SMiLE (6/?) The Innocence Tracks

Continuing off from last time, these are my observations on the SMiLE songs I believe would have fit on Side 2, all centering on a theme of childhood innocence and the angst of getting older.

Good Vibrations

Nothing much to say. It makes me feel weirded out in a good way. It makes attraction feel otherworldy and new when so many songs have (obviously) tackled it to death so that it’s become mundane. There’s not a lot of hidden meaning to pour over since the subject matter is universal and the lyrics are pretty clear.

It’s already finished, obviously. Though I do prefer the “hum be dum” inclusion and longer fade.

Wonderful

This is may be the single most oblique SMiLE song, lyrically speaking. I’m still not totally sure what it all means even looking at it line by line, but I don’t think a literal meaning was intended so much as a series of images meant to evoke a general mood. I have always felt that certain indescribable “loss of innocence” vibe from it. The harpsichord makes it sound almost like a music box (and the “wind down” ending on the boxset seems to want to accentuate that association.) The way it describes a girl who “belongs there, left with her liberty” makes me think of somewhere hidden and peaceful–maybe a modern “safe space” even–which the girl is content in. These serve to establish her young age and the protectiveness others (at least of reputable morals) would feel towards her. “Gather the forest” makes me think of a Disney princess who’s so sweet all the woodland creatures come scurrying to her. God moving her body could mean she’s a faithful/religious person (plus all the “never known as a non-believer” lines). A golden locket is something a young woman or little girl might wear. “Loving her mother and father” means she’s just in that untainted age when your parents are still your heroes. It could mean she’s never loved anyone romantically yet, that the only love she’s ever known is a familial one.

The third and fourth stanzas seem to be her venturing out of her safe space (which itself could be a metaphor for childhood and adolescence) into the mystery of new people, ideas and previously unknown sexual feelings. The chalk and numbers plus recess lines make me think this is school, where some kids unfortunately get bullied, or become bullies, and lose that sweetness they once had. The boy could either be a bully to her, or maybe he was an aloof romantic interest  of hers, or an aggressive romantic pursuer towards her. In any case, this boy clearly hurt the girl in some way, and personally I always interpreted him as her rapist. This leaves the girl feeling bad for awhile, but the fifth stanza makes it very clear she’ll soon get over this loss of innocence and move on with her life. Growing up, falling in love, both mean putting yourself in vulnerable positions outside your comfort zone and inevitably getting hurt along the way. That’s what I always interpreted this song to be a metaphor for.

I’ve heard some people say this song is a metaphor for America–the girl is a personification for the land, getting raped by the settlers. Personally, I prefer to take a more literal reading but there’s no reason it can’t be both. This song makes me feel really sad, yet with a twinge of hope.

How should it be finished? I think Version 1 is more or less completed as-is, but I personally think it needs an intro and a fade–it’s just too short and both starts and stops too abruptly for my tastes. I think it’s pretty clear both from the “Wonderful Insert” and how it ended up on Smiley Smile that there was supposed to be some kind of interlude in there as well. Obviously this interlude section changed between Version 2 in early ’67 and the Smiley version that summer, and I’m not going to say which is “better” because I don’t think Version 2 is even finished. I proposed once that He Gives Speeches might have made a good insert if the instrumentation matched–as is, it clashes too much, having the pretty harpsichord and the harsher-sounding tack piano. I kind of like the “pretty baby won’t you rock with me henry” background lyrics and if they were isolated, it might be cool to mix them in to Version 1. Sometimes, I like to use the Version 3 track as a makeshift fade. 

Wind Chimes

In stark contrast, this is probably the most straightforward track that isn’t GV. According to Marilyn and Brian, he just bought some Wind Chimes and wrote a song about them. That said, I think there’s enough meaning in here, either intended or not, that it works outside this limited context and fits great as a “Cycle of Life” track with Wonderful, CIFOTM and Surf’s Up.

There was a fantastic analysis of this song on the SmileySmile forum which I unfortunately don’t have access to anymore. The poster in question proposed that Wind Chimes was a song about the anticipation of death. They stated that Wind Chimes have symbolized death in Eastern cultures, and then there’s the whole “all we are is dust in the wind” idiom. Looking it up for myself, it seems Wind Chimes were invented in Asia in around 3,000 B.C.E. Apparently they would often be used to decorate the temples, so that when a gust of wind came, visitors would be drowned in a heavenly chorus of sounds. I’ve also read that they are thought to ease tormented souls and warn of guests approaching. I think any of these symbolic meanings is right at home on SMiLE, particularly the life suite. Considering Brian was experimenting with all kinds of Eastern mysticism and ideologies at this time in his life, I think it’s a stretch to say none of this crossed his mind at least a little. But even putting all of them aside, the song could be interpreted as an appreciation of the little things in life. In contrast to seeing the sights and journeying across America, or translating the awe-inspiring Chicago Fire to music, this track is about laying back and enjoying a cool breeze on your own front porch. This song makes me feel calm but with just a touch of sadness.

