October 23, 2006

Several days ago, Dr. John Lu died at the age of 86. Unless you lived or grew up in the suburban confines of Tewksbury, Massachusetts back in the 1960s and ’70s (before the explosion of strip malls and condos stripped every last vestige of its small-town charm), you likely don’t know and could care less about who John Lu was, and that’s OK. Heck, what I know or remember about the guy we knew only as “Dr. Lu” can be compressed into a few sentences.

My earliest memories of Dr. Lu are of him visting our house for “house calls” back when me and my two brothers were just kids. (This was back in the days before HMOs, co-pays, pharmacy chains, and the threat of lawsuits turned a profession once-admired and patient-focused into one concerned with productivity and patient volumes, and performing defensive and preventative medicine more than anything else.) I still remember the brown doctor’s bag he carried, from which all sorts of mysterious things like stethoscopes, tongue depressors, and medicine bottles of various shapes and sizes would be produced and dispensed. From years later, whenever I would visit his stately white residence (where he kept his office) for a doctor’s appointment, I still remember the silence and expedience with which he went about his examinations, his vocal contribution limited to a quick, efficient question, or a “Hmmm” or grunt. After the exam, writing out a prescription or a referral, perhaps, the only sound in the room would be that of pen scribbling across paper. And then, a handshake and a few words, perhaps, and that was it.

By the time I started working at jobs that provided healthcare benefits – particularly after taking a job at Boston’s Lahey Clinic – the healthcare industry had started to change, and my days as a patient of of Dr. Lu’s had passed. Years later, whenever I’d be driving through Tewksbury, I would pass the building where he and his son Stephen had their new offices and I’d wonder how he was doing. And that’s all I knew about the man.

So imagine my surprise reading his obituary in the October 18 Lowell Sun and discovering that John Lu’s life experiences went far beyond that as a humble suburban physician (boldings mine):

ANDOVER — Dr. John Lu, 86, a former Tewksbury resident who was a prominent physician and surgeon in that town, died yesterday, Oct. 17, at his home in Andover. He was the husband of Pauline Lu, to whom he was married for 56 years.
He was born in the southwest Chinese city of Chengdu, where he attended college and studied at the Peking Union Medical College during World War II.

He was involved with the resistance movement against Japan’s invasion of his homeland and participated in the wholesale dismantling and moving of eastern Chinese cities before the advancing Japanese army’s, according to family members.

He helped with the cities’ reconstruction in western China, where he completed his medical education at what is now known as Sichuan University, located in his hometown, Chengdu.

Dr. Lu was later incarcerated by Japanese troops on suspicion of involvement with forces fighting Japan’s occupation forces.

After the Communist takeover of China, he traveled to the United States on a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. He later completed his surgical residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and was an instructor at Tufts University Medical School in Boston.

Dr. Lu settled in Tewksbury, where he was the chief surgeon and medical director at Tewksbury Hospital before entering private practice. He also practiced medicine at the former St. John’s Hospital in Lowell, now part of Saints Medical Center. Dr. Lu saw patients in his office in Tewksbury for 46 years.

He was a fellow at the American College of Surgeons and a diplomat of the American Board of Surgery.

Besides his wife, he is survived by a brother, Milton Lu of Lancaster, Pa.; a sister, Ai-Fong of Shanghai; a daughter, Priscilla Lu of Belmont; three sons, Stephen Lu of North Andover, John Lu of Andover and David Lu of North Andover; seven grandchildren, Vanessa Nysten of Windham, N.H., Damon Hunt of Boston, Stephen Lu of Saugus, Patrick Lu of North Andover, and Caroline, John and Benjamin Lu, all of Andover; two great-grandchildren, Marina and Arielle Nysten, both of Windham, N.H.

Pretty amazing stuff, huh? I mean, who knew?

So my prayers go out to Dr. Lu’s family and those friends and loved ones who mourn his passing. In some ways, it doesn’t surprise me that he had lived a life far larger than what I knew, for, as a kid growing up, in his own quiet way he always seemed somehow to be larger than life anyways. As someone who can only imagine the events he witnessed and the way they molded and shaped his accomplishments later on, I can only say, God speed Dr. Lu, you lived a life that was rich and full, indeed.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:15 | Comments Off on A Full Life
October 22, 2006

Still having a hard time trying to figure out who to vote for this year? Tired of all the commercials, the relentless focus on meaningless polls by the national dino-media, and all the bull$hit cable news shows that repeat the same doggerell over and over to fill broadcast space? Well, The Great White Shank is here to help you figure out how to fill out your ballot. (If you’ve already voted by absentee ballot, you can’t vote twice, so no cheating – after all, this isn’t Milwaukee, East St. Louis, or Philadelphia, you know.)

