on brian wilson and SMiLE (a convoluted conversation part 2)

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by — Posted in The Sixties

THIS AR­TI­CLE AD­DRESSES BRIAN WILSON and the in­spi­ra­tion for his leg­endary SMiLE al­bum. It bears the un­wieldy ti­tle of "On Brian Wilson And SMiLE (A Con­vo­luted Con­ver­sa­tion Part 2)," be­cause it is the sec­ond of a three-part ar­ti­cle. Please find Part 1, which is an in­tro­duc­tion to Arthur Koestler, and read it be­fore con­tin­u­ing with this ar­ti­cle.

 Convoluted Conversation Part 2: cover of original Beach Boys SMILE album 1966-1967.

This is the cover for Capi­tol DT-2580, the Beach Boys SMILE. It was sched­uled or re­lease in Au­gust or Sep­tem­ber 1966. Not only was the al­bum not ready for re­lease at that time, but the fea­tured sin­gle Good Vi­bra­tions wasn't ready! Nonethe­less, slicks for the jacket were printed, and then de­stroyed. A few have sur­vived and are valu­able, but be­ware: coun­ter­feits ex­ist.

This is the sec­ond of three parts in a con­vo­luted con­ver­sa­tion about Brian Wilson and SMiLE and Arthur Koestler and Zen and things.

Convoluted conversation part 2

This is the first part(s) of the con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Bill To­bel­man and Neal Umphred. It gets the "part 2" above from be­ing the sec­ond part of a three-part ar­ti­cle about Bill and me. You will find my state­ments (NU) in serif type­face (like the rest of this ar­ti­cle) while Bill's com­ments (BT) are in san serif type­face (like the font in this par­en­thet­i­cal phrase) and in­dented.

NU: When did you be­come aware of SMiLE?

BTI read David Leaf's book The Beach Boys And The Cal­i­for­nia Myth when I was at col­lege in the early '80s, but noth­ing re­ally clicked. When my wife was preg­nant in 1990, I bought Domenic Priore's Look! Lis­ten! Vi­brate! Smile! at Col­i­seum Books in mid-town Man­hat­tan and it be­came, in my wife's words, “the bible.”

What re­ally got to me was Priore's in­tro about how cool the un­re­leased mu­sic re­port­edly was. He laid out how SMiLE fit into Brian's artis­tic as­cent, point­ing out that when one track from the SMiLE-era got re­leased, Good Vi­bra­tions, it was the biggest smash ever!

NUYes, but Good Vi­bra­tions was con­ceived, writ­ten, and par­tially recorded dur­ing the PET SOUNDS ses­sions. Brian even con­sid­ered giv­ing it away to an­other artist or group! Only af­ter enough peo­ple made him re­al­ize what he had cre­ated did he be­gin to de­vote time to fin­ish­ing the sin­gle, ap­par­ently prior to even con­tem­plat­ing SMiLE.

While I also as­sume that it would have been on any SMiLE al­bum that would have come out in 1967, Good Vi­bra­tions does not sound or feel any­thing like any of the other SMiLE tracks. I think of it as be­ing a project of its own—like the man with­out a coun­try, it's a sin­gle with­out an al­bum.

Oh, and Leaf's book re­mains my fa­vorite bi­og­ra­phy of Brian. Did you know that David sub­mit­ted the book as Brian Wilson And The Cal­i­for­nia Myth (1978)? The pub­lish­ers didn't think that enough peo­ple would know who Brian Wilson was, so they made the ti­tle change.

And Look! Lis­ten! Vi­brate! Smile! (1990) is the ul­ti­mate fan-dream: a scrap­book turned into an ac­tual, pub­lished book! It's a fun and ed­u­ca­tional read that will prob­a­bly never get old.

Convoluted Conversation Part 2: cover of Domenic Priore's LOOK! LISTEN! VIBRATE! SMILE!! book.

Domenic Priore's Look! Lis­ten! VI­BRATE! SMiLE! was es­sen­tially a pro­fes­sion­ally bound scrap­book, with oodles and oodles of pho­tos and ad­ver­tise­ments and clipped ar­ti­cles and blurbs about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys' ac­tiv­i­ties sur­round­ing their new record­ings in 1966–67.

