Goodbye Surfing, Hello God: Brian Wilson's Tortured Effort to Finish 'Smile'

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Within six weeks, he was working for the Beach Boys; everything that Brian wanted seemed at last to be in reach. The house was full of underground press writers. Anderle's friend Michael Vosse was on the Brother Records payroll out scouting TV contacts and performing other odd jobs. Another of Anderle's friends was writing the story on Brian for The Saturday Evening Post and a film crew from CBS TV was up at the house for a documentary to be narrated by Leonard Bernstein. The Beach Boys were having meetings once or twice a week with teams of experts briefing them on corporate policy, drawing complicated chalk patterns as they described the millions of dollars everyone was going to earn out of all this.

As 1967 opened it seemed as though Brian and the Beach Boys were assured of a new world of success; yet something was going wrong. As the corporate activity reached a peak of intensity, Brian was becoming less and less productive and more and more erratic. Smile, which was to have been released for the Christmas season, remained unfinished. "Heroes and Villains," which was virtually complete, remained in the can, as Brian kept working out new little pieces and then scrapping them.

Van Dyke Parks had left and come back and would leave again, tired of being constantly dominated by Brian. Marilyn Wilson was having headaches and Dennis Wilson was leaving his wife. Session after session was canceled. One night a studio full of violinists waited while Brian tried to decide whether or not the vibrations were friendly or hostile. The answer was hostile and the session was canceled, at a cost of some $3,000. Everything seemed to be going wrong. Even the Post story fell through. 

Several months later, the last move in Brian's attempt to win the hip community was played out. On July 15th, the Beach Boys were scheduled to appear at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival, a kind of summit of rock music with the emphasis on love, flowers and youth. Although Brian was a member of the board of this nonprofit event, the Beach Boys canceled their commitment to perform. The official reason was that their negotiations with Capitol Records were at a crucial stage and they had to get "Heroes and Villains" out right away. The second official reason was that Carl, who had been arrested for refusing to report for induction into the Army (he was later cleared in court), was so upset that he wouldn't be able to sing.

Whatever the merit in these reasons, the real one may have been closer to something John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas and a Monterey board member suggested: "Brian was afraid that the hippies from San Francisco would think the Beach Boys were square and boo them."

But maybe Brian was right. "Those candy-striped shirts just wouldn't have made it at Monterey, man," said David Anderle.

Whatever the case, at the end of the summer, "Heroes and Villains" was released in sharply edited form and Smile was reported to be on its way. In the meantime, however, the Beatles had released Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and John Lennon was riding about London in a bright yellow Phantom VII Rolls-Royce painted with flowers on the sides and his zodiac symbol on the top. In Life magazine, Paul McCartney came out openly for LSD and in the Haight- Ashbury district of San Francisco George Harrison walked through the streets blessing the hippies. Ringo was still collecting material for a Beatles museum. However good Smile might turn out to be, it seemed somehow that once more the Beatles had outdistanced the Beach Boys.

From the eBook single 'Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!' by Jules Siegel Copyright © 2011 by The Atavist/Jules Siegel. The full account is available from The Atavist for the Kindle, the iPhone/iPad app, and other ebook readers via The Atavist website.

The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Brian Wilson
Beach Boys Announce Track Listing for 'The Smile Sessions'
The Healing of Brother Bri: Rolling Stone's 1976 Interview With the Band and Others in Brian Wilson's Universe
Photos: The Beach Boys Through the Years

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