How should it be finished? The boxset really dropped the ball by axing the fade, which is gorgeous. I think there would have been some kind of vocalizations over it as well, like the Whispering Winds section from Smiley, or making wind sounds ala the Breathing skit from Psychedelic Sounds, or something else. Otherwise, I think it’s about as complete as could be, barring some great discovery we don’t know about. The alternate version with different instrumentation is really cool, but not quite as good in my opinion.

Child is Father of the Man

This is, in my opinion, the most underappreciated SMiLE track, as well as my personal favorite. I always assumed it was supposed to be about a man either holding his child and learning a lot from him–like having an emotional revelation and/or some new appreciation for life due to being a father now. Kids are a lot more perceptive than most give them credit for too, so it’s also totally possible for them to teach you something and “father the man” so to speak.

That fantastic bass always made me think of a heart beating, like the child and father were in sync with each other through their hearts. The horn is undeniably supposed to be a baby crying–Brian even says “that sounds more like a baby–that’s our baby!” on the tapes in my favorite example of studio chatter on the whole boxset. But the horn also made me think of that “wah wah” sound effect you’d hear in movies or TV shows when someone slips on a banana peel or makes a fool of themselves. It was such a bizarre contradiction of emotions for me, this beautiful heartbreaking track coupling with a humorous sound effect, yet somehow it just WORKED. That always stood out to me and was one of those little details that made me fall in love with this music right from the beginning. It’s not likely that this was Brian’s intent with that horn…but he added a lot of random little easter eggs in the album, like the yodeling in Wonderful which also shouldn’t work yet does…so who knows? Afterall, humor was the cornerstone of the whole album and this is a very well known sound effect.

It’s possible too this song could have been about reflecting on past childhood experiences and realizing those shaped what kind of Man you grow into, so in that sense the child really does raise the man. Looking at it from an Americana context, it could be an expression that the child (America) has surpassed the man (Europe) and become like a father, watching out for them in geopolitics, like fending off the Soviet incursions. That would be a reference to American hegemony in the world. But then, according to Brian in his new book, the song was about psychiatry. I don’t want to doubt the man himself, but I just don’t see that at all. I just don’t understand what that chorus could possibly have to do with that subject…but without verse lyrics we can never know. This song makes me feel so moved I want to cry. It’s like when you see something so beautiful, like your significant other empowered enough to follow their dreams or your kid reaching a milestone. Its a moment so pristine you’re just overcome with emotion.

Finished? It needs lyrics, obviously. In terms of structure, I prefer: piano as an intro/chorus/verse/chorus/”pork chop, Chi-i” alternate chorus/fade. The very first version of this song I ever heard, and indeed the first non-released SMiLE material I ever heard, had the best structure I’ve yet to see. I’ve based all my takes on this song after it, it’s that good. As for the lyrics, I think what VDP came up with in 2003 was ridiculously sub-par and nowhere close to how deep and thoughtful the ’66 lyrics would have been. The best improvisation I’ve yet heard is the Project Smile CD (HERE) which came up with some surprisingly great substitute lyrics. I love the voice imitating a baby over the piano part, which I see as mirroring the vocal “doing doing” banjo strings in Cabin Essence. Having a voice and an instrument perform overlapping functions in the same song seems like something Brian was into at the time, so it rang true to me having that in there. I see it as an attempt to convey the phenomenon of Synesthesia (which is when you “see sounds” or “hear colors” on psychedelics) through the medium of audio.

Surf’s Up

This song doesn’t make me feel particularly sad or awe inspired like Wonderful and CIFOTM do, respectively. In fact, I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I actually find Surf’s Up slightly overrated–though still a fantastic track. It just makes me feel reflective, like I just read a poem I didn’t fully understand but know a lot of thought went into. We can hear Brian on the tapes saying that he wanted the percussion to sound like rattling jewelry, obviously tying into the first line and what it represents. I think the first stanza is meant to allude to the ruling class dominating the rest of us. Diamond necklaces playing pawns like we are treated as pawns in the games of the rich. “Handsome man and baton” could be allusions to how they dominate us–with superficial appearances and spectacle plus the threat of force. The first stanza is full of references to opulence, like the opera (which is white tie, IE very fancy, and something only the rich could afford).

“Columnated ruins domino” is pretty well accepted to be an allusion to the idea that society is breaking down–the New Age 60s are tearing apart old values of nationalism, organized religion and class hierarchies. (Obviously that didn’t pan out, but I digress.) “Canvass the town and brush the backdrop” strikes me as a callback to Old Master Painter and therefore God–evangelical values–falling apart. Or alternatively, you could read it as the need for us to take charge and “paint” a new society. “Are You sleeping?” is meant to goad the listener and by extension society, to wake up and take notice of this opportunity to rise up and change things for the better.

The second stanza you could say is when the focus transfers from the opera goers to the opera itself, and music in general. Perhaps the idea that music can change the world, that music can be the conduit for change? Taken with the “canvass the town…” lyrics, we could even say that all forms of creative expression can be part of this change in society and its values. When “Are you sleeping” becomes “are you sleeping, brother John” that is foreshadowing the other great conduit for change the song is building towards–a children’s song, and by extension, children’s innocence.