These are very simple, non-partisan questions with only two answers – Democrat or Republican. I offer them up as a public service for the benefit of those still sitting on the fence, or thinking about sitting this election out entirely. And don’t worry about needing a degree in political science to be able to answer these questions correctly – heck, the answers are not only obvious, but are designed to be so, for they serve as an important reminder that there really IS a difference between the competing philosophies of the national parties in this upcoming election.

Ready? OK, here we go!

1. The party most likely to raise taxes on people who work for a living is…

2. The party most likely to bring the troops home from Iraq before 2010 is…

3. The party most likely to confirm judges that would legislate from the bench – for example, allowing same-sex unions or tossing out voter ID requirements – even when the voters of the particular state involved in the case have already made their voices heard to the contrary is…

4. The party most likely to approve legislation requiring captured terrorists to be given the same legal rights you and I have is…

5. The party most likely to permit illegals in this country be given the same rights and privileges you and I have is…

6. The party most likely to allow you to keep more of your hard-earned money is…

7. The party most likely to be supported by the ACLU and its membership is…

8. The party most likely to increase entitlement spending, whether it be at the federal, state, or local level, is…

9. The party that believes less government is better, and that the proper role of government is to provide only those critical functions that cannot be performed by individuals or private organizations is…

And, finally, this bonus question:

10. You’re Osama bin Laden, skulking around in some cave along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. You’ve somehow gotten your hands on a U.S. voter’s ID card – hello again, East St. Louis! – and intend on voting by absentee ballot at the nearest foreign precinct you can find. You know one political party is intent on prosecuting the so-called “War on Terror” as a real war – you know, guns, bombs, soldiers, etc., while the other party, with its more “global” worldview and its motivated core of anti-war and human rights activists, sees it more as a law enforcement/human rights kind of exercise.

You’re Osama bin Laden and you’ve got that ballot in your hand. Now, the party YOU would vote for is…

There, does that help?

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 01:00 | Comments Off on Quiz Show
October 21, 2006

…for the whole MLB sha-bang. I’ll admit it – I thought the Cards’ were as dead as Kelsey’s nuts once the innings got late last night and the St. Louis bats looked about as menacing as Richard Simmons serving up yucks at a Barbra Streisand celebrity roast. Which, I’m sure is the way Mets’ manager Willie Randolph had it all figured out.

Unfortunately, sometimes things just don’t go the way you plan and, miraculously, Yadier Molina of all people goes yard with a runner on board, and – bingo-bango-bongo – the Cards are headin’ for Detroit and the Mets wondering how they ever got as far as they did with the pitching they had. Suddenly, New York City has only the Giants and Jets to root for (not that either is likely to do much damage beyond December), and its a mid-America World Series which, unfortunately, will not garner much in the way of television ratings.

But, no matter, I’m glad for the cities of Detroit and St. Louis and hope it’ll be a good series to watch.

Not being much of a Tony LaRussa admirer when it comes to his post-season managerial effectiveness, I don’t give the Cards much hope. Like Red at Surviving Grady, I’m picking Detroit in five. What say y’all?

Filed in: Golf & Sports by The Great White Shank at 01:42 | Comments (2)
October 20, 2006

10. The bite of the early-morning chill as you leave a warm building to head to work.

9. The smell of pine needles filling the air and the swishing of fallen needles beneath your feet as you walk alongside a pine grove.

8. Local sports talk on WEEI radio that talks REAL sports, not fantasy football like our two Phoenix sports stations do AT THE SAME TIME every weekday evening. (I mean, I know that fantasy football is immensely popular – and more power to those who enjoy it – but there ARE real sports being played in the Phoenix area, believe it or not!)

7. Listening to Howie Carr, The Big Show, and Jay Severin (whose afternoon drive-time show is back at WTKK 96.9). Boston radio is savvy, cynical and sophisticated, and, unlike the syndicated radio that occupies much of the radio dial back in Phoenix, refreshingly provincial.

6. Knowing that a medium Dunkin’ Donuts coffee with “just a little cream” light and a powdered, lemon-filled donut is just around the corner. (An added joy: seeing longer car lines at the North Billerica Dunkin’ Donuts on Rte. 3A than at the Starbucks next door. Only in New England!

5. The smell of wood from a nearby chimney mingling with that of fallen leaves on a still October night.

4. Watching local TV weather segments that really matter.

3. Golfing on a glorious autumn day (in a sweater, no less!) with the colors of fall all around you. October, BTW, is one of the best months for golf here in MA – the greens have all been aerated weeks ago, and the conditions are fabulous.

