke Parks   to be anything  but  a chaotic  collection of fleeting impressions.

It is worth noting that Brain Wilson was subjected to a "chaotic collection of fleeting impressions" in late 1965, when having an acid flashback, at Pickwick Books. Brian realized that the experience was tantamount to a Zen riddle.

With SMiLE being essentally a Zen riddle capable of transmitting the spiritual experience the stage is set for individuals to have a spiritual experience. If enough individuals are affected then perhaps the larger group can produce spiritually conscious change on a national level. In this way Brian & Van Dyke are essentially "on the same page."

I realize that my blabbing comes across as a pipe dream to most readers but they too must remember that the revolutionaries during the mid sixties often innocently thought that anything was possible. And Brian Wilson's status implied a piece of work on this very level.

Tom Nolan described Brian as "...the seeming leader of a potentially-revolutionary movement in pop history....that's exactly what he is, because if you ask him where he thinks music is going, he will say one simple word. 'Spiritual'"

And if you see the tv show Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution you'll find that "Surf's Up" is directly proceeded by the following;

"Their idea is to love us into submission....As they see it, our society, while apparently healthy and certainly bountiful, is in a deep crisis of values. They are hoping for a return to the human centered community they feel modern life has moved away from. And they think that they, together with other young people like them, are forming a model upon which that society can be constructed."-David Oppenheim

It was David Leaf who noted that the word in 1966 was that "...Brian was working on this mind-blowing, unified concept album called SMiLE."

And since the late Timothy White noted that in Brian's world of the psychedelic mid sixties "nothing was impossible," then maybe we should consider the idea that these folks may all be right.

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