A couple of recent events had me finally getting around to a post about California, and then, on top of that, movie blogger Jay mentioned a road-trip to California that could result in a Cal-themed movie post.
The two events happened within about a week. First, my wife Sweets and I had a rare opportunity to go out on a date—and we took it. We wanted to see a movie, and the only one I really wanted to see was the Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy. As a Brian Wilson fan, I knew I’d love it and had read in reviews that the Pet Sounds-session scenes were recreated with a fine eye and ear for how it happened. But I was concerned that Sweets, only a casual Beach Boy fan, wouldn’t get much out of it. Turns out that I loved the movie, as I expected I would, but my wife may have loved it even more. She really got into the story of this odd savant musician and the way it was told on screen.
And then, my daughter surprised me on Father’s Day with tickets for Sweets and me to see Brian Wilson in concert. I had already seen The Beach Boys live twice (three times if you count Mike Love’s version) and had seen both Pet Sounds and Smile thrillingly recreated live by Brian and his newer friends. I really wasn’t expecting much this time around, but was happy my daughter had come up with such a nice gift. It couldn’t have been better timing for my wife, now voraciously listening to all of my Beach Boys LPs and reading my Beach Boys books. The concert was wonderful (and, indeed, they performed “Wonderful”), with lots of deep cuts and treasures I’d not heard them do live. We are both still listening to a lot of Beach Boys lately, and I’m reading two books I hadn’t gotten around to, Heroes and Villains and The Beach Boys FAQ. We’ll be “havin’ fun all summer long,” looks like, with Beach Boys music and tales.
“California Saga: California” One of the numbers I hadn’t heard live was this one, one of the few songs written for The Boys by Al Jardine. It appeared on their Holland album in 1973 and was released as a single (but didn’t climb very high). Al was part of this tour and sang lead on the song. (Al’s son Matt has taken over Jeff Foskett’s duties covering the Brian Wilson falsetto leads in concert; Mr. Foskett, for some reason, left after many years in the role to join the Mike Love aggregate).
It’s a pleasant song, with bass line and structure reminiscent of “California Girls,” but in a Sons of the Pioneers style
“California Girls” Not much I need to say about this one. Brian performed it in his show, it sounded great, the crowd loved it. It’s a classic. All of the Beach Boys sang on the recording, but only Carl played on it. The rest of the instruments were handled by the Wrecking Crew. It’s the first song Brian wrote after his initial acid trip. Doesn’t sound very trippy, but it is pretty glorious.
“California” This song is not my favorite on Rufus Wainwright’s Poses album, from 2000, but that’s because it’s keeping such wonderful company. Poses, to me, is an improvement over Wainwright’s debut, which had several mind-blowing high spots, but several songs that seemed overproduced and overblown.
“California” provides a nice and poppy counterpoint to the gorgeous title song, “Shadows,” “Greek Song,” and the sublime “The Tower of Learning.”
“California” “Won’t you take me as I am, strung out on another man?” Joni Mitchell sings, “California, I’m comin’ home.” Joni Mitchell’s Blue album was a downer masterpiece, and this ode to her adopted home is perfectly done. This song, along with “All I Want,” “Carey,” and several others from the album were part of the set lists of countless female vocalists of the mid-to-late seventies. If you walked into a happy hour at a restaurant/bar and there was a woman with a guitar, you knew it would only be a short while before a song from Joni’s Blue would be heard. Blue songs at happy hour. What a concept.
I have noted before that Sweets has an unnaturally hostile attitude about the music of Joni Mitchell. We used to fight about it; now it’s one of our running gags. When Mitchell recently wound up in the hospital after an aneurysm, my wife did express some sympathy—but moved no further toward giving her music another spin. It’s all Brian Wilson for her now, anyway.
Amazing Jimmy (“No such thing as a bad song”) Nominee: “Goin’ to California” is one of the songs John Lee Hooker fumbles through on his Travelin’ Man album. I’m sorry, but I have long tried to appreciate Mr. Hooker and his music. I love raw, “feel” music, and am addicted to the music of quite a few of the Delta blues players, from Charley Patton and Robert Johnson through Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. John Lee Hooker sometimes does a good job of delivering his music vocally, but the man just can’t play guitar. He hammers away at one chord, his timing a mystery to any who try to follow. On his solo stuff, it’s not so noticeable, but on this record, you can tell the band is desperately trying to keep some semblance of order to the proceedings. Alas, they do not succeed.