2. The afternoon sun shining on trees of every shade of yellow, orange, and red, lighting them up in an almost-electric glow as the sky turns orange behind silhouetted tree branches. Magical.

1. Regaling in the friendship and warmth of family and friends wherever we gather to share a few laughs and get caught up with all the goings on, whether it be in the family or in Goodboys Nation. It’s hard to beat that, and everyone should be as lucky as I am.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:32 | Comments Off on 10 Things to Love About October in New England
October 19, 2006

I’ll admit it – until a week or so ago I had every intention of sitting this election out. So much of what this Republican Congress has done (or, to put it more accurately, failed to do) has torked me off to no end: dragging their heels on border enforcement, pork-barrel legislation, and the Patriot Act, the McCain “group of 14” making friendly with the Dems on judicial nominations, runaway federal spending, etc.; the list could go on forever. Compared to the rock-solid conservative principles contained in their 1994 Contract for America, this Congress seems to have embraced a “beltway mentality” at odds with the passions and interests of the people who put them there, leaving them with the prospect of losing one or both houses of Congress. Disaffected and disenchanted, I had decided I was going to sit this one out.

But then I wised up.

I can’t tell you exactly when it happened. Maybe it was hearing and reading about the state of Arizona’s pathetic 9/11 memorial (supported, BTW, by our ultra-lib governor Janet Napolitano), containing within it arguments as to why we “deserved” to be hit back in 2001. (Hat tip: Michelle)

…Or maybe it was seeing the hysteria surrounding Republican Rep. Mark Foley – granted, a creep in his own right – stoked by self-righteous Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean and their syncophants in the mainstream dino-media. Republican Rep. Christopher Shays was right – this from the party of Ted Kennedy (and, I might add, Gerry Studds!).

…Or maybe it was the same lack of hysteria over Senate President Harry Reid’s shady real estate dealings that, were he a Republican, you can bet would be at the top of the nightly news broadcasts and the front page of the Washington Post, Boston Globe, and New York Times.

Yup, hard to believe I was going to sit this one out.

But it ain’t gonna happen this year, and the same holds true for my lovely wife.

So fahgeddaboutit, Howard and Nancy – nice try, but you’ve pushed us too far. We’re voting this coming November 7, and doing it enthusiastically – possibly more so than we did back in 2004.

The Republicans may not be perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but, as wanting as they may be, compared to those on the ultra-left wing of the Democratic Party waiting with bated breath to take power and exercise it to their own desired ends, the Repubs remain the best chance we have to get things back on track.

So, we’ve chosen to take part in this year’s election after all.

And I’m sure – regardless what the polls say – we’re not alone.

BTW, a big welcome to one of my favorite bloggers, Lorie Byrd, who stopped by the other day. Welcome to the ‘Nation, Lorie – hope you enjoyed your stay and that you’ll drop by again!

UPDATE 10/20/06: A big “Welcome!” to Wizbang! readers. And thanks to Lorie and Kim for the kind link. I hope you enjoy your stay in the ‘Nation. It’s a pretty eclectic place here, so if you see something you like (or don’t like), feel free to leave a comment and tell your friends!

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 01:00 | Comments Off on Taking the Plunge
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 Off on Restoring a SMiLE – V
October 17, 2006

Caught a flight this past Saturday to spend a week back home in the good ol’ Northeast to take advantage of some leaf-peeping – ya know to see scenes like this and this – before everything turns to brown and gray.

There’s something reassuring about being on Eastern Daylight Time – I don’t know why, you just feel like your more in tune with the pulse of everything going on when you’re there in the same time zone as where things are happening. Of course, metaphysically you’re ALWAYS in the same time as when things are happening – it’s just artificial time zones that make you THINK you’re not. Just another case of the vast global conspiracy to impose the whole concept of transcendence on the unsuspecting unwashed masses, I guess…

While on the subject of time zones, one weird thing about the Hawaii-Aleutian time zone (which, by the way is six – count ’em six – hours behind Eastern Daylight Time) is that, on Sundays, the 1 PM football games are over by 10 AM. I can’t imagine having to get up at 7 AM to watch the Pats, Bills, or Ravens play while having your morning OJ and bacon and eggs. It got so weird that, on one of the TVs, they were showing the tape of a game that, on the other TV, featured highlights of the same that had finished hours before. Man, I was all screwed up.