Look listen vibrate smile

BTPriore’s point about Good Vi­bra­tions il­lus­trates Wilson’s artis­tic path and the po­ten­tial of SMiLE. To me, Good Vi­bra­tions can be thought of in nu­mer­ous ways, but it all boils down to two ver­sions. The PET SOUNDS ver­sion has the Tony Asher lyrics, and the in­stru­men­tal track that was recorded in a sin­gle take.

The ver­sion re­leased as a sin­gle has the Mike Love lyrics—Brian asked Van Dyke Parks if he’d take over for Love but Parks declined—and the track was done in sec­tions and later pieced to­gether in a fash­ion closer to SMiLE than PET SOUNDS.

It’s in­ter­est­ing to note that be­fore Brian un­der­took the vast ma­jor­ity of the work on the Good Vi­bra­tions 45, he was in the stu­dio try­ing out He­roes And Vil­lains. This, along with the way the sin­gle was pieced to­gether, seems to tie Good Vi­bra­tions a lit­tle closer to SMiLE than PET SOUNDS.

I’ll ad­mit, Love’s boy/girl lyrics fit in more with PET SOUNDS than they do SMiLE. Heck, even Tony Asher’s PET SOUNDS-era lyrics for Good Vi­bra­tions are more far-out than Love’s lyrics! What does that tell you?

NUGood points and you ar­gu­ment works for me as a de­mar­ca­tion be­tween a PET SOUNDS ver­sion of Good Vi­bra­tions ver­sus a SMiLE ver­sion (the sin­gle). I agree with Bill on the lyrics, but since my fav­er­ave record of all time is Hound Dog, I have to con­fess that I love lyrics that don't get in the way of some­thing big­ger. So, for me, Mike Love's lyrics for Good Vi­bra­tions are damn near per­fect!

BT: That’s in­ter­est­ing about David Leaf chang­ing the ti­tle of his book. The late Jules Siegel did the same thing with the ti­tle of his Chee­tah mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle when he orig­i­nally put it on­line. It went from “The Re­li­gious Con­ver­sion of Brian Wilson” to “The Re­li­gious Con­ver­sion of the Beach Boys.” 1


Convoluted Conversation Part 2: cover of October 1967 CHEETAH magazine.

The new kid on the block Chee­tah (début is­sue cover dated Oc­to­ber 1967) pub­lished Jules Siegel's ar­ti­cle on Brian Wilson that The Sat­ur­day Evening Post had com­mis­sioned and then re­jected be­cause it was too lauda­tory of the West Coast whizkid!

From Zen to Koestler

NU: Well, David was given no choice, as the pub­lisher dic­tated the change. And I can un­der­stand their think­ing. I haven't spo­ken with David in ages, so I won­der if he sees their ar­gu­ment that “Beach Boys” in the ti­tle had a greater com­mer­cial al­lure back then than “Brian Wilson,” who was far from a house­hold name! So, what mo­ti­vated you to make a site de­voted to SMiLE?

BT: I had ideas about the al­bum that were dif­fer­ent from any­thing else ever said about SMiLE. It seems like once you're on the right track, or even close to the right track, things start to all come to­gether and start to make sense.

And once the ball starts rolling, it keeps pick­ing up new things that add to its mo­men­tum. Keep­ing all the new dis­cov­er­ies to my­self wasn't very ther­a­peu­tic. Keep­ing a se­cret about how great SMiLE is isn't easy.

Hav­ing a web­site al­lowed me to present find­ings as they came along and gave me an out­let for my ob­ses­sion. And, sup­pos­edly, My Ob­ses­sion from the BE­TWEEN THE BUT­TONS album—which was recorded at the same time as the SMiLE sessions—is Brian's fa­vorite Rolling Stones song! 2

NU: When I first stum­bled over your site, you were work­ing on the idea that SMiLE was not un­like a Zen koan. You have since dis­cov­ered new sources that you be­lieve more im­por­tant to un­der­stand­ing Brian and SMiLE, but I re­ally liked the Zen ap­proach. Did you keep copies of the old Zen-based site?

I think of the Koestler-influenced ap­proach to SMiLE as a mod­ern form of en­light­en­ment trans­mis­sion. Koestler knew his ideas were com­pa­ra­ble to Zen. [But] both Brian and Van Dyke have told in­ter­view­ers that there is no Zen in­flu­ence on SMiLE.

