The Beach Boys, "In My Room"

>> Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Slate has occasionally been running pieces on "Where To Start" with assorted musical acts, filmmakers and (if I remember correctly) authors. Today's features The Beach Boys and David Haglund suggests starting with "In My Room"; well, I guess I can't argue with that.

But what really hit me about the piece was something Haglund said:

But I resisted. The Beach Boys weren’t witty and cool like the Beatles or sexy and dangerous like the Rolling Stones. They were "cheesy." It probably didn’t help that during my adolescence an adulterated form of the Beach Boys, minus the late Wilson brother, Dennis, and the living genius one, Brian, would show up on Full House and sing with Uncle Jesse. [links omitted]

And I get that. I'm sort of sorry to admit it. I didn't start getting The Beach Boys until around the same time in my life Haglund did--just after college, when I was in law school, though for me it was seeing Don Was' Brian Wilson documentary, I Just Wasn't Made for These Times that I really, really got it, I think. No, wait: it's possible there were some Smile bootlegs that leaked a few years prior that I dug, and when I was in high school, I remember Rolling Stone listing Pet Sounds as one of the greatest rock albums ever, and how becoming aware of the arms race between The Beach Boys and The Beatles sort of thawed out some of my resistance to the former.

So it may have been more of an evolution for me, when I think about it. But the underlying sympathy is there: for a good chunk of my life, I thought The Beach Boys were "cheesy". Was it their music, or was it the way their stuff was treated in American culture? Even though The Beach Boys' essential, vital years overlapped with The Beatles' entire career as a band and with The Rolling Stones' seminal years, The Beatles and The Stones had a vitality through the '70s and '80s--were cornerstones of contemporary music--while The Beach Boys somehow belonged to another era, belonged to nostalgia, somehow seemed more like a part of a 1950s cultural scene than to the era they actually belonged to. The Beach Boys were striped shirts and surfboards and station wagons--that wasn't a Sixties thing, was it? (It was.) The Sixties were psychedelia. (Not really, just the last couple of years.) The Sixties were experimental. (And Brian Wilson wasn't?) Sixties rock was about meaningful, important statements. (You know, like "Goo-goo-gijoob".)

All of which tells you more about the listener than it does about The Beach Boys. (Or The Beatles or The Stones, for that matter.) The Beach Boys weren't "silly" just because Brian Wilson was sentimental, and as the band's career went on, Brian's inner darkness swelled up until even the "hopeful" or "sappy" songs were about clinging to something that was slipping through his hands along with his sanity. "In My Room" was about trying to fix that hole where the rain was getting in in a profound way that that eponymous Beatles song never quite got a handle on. It's maybe not actually my first pick, or wouldn't be if it wasn't Haglund's and he's the hook I'm hanging this post on: "Caroline, No" and "God Only Knows" and "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times"--all from Pet Sounds--are probably more essential cuts to me. (Perhaps, though, that still has something to do with never investing myself in The Beach Boys the way I invested in The Beatles or The Stones: even if I've outgrown dismissing them for alleged "silliness"--as if that even ought to be a crime at all!--I never did plunge in past the hips.) But I don't recall posting anything from the band or talking about them aside from the rare passing reference (including this gem from the vaults), and that's criminal on my part. So there you go.


Nathan Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 9:01:00 AM EDT  

I have to think about this one, but "In My Room" is one of the last songs I'd suggest as an intro to The Beach Boys (he said, as a child of the '60's). It's fine and all that, but I think it's for the already initiated (sorta boring and smarmy if you're not already a fan?).

And I don't care how much of a genius Brian Wilson is/was; I can't watch a recent (i.e. anything since 1975?) live appearance of his without cringing and looking away.

Nick from the O.C.,  Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 1:13:00 PM EDT  

Good post. Your feelings resonate and align with mine.

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