If Rob were in Hawai’i, he’d never be able to put up with it – imagine having to watch your LSU Tigers or New Orleans Saints BEFORE breakfast? I mean, how can you tailgate when you haven’t even had your morning grits yet? 🙂

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:42 | Comment (1)
October 16, 2006

gb1 For some reason I’ve been thinking alot lately about Gila Bend, Arizona, a town about 75 miles to the SW of Phoenix. Why Gila Bend, you ask? Because if I ever wanted to suddenly cash out, disappear, and leave everything and anything about post-9/11 America behind and never be heard from or seen again, I can’t think of a better place than Gila Bend. What I love about the place is how little seems to have changed there since, oh, around 1947 or so. Need proof? Check out this cool website; gives you an idea of the vibe as funky as the town itself.

I think Rod Serling would have felt right at home in Gila Bend, as it seems a perfect locale for some Cold War-era, B&W, space age nuclear-atomic-lizards-attack-U.S.Army-forces sci-fi flick kind of town. Any place featuring some of the last vestiges of Googie architecture with names like the “Space Age Lodge” and the “Outer Limits Coffee Shop” would tell you that. Given its, um, out of the way locale and out of this world feel, it should come as no surprise that the town has seen its fair share of UFOs, which makes it even neater. My friend Paul swears they exist, but I think he just saw Barbra Streisand on a bad day. I wish I could see me a real UFO some day – perhaps when I make myself scarce in Gila Bend.

You want retro-chic? This place oozes retro-chic. One of the reasons I like the town so is that it truly seems like a place lost in time and space – like me, I guess. The businesses, streets, and houses all look like they’re locked in some kind of time warp back in the days of Leave It To Beaver and TV dinners, when kitchens were painted in pastel colors like pink and robins-egg blue with metal cabinets, and bathrooms had yellow bathtubs, linoleum floors, and those funky vanity mirrors with flourescent lighting – you know, cool kinda stuff!

I’ve been to Gila Bend three times, and what I remember most – besides its cool vibe, of course, is: a) how dusty it was, and b) the number of abandoned buildings there. You see, like I said, time seems to have kinda left Gila Bend behind. Like this photo gallery says, “Abandoned buildings. The town has lots of ’em.” And how.


Folks usually hear about Gila Bend only from weather reports or the USA Today weather page because it often has the highest temps in the nation. You see, heat and dust are no strangers to Gila Bend – even when its not miserably hot and dusty in Gila Bend, I think it must be miserably hot and dusty – that is, of course, assuming it’s the miserably hot and dusty time of the year, which is, I imagine, most of the time.

BTW, here’s the town’s official website. I’m sorry, but THAT just doesn’t do the town justice.

Yessir, I could see myself packing my Saturn fill of light clothing, my turntable, a set of speakers, and a backseat full of Frank Sinatra and Herb Alpert records and hightailing my butt outta this here so-called “civilization” to Gila Bend. There, I’d rent myself a three-bedroom ranch with a breezeway and a swimming pool out back painted white and empty of water. No phone. No cable. No past. No future. But forget I told you about my plans – after all, how can you disappear if everyone knows where the heck you disappeared to?

So, if you’re ever wanted by the po-lice, seeking a new identity, need a new life, desire an alien encounter, or simply wish to melt away into the fabric of a place that time seems to have forgotten, might I suggest Gila Bend, Arizona. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

But don’t forget your sunscreen.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:27 | Comments Off on Am I in Heaven, Or Am I in Gila Bend?
October 15, 2006

bboys Are we SMiLING yet? OK, we’re in the home stretch here and I’m ready to describe the final, essential pieces to my reconstituted SMiLE album. As mentioned in my previous installment, Side 2 of Brian Wilson‘s and Van Dyke Parks‘ SMiLE project, following on the heels of Side 1’s musical journey invoking America’s 19th century expansion westward to the Pacific, would focus on the here and now, recounting in both words and music the wonders and mysteries of the natural world. We’ve already covered the first three tracks on Side 2: “Good Vibrations”, a psychedelic celebration of the sixth sense attraction between a boy and a girl; “I’m In Great Shape” and “Vega-Tables”, whimsical salutes to the benefits of feeling good and eating healthy.

The remaining tracks on Side 2 are, in their own unique way, responsible by and large for the myth and mystique that ended up surrounding SMiLE: “The Elements”, because of the incredible music rumored to have been composed for it by Wilson, and the fact that no one to this day (including, perhaps, he himself) is really certain as to what this suite would have comprised and sounded like in its original incarnation, and “Surf’s Up”, for its near-universal recognition as an important piece of popular music, its beauty and lyrical imagery, and its hallowed place in the overall Beach Boys’ canon. In this final installment, I’ll detail my own version of “The Elements” suite, discuss “Surf’s Up”, and finish with one man’s unique perspective on why SMiLE was abandoned way back when in 1967.