BT: The ear­li­est ver­sions of the web­site are long gone but the ba­sic Zen-interpretation stuff is still on­line. The first ver­sion of the site con­trasted im­ages in­spired by the Old West with Zen-flavored im­ages.

SMiLE artist Frank Holmes liked this di­rec­tion and later on, when he wrote about two points of view com­bined as in a dream, I could see why he liked the orig­i­nal di­rec­tion of the website’s art.

I think of the Arthur Koestler-influenced ap­proach to SMiLE as a mod­ern form of en­light­en­ment trans­mis­sion, if you will. Koestler knew his ideas and thought processes were com­pa­ra­ble to Zen; proof of this can be found in an end-note in The Act Of Cre­ation.

He’d pre­vi­ously writ­ten about Zen in The Lo­tus And The Ro­bot. So I would say that the new ma­te­rial and ideas on the web­site are very much in the spirit of the site’s orig­i­nal ma­te­rial.

One prob­lem I have is that both Brian and Van Dyke have told in­ter­view­ers that there is no Zen in­flu­ence on SMiLE. My new Koestler-influenced ap­proach shows that Brian’s and Van Dyke’s state­ments are tech­ni­cally cor­rect but only by a hair.

If Brian was in­flu­enced by The Act Of Cre­ation in the mid-'60s—which it ap­pears that he was (see the 2011 in­ter­view linked below)—and Koestler was in­flu­enced by Zen—which it ap­pears that he was—then Brian was in­di­rectly in­flu­enced by Zen through his as­sim­i­la­tion of Koestler's ideas. And so was Parks in­di­rectly in­flu­enced by Zen through his as­sim­i­la­tion of Brian's ideas.

Convoluted Conversation Part 2: photo of Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks in 1966.

You know, any sane ma­gi­cian would never re­veal his method of deception—and I don't think that any sen­si­ble mu­si­cian would ei­ther.” – Van Dyke Parks

The promise of the SMiLE era

BTThe idea that SMiLE was to bring about spir­i­tual en­light­en­ment is pretty far-out, and prob­a­bly my theory’s biggest hur­dle, but the promise of the SMiLE era can ac­com­mo­date the idea. We’re told things along the lines that “Brian knew no bound­aries or lim­its,” “he was work­ing on an­other level of con­scious­ness,” and “any­thing was deemed pos­si­ble through sheer force of cre­ativ­ity.”

I don't know any­one per­son­ally who be­lieves that mu­sic, art, film, po­etry, story, or even events could bring about "spir­i­tual en­light­en­ment" be­lieves that that is "far out" if "far out" is in­tended to be pe­jo­ra­tive. It may be resid­ual Sixties-itis (and that has noth­ing to do with my years), but in the '60s, so many things seemed pos­si­ble that didn't be­fore and haven't since.

I say that with a sense of awe at the won­der­ment that a small but po­tent per­cent­age of the hu­man race felt then. I also say that with a sense of won­der at the con­tempt that a large per­cent­age of the hu­man racewho were never a part of ithold that won­der­ment to­day. They didn't get it then, they don't get it now.

And Arthur Koestler’s new ideas were the un­known rea­son be­hind the glow­ing promise of the era. In a 2011 in­ter­view, Brian stated that his fa­vorite book was The Act Of Cre­ation (1964) and that Arthur Koestler had “said things that hadn’t been said in print.”

Any act of cre­ation re­quires ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion on the part of the cre­ator or re-creator. We can see this across Koestler’s spec­trum of cre­ativ­ity. The per­son who gets a joke has to make the hu­mor­ous con­nec­tions by them­selves. The sci­en­tist that ex­claims “Eu­reka!” has made a dis­cov­ery on his or her own, and the aes­thetic ex­pe­ri­ence can only be truly had on a per­sonal level.

This is why SMiLE is unexplained—to ex­plain it would take away its power.

"Brian knew no bound­aries or lim­its [and] was work­ing on an­other level of con­scious­ness [where] any­thing was deemed pos­si­ble through sheer force of cre­ativ­ity."

