Earlier this evening an all-encompassing interview with author Mike Eder appeared in this column. Entitled “I Can Hear Music: Author Mike Eder Reveals His Dream Project On The Beach Boys,” visit the link in case you missed anything.
The longtime Beach Boys fan truly experienced the group when he was 12 years old, courtesy of the documentary An American Band. Then, after sampling Smile, Sunflower, and especially the talents of Brian and Dennis Wilson, he knew he was hooked.
The recent critical and commercial success of The Smile Sessions (it charted Top 30 in both the U.S. and UK) prompted this writer to speak with Eder about that album and how it affected Brian.
As Eder soundly states below, “Brian Wilson had a unique gift and in The Beach Boys he had a special vehicle. Anybody who was around them that has said different at the time or now had their own political reasons to further the ‘Brian and the five a-holes’ view that so many seem to need to latch onto.”
In this second installment of the conversation, Eder explains whether Brian would have become a success without The Beach Boys, their greatest songs/albums prior to Pet Sounds, his assessment of Smile, and who killed that album in 1967. In addition, the author debunks the long-held belief that Brian became a complete recluse after Smile was abandoned.
Later, Eder updates readers on the progress of I Can Hear Music, plus the connection between Kenny Rogers & The First Edition and The Beach Boys (he is in the early stages of penning their authorized biography). Stick around, as the fun begins right now…
The Mike Eder Interview, Part Two
Would Brian have become a success without The Beach Boys?
I don’t think he would have been what he became. First, he had a regular group of singers to work with who happened to all sing in amazing harmony with him. Second, I don’t think Brian would have thought of something like “Surfin'” without Dennis and Mike.
Carl and Dave gave the music an edge, while Al is just an all around great entertainer. They compliment each other very well. Another thing to consider is that Brian’s work with other artists in the sixties and seventies mainly failed to catch on with anybody.
Now that stuff to me is better than any solo Brian albums, but it didn’t catch on. That is, excepting his work with Jan and Dean who already had a good track record, and in Jan you had a producer who could teach Brian a few things very early on.
Brian didn’t like to tour and he would have had to (he did help Mike emcee the show early on), but I can’t see him wanting that through a whole show. So in short, no, I don’t think Brian could have been what he was alone.
What was some of The Beach Boys’ greatest music before Pet Sounds? And are you a fan of the car/surfin’ songs?
Well, I like their early stuff quite a bit. Surfin’ Safari (their debut LP, 1962)wasn’t the best album, but it has a period charm. Surfin’ USA (1963) is probably one of the most important rock LP’s of the sixties in that it really introduced surf music to a large audience (vocally and instrumentally). Also, it was already a huge leap forward in their sound.
Shut Down Volume 2 (1964) is another big leap forward because despite some filler, The Beach Boys were now issuing tracks that were superbly vocalized and produced.
All Summer Long (1964) is their first great LP start to finish with only “Our Favorite Recording Sessions” slightly marring it. I mean, who else was singing like that? Not even their best contemporaries could match them by the middle of 1964. Beach Boys Concert (1964) isn’t brilliantly played technically but what excitement and power it has!
The Beach Boys Today! (1965) and Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) (1965) are simply two of the best rock LP’s ever issued. They show a lot of growth production-wise and also lyrically.Today is as good as anything anyone ever did in the rock field.
Beach Boys’ Party! (1965) is filler I suppose, but it’s a really unique concept, plus the genuine fun they had making it comes across.
I suppose the only problem I have with these songs is that they weren’t always revived with care in later years. “Be True To Your School” (1963) was a fine single, but it didn’t work in the later shows because it became cynical with all the cheerleaders.
However, the last time I saw Mike and Bruce in 2007, the surf songs sounded more garage-like and raw. They managed to make them come alive in a way that they hadn’t since 1975–76.
It’s too bad that those early songs limited their appeal to some or kept certain people from taking the group seriously later, but they are all valid. Making new music playing off that image was a huge mistake from 1976–92, but the originals are wonderful.
Twenty years ago the general public didn’t really know The Beach Boys progressed beyond that. Fortunately, people have a better idea of The Beach Boys’ artistry beyond their initial hits courtesy of Today, Pet Sounds and now Smile.
Now the 1967–72 material needs to be addressed, and I hope it will become as well known one day. In Europe, of course, this has never been an issue as the 1966–72 material did very well in general.
After 44 years, Smile is finally out. What is your assessment of the album?
To me The Smile Sessions is the final word, and I am knocked out. I doubt it would have been exactly the same as in 1967, but that’s okay because Smile is a bigger thing now than it ever could have originally been.
Things happened the way they were meant to, and the circle of the whole thing feels complete. I get the whole creative objective in a way I didn’t before. It sounds complete as possible, and very good sonically on vinyl. I don’t think I will listen to the solo version much again.
I realize Darian Sahanaja (singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist) helped Brian get it into a more coherent form on Brian Wilson Presents Smile (2004), one that this version riskily (but thankfully brilliantly) used as a guide.