4. The Elements: Without a doubt, one of SMiLE’s greatest mysteries is what Brian’s planned “The Elements” suite would have encompassed. Originally conceived as an ode to the basic elements of earth, fire, air, and water, from everything I’ve read, it seems probable that the afore-mentioned “Vega-Tables” was never meant to represent the “earth” section, nor “Wind Chimes” (below) the “air” section. (As to the latter, Brian has been quoted as saying he had a simple piano piece called “Air” in mind that appears to have never been recorded). Alternatively, we do know that “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow” (below) was originally recorded for the “fire” section, and a piece called “I Love To Say Dada” (the last actual SMiLE-related recording worked on by Brian before the project was abandoned, also discussed below) the “water” section, but whether these tracks were ever considered complete, and, if so, where they might have been placed in relation to the other sections, remains one of SMiLE’s great unsolved mysteries.

Because it’s not clear what Brian’s final plans for “The Elements” were back in 1967, it remains the most challenging part of the equation for any true “SMiLEophile” attempting to try and reproduce it in any kind of “original” form. What follows is my own concept for “The Elements” and, while I’m deliberately using some 2004 “Brian” versions in place of the original 1967 “Beach Boys” recordings, I double-dog dare anyone to come up with a better-sounding alternative that gets “The Elements” any closer to the spirit of Brian’s original vision.

4a. On A Holiday (“Earth”): I’m kicking off my “Elements” suite with Brian and Van Dyke’s “On A Holiday” from Brian’s 2004 release. The instrumental track, replicated exactly from an original SMiLE-era piece called “Tones” (rumored to have been an “Elements” cut), has, in this 2004 re-creation, been augmented with new lyrics by Van Dyke telling a whimsical tale about pirates shipwrecked in Hawai’i:

Abash and forth a starboard course
With north abeam, sherry of course
The men will share some sport and now me hearty
Not the rum of Carib’ scum
It’s port tonight – drink up and come
Un-weigh the anchor Yank and we will party!

A shanty town, a shanty in Waikiki
And juxtapose a man with a mystery
A blue Hawaiian captures his melody
Pauahi O Kalani is what he sings to me

Given the song’s island locale, it seems to me a perfect choice for the “earth” section of my “Elements” suite, and the shouted/sung “rock, rock, roll, Plymouth Rock roll over” chorus is not only jovial, it recalls the chorus of “Do You Like Worms?” on Side 1.

Suddenly the music stops, and Brian sings a wistful “long, long ago, long ago” backed by strings that slowly give way to an exotic blend of xylophone and marimba with sweet-whispered vocals repeating the phrase, “Whisperin’ winds send my wind chimes a tinklin…” over and over (the coda of “Wind Chimes” as it appeared in a radically-different form on the mid-’67 replacement album “Smiley Smile”). The music softens, then drops out entirely, leaving only a capella voices weaving a beautifully tranquil, mesmorizing, and sweet piece of ear candy that segues directly into…

4b. Wind Chimes (“Air”): …the version of “Wind Chimes” as it appears on Brian’s 2004 release. Here again, the backing track is an exact replica of the original version recorded for SMiLE (albeit at a slightly faster tempo), and while Brian’s voice is not quite as sweet-sounding as on the original recording (released on the “Good Vibrations” box), as the “air” section here, it still manages to convey the calming, dream-like effect produced by the objects of his affection:

Hanging down from my window
Those are my wind chimes
On the warm breeze the little bells
Tinkle like wind chimes
Though it’s hard I try not to look at my wind chimes
Now and then a tear rolls off my cheek

Close your eyes and lean back now listen to wind chimes
In the late afternoon you’re hung up on wind chimes
Though it’s hard I try not to look at my wind chimes

As on the original SMiLE-era recording, the spell is suddenly broken by a second section introducing a thumping tempo, big wordless vocals, and a brash horn section, but Brian’s 2004 version adds a new twist: whereas the original version tacked on (in an obvious edit) a long fade-out section featuring one, then several, tinkling pianos, this one extends the second section for an additional verse and adds a firmer ending, which to me seems not only more pleasing to the ear, but more importantly, necessary, given what’s coming up next:

4c. Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow (“Fire”): For my “Elements” suite’s “fire” section, I’m using the version on Brian’s 2004 release (a Grammy winner for best instrumental). Virtually identical to the original SMiLE-era recording (which, at this time, can only be found in its entirety in bootleg form), the mix may be a little different – the drums definitely louder and the bass less pronounced, but the results are no less incredible and unbeliveably true to Brian’s original creation.

