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“Good Vibrations”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 21, 2013

Programming Note: For anyone who might be wondering, regular Freaky Friday posts will resume in a week or two–when I’m feeling a little bit more freaky.  As for the other regular feature(s), they will be irregular instead of on a particular day.  


Yesterday was Brian Wilson’s birthday, something I neglected.  But it seems more appropriate today anyway, the first official day of Summer (the days will only get shorter from here).  It almost seems intentional, like the universe planned it or something: A guy who manages to write the best songs about surfing and beaches and all things sunny is born right at the beginning of Summer.  In Southern California, no less, the land of the endless summer.

Written during the Pet Sounds sessions, “Good Vibrations” is considered by many to be Brian Wilson’s masterpiece.  It is an amazing piece of music, drawing on influences as diverse as Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, choral and orchestral music, and bad sci-fi soundtracks (seriously, where do you think Brian got the inspiration to use a theremin?).  It’s both psychedelic and hard rocking.  The Beach Boys perform it exquisitely.

But without Brian.  He had already begun to sink into mental illness, and was retreating from public life.  His ambitions could not be reconciled with his deterioration.  The great Pet Sounds  follow-up never quite materialized.  “Good Vibrations” was recorded as a single and stood very well on its own, but it was ultimately meant to be a part of that album, Smile.  (Brian completed that album a few years ago, after reworking some of the original material, but I’m not so sure it ever lived up to his vision.)  This song was perfectly realized, but it was also the last great thing Brian ever created.

While he has continued to write and perform as he’s regained his health, Brian Wilson to me will always be a Beach Boy, interrupted.  There’s something both heroic and tragic about the journey Brian has taken, a sense of great achievement and potential unfulfilled.  How much greater could he have been if he’d been well?  I guess it doesn’t really matter.  The music that’s here is more than enough.

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