However, I feel the real magic of Smile went down in 1966-67. And I wasn’t crazy about the new lyrics, though some that originated from 1966 were interesting. I guess I don’t even need to mention the difference in Brian’s voice. I did love seeing BWPS live, but as a record I would rather play the vintage stuff, as much as I can admire the quality and effort in the later version.
In my book I used Smile to make two points. One, that Mike Love didn’t kill Smile. Brian’s word was law then and Mike simply didn’t have the kind of power he later obtained.
Second, Brian did not change overnight into a drug addled recluse who refused to work. That has no basis in reality, but you still hear that myth. I don’t like myths because the truth is less dramatic, but more interesting because Brian and The Beach Boys went on in the next half decade to make some of the best music of their lives.
Sticking to 1966-67, in short Smile is a special achievement even if every last vocal didn’t get finished. Brian Wilson had a unique gift and in The Beach Boys he had a special vehicle. Anybody who was around them that has said different at the time or now had their own political reasons to further the “Brian and the five a-holes” view that so many seem to need to latch onto.
Perhaps it’s more exciting to have real “Heroes and Villains”, but really these falsehoods are what tore the band apart later on. How this happened my book will explain.
So Brian killed Smile?
Absolutely. Maybe he got bored, or maybe the lawsuit with Capitol meant he had to hold the album back long enough to have moved on. There are a million things you could suppose.
Van Dyke Parks’ wavering commitment didn’t help. Many people side with Parks, but the fact that he didn’t stick around once he got offered a solo album is a big factor in this.
It wasn’t malicious of Parks, but I have a feeling Brian was never completely sold on everything Van Dyke did himself. Perhaps Van Dyke didn’t need to convince Mike Love as much as Brian Wilson.
Brian was in on the mocking Lei’d In Hawaii session [an unreleased “live-in-the-studio” recording from September 1967] where Mike Love overdubbed a self-deprecating dialogue onto “Heroes and Villains,” so what does that tell you?
Maybe Brian loved Smile in 1966, and maybe he does now, but in 1967 he went through a phase where he wasn’t happy with it.
Can you go into more detail on the oft-repeated claim that Brian became a total recluse after Smile’s failure?
Listening to the records and looking at the photos and film footage of Brian from 1967 to about 1971 says more than I can. Simply put, he stayed very active professionally and went out on a regular basis. Even in 1974-75 Brian attended parties and actually flew to James Guercio’s Caribou Ranch in Colorado for the 1974 band sessions.
The fact that Brian was still making music is there for all to hear. The unreleased material that has either been recently made officially available or has been bootlegged from the era shows him there. He was around and participating pretty much non-stop until 1972 and even after that there never was a year until 1991 that he didn’t do something with the group.
There is simply no basis that Brian at any time in his life completely stopped functioning on the level of say a Syd Barrett. That’s not to downplay his mental issues, but I’ve come to understand they were there even in 1963-64.
The “Brian the recluse” thing sold papers, and it made a good story. However, there is some truth to it. After Murry died in 1973, Brian did undergo a bit of a metamorphosis and stay in his room more (he had always liked to do that).
Brian previously went through a brief rough patch in 1968, and by 1972 he was worse off emotionally than before, perhaps due to getting heavier into cocaine, but not after Smile.
What specifics can you give about the eventual publication of I Can Hear Music?
First, I have been very busy helping Erik Lorentzen of the Elvis Files, a series of books covering Elvis’ complete career. I have recently signed with the Backbeat Books subsidiary of Hal Leonard to do a book on Elvis. It will be about his music with a particular focus on the work he released in his lifetime, tentatively entitled Elvis Records FAQ.
Nevertheless, I Can Hear Music is a finished manuscript. I would love for it to be out within the year, but have no set date. I have a few feelers out, but if they don’t pan out, I think Hal Leonard may do something with it.
Plus, I am getting married next June. Still The Beach Boys’ book is my dream project. It’s creating quite a buzz so I am very positive about its prospects.
You are also in the early stages of penning the authorized biography of ’60 pop/rock band The First Edition [Kenny Rogers sang lead on “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In and most of their subsequent hits)]. What is their connection to The Beach Boys?
Terry Williams (who after the other two original members left ran The First Edition with Kenny) loved The Beach Boys, knew them, and wanted to cover them on Rollin’ (a television variety series hosted by The First Edition).
The show’s arranger, Larry Cansler, often came up with creative variations on a wide variety of different songs, and he helped put a Beach Boys’ medley together. It was based on Pet Sounds,which in 1971 did not have the status in the USA it does today. A cover from that Beach Boys’ era was anything but common then.
Another notable moment is the cover of “Disney Girls” Terry performed later that year. He considers it his favorite thing he ever did.
The First Edition was always tremendous boosters of The Beach Boys at a time when it wasn’t cool. They really didn’t care, and that benefited them creatively over and over again.
- AUTHOR’S NOTE: Part Three, the conclusion of The Beach Boys interview with Mike Eder, is now live. Eder places the spotlight on the 28th anniversary of Dennis Wilson’s death, Mike Love’s personality, and how the 1970s affected the band.
© Jeremy L. Roberts, 2011. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without first contacting the author.