I personally don’t have any pointed analysis of the next two stanzas. It seems like a series of hauntingly beautiful moments in life, or perhaps just beautiful images that music/creativity can convey to people to spur emotional and intellectual responses. Maybe it’s the things in life worth fighting to protect against the oppression of the powers that be? At the moment, that’s the best I got. If anyone has any better ideas of that the first stanzas of the second half mean, let me know. One thing seems to be certain: the song is constantly zooming in. From the rich people in the stands and their nefarious, morally bankrupt agendas to the music on stage, and into the mind of a singular musician on stage and what’s in his/her heart. This song is looking at a musical performance from all angles, starting with the audience to the artist and finally into what’s running through the mind of a performer as they’re singing.

The broken man too tough to cry could be the narrator, or anyone in general, who is moved to tears thinking of all this beauty in the world, but bound by the restrictive laws of masculinity to hold it inside. This could possibly be an allusion to yet another repressive and outdated ethos in society–gender roles which no longer serve a purpose and in fact actively hurt us. Otherwise, it could just be an observation that nobody really talks about their inner feelings and what makes them tick in general. We spend so much time talking about stupid trivial small talk and so often the important things are left unsaid. The first few lines of the last stanza seem to be using surfing as a metaphor for “going along for the ride” so to speak. That could be in reference to life in general–go with the flow and take what comes–or it could be in reference to joining the zeitgeist and fighting for change against repressive forces in society, no matter what may happen as a result.

The last 3 lines are of course the reference to children, and how at the end of the day they’re what makes life worth living. It’s for them that we owe it to stand up and fight for a better world, it’s through their joy and innocence that we feel empowered and enlightened. They’re pure blank slates and this innocence is worth fighting for and respecting as an end in itself. With the silly humor of the album which would appeal to them, the cover which looks like something a child might draw, and songs directly about children and innocence…the entire album has been building towards this revelation. It’s such a perfect conclusion to SMiLE‘s seemingly disparate concepts that SU is the only conceivable finale. And it’s for this reason alone why the ’03 and ’11 releases are artistically flawed and in no way at all indicative of Brian’s original intentions.

How to finish it? Well, we need the fabled second half backing track obviously. Simple as that. As for what it would have been, we can only speculate. I believe Brian when he says “there were some strings” in 2003, and I believe there is a session log to back this up too. Even though I strongly dislike his SMiLE ideas and it’s been proven he was lying when he claimed to have heard it, Dominic Priore’s description of “a weird combination of strings and horns” seems vaguely accurate to me. It was on the SmileySmile forum that someone proposed that Talking Horns on the boxset was perhaps part of the second suite, or at least a working idea for it. They made a rough and I mean ROUGH mix of the idea. It sounded like shit, so they concluded the idea had no merit. But I’ve tried my own hand at it and I actually think it sounds alright if synced properly and mixed low in comparison to the vocals. I think something akin to the coarse “moaning” section of that fragment might have been used over the second half, buried deep in the mix. To me, this gives the track a sense of unease and dread which the vocals alone can’t fully convey. Now, does it sound perfect? Absolutely not. It’s totally possible this idea is a red herring, but since Talking Horns was professionally recorded, we know it had SOME merit if just as an ill fated experiment. It’s possible this was a working idea that Brian later thought better of, which could even be why the instrumental track of Surf’s Up was never finished in the first place–Brian’s plan didn’t sound as good as he’d thought it would and he couldn’t come up with anything better before shelving the track indefinitely.

HOWEVER what I’m very much certain about is that the somber “wailing” section of talking horns (HERE) was supposed to go over the fade. It just sounds too perfect, like the horns are crying out in unison with Brian as he sings. I strongly prefer this version to the (in my opinion hokey) ’71 version of the fade. I’m open to the possibility that the CIFOTM chorus reprise was a vintage ’66 idea, though I remain skeptical. (Despite popular myth, there were no repeated sections in SMiLE, just sections which jumped from one song to another as things dragged on, giving that false impression when we look back on the session tapes as a whole). I don’t believe for a second those “na na” backing vocals were vintage, nor do I believe those “their song is love and the children know the way” lyrics were either. Had they been vintage ’66 or ’67, Brian would have sung them on TV and in the Wild Honey version since that’s the main lyric. In ’71, the “aahs” are then “revealed” to be just backing vocals, so why sing those each time in the 60s? Because that’s all there was back then.

I think the “George Fell Into His French Horn” comedy skit (also part of the Talking Horns session) would have been on the album and associated with this track. It would have been either an intro to the song, or as a hidden “track” at the end, like Her Majesty or the hidden jabber on the Beatles’ Abbey Road and Sgt Pepper, respectively.

Advertisements

2 Comments

  1. Hi Cassie, Well done as usual. I think I found some song from the album on You Tube and will listen to them when I’m done reading your new articles. Would like to listen to them with you sometime.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.