California Highway Patrolmen John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd force Brian Wilson to get out of bed and on his board after issuing him a citation for failing to surf in one of the more iconic music/comedy crossovers of the 1970s. From the Lorne Michaels produced Beach Boys TV special, It’s OK.
Mike Love… he sure do look flamboyant here, don’t he?
Forget about Smile, this 5-inch Eva-Tone flexi-disc record was included in the box with purchases of the “California Dream Barbie” doll in 1987/88. The tune was co-written by Brian Wilson, his controversial psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Landy and Landy’s then girlfriend, later his wife, Alexandra Morgan.
Although credited to The Beach Boys, I don’t think the rest of them had anything to do with this turkey.
“Living Doll (Barbie)” is an adaptation of “Christine,” an outtake from Wilson’s self-titled solo album. Don’t expect to see this one, ever, on any Brian Wilson rarities box set! (It does appear on the Sweet Insanity Sessions Vol. 1 bootleg).
We seek to write the perfect sentence. The one that opens the paragraph, like a key in a door, to places undiscovered. It was how to begin this story on Duglas T Stewart, the lead singer and mainstay of BMX Bandits, whether with a fact or a quote, or oblique reference that would set the scene to unfurl his tale.
Duglas has written his fair share of perfect sentences - in dozens of songs over his twenty-five-year career with BMX Bandits. From the first singles in 1986, the debut album C86 in 1989, through to Bee Stings in 2007, Duglas has been at the center of an incredible family of talented musicians who have together created some of the most beautiful, toe-tapping and joyous music of the past 3 decades.
In the early 1990s, when Nirvana was top of the tree, Kurt Cobain said:
’If I could be in any other band, it would be BMX Bandits.’
It was a tip of the hat to a man who is responsible for singing, writing and producing songs of the kind of beauty and fragility Cobain aspired to.
Not just Cobain, but Brian Wilson and Kim Fowley are also fans, with Fowley explaining his own definition of what it means to be a BMX Bandit:
’It means a nuclear submarine floating through chocolate syrup skies of spinach, raining raisins on a Chihuahua covered infinity of plaid waistcoats, with sunglasses and slow motion. It sort of means, pathos equals suburban integrity of loneliness punctuated by really nice melodies.’
But let’s not take Kim’s word for it, we decided to ask Duglas to tell Dangerous Minds his own version of his life and love as a BMX Bandit.
DM: What was your motivation to become a musician?
Duglas T. Stewart: ‘Initially it was two things. I heard Jonathan Richman in 1977 and it sounded so human and full of warmth and humor and beauty. It also seemed to fly in the face in the punk ethos of DESTROY. It really made a connection with me and I thought I’d like to try to do something that hopefully might make others feel like I did listening to Jonathan. Listening to his music gave me a sense of belonging. I felt less alone.
‘The other thing was I met Frances McKee, later of The Vaselines, and I thought she was incredible. I loved everything about her from her mischievous sense of humor to her slightly overlapping front teeth. She said to me one day she thought it would be fun being in a group, and so I thought I would start a group and she could be in it and that way I could spend more time with her and have a vehicle for expressing how she made me feel.
‘Also I had a lot of self belief so I knew if I started a group it would be way better and more interesting than any other local groups at that time.
Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks in the studio, 1966
Beach Boy Brian Wilson performing “Surf’s Up” (for my money, his single greatest song) from the then “upcoming” Smile album in 1966. If you’re a big Beach Boys fan, this clip might bring tears to your eyes.
This is an excerpt from Leonard Bernstein’s landmark CBS-TV documentary special, Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution, which aired the following year on April 25, 1967. Bernstein’s film also featured Graham Nash and Frank Zappa and was one of the very first serious documentaries about rock music—Bernstein took the then-unusual approach of treating pop as a legitimate art form—produced for American television.
This is The Beach Boys’ so called lost concert from March 1964. The line-up includes Brian Wilson, and in a 20 minute set, The Beach Boys rip through a selection of 9 superb songs, including tracks from their freshly released album, Shut Down Vol 2.
These are: “Fun Fun Fun”, “Long Tall Texan”, “Little Deuce Coupe”, “Surfer Girl”, “Surfin’ USA”, “Shut Down”, “In My Room”, “Papa Oom-Mow-Mow”, and “Hawaii”.