How to describe “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow”? Experimental. Incendiary. Psychedelic. Quite simply, in my mind, the most innovative and incredible piece of music I’ve ever heard. Even after numerous listenings, it never fails to amaze and awe. First, a burst of percussion and numerous whistles and toots create an image of frenzied activity that bubbles in intensity from a rolling piano-bass hook that ends in a single, dying whistle wheezing over a playful calliope organ. Then the explosion: fierce, pounding drums, wailing strings, fuzz guitar and thumping bass, and strange harmonies combine and reverberate in a pulsating aural pastiche that conjures up a hellish firestorm of blazing heat, chaos, and destruction, resulting in one of the most amazing and strangest pieces of music to come out of the ’60s, if not ever.

The story goes that for the “fire” section, Brian wanted to create something that would not only sound like a raging inferno, but scare people as well. After the recording session, when a sudden rash of fires occurred around L.A. and actually burned down a building located near the studio, it freaked him out to the point where, even if SMiLE had been released, it’s not 100% certain that “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow” would have been included. After all, Brian reasoned, if he wanted fire, you didn’t have to do a huge blaze, you could do something soft and warm, like a candle – right? Whatever. There’s really no other way to put it: if SMiLE had come out in 1967 with this incredible 2 1/2 minute piece of music, everything that would have followed – and that includes The Beatles’ celebrated “Sgt. Pepper” album – would have suffered in comparison.

4d. I Wanna Be Around/Workshop: On Brian’s 2004 release, “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow” is followed by the water chant intro to “In Blue Hawaii”, implying a “water” section putting out the “fire” section’s blaze, or refreshing its firefighters. Logical enough, one might think, but to me this is one of the true head-scratchers about “Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE”. As Domenic Priore in his book “SMiLE – The Story of Brian Wilson’s Lost Masterpiece” and other numerous sources (including Brian himself) have indicated, this was not to be the case as originally conceived for SMiLE. What was intended was something akin to the “I Wanna Be Around/Workshop” section that Brian and his “musical secretary” and backup band leader Darian Sahanaja tacked on (mistakenly, in my view) to the end of “I’m In Great Shape”.

Here, backed by a cooling, exotic blend of lazy bass and vibraphone, Brian starts crooning the old Johnny Mercer standard, “I Wanna Be Around”…

I wanna be around to pick up the pieces
When somebody breaks your heart
When somebody breaks your heart
In two…

…upon which a cacophany of power tools and the sounds of wood being hammered, drilled, and sawed backed by floating marimbas suddenly intrudes, bringing an abrupt and hilarious end to the gentle mood established after the fire.

These brief pieces, re-creating two separate SMiLE-era recordings (the former recorded, yet not found in any form I’m aware of; the latter [called “Woodshop”], a fragment of which can be heard at the close of “Do It Again”, a minor hit from the Beach Boys’ 1968 album “20/20”), were, as mentioned in my previous installment, easily cut from “I’m In Great Shape” on Brian’s 2004 release using my DART CD Recording Studio software for placement immediately following “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow”.

As Brian once described it, the reasoning behind having these pieces follow the “fire” section was to represent the rebuilding that takes place after a fire. (The “I Wanna Be Around” lyrics also suggest the desire to “fix” someone’s broken heart after the intense fire of a failed relationship.) Besides, moving the “water” section after “Workshop” has its own inherent logic – after all, the workers doing the hot, sweaty work of reconstruction after a fire would long for water’s refreshment, right? At any rate, properly restored in my “Elements” suite to their originally intended place, they not only reflect Brian’s original vision for SMiLE, but sonically they fit and sound better, too.

4e. In Blue Hawaii: The dying construction sounds of “Workshop” easily segue to the hushed organ and vocal chanting that introduces “In Blue Hawaii” from Brian’s 2004 release, sounding as if it were always meant to be heard that way. (Believe me, once you hear these songs in this revised order, your ears will agree!)

“In Blue Hawaii” both recreates and reinterprets the original SMiLE-era track “I Love To Say Dada” (also released on the “Good Vibrations” box), adding not only a sung prelude, but lyrics composed by Parks especially for the 2004 release. The prelude, sung over a series of “water chants” backed by grumbling cello, is Van Dyke’s salute to Brian’s perseverence as an artist amidst the psychological struggles he has endured over the years since SMiLE’s agonizing demise:

Is it hot as hell in here or is it me?
It really is a mystery
If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take my misery

I could really use a drop to drink
Somewhere in a placid pool and sink
Feel like I was really in the pink

Upon the word “pink”, the song brightens considerably – piano and bass, and echoed percussion percolating in the background break the tension, replacing it with feeling of release, relief, and joy. Here, the original backing track for “I Love To Say Dada” is replicated exactly, but, rather than solely relying on Brian’s original “wa wa ho wa” vocal, Van Dyke’s new lyrics convey a new, whimsical longing for faraway tropical places:

