Beach Boys in Fairfield, Iowa | Surfin’ USA


Original Beach Boys members Bruce Johnston and Mike Love with members of the band.

Granted, surfing these days has more to do with the worldwide web than shooting the curl and bitchin’ beach bunnies, but come Labor Day, Fairfield will be California Dreaming when the Beach Boys bring their special brand of Love to town. Mike Love, that is, as well as Bruce (“I Write the Songs”) Johnston, Mike’s son Christian (God Only Knows, we could all use a little Christian love the way this economy is going), and the current lineup, including drummer John Cowsill of the ’60s group by the same name (“Hair”), who is married to Vicky Peterson of the Bangles, for those keeping score.

Talk about Be True to Your School, this seminal ’60s group will be having some Fun, Fun, Fun till GM takes the T-Bird away (I know, I’m mixing meta-Fords) at the Middle School in Fairfield. A celebration of the happy innocence of post-war American upward mobility, fast cars and California girls, and the birth of the baby boom belief that music could change the world, save the environment, liberate the oppressed,  stop wars, and that all you need is love. Never mind that by decade’s end, drug casualties would mount and the Golden State would spawn toxic aberations like Altamont, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson, who befriended Dennis Wilson, crashing at his place for a time with his devoted followers till Wilson  moved out just to get away.

Speaking of the ’60s, America finds itself in another era of change and hope, even if it’s more no choice than pro-choice, with challenges much more down to earth than landing a man on the moon. As we speak, California, the world’s eighth largest economy, is paying state employees with IOUs instead of money, as it hovers in severe recessive retraction.

What a perfect time for a Beach Boys concert right in our own backyard! The concert is sponsored by the David Lynch Foundation, and will be a shared endeavor with a number of city and civic organizations. DLF’s successful fundraiser/concert at Radio City Music Hall this year featured Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Donovan & Moby (who performed in Fairfield last year), Sheryl Crow, Eddie Vedder, Bettye LaVette, Ben Harper, and others, including Mike Love. Love, a long-time practitioner of Transcendental Meditation, attended a meditation course in 1968 at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in India with the Beatles, Donovan, and Prudence and Mia Farrow. He has been to Fairfield several times, even recorded here.

Whether you’re riding the nostalgia train or getting an ear- and eyeful for the first time, a Beach Boys concert needs No Help from Rhonda or Barbara Ann to be fun, fun, fun for the whole family. I saw them on the East Coast in the early ’80s with all the original members. As most everybody knows, the Beach Boys are luminaries in the rock’n’roll pantheon. Their 36 Top 40 hits are the most of any U.S. rock band. Billboard says, in terms of singles and album sales, the Beach Boys are the number one-selling American band of all time. Inductees into the Rock & Roll, Hit Parade, and Vocal Group Halls of Fame, and recipients of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Beach Boys ranked 12th on Rolling Stone’slist of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

Brian Wilson’s exceptionally lush harmonies, true falsettos, innovative and sophisticated use of studio techniques and musicians, melodic traipsings, and naked confrontations with his immediate surroundings created a body of work that lifted the bar on pop music. Wilson’s Pet Sounds, written as an answer to the Beatles’ Rubber Soul, is a legendary, ground-breaking concept album, credited with inspiring the Beatles Sgt. Pepper. Never mind that hearing “A Day in the Life” from Sgt. Pepper would break Wilson’s heart and contribute to his nervous breakdown, according to fellow songwriter Van Dyke Parks, extracurricular pharmaceuticals notwithstanding.

Not bad for a group of brothers from the middle-class suburbs of Hawthorne, California, near Inglewood, five miles from the Los Angeles Airport. In 1961, three Wilson brothers, Brian, Carl, and Dennis, joined forces with cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine, pushed by a frustrated, dysfunctional, manic, minor songwriter of a father, who also unleashed their ambitions. (Neither Brian nor Dennis would attend his funeral.) Never mind that for all their paeans to surf, Dennis was the only one in the band who actually hung 10. The group was excited when their first single “Surfin’ ” was released, but upset to find their original band name had been changed by the small label. The record did so well, however, rising to number 75 on the national charts, that the Pendletones would henceforth and forever be known as the Beach Boys. 

And so it comes to pass that the Beach Boys will be live in concert in Fairfield on Labor Day at the Middle School. Say what you want about “sell” towers, I’m picking up Good Vibrations. Who knows? Maybe they’ll play“Kokomo” at Kokomo’s!

MJ Reflections

I have loved Michael Jackson since the first time I heard his voice back at a YMCA in the early ’70s. A song came over the radio—crappy speakers and all—that stopped me in my tracks. It sounded like a little kid but didn’t sound like a little kid. It was like hearing an angel sing—an angel with street savvy and a blues soul. Thinking back, that first hit was as mesmerizing as his moonwalk 25 years later at the Grammies.

What a voice! A little like James Brown on helium, but the sophistication of the grace notes, the gutturals, the breathy sexiness, the pitch-perfect control, the vibrato at the end of long-held notes. How did he do it? Who the hell was this 11-year old kid from Gary, Indiana?

All I knew was I’d received a gift from the heavens that day and this pint-sized powerhouse was no one-hit wonder. After his passing, Motown founder Barry Gordy said it was a challenge figuring out how to first present the Jackson 5 because Michael had so much conviction and sensuality. It was like 50 years of life experience pouring out of this fun-loving, hardworking kid’s soul. When Jackson recorded Smokey Robinson’s song “Who’s Loving You,” Gordy chuckled on a talk show that he outsang Smokey. Gordy’s own song “ABC” would launch his career. At his funeral services he called Jackson “the Greatest Entertainer of All Time.”

A dancer who knocked Fred Astaire’s socks off, not to mention did his own choreography, who took Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to The Moon” to a whole ’nother level, who married Elvis Presley’s daughter (still bummed they didn’t have a kid), who was a huge reason video killed the radio star, who not only had the biggest selling record of all time but wrote the title track and many of the songs, who was loved internationally like no other performer, a true American goodwill ambassador, a black man breaking barriers at the speed of light, a commercial, critical, and creative success spanning decades who will probably sell a billion records before all is said and done, an artist who ate, drank, and slept art, whose artistry will not be forgotten long after the cliches, accolades, and cottage bandwagon barnacle coattail tabloid industries have run their inevitable sordid sorry-ass course. 

I wonder how Simon Cowell, the man responsible for the confectionary, cancerous, ubiquitous Idol phenomenon (Ted Mack on steroids) feels now about his comments that Michael Jackson would be stupid not to appear on his show? No worries, Simon. Maybe you can get Deepak Chopra to fill in for him. Or better yet, Michael’s “lifelong friend,” Gotham Chopra. 

I never met Jackson, or got to see him perform, but I did drive one of his cars in L.A., a beautiful Bentley, helping a friend of mine who worked for him for many years drop it off for repairs.

I’ll be appearing on Larry King next week. Did I mention LaToya and I are working on a book? 

The Beach Boys perform the finale of their Endless Summer Tour in Fairfield on Labor Day Monday, September 7, 2:00 p.m. at the Fairfield Middle School Outdoor Field, 404 W. Fillmore). Tickets range from $12.00 to 37.50, available at www.fairfieldacc.com or (641) 472-2787.

Visit the index for more articles on music and musicians.