NU: So, tell me more about Koestler and Brian and SMiLE.

BT: Brian’s fa­vorite book was The Act Of Cre­ation. Wilson also read meta­phys­i­cal books, but Koestler had the biggest in­flu­ence on him. It was a bold work of orig­i­nal thought that at­tempted to spell out the process be­hind all orig­i­nal cre­ation. The dy­nam­ics of Koestler’s cre­ative process and the out­comes of said process could even be thought com­pa­ra­ble to as­pects of the spir­i­tual LSD ex­pe­ri­ence.

NUYou shouldn't say this, as you can­not know it to be so. I and oth­ers would have to ar­gue that noth­ing ever put on pa­per is re­motely “com­pa­ra­ble” to a “spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence.”

BT: But if what’s put on pa­per the­o­rizes that any state of mind is pos­si­ble by fol­low­ing the pre­scribed for­mula: in the­ory it’s pos­si­ble. Here are a few lines from Koestler’s sum­mary of art’s aes­thetic ex­pe­ri­ence:

The aes­thetic ex­pe­ri­ence aroused by a work of art is de­rived from a se­ries of biso­cia­tive processes which hap­pen vir­tu­ally at once and can­not be ren­dered in ver­bal lan­guage with­out suf­fer­ing im­pov­er­ish­ment and dis­tor­tion. Per­cep­tion is loaded with un­con­scious in­fer­ences, from the vi­sual con­stan­cies, through spa­tial pro­jec­tion, em­pa­thy, and synes­the­sia."

Convoluted Conversation Part 2: Frank Holmes's illustration for WONDERFUL.

This is one of Frank Holmes's il­lus­tra­tion for the ob­tuse lyrics to Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks' songs. This is ti­tled "Won­der­ful."

A spiritual LSD experience

NU: Koestler's "the­ory" ad­dresses the cre­ative act; you are ap­ply­ing it to the "spir­i­tual LSD ex­pe­ri­ence," which is not the same thing. Bill, I am just try­ing to keep you from mak­ing inane state­ments. If you want to make this state­ment and be able to ar­gue it, do LSD a hun­dred times. Of course, then you would not make the above state­ment!

BT: I'm glad you brought this up Neal. What re­ally mat­ters here is not what I think or what you think. We're not dis­cussing our piece of art. It's Brian and company's art. I have a web­site that at­tempts to ex­plain, as best I can, what that art is about. Every­thing there can be traced back to try­ing to fig­ure out where Brian's head was at in 1966.

Wilson has been la­beled as in­no­cent and naïve. Tony Asher hinted that Brian was taken in by 'marsh­mal­low mys­tics.' 3

Some of Brian's state­ments about Arthur Koestler and The Act Of Cre­ation are dif­fi­cult to sub­stan­ti­ate. For ex­am­ple, in the Don Was film Brian states that Koestler's po­si­tion is that the first rule of ego is the de­sire to be funny, hu­mor. This po­si­tion is dif­fi­cult to find in The Act Of Cre­ation but it can be in­ferred through the book if one is will­ing to bend over back­wards to make the point.

The point I'd like to make is that there is some pro­jec­tion go­ing on here. To a de­gree The Act Of Cre­ation is the Rorschach test and Brian is see­ing what he wants to see in Koestler. In 1966, I be­lieve Brian saw Koestler's cre­ative the­ory as a way to make an al­bum ca­pa­ble of bring­ing about the spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence.

If one wants to see LSD-like out­comes in Koestler's ideas and state­ments bad enough, I be­lieve they can find what they're look­ing for in The Act Of Cre­ation.

So when I make the claim that the dy­nam­ics of Koestler’s cre­ative process and the out­comes of said process could even be thought com­pa­ra­ble to as­pects of the spir­i­tual LSD experience—that's where I'm com­ing from. I guess I could word the sen­tence bet­ter. My main hope is that I'm start­ing to make a lit­tle sense.


"The Act Of Cre­ation is about the logic of laugh­ter. I think a sense of hu­mor is im­por­tant to un­der­stand­ing what kind of per­son some­one is. Study­ing meta­physics was also cru­cial, but Koestler’s book re­ally was the big one for me." – Brian Wilson

Koestler’s principles and SMiLE

Here we dis­cuss Bill's in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Brian's use of Arthur's prin­ci­ples in mak­ing SMiLE while ar­gu­ing with Neal . . .

