SMiLE (12/14) The Gospels of Siegal & Hutton

Jules Siegal’s Account (“Goodbye Surfing, Hello God”)

1) So…did Brian actually destroy the master of Fire? Vosse, Anderle, and now Siegal all agree on that. So if that’s the case, how are we listening to Fire now? Is it just a rejected take? I wonder what was missing from the master then. (My speculative opinion? I think maybe this discarded Master Take blended what we have now with the Fire crackling noises heard on the boxset session discs.) Or, assuming we do have the original master, I wonder if, how and why Brian fooled everyone in his entourage into believing it was destroyed.

2) I gotta say, all this talk about hipness, hip people do this, un-hip people do that, etc is pretty off-putting. It strikes me as very pretentious and unnecessary. [Someone on SmileySmile responded to this particular point to say that “hipness” was an essential part of the counterculture and music scenes at the time. I have no doubt, but that doesn’t change the fact that it makes this article come off as immature. If the entire scene was this obsessed with being “hip,” then it’s a mark against the scene in my humble opinion. We mock high schoolers for being this insecure and conforming, but somehow it’s totally cool coming from 60s hippies? Also, just because someone makes good art or has dropped acid doesn’t immediately make them some enlightened guru–I’ve met some real shitty people who’ve happened to do acid.]

3) It’s really nice to see that this is where a few classic quotes about SMiLE originated from, such as: “About a year ago I had what I consider a very religious experience,” Wilson told Los Angeles writer Tom Nolan in 1966. “I took LSD, a full dose of LSD, and later, another time, I took a smaller dose. And I learned a lot of things, like patience, understanding. I can’t teach you or tell you what I learned from taking it, but I consider it a very religious experience.”

4) This quote took me by surprise: “I think this London thing has really helped. That’s just what the boys needed, a little attention to jack up their confidence.” According to most other sources, the enthusiastic response to their latest tour is what emboldened the band against Brian’s ideas, so it seems Siegal would regret those words. Plus, not all the attention was wholly positive, represented by Dennis’ complaints about the striped shirts getting laughed at which inspired Surf’s Up.

5) Another passage that grabbed me: “Brian shuffled through the acetates, most of which were unlabeled, identifying each by subtle differences in the patterns of the grooves. He had played them so often he knew the special look of each record the way you know the key to your front door by the shape of its teeth. Most were instrumental tracks, cut while the Beach Boys were in Europe, and for these Brian supplied the vocal in a high sound that seemed to come out of his head rather than his throat as he somehow managed to create complicated four- and five-part harmonies with only his own voice.”

^Its too late now, but how I wish someone had written down what he sang! I would have given anything to be a fly on the wall at even one of those listening sessions.

6) “A panorama of American history filled the room as the music shifted from theme to theme; the tinkling harpsichord sounds of the bicycle rider pushed sad Indian sounds across the continent; the Iron Horse pounded across the plains in a wide-open rolling rhythm that summoned up visions of the Old West; civilized chickens bobbed up and down in a tiny ballet of comic barnyard melody; the inexorable bicycle music, cold and charming as an infinitely talented music box, reappeared and faded away.”

^I dont know if Siegal’s describing what he heard exactly or just exaggerating to paint a scene, but to me this seems like further proof of the idea of suites, in this case, Americana. This also seems to point to the idea of recurring themes, at least Bicycle Rider. Maybe that’s because it wasn’t finished and was still in more songs than it was meant to be, or else the BR melody really was meant to come up more than once. Not sure how I feel about that. Also, Siegal specifically mentions Prayer being last. Is that just because it happened to be the last one Brian played, or a clue it was the last song, the choral amen Vosse mentions? If Siegal meant that Prayer was the last song, then who do you believe–the written record of Siegal and Vosse or Brian on the session tapes saying it’s the intro?

7) Here again, a mention of Brian accusing the boys of not trying hard enough and apparently even accusing Mike of making too much money.

8) Brian on Surf’s Up: “It’s a man at a concert,” he said. “All around him there’s the audience, playing their roles, dressed up in fancy clothes, looking through opera glasses, but so far away from the drama, from life—‘Back through the opera glass you see the pit and the pendulum drawn.’”

