Dr. Perry Alexander

The University of Kansas

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The Beach Boys

I’m sitting here listening and reading back issues of Paste and found a fascinating read on The Beach Boys with some words I’ve never seen before. I completely ignored The Beach Boys for most of my musical life. When I was a serious jazzer listening to such serious jazz groups like Spyro Gyra and Chuck Mangione (stop laughing), The Beach Boys were just silly. During my New Age acoustic years, they were not sophisticated enough. During my indie rock years, they were old. Then I was a tried and true Beatles guy using the Beatles/Stones classification system. You kind of get the picture.

A few years back I went out and bought Pet Sounds when Brian Wilson began emerging from his horrible fight with depression. I listened to it carefully this time, both the mono and stereo mixes. My reaction was nothing short of ‘holy shit, what have I done. This is simply amazing music that I should have paid attention to.’ Well, I’m paying attention to now and I would encourage everyone to do the same.

In the Paste article, the most revealing thing I learned is that while The Beach Boys are often thought of as the whitest band in the history of rock and roll, nothing could be farther from the truth. Turns out that they attended one of the most racially diverse schools in LA where they heard lots of music that their african american friends brought with them from the south. Remember, during this time there was white radio and black radio - Elivs made a fortune by singing so-called black music in a white body, but I digress. In particular, The Beach Boys guitarist was a huge Chuck Berry fan and not at all a fan of the beach guitar sound. Really? R&B sounds in The Beach Boys?

I got out Pet Sounds again and listened closely to the guitar riffs and sure enough, there are certainly elements of the surf sound, but many of the guitar riffs could have easily come from R&B songs. Big surprise to me.

The moral of the story is don’t dismiss The Beach Boys, or any good music for that matter, without giving a listen. A serious listen in many cases. Oh, and top bashing Brian Wilson. Pitchfork and the rest of you, just stop it. Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain are just two of the way too many musicians who lost their battles with depression and mental illness. Brian Wilson is to be celebrated because he won. Although wounded, we still have him and he is a treasure.