BT: It is my belief/opinion that Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, and Frank Holmes used Arthur Koestler’s prin­ci­ples to cre­ate SMiLE. This would cre­ate an al­bum with the po­ten­tial to bring about the spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence.

So for in­stance, let’s take Neal’s quote: “My ini­tial ex­pe­ri­ence with LSD in 1971 had left me stunned by my to­tal in­abil­ity to re­late or con­nect what had hap­pened to me to any­thing in West­ern cul­ture.” What Koestler would pro­pose for such a per­son to cre­atively ex­press this ar­tis­ti­cally is that they ac­cess the vi­sual and scan their un­con­scious for re­lat­able forms, such as mem­o­ries, to rep­re­sent and con­vey the ex­pe­ri­ence.

The con­sumer of the work would re­verse the process, re­ly­ing on the un­con­scious to work in the op­po­site di­rec­tion search­ing for the match­ing origin of the re­lat­able forms: the artist’s orig­i­nal mind.

The con­sumer of the art in this case would be much like Neal; mov­ing from a world of re­lat­able forms to one be­yond all pre­vi­ous con­cep­tion. In other words, Koestler’s the­ory has promise as a way to trans­mit en­light­en­ment.

At the root of the the­ory is what Koestler ter­med “biso­ci­a­tion” which is the putting to­gether (as­so­ci­a­tion) of two dis­sim­i­lar things, thought planes, points of view, frames of ref­er­ence, as­so­cia­tive con­texts, etc., to cre­ate some­thing orig­i­nal which elic­its a re­sponse across the cre­ative spec­trum span­ning from laugh­ter, to dis­cov­ery, to art.

The mondo di­a­logue form of the Zen koan is a per­fect il­lus­tra­tion of two dis­sim­i­lar thought planes com­ing to­gether. It’s biso­cia­tive. For ex­am­ple:

Q: What is the es­sen­tial prin­ci­ple of Bud­dhism?
A: The cy­press tree in the court­yard.

The koan is es­sen­tially a doc­u­ment of the en­light­ened mind. When a koan re­sults sud­den en­light­en­ment that mind has been achieved.


Convoluted Conversation Part 2: splash page for Fred Schrier's comix strip A ZEN FABLE.

Fred Schrier's A Zen Fa­ble is one of my fav­er­avest strips from the Golden Age of Un­der­ground Comix (late '60s and early '70s and then it was over with, just like the San Fran­cisco Psy­che­delic Poster Re­nais­sance). This has noth­ing re­ally noth­ing to do with this con­ver­sa­tion on Brian and SMiLE but it gives me an ex­cuse to point you to my other web­site where I reprint all four pages of this amaz­ing comic trip!

A document or a riddle?

NU: First, a koan is NOT a doc­u­ment of any­thing. Sec­ond, the state­ment "When a koan re­sults in sud­den en­light­en­ment, that state of con­scious­ness has been achieved" makes NO sense.

BT: "Kung-an in Chi­nese is pro­nounced in Japan ko-an; lit­er­ally, it means a pub­lic doc­u­ment." Found it in a foot­note from a D.T. Suzuki es­say from The Zen Koan As A Means Of At­tain­ing En­light­en­ment (1994).

NU: Um, I un­der­stand a koan is a riddle-like ques­tion with no ra­tio­nal an­swer. Its pur­pose is to by­pass the student's nor­mal ra­tio­nal thought-process and thereby trig­ger in­sight.

Merriam-Webster de­fines koan as “a para­dox to be med­i­tated upon that is used to train Zen Bud­dhist monks to aban­don ul­ti­mate de­pen­dence on rea­son and to force them into gain­ing sud­den in­tu­itive en­light­en­ment.” So, you want to re­state this?

BT: Neal, I’d like to re­spond to you. The book The Zen Koan by Mirra and Sasaki (1965) de­f­i­n­i­tion is dif­fer­ent from Merriam-Webster’s de­f­i­n­i­tion.

The koan is not a co­nun­drum to be solved by a nim­ble wit. It is not a ver­bal psy­chi­atric de­vice for shock­ing the dis­in­te­grated ego of a stu­dent into some kind of sta­bil­ity.