It’s OK: The Beach Boys’ 15th Anniversary TV Special aired in 1976 on NBC. It was a weird affair created when Brian Wilson was at the lowest ebb of his struggle with substance abuse and depression. Produced by Lorne Michaels and written by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, the show features a barely willing Wilson lured back into the studio and, in a bit that is both funny and sad, onto the beach and a surfboard. As most of us know, Brian was not a surfer and in this clip he’s barely a pedestrian. I have a feeling this may have been therapeutic for Brian.
Yesterday I was listening to a Glen Campbell greatest hits collection (The Capitol Years 65/77, the one compiled by St. Etienne’ s Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, it’s excellent) and in the liner notes, it mentions that Campbell sang and played guitar on a Gary Usher-produced single called My World Fell Down, by Sagittarius, that was included on Jac Holzman and Lenny Kaye’sNuggets collection, which I have, so I checked it out.
It’s odd that I had this song in my possession—and I’m sure that I’ve played the Nuggets box set at least four times all the way through—but never took much note of it. My World Fell Down is the closest thing we’ll ever get to Good Vibrations-era Beach Boys meets LSD-soaked psych rock. Sagittarius was basically a supergroup of session musicians. Aside from Campbell, who was in the Beach Boys himself briefly, the secondary vocalist on the track is Beach Boy Bruce Johnson. Gary Usher (a staff producer at Columbia who also “discovered” The Firesign Theater) had written several songs with Brian Wilson and included in the backing group were powerhouse session players Hal Blaine and Carol Kaye, who had both also recorded with the Beach Boys. If someone played this for you and told you it was an unreleased—and especially odd—Beach Boys song, you’d believe them, no problem.
Dig the musique concrète bridge section of carnival (bullfight?) noises and a slamming door. This part sounds like something straight off of Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Rolling Stones album that came out the same year, 1967.
With Smile more or less put to bed, Brian Wilson can now move on to completing the work of another American master. As today’s LA Times reports:
Former Beach Boy Brian Wilson has been authorized by the estate of George Gershwin to complete unfinished songs Gershwin left behind when he died in 1937.
He plans to finish and record at least two such pieces on an album of Gershwin music he hopes to release next year. The Gershwin-Wilson project may strike some as an odd coupling: one New York musician famous for sophisticated 1920s and ‘30s pop songs including ” ‘S Wonderful” and “Someone to Watch Over Me” as well as such expansive, classically minded compositions as “Rhapsody”; the other the driving force behind Southern California beach culture hits such as “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “I Get Around” and “California Girls.”
But their career paths and evolution of their artistry have common threads, noted people involved with the project and some independent scholars, and that gives the proposed collaboration logic. Todd Gershwin, George’s great-nephew and a trustee of the George Gershwin family trusts, said, “George for his time was a visionary. He certainly crossed genres and musical lines, tried things that hadn’t been done before and Brian Wilson has done exactly the same thing.” For his part, Wilson, 67, described himself Tuesday as “thrilled to death.”
To see what Wilson’s up against, the following clip shows Gershwin himself pounding out I Got Rhythm.
Although over the years there have been many, many fan made “reconstructed” (bootleg) versions of what Brian Wilson really intended to do with his lost Beach Boys masterpiece Smile, in 2004 his Brian Wilson Presents Smile album and tour pretty much set the record straight. And if this wasn’t exactly what Wilson had intended back in 1967 (before Mike Love, new fatherhood, mental illness and various other factors buried the project) then at the very least it’s Wilson’s final word on the piece, what he once called his “teenage symphony to God.”
Wilson’s ill-fated Smile, of course, became legendary amongst rock snobs. In 1993 Beach Boys fans discovered just how far along Wilson’s unfinished project got. On the Beach Boys box set, Good Vibrations, author and filmmaker, David Leaf (The Beach Boys and The California Myth, 1978) sequenced a stunning 30 minute selection of Smile outtakes. I can tell you for sure, it was a mind-blowing thing to hear. Elvis Costello described hearing Brian Wilson’s original demo for “Surf’s Up” as like discovering a lost recording of Mozart and I must agree.
What we have here, though, is the so-called “Smile [Purple Chick bootleg]” put together by some Beach Boys fans using mostly original stereo Beach Boys recordings—using Wilson’s 2004 album as a guide—to step by step recreate Smile with these vintage sources. It’s fantastic! They re-edited, pitch shifted and used a few moments from Wilson’s BWPS album to connect the tracks and the results are quite good, a revelation even. Although I am not sold on their remake of Good Vibrations (my brain just refuses to accept it) I have to say that it’s entirely valid. After all it’s what Wilson did himself. Still, I swapped that track out on the CD I made for the car (and you might want to also).