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Posts Tagged ‘the Beach Boys’

Silly Love Songs

September 23, 2015 | by

Man. Car. Love.

I was asked recently to write about my favorite love song, and I debated what to say. It wasn’t that I didn’t know which song to pick. I did. But I knew it was a weird choice.

There are many songs that are almost too painfully emotive to listen to. We all have them. Some—“Exotic Arcade” or “Night and Day” for me, or “To Here Knows When” or “Naomi”—are too bittersweet. Others are simply too tied up with being young, like “Black Car” or “Frenesi” or “Autumn Sweater.” In some cases, it’s pretty obvious why a song carries bad associations: after one breakup, all I did was lie on the floor and play “Walk a Thin Line” on a loop, forever. One that almost brings me to tears with its sheer, surprising beauty is “The Love of the Princess,” the romance theme from The Thief of Baghdad. All these are some of the best love songs I know. But the one song that reliably makes me cry, every single time I hear it, is “Little Deuce Coupe.”

It’s a great song: Brian Wilson said it was the favorite of the Beach Boys’ car oeuvre, and Frank Zappa praised its “progression V-II.” But that’s not why I love it so much. Rather, I consider “Little Deuce Coupe” to be the purest love song about a boy and his car ever written, and as such the purest love song ever written.

Now, I don’t care about Ford Model B’s. I don’t care about the flat head mill or the pink slip or the competition clutch with the four on the floor. I don’t really know what any of that means—hell, I can’t even drive—although obviously 140 miles per hour is fast and I guess really useful for drag-racing circumstances, when some loud braggart tries to put you down and your girl has to look in your eyes and tell you everything will work out all right.

And of course I recognize on some level that Pet Sounds is the better album, and that “God Only Knows” and “Don’t Worry Baby” are two of the most beautiful love songs ever written. But even they can’t touch me like “Little Deuce Coupe.” Is it crass and consumerist? Of course. Was it all a part of the cynical sun-and-fun PR machine that my dad still bitterly blames for luring him to Pomona? Sure. Was the fragile young Brian Wilson being browbeaten and bullied by his tyrannical father during the recording of Surfer Girl? Obviously! And that’s leaving aside a lot of things you could say about male aggression and the glorification of competition and danger, to say nothing of penis substitutes. I mean, to some degree all this goes without saying. 

But we know love when we hear it, and the love in “Deuce Coupe” is a love that will never, ever die—a love that’s both fresh and based on care and hoping and probably saving up and restoring, too. Maybe a song about a horse, or a dog, could approach the power, but to my mind nothing has. Brian Wilson said in the notes to Surfer Girl’s reissue, “We loved doing ‘Little Deuce Coupe’. It was a good ‘shuffle’ rhythm, which was not like most of the rhythms of the records on the radio in those days. It had a bouncy feel to it. Like most of our records, it had a competitive lyric. This record was my favorite Beach Boys car song.” It has all the joy and pain of youth, but none of the associations. Just pure sweetness. 

I’ve listened to the song twice to write this—and so I’ve cried twice, too. You don’t know what I got.

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.

California Street

July 24, 2015 | by

Learning to surf in the sixties.

Grajagan, Java, 1979. Courtesy of Mark Cordesius

For my eleventh birthday, my father took me to the Dave Sweet Surfboards shop on Olympic Boulevard, in Santa Monica. From the rack of used boards, I chose a solid, sunbrowned 9'0" with blue-green paneled rails and a fin built with at least eight different types of wood. It cost seventy dollars. I was five feet tall, weighed eighty pounds, and could not reach my arm around it. I carried it to the street on my head, feeling self-conscious and scared of dropping the board, but as happy as I had ever been.

It wasn’t an easy winter, trying to learn to surf. Even though the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” (“Let’s go surfin’ now / everybody’s learning how”) was on the radio, I was the only kid at my backwater school who had a board. We spent most weekends in Ventura, so I got in the water regularly, but California Street was rocky and the water was painfully cold. I got a wet suit, but it had short legs and no sleeves, and neoprene technology was still in its infancy. At best, the little wet suit took some of the sharpest chill off the afternoon wind. My father liked to tell a story about a day when I got discouraged. From the warmth of the car, he had been watching me flounder—I imagine him smoking his pipe, wearing a big fluffy fisherman’s sweater. I came in, my feet and knees bleeding, stumbling across the rocks, dropping my board, humiliated and exhausted. He told me to go back out and catch three more waves. I refused. He insisted. I could ride them on my knees if necessary, he said. I was furious. But I went back out and caught the waves, and in his version of the story, that was when I became a surfer. If he hadn’t made me go back out that day, I would have quit. He was sure of that. Read More »

Dennis Wilson Was a Good Editor

March 6, 2014 | by

Charles Manson’s Lie: The Love and Terror Cult was released forty-four years ago today.

Charles Manson 

Dennis Wilson was the only Beach Boy who surfed. Accordingly, he embraced a more, let’s say, briny side of the beach-bum lifestyle—he’s the only Beach Boy you can picture actually sleeping on the beach, living out of the rusted trunk of some boat of a car, feeding the gulls, rolling spliffs, letting himself go. His excellent solo record, Pacific Ocean Blue, proves how undervalued he was in the band. But his work on “Never Learn Not to Love,” the B-side to 1968’s “Blue Birds Over the Mountain,” proves that he knew how to wield a red pen.

First, some obligatory exposition. It was Charles Manson—yes, the—who first wrote “Never Learn”; he called it “Cease to Exist,” and when his friend Dennis Wilson, that Beachiest of Beach Boys, asked to record it, he was thrilled. Or rather, he would be thrilled, he said, if Wilson agreed to one condition: he was not to emend Manson’s lyrics in any way.

He did, of course; he retitled the song, rejiggered the verses, tossed in a bridge, and quietly published the song as his own. Manson, as you can imagine, was pissed, and threatened to kill Wilson, but when the former turned up on the latter’s doorstep, it was apparently Wilson who beat the piss out of Manson, not the other way around.

As befits a story starring a cult leader, this is a tale full of apocrypha and lurid curlicues—hitchhikers, bullets, group sex culminating in group gonorrhea—but the lyrics, not the diseases, are our interest here. Read More »