The Beach Boys' Crazy Summer

By Romano, Andrew | Newsweek, June 11, 2012 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Beach Boys' Crazy Summer


Romano, Andrew, Newsweek


Byline: Andrew Romano

He heard voices, did drugs, and fell apart. Can the Beach Boys' reunion tour help put Brian Wilson back together again?

Brian Wilson, the lumbering savant who wrote, produced, and sang an outlandish number of immortal pop songs back in the 1960s with his band, The Beach Boys, is swiveling in a chair, belly out, arms dangling, next to his faux-grand piano at the cavernous Burbank, Calif., studio where he and the rest of the group's surviving members are rehearsing for their much-ballyhooed 50th-anniversary reunion tour, which is set to start in three days. At 24, Wilson shelved what would have been his most avant-garde album, Smile, and retreated for decades into a dusky haze of drug abuse and mental illness; now, 45 years later, he has reemerged, stable but still somewhat screwy, to give the whole sun-and-surf thing a final go.

Before that can happen, though, the reconstituted Beach Boys have to learn how to sing "That's Why God Made the Radio," the first new A-side that Wilson has written for the band since 1980. And so they have gathered, once again, around his piano. I'd like to imagine that this is how it was when they first accustomed their vocal cords to, say, "California Girls." Except it's not, exactly: back then, Wilson was the maestro, conducting each singer as his falsetto floated skyward and his fingers pecked out the accompaniment. Now he stares at a teleprompter and sings when he's told to sing, ceding his bench to one member of the 10-man backing band that will buffer the Beach Boys in concert and looking on as another orchestrates the harmonies and handles the loftier notes. At first, the blend is rough: Wilson strains to hit the high point of the hook; frontman Mike Love and guitarist Al Jardine miss their cues. But after a few passes the stray voices begin to mesh. They begin to sound like the Beach Boys. Close your eyes, shutting out Wilson's swoosh of silver hair and Love's four golden rings, and 1965 isn't such a stretch.

Or it isn't until someone's iPhone rings. Jardine's. He turns away from the piano and presses the phone to his ear. "I'm going to have to call you back, because--wait, what?" He shakes his head, then hangs up. "Dick Clark just passed away," he says. The room begins to murmur; people cover their mouths with their hands.

As each Beach Boy absorbs the news, I watch Wilson--always the conduit, the live wire, the pulsing limbic system of the Beach Boys. At first, he says nothing. Then I overhear him talking to Jardine. "We're 70 f--king years old," he says. "You'll be 70 in September. I'll be 70 in June. I'm worried about being 70."

"It's still a few months off," Jardine says.

"That's true," Wilson mutters. He pauses for a few seconds, looking away from his bandmate. "I want to know how did we get here?" he finally says. "How did we ever f--king get here? That's what I want to know."

It's not a bad question. I have other questions, too, which is why I flew to Los Angeles to meet the Beach Boys in person, then continued on to concerts in New Orleans and New York, then spent weeks listening to their new album, That's Why God Made the Radio (out June 5?). Why did we care enough about the Beach Boys to buy more than 100 million of their records? Why do we still care enough to snap up $70 million in reunion-tour tickets? Should we still care? Or is nostalgia all that's left? Also: what is it like to be America's first 50-year-old rock-and-roll band? Is it morbid, or is it inspiring? Cathartic or embarrassing? Or is it something else entirely?

But "how did we ever f--king get here?"--that's the place to start. As a lifelong Beach Boys fan, I've lost count of the number of times someone has asked me, "What's wrong with Brian Wilson?" The suspicious eyes. The slack expression. The mirthless laugh. The slurred speech. They tend to assume he's had a stroke.

I usually respond by reciting Wilson's clinical diagnosis: he suffers from schizoaffective disorder--sometimes, he hears voices--and mild manic depression.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Beach Boys' Crazy Summer
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?