Sunday, July 4, 2010

Surf's Up

Just 5 or so mornings ago, I was on Ogunquit beach in Maine. It was 6:30 and foggy, a black-and-white world that may as well have been the moon. There were a few other people on the beach with me, but they were faraway and fuzzy like dust, stagehands in a play building a set for Day.

Then the sun dropped whatever it was busy doing (eating oatmeal?) and out of nowhere, cut through the mist like a light switch flipping on, not rising but arriving all at once… I thought of the Beach Boys’ song "Surf’s Up"—well, the 1967 version linked to below—a song that just sort of isn’t and then kinda is…honestly, listen, it just rolls in out of nowhere and fills you up:

Surf’s Up demo, plus Brian singing it on Leonard Bernstein's Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution TV special

Beautiful, right? A ton of cool stuff has been written and said about it—the juiciest probably being Jules Siegel’s article, “Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!,” in which Brian Wilson plays for the interviewer the black acetate dub of the song at his home, explaining its meaning, line by line. It’s pretty intense and very un-“French bikini on a Hawaiian Island doll,” but the best part is what he does when the song is over:

Wilson went into the kitchen and squirted Reddi-Whip direct from the can into his mouth; made himself a chocolate Great Shake, and ate a couple of candy bars…

I hope no one thinks I’m making fun of Brian—you know, the stories of him hanging out in his bedroom for 3 years and eating cheeseburgers, the ones that people can’t seem to get enough of. In fact, if you type in “brian wilson” in the Google Images searchbox, one of the choices it pre-fills in for you is “brian wilson fat,” which made me mad/sad all at once.

No. I just think it’s so endearing/perfect in a fairy tale/”children’s song” sort of way that a self-described “dumb angel” would fuel a masterpiece on whipped cream. Willy Wonka, with water and waves.



  1. It was great to read this! Thanks so much for your appreciative words. I see from his pictures that Brian is no longer overweight and has grown to be a very distinguished-looking man, classically handsome.

  2. To me, Surf's Up has always been Brian's bittersweet and unknowing goodbye to the songwriting game. The path from Surfin' to Surf's Up is complete, and anything afterward is coda, oddball, novelty or self-derivative. Of course, I'll never give up my copy of Love You, but it's a completely different Brian, and the sound of Surf's Up is the sound of Brian's giving up something beautiful, but giving up.

  3. Mr.! I'm gushing/blushing! Thanks for the comment...I'd give anything to have been a fly on the wall (a fly in the sandbox?)during your interview. Brux, I've been thinking about your comment all week. Does your definition of "the songwriting game" encompass producing, etc. I'm not as sharp on my BB game as I used to be, but I do remember the later songs were more of a disjointed group effort. But yeah, I could endorse your theory.

  4. Mr Siegel - I still have the original copy of that great issue - Please let me know if you'd consider being interviewed for a podcast that would be linked to Beach Boys publications and messages boards - and thanks for that seminal article that gave this Beach Boys fans such new insight,

  5. Yes, I would be happy to do an interview, Phil.