A lucid dream, but I don’t sleep
I’m slumbering
There’s still a promise we must keep
I’m wondering

Wa wa ho wa, Hawaii
Wa wa ho wa, Hawaii way beyond the sea
Wa wa ho wa, Hawaii
Wa wa ho wa, Hawaii

Oh I could use a drop to drink right now
In the waterfall, back there in Hawaii
Take me to a luau now
And lay before me holy, holy cow

Down in blue Hawaii
So far away from blue Hawaii
Aloha nui means goodbye

Rather than simply fading out as “Dada” originally would have, here a breezy symphonic interlude, one that comes awfully close to overkill by being almost too perfect-sounding to these ears, brings the song to a close. Fortunately, just before it’s allowed to sink into the abyss of elevator music, a lovely a capella reprise of a portion of “Prayer” (the album’s opening track) comes to the rescue. This not only brings “The Elements” to a close, the album has also been brought full circle as well: something Brian and Darian obviously took into account when they assembled the 2004 release.

Purists might argue that any SMiLE recreation worth its salt must feature the original “I Love To Say Dada” recording as the “water” section in any “Elements” suite. Fine. The reasons I’ve chosen to go with Brian’s 2004 version instead are three-fold: 1) as a SMiLE-themed recording and recreation, “In Blue Hawaii” stands quite nicely on its own, thank you; 2) just as Hawaii’s landscape served as the locale for the “The Elements” opening section (“On A Holiday”), its tranquil blue waters provide the inspiration for its close – good symmetry there; and 3) its reprise of “Prayer” sets up my final track, the magnificent “Surf’s Up”, the same way The Beatles used the reprise of “Sgt. Pepper’s” opening track to set the stage for “A Day In The Life”. In both cases, by saving the best tracks for last and setting them ever-so-slightly apart from the rest of the album, the songs are given space to breathe and the opportunity for maximum impact. Which is exactly what happens.

5. Surf’s Up: One of the most sublime pieces of pop music ever recorded, the majestic “Surf’s Up” closes out my SMiLE on a high note, indeed. One of the first songs written by Brian and Van Dyke for SMiLE (amazingly, it was completed in a single night), it serves as a perfect ending to this amazing experiment in pop music. “Surf’s Up” is no ordinary pop song. The music is both breezy and moody; lyrically it is undoubtedly Van Dyke’s finest, full of clever plays on words, double meanings, and surreal imagery that contrasts civilization’s shortcomings with the innocence of youth:

A diamond necklace played the pawn
Hand in hand some drummed along, oh
To a handsome man and baton
A blind class aristocracy
Back through the opera glass you see
The pit and the pendulum drawn
Columnated ruins domino

Canvass the town and brush the backdrop
Are you sleeping?

Hung velvet overtaken me
Dim chandelier awaken me
To a song dissolved in the dawn
The music hall a costly bow
The music all is lost for now
To a muted trumperter swan
Columnated ruins domino

Canvass the town and brush the backdrop
Are you sleeping, brother john?

Dove nested towers the hour was
Strike the street quicksilver moon
Carriage across the fog
Two-step to lamp lights cellar tune
The laughs come hard in auld lang syne

The glass was raised, the fired rose
The fullness of the wine, the dim last toasting
While at port adieu or die

A choke of grief hard hardened i
Beyond belief a broken man too tough to cry

Surf’s up!
Aboard a tidal wave
Come about hard and join
The young and often spring you gave
I heard the word
Wonderful thing
A children’s song

(A child is the father of the man)

A children’s song
Have you listened as they played
Their song is love
And the children know the way

Like a number of tracks used for my reconstituted SMiLE, no one is absolutely certain how “Surf’s Up” would have sounded on SMiLE had it been released back in 1967. The version I’m using here is the one assembled by Carl Wilson, then-Beach Boys manager Jack Rieley, and Brian in 1971 for the “Surf’s Up” album. It was also released on the “Good Vibrations” compliation box ([Disc 3, track 28]), and that’s the version I’m using for my CD. “Surf’s Up” comprises three sections – the first recorded in late ’66 with Carl’s vocal added in 1971; the second from a solo performance of the song by Brian for a CBS News television special on popular music hosted by Leonard Bernstein, also in late ’66; the third from another SMiLE-era recording called “Child Is The Father To The Man” (a circular, melodious chant whose lyric borrows from Wordsworth’s poem “My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold”), with additional vocals and a new, Brian-conceived tag line.

