Wednesday, July 29, 2009
On my way to sunny californ-i-a
37 The Beach Boys, 'California Saga: California'; 38 Brian Wilson, 'Orange Crate Art'
I know I've mentioned this before, but for a while there, (1973 - 1983), I was in love with the idea of America. Much of this love came from an idealised view of California, fuelled by The Beach Boys. During that ten year period I collected Beach Boys albums like crazy, read/listened to the beat poets of San Francisco, and fantasised about Route 66, Steinbeck, and riding the freight trains to the orange groves. At one point during this period I got a heap of travel agent brochures and planned to go to San Francisco and the California coastline. I didn't follow through and in some ways I'm glad because the IDEA of America was what I was in love with. In my heart, I knew if I actually went I would be disappointed. Since then I have only made it to Anaheim and I adored it, while knowing, what I knew before.
My eldest daughter is about to head off (next week) to spend a year in San Francisco with her American boyfriend. I'll be living vicariously through her for the next year. And listening to Orange Crate Art and old Beach Boys' albums.
California Saga: California was one of my first Beach Boys memories and the Holland album is one of my favourite albums (along with that era's Beach Boys In Concert double album). Like everyone who has ears I admire Pet Sounds but Sunflower and Holland have a firmer place in my heart. The images within Al Jardine's song are very evocative - all bright golden sun, clean air, sycamores, monarch butterflies and cool clear water - as he takes us on a journey south of Monterey, down the south coast - Salinas way. The crowning glory is the Big Sur congregation where everyone loves everyone in a Beach Boy way, magic in the air.
The allusion to Steinbeck's Salinas binds the song to Van Dyke Park's Orange Crate Art lyric. While Al name checks Steinbeck's travelin's with Charley, Van Dyke aims at the awesome Grapes Of Wrath.
The other aspect that links both these great songs is how appropriate the music is to the mood and clarity of vision. Al Jardine is presumably responsible but he must have been getting nods all around the room. I wonder why he didn't sing it? I've heard versions of him doing the song and they sound great, but maybe that's my Mike Love bias at play. The song just lopes along, just like those barrancas that carve the coast line. Brian must have been very proud.
Speaking of Brian - Orange Crate Art, the song and album, were a major return to form. For me the marriage of Van Dyke Parks' lyrics and Brians' music never quite worked before this. I can't get worked up about Surf's Up, for instance. It makes no sense to me. A bit like James Joyce (wow - I just compared Parks to Joyce!). Critics rave and rave about him and he's this giant literary figure but have any of them read all of Ulysses? Did anyone understand it? Like hell they did!
But OCR speaks out plainly about memories. I can visualise the orange crate table, the rocking chair and the barnyard gate. I can smell the aroma, and hear the lonesome locomotion roar. I can see that hobo hopping on the train rolling where grapes of wrath are stored. Again the music is entirely appropriate, as it instantly transports us back to a simpler time.
[Couldn't find a clip for Orange Crate Art]