Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Friday, October 15, 2004


Mickey Dolenz, one of the great rock singers of the ‘60s.  Totally underrated.  More like, unrated.  From weird auterist snobbery – “They didn’t write [many of] their own songs” – “They didn’t even play their own instruments [on their first records].”  [Note my defensively rebutting brackets.  Hah.  I’m an auterist snob too, but a self-loathing one.]

It’s like, these rock-auterists, it’s like they’re saying, “It’s not the sound of the music that matters, it’s the story of how the music was made that matters much more.”  OK, sure, stories of how the music was made, they’re cool, I’m interested.  But I also like how the music hits my ears.

Heard “I’m a Believer” on Oldies radio today.  Mickey’s moany-groany erotic sighing “Oh” right before the keyboard solo – right on.


As my friend Jay Sherman-Godfrey wrote here a week ago, the most legendarily unfinished piece of rock auterism got finished recently. The day after Jay urged me to go out and buy Brian Wilson’s “Smile,” I did. And I listened to it a bunch of times. Then I wrote Jay this e-mail:

"The original project was uncompletable, Brian caught between his visions of a “goof,” a “teenage symphony to God,” and the most kickin’-ass brilliant genius Beatle-beating album in the world.  The incredible moving, gorgeous fragments of the symphony-to-God side of the vision – the original Cabinessence, both Brian’s and Carl’s mixes of “Surf’s Up,” the original Smile (not Smiley Smile) Wind Chimes and Wonderful – as individual trax, none of the new recordings matches up to the visionary originals.  The goofs & joys – Heroes & Villains, Good Vibes – I actually like the new trax better.  & as a whole & as a flow, the new totality goes for the goof, it works great, and the more gorgeous originals of the delicate visionary songs wouldn’t have flowed as well."

Jay replied, and I wrote him again:

“The new Smile sounds so HAPPY.  The original Cabin, Surf's Up, Wind Chimes, Wonderful -- all sound HAUNTED.”

Now it’s a few days later, & I have to confront how much of my attraction to the original “Smile” trax was due to a morbid empathy with the legend of Brian Wilson’s real madness. An old job of mine used to put me in contact with a lot of severely mentally ill people. A common characteristic among many of the people I knew was a tendency to mumble -- this tendency doesn’t usually make it into theatrical or film or video representations of madness. And it’s a characteristic of the original versions of “Cabinessence” and to a lesser extent “Surf’s Up.” Not mumbling, per se, but an intense quietness. Can’t make out the words to “Cabinessence,” and the melodies are so gorgeous, and the textures so unusual -- it’s just marvelous. And haunted, by the legends of “unfinished” and Brian’s madness. And haunted by the hushedness. And in my morbid romantic myth of the album, Brian's symphony to God gave him a glimpse of the Almighty, it drove him crazy, and the scattered shards of "Smile" was the "record" of the vision. New version of "Cabinessence": words up front, textures less delicate, timbres less rounded and bittersweet -- it’s just an oddball, pretty song, conjuring up faux-Stephen-Foster’s version of faux-minstrelsy, with the banjo & harmonica. Which makes it more in line with the vision of Americana-goof. But not a symphony to God. There’s no awe there.

Also missing -- Mike Love and Carl and Dennis and Al and Bruce, as Jay said. The Beach Boys were STARS. Their voices were uniquely THEIRS. The new band -- and this is amazing -- is made up of utterly devoted and skillful Brian-Beach-Boys FREAKS, who MAKE SURE to play the old records note for note and as close to timbre-for-timbre as possible. As I said above, I am interested in the stories of how music happens to get made. “Smile”’s story has got to be unique.

And the music -- well, I love it, in its complexity and beauty and un-precedentedness, its alternations between simple pretty singsongery and raging gorgeous polyphony, its Mozartian ease in suddenly shifting registers between delicate and intense. As Jay said to me on the phone the other day, if Brian had finished it in early ‘67, before “Sgt. Pepper,” it would have made Paul McCartney weep. The competition was big. Brian’s music, starting with “Pet Sounds” -- like some of Gershwin’s and Mingus’s and Ives’s -- is almost its own genre. Unique in its combination of antecedents, and with limited direct sonic influence on what followed.

Great album.


Yes, it made me squirm when Kerry and Edwards talked about Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter. It felt dirty, not that she’s a lesbian, but that American political discourse is dirty and muddy about sex and sexuality and they were getting into it. And after thinking about it and reading letters to the editor from gay corresondents in one of the Seattle papers, and reading comments by gay conservative anti-Bush writer Andrew Sullivan, I’ve come to the conclusion that while yes, Kerry and Edwards talked about Cheney’s lesbian daughter in order to turn homophobes away from voting for the Bush/Cheney ticket, that’s completely legitimate, because not only would Bush or Cheney not hesitate to return fire in kind, but because Bush and Cheney are stinking hypocrites, and, most importantly, in a sane world there's nothing wrong with anybody being gay.

Mary Cheney works on her dad’s campaign, for money. Her dad has talked about her being a lesbian, in public. Her dad’s boss is campaigning on an anti-gay agenda, which he probably doesn’t personally believe in. I’d love to see an ad made up of Cheney talking about his lesbian daughter, Edwards talking about Cheney’s lesbian daughter, Cheney thanking him for the kind words (which he did), Kerry talking about Cheney’s lesbian daughter, and then Cheney and Mrs. Cheney spitting nails they’re so mad that Kerry is talking about their lesbian daughter. Hang them on their shamelessly situational rhetoric that makes a mockery of the medieval theocratic policies they’re campaigning for and their love for their daughter both.

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