The question begs: what is “Surf’s Up” about? As recounted by Priore in his book, Brian explained it all to writer Jules Siegel in 1967 for an article he was working on for the Saturday Evening Post, subsequently published in Cheetah magazine under the title, “Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!”:

“[the song’s protagonist] is off in a vision, on a trip. Reality is gone; he’s creating it like a dream. “Dove nested towers” – Europe, a long time ago. “The laughs come hard in ‘Auld Lang Syne'” – the poor people in the taverns, trying to make themselves happy by singing. Then there’s the parties, the drinking, trying to forget the wars, the battles at sea: “While at port, adieu or die” – ships in the harbor, battling it out, a kind of Roman Empire kind of thing.’

…The song doesn’t simply raise questions; it has the strength to search for and provide a possible answer. ‘”A choke of grief”,’ Wilson intoned, ‘at his own sorrow and the emptiness of his life, because he can’t even cry for the suffering of the world, for his own suffering. And then, hope: “Surf’s Up! Come about hard and join the young and often spring you gave.” Go back to the kids, to the beach, to childhood. “I heard the word” …of God. And what is it? “A children’s song!” “The song is love, and the children know the way.”

What makes “Surf’s Up” so magnificent? From beginning to end, the song shimmers with a radiance of beauty that is at times joyous, mysterious, poignant, and celebratory. Like The Beatles’ epic “A Day In The Life”, one senses something solid, purposeful, and important at work here – some inherent quality that makes one sense from the outset that this is not just another Brian Wilson or Beach Boys song, it is an inspired creation that stands alone in its own time and space.

And that, folks, is my version of SMiLE.

Next – Some final thoughts.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:00 | Comments Off on Restoring a “SMiLE” – IV
October 14, 2006

I know, I know, people will read this post and think it’s the big bad Great White Shank ganging up on poor little Michelle Wie again. Believe me, I’m not. It’s just that when I see someone far more talented and proficient at the game of golf than I am (exponentially so!) struggle on a golf course – well, I can’t help but think there may be such a thing as justice in this world after all. Check out this story regarding the teen phenom‘s play Friday at the Samsung World Championship, where she began her second year as a pro on the LPGA Tour. I particularly enjoyed this part of the story (my bolds):

Her ball was nestled against a rock the size of a baseball, with waist-high bushes all around as Michelle Wie stood in the middle of the desert and tried to figure out what to do.

She had nowhere to go — and neither did anyone behind her.

She took a free drop into the desert sand behind a small tree. She whiffed. She tried again, advancing the ball into a thicket that left her no choice but to take a penalty drop. If that wasn’t enough, she had to hit her next shot off a cement cart path.

All that just to get back to the fairway.

“It was a really, really bad situation to be in,” Wie said. “There was no bailout.”

She wound up with a quadruple-bogey 8 on the 14th hole at Bighorn — the shortest par 4 on the course at 354 yards — and finished with a 2-over 74 to match her worst score of the year on the LPGA Tour.

In hindsight, she would have been better off going back to the tee and hitting her third shot. At the time, Wie thought she could escape with her free drop into the desert sand. She didn’t realize the wind was keeping the branches out of her way, but then the wind died, and the branches were right in front of her.

“I had to wait for the tree to blow back. ‘All right, the tree is out of my way, hit it!”‘ she said.

In her haste, she missed it all together.

In the scoring tent, there was confusion over the score until Cristie Kerr took over and went through all eight strokes. “Ocho,” she said. The walking scorer said, “I thought she got free relief from the bush because of bees.”

“No,” Wie said. “That was last year.”

A year ago, Wie showed savvy with the rule book by getting relief from a swarm of honey bees. The more infamous ruling was a bad drop in the third round that wasn’t reported until the fourth round and led to her disqualification.

Boy, I’m reading this article and thinking, “Holy ball washer, that last conversation sounds like something you’d hear after a round at the Goodboys Invitational!” – something that would undoubtedly go something like this:

Steve “Killer” Kowalski: “Hey, Shank, didn’t you get free relief from the bush because your ball skipped off the pond, hit a golf cart, scattered a flock of geese, bounced against the clubhouse, then came to rest between that sand trap rake and the stone wall?”

The Great White Shank: “No, that was last year.”

Hmmm. All I can say is, Michelle, welcome to the world of The Great White Shank. Just don’t stay there too long. I can’t say I know how you feel, but I defintely know what it’s like. Here’s hoping you can shake off these kinds of bizarre occurrences better than I can and go on to have yourself a good tournament. I’m sure you will – you’re too good a player to do otherwise.

But then again, these kinds of things can be awfully catchy…

Filed in: Golf & Sports,Goodboys by The Great White Shank at 01:17 | Comments Off on A “Wie” Bit Like The Great White Shank?


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