How the Beach Boys Have Influenced My Writing
I love the Beach Boys. The exact moment I became a fan was in my brother's car on Christmas Eve 2017. We were driving to Record Archives in the city of Rochester so he could buy their 1966 album Pet Sounds for our nine-year-old brother. During the drive, he pulled up Spotify and played Wouldn't It Be Nice? all the way to the last song, Caroline, No.
The following afternoon (Christmas day), my little brother played the Pet Sounds album on repeat, getting up to flip sides every fifteen minutes or so. I quickly learned the songs and tucked the lyrics away into my memory. A few songs even found their way onto the playlist for the book I was writing that Christmas break.
Here's the thing about my writing process. I'll get distracted researching things that have nothing to do with the book. Inspired by the little bit my brother had told me about them, I fell into a rabbit hole spinning with oceans, surfboards, classic cars, and LSD. I was supposed to be writing my book--not reading through articles after midnight about a band who hadn't been popular for over fifty years.
I went back to school in the spring singing their songs and playing their music aloud in my dorm room for my roommates. Every time I did my custodial cleaning, I mopped the floors and scrubbed the toilets to Pet Sounds on repeat. During finals week I put on Live Sunshine as I studied. Instead of hunching over a desk on the third floor of the library, I closed my eyes and found myself in 1967, watching quietly from the side of the stage as Brian, Carl, Dennis, Al, and Mike rehearsed some of America's most iconic songs. Their voices were too raw and harmonic and captivating to ignore.
Although I never intended it, the Beach Boys wrote themselves into my book. They were no longer a distraction. They became a part of the story--a part of my character's love for oldies music and a time before their own. A time before technology and social media and fake news and a GPS that told them every which way to turn.
I should mention here that my work in progress is a road trip book, and that music is a huge part of their lives--especially music from their grandfather's generation. Including some Beach Boys history was not a far-off, random decision that I'd have to force into the plot like an ill-fitting puzzle piece. It made sense. In fact, some of their story served as an allegory from which my characters could learn.
That being said, I'm incredibly fortunate to write in an age that has access to the internet. Otherwise, I wouldn't have a convenient way of learning so much about the Beach Boys. However, the internet does have its limitations. Just as valuable--and perhaps even more powerful--are firsthand stories from people who were alive during the Beach Boys' hay-day.
Luckily, I went to a Beach Boys concert this August--for the second year in a row! My siblings and I were settling into our seats after the intermission (yes, intermission--the band is in their late seventies, after all, along with a majority of their fanbase), when the woman behind me tapped my shoulder.
In her British accent, she asked, "I'd like to know why young people like you like the Beach Boys. I'm very curious."
I didn't have an instant response. There was too much I liked about them to sum up in a quick answer. Should I mention their underrated talent? Their sound? Their complicated and deeply heart-wrenching backstory? The way their music uplifted my mood and inspired my writing?
In spite of my jumbled brain, the oversimplified answer that came out of my mouth was, "There's something about the way they--I like their harmonies--and their sound."
The man on her left--her husband, probably--agreed, saying, "Yes, they're extremely talented--Carl Wilson, in particular, especially with his vocals on God Only Knows. Incredible."
"Have you seen them before this?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah," he replied. "I saw all five of them in 1964, when they were very young. They played at this music hall in Buffalo. It was completely a cappella. I've been a fan ever since."
I'm pretty much sitting backwards in my chair now, leaning toward this couple with my mouth wide open.
"Dennis, the drummer--you know, all the girls loved him. At one point they mobbed him and stole the drum sticks right from his hands!" the man continued.
"He was the cute one!" I exclaimed. He was the cute one but the reckless one who tragically drowned in 1983, despite being the only Beach Boy who could surf.
Eventually, the conversation become about old music in general. The woman had seen several of the greats: Simon and Garfunkel, Elton John, the Eagles, and probably others. I mentioned that the Beach Boys were an outlier for me--that I typically didn't like old music.
Beyond their music, I love them for their story. A lot has happened since starting as teenagers in 1961 in Hawthorne, California. There's the Wilson brothers' background of abuse from their manipulative father; there's the influence of drugs; there's Brian Wilson's genius, but his neurotic perfection; there's the Wilsons' cousin and fellow band member, Mike Love's criticism of Brian breaking the formula and experimenting with a psychedelic sound; there's the rivalry with the Beatles that inspired their music but eclipsed their fame.
And there's so much more.