A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Nostalgia: surf music for Midwesterners

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., July 31, Aug. 1 or 2

Years ago, rock ’n’ roll reminded most Illinois adolescents that summer meant not just sun and fun, but surf and hot rods.

If only.

Like most guys too young to drive then, I suffered from not just longing to drive, but Beach Envy.

It’s something you never fully get over.

So this week, the anniversary of so many Beach Boys songs’ summer releases, I’m tempted to plan on a trip to the Bureau County Fair in Princeton for the Beach Boys’ concert there Aug. 21.

I still recall burning my feet as I sprinted across blistering sand at Wakonda State Park south of Keokuk, Iowa, and feeling disappointed that the ice-cold water could never make up for baked toes, an absence of sun-tanned bronze beauties, and no waves.

Of course, I came to love Illinois’ own “waves” – of wheat and corn and beans on flatland as beautiful as the ocean (and almost as pretty as those idealized, bronzed women of pop culture and my youth).

The Beach Boys’ ballad “Surfer Girl” came out on Aug. 3, 1963. I was friends with a knockout blond named Ann who could’ve made Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson do a triple take, but there was no beach besides funky, muddy Mississippi River frontage more appropriate for fishing than surfing.

Unrequited romance.

The Beach Boys’ “Surf’s Up” was released on July 25, 1971, a melancholy modernization of their sound and style, and it was critically praised but mostly not heard on car radios.

The group’s plaintive “God Only Knows” – Beatle Paul McCartney’s favorite Brian Wilson number, he said later – came out on Aug. 6, 1966, a heartbreaking celebration of teen-age angst I occasionally felt in my own heart.

And the band’s “California Girls” was released July 24, 1965, an accidental affront to the Heartland as it sang, “The Midwest farmers’ daughters really make you feel alright.”

Surely, they meant to solidify their base by including all regions of the nation, but I felt it patronized the Midwest and maybe even insults the thousands of female who were not daughters of farmers.

Nevertheless, the Beach Boys songs struck chords with many of us. The upbeat tunes “I Get Around,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Sloop John B”; “All Summer Long,” “Surfin’ Safari” and “I Can Hear Music.” The relatively glum numbers: “In My Room,” “Sail On Sailor,” and “The Warmth of the Sun.”

Today’s reconstituted Beach Boys – really, just singer Mike Love and late-comer Bruce Johnston fronting a five-piece band – are just back from six shows in England and Spain without Al Jardine, David Marks and Brian Wilson from the triumphant 50th anniversary tour. Dennis Wilson and superb guitarist Carl Wilson passed away, but their musical contributions will be mimicked, and the music is sure to rekindle emotions and longings from decades ago.

Apart from the 2102 reunion tour, Brian has gone on to do some exceptional music, but the old Beach Boys music gets played a lot. In my car.

There were times when I drove for hours to hear the Beach Boys live – like a 1981 Illinois State Fair appearance where Brian came out and played piano for a few minutes before retreating offstage, like a fine show at Western Illinois University’s gymnasium, like a July 4 concert in Washington, D.C., in 1984.

Every time, the crowd sang along with “Surfin’ USA,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” and the rest of their Americana songbook.

There were other surf stars, too, of course, from the somehow lame Jan & Dean to Johnston’s first foray as a sun-and-sand dude, 1964’s “Summer Means Fun,” recorded as Bruce and Terry with musical partner Terry Melcher, to The Rip Chords’ “Hey Little Cobra” hit from a year earlier, to the Inconceivables’ 1966 hit “Hamburger Patti” – a romp perfect to blast from the dashboard as you waited for your order at an A&W or Dog N Suds drive-in joint.

Summers seemed as endless as the horizons, as the possibilities before us. The youth market was there – most of my buddies and I had jobs and money to spend – and beach movies with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon catered to the consumers, the culture and the dreams.


“Gotta keep those lovin' good vibrations a-happenin' …”

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