Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Good Vibrations

Dear Brian and Sheri,

This letter goes out to you. Because every good one needs one. I wrote that last sentence partly because of Emily Dickinson. But that's another story. She's good at riddles. I know you don't much care for them. One means missive and one means you.

That's enough of that. But it's important as we shall see.

So today I watched Love and Mercy, the biopic of Brian Wilson starring my old crush, John Cusack, someone I fashioned myself after, in a fashion. That last fact is just one small significant thing in the whole thing. Also that you are Brian, too.

It was an okay movie, better than most really. Weird disconnect between the younger Brian, who was awesomely played by Paul Dano, and the older one, played by John Cusack, who had somehow turned into a mash-up between John and Brian. (In some alternative version John plays me.)

Four films really, one about the music, and one about abuse, madness and recovery. And a third about gurus and psychologists manipulating the weak for their own gain. And a love story to boot.

I enjoyed all of them, but the one about the music was my favorite. I learned a lot about the music.

And I realized after watching it, that I have somehow never listened to Smiley Smile, which is weird, because I love weird, and I love The Beach Boys and this is the weirdest of the Beach Boys albums.

So I listened to it while doing the dishes tonight. It's so silly and funny, but also so carefully wrought and, ultimately, sublime. It starts with a little minute long musical vignette stating the theme of the album; to remember, all day and night, to whistle.

Then the album continues with a meditation on heroes and villains, the good and bad. And, already, stories are unfolding and categories are starting to unravel.

Then the album gets super silly and fun with a child-like love song to vegetables. But really, what could be more profound?

Then it stays silly with "Fall breaks and Back to Winter (Woody Woodpecker Symphony)" which is one I want to think about more, what the title means, but my instant take is dark music made light, or light music made dark. Cartoon winter gloom.  But mostly this is just an instrumental aperitif.

"She's Going Bald" ramps up the ridiculous, and also seems to be a shout out to The Beatles. The movie points out that Brian felt he was in competition with John Lennon and the boys (Another John I heavily relate to.) And you can feel the John Lennon in this song with both the playfulness of the lyrics, the way it runs through styles, even through early Beatlesque blues, with John's irreverent humor, and depth, as it seems to say something about the importance of a woman's hair, and the tragedy of its loss. Which, though sgrounded and visceral, is also symbolic of loss of beauty, even life. But like in the previous song, when fall was breaking back to winter, the music keeps it light, and, in fact, hilarious.

But then comes a sweet one, for me. "Little Pad."

"If I only had a little pad in Hawaii."

It starts with the boys cutting up, laughing in the studio, singing the song in goofy voices, but then gets a little more serious, and pretty, the fantasy starting to come through.

Of course I couldn't help but think of your wedding in Hawaii. NOT TO MENTION THE FACT THAT MIKE EFFING LOVE WAS THERE AND SINGING SONGS FOR YOU! That's some super thick glue right there. And of course Mike Love is one of the "villains" in the "movie", a foil to Brian's hero. Though he's made out to be a villain, really, you totally understand where he is coming from. Brian was so far in his own world that Mike Love (Make Love?) was no longer part of the equation, just a voice.  After all, it was supposed to be The Beach Boys, not The Beach Boy.

"dit du du, da da da do do, dim duh did doo
did did did doo dim duh dum did doo doo do
By the sea that's where I'll build a pad in Hawaii"

and I could hear Mike Love singing this, in my imagination, on your wedding night, as you make love. On the beach, in the rain, not a cloud in the sky. Or was that me?

And I could picture your pad there. Though somehow it hasn't been built yet.

And then the next song came on. Good Vibrations. And all the sudden this funny weird silly album became, by dint of that one song alone, one of the greatest albums ever made. Because this song is so undeniably great, one of the great masterpieces of art. Wave after wave of hooks, and musically like nothing ever heard before, kettle drums and theramin aflare, and the balanced harmony of the whole.

But best of all, for this listener, that one line, "Gotta keep those loving good vibrations happening with her."

This is THE mantra. The only mantra one needs. The single greatest line of music ever written in my opinion, where words and music coalesce. I used this line to raise both of my daughters. And to ease my marriage. I have sung this line to my girls, and myself, hundreds of times when they were upset. And I still do. Over and over again. It was not only my protection against slipping into bad vibrations myself, but a reminder that I had to keep the good vibrations going for them, at all cost. And what better way to keep good vibrations happening than through music? The key is in the music, the key to the whole deal, to joy, was in this one line framed in this one exceedingly great song, which is in turn framed in this great album, which is is in turn framed by the entire ouvre of Brain Wilson.

Writing "Brain Wilson" was a typo. Bu it reminds me of when you accidentally wrote your name as "brain" in the drying sidewalk cement between your house and mine on Goddard Street in Overland Park KS. Haha. You made a mistake and then signed it "Brain." That's such good irony. I never realized how good until writing this right now. It further reminds me of when your son found a feather and you told him to blow it off his hand and make a wish. Then you asked him what he wished for and he said "To have the feather back."

Maybe it wasn't a typo after all, writing brain?

So listen to rest of the album. The next song With Me Tonight

The way I broke your heart very literally
This ghost haunts me more than it should be
I'm not gonna walk away or turn my head in shame
I never thought it could kill me

A clean slate, one more day further away
I want you, you don't want me
My mistake for wasting yours and mine
I want you but will you stay with me today, with me today?

Just let me make some time to take it back a little
The way you smile shines the heavens above me
I'm never gonna let you go, I want you all the time

I've gotta prove you can trust me."

Oh the depth of those lyrics, I can't believe I've never listened to some of these songs before tonight.

The next song I HAVE heard though. Wind Chimes.

"Hanging down from my window, those are my wind chimes."

It all comes back to the vibrations. To the beautiful sounds. The song moves from "tears rolling down my cheek" and turns toward the peaceful sounds of the wind chimes and then the peace turns into playfulness by the end of the song, and we're okay again. Healing through sound. Ends with various voices singing, "Tingling," culminating in a goofy voice soaked in heavy reverb, and fades into light tinkling voices harmonizing at a low volume.

Then the album ends Wonderfully, of course. Very pretty,


She belongs there, left with her liberty
Never known as a non-believer
She laughs and stays in the
Won- won- wonderful

She knew how to gather the forest when
God reached softly and moved her body
One golden locket quite young
And loving her mother and father

Farther down the path was a mystery
Through the recess the chalk and numbers
A boy bumped into her
Won- won- won- wonderful

Hey bobba reba
----Everybody should
Wa bobba lee
Just start collecting
Hey bobba reba
Oh yeah
Wa bobba lee
Kept a-comin on
Hey bobba
Just to be a cool guy
Hey bobba
He bobba reba
Don't think you're God
He bobba reba
Go for a ride
Wa bobba lee
Just go for a
He bobba reba
Just keep goin
Wa bobba lee
Said it
Just keep goin'
Hey bobba
All you gotta do is
Hey bobba
Cool it vibrations
He bobba reba
Ah just gotta do i

She'll return in love with her liberty
Never known as a non-believer
She'll smile and thank God
For one won- won- wonderful"
Just listen to the album though. It's all there in the music. And more. 



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