Tuesday, May 24, 2005

a teenage symphony to god

the brian wilson 'SMiLE' dvd comes out today, (s.a. is copping it after work, cool!).

it seems i cannot get enough of 'smile'. as far as i can tell, for me it really started in the 80's with a.g. giving me a tape of lost beach boys stuff. it was some of the tapes from the 'smile' sessions.

for those who haven't heard, brian wilson, the leader of the beach boys, was on a roll in 1966. after having scored high critical, (if not popular), acclaim for the 'pet sounds' lp and a world-wide hit with 'good vibrations, brian had a bit of clout. brian started recording in september for the tentively titled 'dumb angel'. he recorded in a cut and paste fashion, doing little sections and editing them together. as the band toured europe during the fall, brian continued to assemble and write. he asked van dyke parks, another critically loved composer, if he would write the lyrics to brian's songs. things were going smooth until the rest of the band returned from touring to be confronted sounds that were not very beach boy-like. brian found himself defending the project until he had a melt-down, locked himself in his room, and refused to work on 'smile' again. the deadline for the lp came and went and the project was scrapped, with some songs redone for 'smiley smile' and others trickling out on later lps. but the 'smile' session tapes were supposed to be burned by brian after a rash of fires plauged los angeles and he thought it was a bad omen, this turned out to be another strange tale in a long line of them.
i knew about this stuff, having been a beach boy fan since around 'sunflower', (up until then i thought the beach boys to be pretty inferior to the beatles, who were the measuring stick).
i had heard some of it, 'surf's up', 'cabin esscence', and had fell in love with butchering that was 'smiley smile'. but these rough snippets on the tape of unfinished songs were pure genius. like little teases of the great thing it could have been. it was then i started buying the older records i never had and discovered what a wonderful songwriter brian is.
then, upon getting online 10 yrs ago i found that there was a whole cult-like following for all things 'smile'. there were a slew of sites that posted their version of how the lp would be arranged, (as brian had just dropped the whole thing with out really knowing where it was all going). i had soon acquired as much of the missing lp as possible, hitting the mp3s, snagging the 'sea of tunes' 3 cd set of outtakes, and finding a lot of mixed cds on winmx. . . soon i had 3 or 4 versions of my own.

i don't think anyone that has been as obsessed like i am about 'smile' thought brian could ever have put together the one thing that tore him apart.
the story of 'smile' is like some epic journey. wallowing in limbo for 37 years, achieving legendary status as the greatest album never made. i had a sinking feeling before the first time i played the 2004 'smile'. would it be what i had envisioned? would brian make a fool of himself and just further fuel the myth of the whole 'smile' debacle . . .
i shouldn't have worried at all. the new 'smile' is one of the freshest sounding albums in quite awhile. even after immersing myself in the remnants of the beach boys version over and over, 'smile' is like cool dip in the pool on a very hot day.
it can be vast one minute then very intimate. silly, then heart-felt. it makes you think just a bit, but you can't help singing along.
i'll put it on and we all jump and dance to 'heroes and villians', trying to get the staccato cadence of van dykes lyrics, (i think i got it now!), from then on it is just what brian said it would be, a teenage symphony to god.
we're going to see brian do 'smile' in september and i really can't wait, 'til then i'll have the dvd and the new album to keep me company, if not all the wonderful fragments of the original.
here are some very good outtakes from the 'smile' sessions (sea of tunes 17) via yousendit,
the beach boys -
wind chimes (take 5)
the beach boys - do you like worms? (pt2, 2nd voc o.d.)
the beach boys - wonderful (instrumental o.d.)

wonderful broadcast about 'smile' on npr (stream)
another npr broadcast, this one with van dyke parks (stream)
the smile shop
the zen of 'SMiLE'
brian wilson's site
recommended reading:
look! listen! vibrate! smile! - compiled by dominic priore
the nearest faraway place - timothy white


Blogger Robert Rouse said...

"Smile" is a pure symphony for the voice. I too have been obsessed with the album for years. The first subscription I recall was my Mom getting "Hit Parader" for my birthday in 1967. I recall reading that Paul McCartney was absolutely in love with "Pet Sounds" and how it was the real impetus to do "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band". McCartney was actually jealous of Brian's talent.

Up to that point, I had pushed the "Beach Boys" to the side as just another California band. But after that point I began to study them religiously. It was tough back then, no Internet, very few musician periodicals, but living in a college town does have its perks. A student, who lived in a duplex owned by my Mom, collected copies of the "Village Voice". He turned me onto stories about "Smile", It was also through this student that I first heard "Smiley Smile" and later a bootlegged reel-to-reel recording of a very drugged Brian talking about the process.

I remember being blown away when I first heard Brian doing "Imagination" and thinking, "wow, he's really brought himself back to life," and wishing he could somehow find the lost "Smile" tapes.

That said, re-recording the entire album was a flash of genius. The way phrases are repeated and movements are taken apart and rearranged should serve as the ultimate composition lesson for any songwriter.

Yeah, I'm an older guy now, but in my humble opinion, so far, the finest album released in the 21st Century was the masterpiece simply known as "Smile".

10:15 PM CDT  
Blogger sleepybomb said...

thanks robert, i never coulda said it better. . .

10:31 PM CDT  

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