October 18, 2006

smile Following on the heels of the worldwide success of “Good Vibrations” in 1966, from the very moment Leonard Bernstein in that CBS television special praised Beach Boys leader and producer Brian Wilson, calling his and collaborator Van Dyke Parks‘ composition “Surf’s Up” abstract, difficult to get in just one hearing, yet important, the expectations of the emerging “serious” pop music culture of the time, and the music industry in general, for SMiLE were raised to extreme heights – expectations that were only fueled hotter by rumors of epic works in progress called “Heroes and Villains”, “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow”, and “The Elements”. These expectations served as fertile ground for the enduring myths and legends that would come to be associated with SMiLE when, without explanation, the Beach Boys shocked the pop music world when it was announced that SMiLE had been abandoned in June of 1967.

Why was SMiLE left on the vine to wither and die back in 1967, languishing for 37 years until its triumphant resurrection by Brian in 2004? In my view, there never was one single reason. Brian’s increasing intake of drugs that, while fueling his imagination and making him more focused on his craft, left him increasingly paranoid, overly-sensitive, and incapable of standing up to concerns about the project by his fellow band-mates (frontman Mike Love in particular). Business headaches involving the launch of the Beach Boys’ own record label (Brother Records) amidst a lawsuit filed against their parent company (Capitol Records) over non-payment of royalties. The departure of Van Dyke Parks from the project in early 1967 due to increasingly-negative and hostile vibes. And finally, and perhaps the end result of all these things, a loss of confidence by Brian that he could pull all the varied pieces of the SMiLE puzzle together in time to beat The Beatles’ to their own launch of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in June, 1967. It’s a complex thing, but that’s part of the reason why the myth and legend of SMiLE is so rich – it was the golden ring from a golden time that Brian Wilson, in the end, was never able to grasp.

In his book “SMiLE – The Story of Brian Wilson’s Lost Masterpiece”, long-time SMiLE afficianado and historian Domenic Priore says that “the final word on SMiLE may have best been summed up by a rock n’ roll writer not polluted by the dulled sense of history-via-San Francisco, Brooklyn native Billy Miller, former co-editor of Kicks magazine with his wife Miriam Linna, both of whom now run Norton Records“:

“It’s about one guy grabbing music by the nuts and yanking far more than his fair share ’cause destiny kicked his ass way harder than any big daddy ought to be whomped,’ explained Miller. ‘And it’s about the same guy flipping destiny the bird, taking his ball and going home. History tells us of the almighty Sgt. Pepper‘s perfect timing, piece of over-indulgent music-hall swill that it is, lighting bulbs over millions of noggins. And face it, with the too-late-out-of-the-gate SMiLE riding on the Sarge’s goofy coattails, nobody would have got too jazzed over electricity being invented for the second time. And it’s a damn shame, too, ’cause SMiLE‘s primo hoot is that it would have put them all in second place – Spector, The Beatles, the biased “these-guys-stand-for-fun-and-we-don’t-want-to-know-from-fun” critics, Papa Murry, and yep, the BBs themselves. Brian had them all against the ropes, ripe for clobbering, but he never threw his big punch, and any hodad’ll hip you, you can’t have a knockout without a punch. Now I betcha marbles to Maharishis there would have been a whole diff twist to the Beach Boys tale – except maybe the Al Jardine part – had there been a SMiLE way back when. There’s enough questions about SMiLE to fill Mike Love’s hat closet a dozen times over, and I figure that, if it came out tomorrow, the questions wouldn’t get no easier to answer. And that’s just part of the adventure, bub.’

Like I’ve said often in discussing the various tracks that comprised my own particular vision and version of SMiLE, no one really knows what SMiLE would have sounded like, or been comprised of, had Brian been able to put it all together in the spring of 1967. Many like me have made a hobby of playing with the varying recordings available to try and, in their own way, help Brian put it all together once and for all.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and found my installments an enjoyable and informative read. All the music and the software used to create my own SMiLE is entirely legal and readily available to those who might be interested in giving it a whirl for themselves. If you’re one of them, or would simply like to share your thoughts and ideas about SMiLE, drop me a line at darichard@att.net, or feel free to leave a comment. Keep on SMiLIN’!

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:50 | Comments (0)
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