Nor, in my opin­ion, is it ever a para­dox­i­cal state­ment ex­cept to those who view it from out­side.

When the koan is re­solved it is re­al­ized to be a sim­ple and clear state­ment made from the state of con­scious­ness which it has helped to awaken.”

This de­f­i­n­i­tion jibes with the way I present things here, Koestler, as well as the com­ments of the three SMiLE cre­ators.


Convoluted Conversation Part 2: Frank Holmes's illustration for CABINESSENCE.

This is one of Frank Holmes's il­lus­tra­tion for the ob­tuse lyrics to Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks' songs. This is ti­tled "Un­cover The Corn­field."

A paradox that cannot be solved

NU: Other sources say that a koan is a para­dox­i­cal ques­tion, state­ment, rid­dle, or even an anec­dote used in Zen Bud­dhism to pro­voke doubt in a stu­dent. It is in­tended to demon­strate the in­ad­e­quacy of log­i­cal rea­son­ing and thereby pro­voke en­light­en­ment.

In the Rin­zai school of Zen, a stu­dent is given a par­tic­u­lar koan to solve in his zazen (seated med­i­ta­tion) prac­tice. Most koans in­volve a para­dox that can­not be solved by rea­son or in­tel­lect. The res­o­lu­tion forces the stu­dent into a dif­fer­ent level of con­scious­ness or com­pre­hen­sion.” (About​.com)

A Zen koan is a short story or sen­tence that ini­tially seems para­dox­i­cal in na­ture.
 It is a learn­ing tool in­tended to al­ter our per­cep­tion of re­al­ity. No­body can an­swer a koan for you.
 It may take years for your mind to see what a koan is telling you—a sud­den un­ex­pected flash of in­sight will oc­cur.

Some in­ter­pre­ta­tions you may come across are rather mis­lead­ing: es­o­teric, con­vo­luted re­li­gious ex­pla­na­tions that as­sume an un­der­stand­ing of Bud­dhist pre­cepts.

 They go against the child-like sim­plic­ity and im­me­di­acy of Zen. (Phi­los­o­phy Study)

BT: The rea­son that I prefer the Sasaki de­f­i­n­i­tion of koan to the ones you cited (that I have no prob­lems with) is that Sasaki is view­ing things from the in­side rather than out­side. This presents a more ac­cu­rate view of things SMiLE-wise.

NU: I don't get that at all. But the koan only has value and mean­ing to the out­sider, who needs it to get in­side. Once in­side, it hardly mat­ters how the koan is per­ceived. So I could ar­gue that the insider's view is ir­rel­e­vant to the con­ver­sa­tion.

I know this my be a bit of an ex­ten­sion, but one with which we are all too fa­mil­iar: it re­minds me of the peo­ple who are as­signed the task of writ­ing man­u­als for soft­ware: by the time they know enough to be able to write the book, they have for­got­ten what it's like to not now what they know, and they have for­got­ten how to give mean­ing­ful di­rec­tions.

BTIt presents the creator's point of view rather than the point of view of those look­ing at it from the out­side. SMiLE can be viewed as a log­i­cal mess; a para­dox to say the least. I think it's safe to say that this is a com­mon view. Mike Love said—I'm para­phras­ing here—that SMiLE leads you down lit­tle paths only to find road­blocks.

NU: Mike Love may know noth­ing about much of any­thing spir­i­tual ex­cept its form. (But I can say that about al­most any­one, in­clud­ing my­self.) Re­think­ing Mike's state­ment, it's rather clever but would be more ac­cu­rate and use­ful if we sub­sti­tute "puz­zles" for "road­blocks," the lat­ter sound­ing too fi­nal, the last thing that SMiLE seems to be.

BT: If you know of any log­i­cal takes on SMiLE please let me know of them. I find that peo­ple tend to blame drugs or men­tal ill­ness to ex­plain away the log­i­cal in­con­sis­ten­cies of SMiLE.

NU: Oh, I am per­fectly com­fort­able with there be­ing "log­i­cal in­con­sis­ten­cies" with any­thing creative—unless, of course, the artist means it to be log­i­cal and fails. I love SMiLE, love Parks' lyrics (Colum­nated ru­ins domino, ho!), and even love the in­tel­lec­tual looney­tunes and non-logical qual­ity of SMI­LEY SMiLE.

