Saturday, January 27, 2007

Friendships That Shoulda Been

Ever seen that artist’s representation of ‘50s icons just hanging out together at some soda fountain? If you’ve been to a Chubby’s, or some other ‘50s redux diner, you’ve seen the image. The same grouping – Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, Marlon Brando (who, unlike the rest, was actually alive, when these paintings began to surface, and Marilyn Monroe, caught in expression of the simple ecstasy of standing over a subway grate – has been replicated as characters in Edward Hopper’s Night Hawks. The idea of the painting, if any could be assigned, seemed to be, “Look, all these icons coulda, shoulda hung together.” Why not? Why shouldn’t have In A Lonely Place-era Bogart, Streetcar Named Desire-era Brando, Rebel Without a Cause-era Dean, and Seven-Year Itch-era Monroe have hung out in another time zone on the wall over the table jukebox? If they had hung out, been friends, would that have changed much the trajectory of their respective lives? Doubtful. Have your friends changed your life’s destiny to any great extent? What put this in mind was listening to the CD with January’s MOJO: In My Room: A Tribute to the Genius of Brian Wilson. The more I listen to the bands covering Wilson’s music or contributing songs inspired by Wilson’s music, the more convinced I am that the man is a songwriting genius. I know the word gets thrown around way too much. I normally hate expansive compliments; they seem so careless, therefore not really meant. What is “I’ll call you” in flattery-speak but to announce you love someone or think he’s a genius? That said, Wilson is supreme among songwriters of the ‘60s for voicing a wistfulness that isn’t necessarily tethered to the ‘60s. sure, other songwriters of the ‘60s and ‘70s have meditatedWilson’s totem themes – quietude, spiritual connection to earth and sea, loss and loneliness, and at least one simple paean to whatever struck the writer at the moment. But, Wilson’s music really goes back to the most elementary joy of creating noise. That’s how pure it is. Dylan? Too complicated. Richman? Too loopy. Drake? Too despondent. Lennon? Too revolutionary. Cohen? Too jaded, then too philosophical, then back to too jaded. It could be an ephemeral thing, this love for Wilson, but so is joy, which is really what’s at the heart of his music. Yank me around to the real reason I started this whole epistle: Friends and the sense of longing and understanding conveyed in Wilson’s music. At some point, I remembered Mike Love’s weird tirade, dissing the surviving Beatles at the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame. The moment was more memorable for Dylan’s humorous reaction at being glad Love wasn’t presenting to him. Love might be nicer, maybe, if he knew he and his fellow Beach Boys (the real ones, not the buncha replacement guys he touring with now) were the prologue to “Gabbba Gabba Hey.” Especially if Dee Dee Ramone and Joey Ramone were still alive. Those men were sweethearts and Joey, I seem to recall, had a soft spot for the Beach Boys. So, what better artist’s representation than the two deceased Ramones with Mike Love and a benevolent Brian Wilson (a surly Johnny glowering at all the peace, love and understanding while signing away the rights to another Ramones song for a Vonage commercial). Do I dare add to to this rock portrait? I'm gonna add Dusty Springfield. And Mary Wells. And, someone Brazilian. Living or dead. I'm open to suggestions.

8 comments:

Claude Scales said...

Some time back I read a critic who called the Ramones New York's version of the Beach Boys. My first reaction was, "This is BS," then I realized how apt it was.

Dawn Coyote said...

I know the soda fountain image you're referring to, but Boulevard of Broken Dreams had Elvis Presley, not Brando, on counter service. The Helnwein piece is a familliar bit of kitsch, but I see it more as nostalgia for the idealized self than as a pop-culture homage. Perhaps it's both: nostalgia for the idealized culture.

I was never a Beach Boys or Brian Wilson fan. Don Henley's early stuff is more interesting to me as post-beach nostalgia (yes, I just admitted to being a Don Henley fan). While Wilson's music is closer in sensibility to the soda fountain image, Boys of Summer seems full of the same wistful nostalgia as that painting of the dead icons in the diner. Henley's song and Helnwein's painting both capture the sleepy disillusionment that follows on the heels of our fantasy that the satisfaction of all desire comes about as the result of a perfect tan and a cute frock to wear over top of it. Feeling like a child of the era of disillusionment, the Beach Boys always annoyed me with their quaint and foolish subscription to that illusion. Still, I don't suppose my post-beach cynicism is any less romantic than what preceeded it.

Bob Marley?

Dawn Coyote said...

P.S. My favorite bit of nostalgia from that era is Scorsese's "Last Waltz". I have a spare copy. I'd send it to you.

Splendid_IREny said...

I coulda sworn I've seen Brando, too, but, now that you've got the title, I do see Presley in my mind's eye now. Guess it's time to go to Chubby's for a late-night breakfast sometime soon.

Actually, I like Boys of Summer, and was planning on mentioning Henley in another context.

When I think of the Beach Boys, I really think I mean Brian Wilson. The irritation that I have with them is they, like the Jackson 5, were really mastered over by a domineering father. Mike Love played into that coporate-goodness while Wilson just wanted to write music and be left alone. I admit I don't know all his work and it really helps having more modern artists interpreting it because I've never really had a full appreciation for Brian Wilson's singing style. But, having said that, I do appreciate his songwriting, which I think, if you look under the harmonies, has a meloncholy not unlike that of the canon of Del Shannon in the '50s.

Clot said...

S.I.---Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys took second place to no one in melody-making, harmonizing, and sheer musicality. What separated them from the Beatles and others was the terminal vapidity of their lyrics, their highly circumcribed intellects aside from that musicality. The Beatles evolved from "I Want To Hold Your Hand" as subject-matter for their songs---Wilson never did.

Splendid_IREny said...

I'd like my apprecitation for the Beatles duly noted. That said, just a comparison of both bands from 1966.

Pet Sounds

Revolver

Clot said...

Again, musically-speaking "Pet Sounds" not only holds up but breaks new ground, maybe more so than "Revolver". Where lyrical complexity and subject-matter are concerned, however, we have "Eleanor Rigby" and "Paperback Writer" versus "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Sloop John B".

JohnMcG said...

Well, not even that, since Sloop John B was a cover.

I think what the Beatles managed to pull off that Wilson and the Beach Boys could not was remain commercially successful while evolving artistically. If I'm not mistaken, Pet Sounds was a commercail flop, which probably played a role in Wilson descending into depression.

For whatever reason, fans were willing to explore new ground with the Beatles and they weren't with Wilson.

Was it that Wilson "just wasn't made for these times?" Did Wilson clear the bath that the Beatles then marched through? Dunno...