August 21, 2008

POB This wildly eclectic and refreshingly enjoyable vacation week continues tonight, as I’m attending a What’s-Left-Of-The Beach Boys concert at the Hampton Beach Casino – hence the timing of the post.

It’s taking me a bit of time to put together a post on the re-issue of Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson‘s album “Pacific Ocean Blue”. The re-release of Wilson’s 1977 solo album, which also includes recordings from a later set of sessions intended for a follow-up album that was never released (to be called “Bambu”) is something that had been bandied about for years; now Beach Boys fans have something to cheer about. And I do cheer it, for the quality of the release in both its digital remix and packaging is fantastic and well worth the wait. But hearing the music again, as beautiful as it is, just leaves me with a sense of melancholy, even sadness.

If Brian Wilson was the creative genius behind the Beach Boys, Dennis Wilson was the band’s soul. It was Dennis who had the original idea to have Brian write a surf song, Dennis who was the band’s only surfer, Dennis who had the charisma and the wild rock-star lifestyle, and Dennis who ultimately became the true victim of the “California myth” that brother Brian perpetuated through the Beach Boys’ music. Unable to conquer his addictions to, well, virtually everything, Dennis drowned in December of 1983. For all intents and purposes, he had been living dead for several years, and when he passed the Beach Boys died with him.

Dennis Wilson was the power, the passion, and the force behind the Beach Boys concert band – driving the beat, pummeling his drums, playing to the audience when his bandmates were all too often content to play it safe. After the band would leave the stage to a rousing “Surfin’ USA”, it was customary for to come back out alone to the accompaniment of a tinkling piano to sing “You Are So Beautiful”. Alone in the spotlight, Dennis was always careful to dedicate his song to whatever city or town the concert happened to be in. Girls swooned. Guys just shook their heads in awe. I mean, how could someone be so passionate, manly, tender, and rough all at the same time? Sure, it was Brian wrote all those fabulous tunes, but it was Dennis who every guy in the audience looking to score with a chick ever wanted to be.

Knowing Dennis’ insatiable taste for female conquest, he’d probably be proud to hear that whenever I hear POB I think of the girls (well, let’s say young women) who were a significant part of my life around the time his album was released. You see, it was great record to play for chicks because here you had this guy with a raspy voice pouring out his soul through music that was raw, passionate, vulnerable, sexy, tender, romantic, and risk-taking, all at the same time. All qualities I wish I had! But if I didn’t have them, at least I could somehow reflect them, and my own desires, through Dennis’ music.

Aah, the transcendent quality of music! Hearing the music on POB I’m transported back to September of 1977 and the night my girlfriend at that time called to say she had totaled her car on her way into Boston to meet Dennis at the Strawberries music store on Memorial Drive in Cambridge to have him sign my copy of POB; it just happened to be the same day my grandfather passed away. I vivdly remember that night, the two of us standing outside in her driveway, crying in each other’s arms. It also brings to mind a female co-worker I had fallen passionately in love with several months later; oftentimes on our drives to and from work, we’d talk with Dennis’ album playing in the background. And Dennis’ music weaved its magic – at least for a short period of time!

If there’s one cut on POB that in my mind exemplifies the moodiness of the album, it’s a song called “Moonshine”. The lyrics alone give you an idea of the kind of passion, vulnerability, and sense of loss so often displayed throughout:

Who made my moonshine intoxicate me?

Oooooh who made me cry
Like the end of a beautiful play

Holds and tickles and hugs out the night
Hold her hand and started to cry
The audience thought they would die

It was you who said there won’t be tomorrow
You said you love me now in another way
Oh in another way

Na na na naa na na naa no
Na na na naa na na naa no
Na na na naa na na naa no
Na na na naa na na naa no

It was you who said there won’t be tomorrow
You said you love me now in another way
Oh in another way

Gone gone away gone gone away
Gone gone away gone gone away
Gone gone away gone gone away
Gone gone away gone gone away

Steve Leggett’s review at sums it up pretty well, I think:

It’s difficult to describe Wilson’s sound on these tracks, although “California gospel soul” might fit, since Wilson’s raspy, wounded vocals carry more naked emotion and feeling than any of the other Beach Boys vocalists, even if [brother] Carl (and sometimes Brian) could sing like an angel. Dennis could sing like an angel, too, but an earthbound one who lost his wings yet never lost his love of the spiritual and romantic in the world.

…Beautiful, sprawling, peaceful, wise, and as tenderly romantic as the world is round, these Dennis Wilson gems are as revelatory as they are stunning. Dennis Wilson was a man in love with life, a man in love with love, and as this essential package shows, he had an achingly personal vision for it all.

The re-release of “Pacific Ocean Blue” in all its aural beauty is a triumph, but for me there’s as much emotion off the record as there is on it courtesy of Dennis. Which makes it a little raw and a little sad as a listening experience. And, strangely enough, I kinda think Dennis would consider that to be a compliment.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:36 | Comments (2)
  1. Check out Brian Wilson’s newest cd..That Lucky Old Sun on The cd comes out Sept 2. Rolling Stone,”Brian’s strongest new work in years”
    Billboard, “A sophisticated new piece of songcraft”.

    Comment by Jana — August 22, 2008 @ 11:47 am

  2. Write me a review, Jana, and I’ll post it here!

    Comment by The Great White Shank — August 24, 2008 @ 7:23 pm

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