Convoluted Conversation Part 2: cover of Beach Boys' original SMILEY SMILE on 1967.

By the time the Beach Boys' first al­bum of 1967 was is­sued in Sep­tem­ber, all of the magic of Good Vi­bra­tions and the promise of amaz­ing, ground­break­ing mu­sic that sev­eral jour­nal­ists had been lost. SMI­LEY SMiLE was de­scribed by Carl Wilson as a "bunt in­stead of a grand slam." In­ter­pret­ing that base­ball metaphor, a grand slam is only pos­si­ble with the bases loaded, ergo he mean that with the bases loaded Brian bunted, scor­ing a soli­tary run. Given the re­cep­tion that the al­bum re­ceived, that may be a gen­er­ous as­sess­ment. 

More convoluted conversation

The first part of this ar­ti­cle pro­vides some back­ground on Arthur Koestler. The sec­ond and third parts are es­sen­tially a lengthy gabfest-with-arguing be­tween Bill and my­self. We dis­cuss SMiLE at length and ar­gue over its in­spi­ra­tion, mo­ti­va­tion, and un­der­pin­nings. A ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of Koestler is re­quired to un­der­stand this con­ver­sa­tion, so don't skip this first part! Here are the three parts with links:

On Brian Wilson And SMiLE (A Con­vo­luted Con­ver­sa­tion Part 1)
On Brian Wilson And SMiLE (A Con­vo­luted Con­ver­sa­tion Part 2)
On Brian Wilson And SMiLE (A Con­vo­luted Con­ver­sa­tion Part 3)

Convoluted Conversation Part 2: poster from the movie LOVE & MERCY.

FEA­TURED IM­AGEThe im­age at the top of this page is lifted from the poster for the movie Love & Mercy. I had to crop it and play with the col­ors to make it dif­fer­ent from the other two parts of the three-part ar­ti­cle "On Brian Wilson And SMiLE (A Con­vo­luted Con­ver­sa­tion)."

If you've read this far and you haven't seen it yet, stop what­ever you're do­ing and see this movie! Bravo! to Paul Dano as the young Brian (and he gets to be in one of the best trip­ping sce­nes in a movie), John Cu­sack as the older Brian, and Paul Gi­a­matti as Eu­gene Landy.

And Brava! to Eliz­a­beth Banks as Melinda Led­bet­ter. Ms Banks is the heart and soul of the movie.

I think of the Koestler-influenced SMiLE as a form of en­light­en­ment trans­mis­sion. Click To Tweet




1   Jules Siegel was com­mis­sioned by The Sat­ur­day Evening Post mag­a­zine to ba­si­cally tor­pedo the grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion of Brian Wilson as a "ge­nius."

Far from writ­ing a neg­a­tive piece, Siegel left con­verted and wrote an ar­ti­cle that could have helped Wilson and the Beach Boys greatly had it been pub­lished by the widely cir­cu­lated and highly re­garded Post.

It was not; al­though it was picked up by the far less pres­ti­gious, far less read Chee­tah mag­a­zine (Oc­to­ber 1967 is­sue) as "Good­bye Surf­ing, Hello God! – The Re­li­gious Con­ver­sion Of The Beach Boys."

2   Brian's sup­posed in­fat­u­a­tion with this track has al­ways struck me as one of his put-ons. But who knows, hen­nah?

3   By "marsh­mal­low mys­tics" PET SOUNDS lyri­cist Asher was re­fer­ring to such then hip au­thors as An­toine de Saint-Exupéry, Kahlil Gibran, Kr­ish­na­murti, and even Her­man Hesse.

 I love the in­tel­lec­tual looney­tunes qual­ity of the Beach Boys' SMI­LEY SMILE al­bum. Click To Tweet

One thought on “on brian wilson and SMiLE (a convoluted conversation part 2)

  1. even tho this is not in my area of in­ter­est i read it as i al­ways read all your record posts neal. you know i'm more of a rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and rock­a­billy guy. in­ter­est­ing stuff tho, my girl­friend is a bud­dhist.

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