Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Wouldn't it be nice if we were retarded?

I've largely put away my psychedelic experiments for the sake of cognition these days, but this is pretty cool. Insanity seems quite appealing sometimes. Or at least retardation. Maybe because we eventually realize that so much of what we're taught in school is kind of a joke. Justice is criminal. Criminals are folk heroes. Your average fool actually has a direct link to God, and the King is quite simply a dick. It's not like I wanna live in some lax, hippie dippy dream. That'd just be another lie, but I don't want life to be a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, either. Who needs sanity in this world, today? NOT I! So many mentally ill dot our sidewalks and collect at our library steps, and they're so much more real than what's seen on TV and read about in textbooks: These people who slowly seep from public buildings and subway terminals, like the opening shot in "Spider" where the title character deliberates for a small eternity just to take one step off a train.

Brian Wilson has deliberated much longer when it comes to the myth of "Smile." The failed Beach Boys album was shelved near completion do to Wilson's mental collapse, or paranoid psych-out. Both theories have validity. Stress, drug complications, doubt among his closest supporters -- all convinced Bri that he was barking up the wrong tree with his wacky concept album about the splendor of America (now that's kind'a poetic). What should've been a worthy follow-up to one of the greatest albums in history became the greatest album never made, a self-imposed curse up there with Mike Love's promotion to head Beach Boy. Aside from myriad bootlegs of half finished instrumental "feels" and a few songs emerging on other albums over the next five years, most noticeably the title track to "Surf's Up" and of course "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes and Villains," Wilson deemed it all "inappropriate" and usually scowled when the subject was broached in interviews. Just what did he mean by "inappropriate" anyway? The Syd Barrett of today, who goes by a different name, has no interest in his past or the Pink Floyd legacy. He stopped shining long ago. The specter of hindsight looms large in these cases, and its shadow can reach for years. Wilson's had to deal with his own well publicized demons in the 37 years since "Smile" wasn't finished. The measure of his failure, like the myth of the record, ballooned up larger than it ever should have, but then let's admit it: If revolutions ever happened in pop music, they happened in 1967, and "Smiley Smile" was all too obviously a patchwork attempt as salvaging something greater. As a metaphor for the promise and failure of the so-called American Dream, you couldn't find a finer example.

So in the end, here we are in late 2004. Brian has premiered "Smile" live on stage in London and followed it up with a brand new, painstakingly assembled, version of his lost opus, drawn entirely from archival tapes of the original mixes. This was obviously the only way to go, because the arrangements and harmonies are intense, acid sent or heaven sent, and it shows that even back in 66, Brian was still going deeper than most ever will, and even rubbing elbows with his heroes in the process. It's a massive accomplishment by any stretch of the imagination, and even a bit of a crowd-pleaser. Wilson doesn't have the golden boy croon of a 24 year old any more, but he sounds more than up to this task, and his voice is strong. His emotions, palpable. His arrangements artful, and occasionally unique to this release, but always honoring the ambition and heart of the original.

In the end, "Smile" is all that. It's a reason to smile, even tear up a little. It's an inspired swirl of psychedelic symphonic bliss that works better than any other version that you will ever find. The "Surf's Up" here may not measure up to the original, but it honors it. And the production, mounted at the Beach Boys' old recording haunt, on the same kind of recording console they used in the 60s, screams for headphones and extreme volumes, and it is better than the original. It's quite simply a trip. If anyone can keep his composure during the opening choral arrangement of "Our Prayer/ Gee," he is a stronger man than I.

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