“The music begins to take over. ‘Columnated ruins domino.’ Empires, ideas, lives, institutions—everything has to fall, tumbling like dominoes.

“He begins to awaken to the music; sees the pretentiousness of everything. ‘The music hall a costly bow.’ Then even the music is gone, turned into a trumpeter swan, into what the music really is.”

^I have to say, its cool to hear Brian explain SU in his own way. I consider that last sentence more proof that SU was supposed to end with trumpets–that wailing trumpet sound from Talking Horns. I understand people being partial to the ’71 fade, but I firmly believe those trumpets were meant to go there, especially after reading this. Furthermore, this description lends credence to the interpretation of SU as a condemnation of society at large. I personally interpret it as the beginning of the Age of Aquarius, with the rise of individuality and creativity coming at the expense of Pisces’ conformity and submission to higher institutions.

9) “Of course that’s a very intellectual explanation,” [Brian] said. “But maybe sometimes you have to do an intellectual thing. If they don’t get the words, they’ll get the music. You can get hung up in words, you know. Maybe they work; I don’t know.” He fidgeted with a telescope.

^Brian’s thoughts on VDP’s contributions summarized. He seems to like it but is clearly a bit apprehensive/questioning here. He also clearly had a very intellectual/philosophical bedrock for SMiLE. I’ve seen some posters before claim that there was no plan; Veggies is just a song about veggies, wind chimes is just a song about wind chimes, nothing more and nothing less. Hearing Brian talk about SU in this way, I just don’t buy that at all. Clearly he had an ideological foundation, some people just don’t want to put the extra effort in to work out what that was.

I have no more to say. Obviously, there’s not much to this dissection as opposed to the others. While it was a fascinating read, again, I’ve heard all the main points of it before secondhand. It’s awesome to see it all in one place, and eloquently written. This article more than accomplishes its purpose in getting me pumped about the album.

The Testimony of Danny Hutton

This one’s a video interview. Some takeaway points (just focusing on SMiLE/Smiley):

1) Brian never discussed his plan for SMiLE. Brian wouldn’t articulate his plans, just sit at the piano, go off into his own world and create. This is corroborated by Anderle.

2) Brian was too buried in the material post GV, in that modular phase, hearing little snippets over and over to take an objective outside “this obviously sounds better here” kinda mentality, according to Hutton. He was too absorbed in the possibilities and listening to the same small pieces over and over again to really take a firm hand and decide on a structure.

3) He was feeling outside pressure from the band about making things simpler to play live.

4) He never really thought of certain projects as separate. Like “ok, I’m gonna write these 12 songs for this album” then maybe take a break “ok, and now this album.” Instead, Brian just kept writing continuously and when it was time to release something he’d take the best songs he was working on since the last release. This kinda makes sense then, with people who say Here Today (the last recorded Pet Sounds song) sounds a lot like some SMiLE material and how GV almost wound up on Pet Sounds–and conceptually / thematically it would make more sense there too, than it does on SMiLE.

5) Hutton thinks the project collapsed due to lack of confidence from Brian, outside pressures, being confused how to put it all together, frustration because the time had passed as Strawberry Fields and especially Sgt Pepper came out. Basically the usual reasons we’ve seen cited a million times.

6) Brian painted his house purple, corroborating Vosse’s story.

7) The home studio removed Brian’s discipline.

8) Hutton says he heard all the songs in parts, never as completed songs. He says music lost something with 4-track, 8-track, etc. The idea of a recording being a time capsule of a certain performance was lost, and he talks about SMiLE taking that to the extreme. How it was still great, still beautiful, but the modular concept “didn’t put you in a place” anymore.

9) Brian wanted to produce Three Dog Night (Redwood) so he could expand into Blues and other things he couldn’t do with the Beach Boys. He wanted to try out new styles, a new dynamic, etc. Mike was pissed Brian wrote Darlin’ for them, giving a hit to another band, that kinda idea. Danny doesn’t blame Mike at all for thinking that way, and understands his thought process, but says Mike rubbed a lot of people the wrong way with that attitude.

10) Danny summarizes the group’s dynamic as follows: “Brian was not adversarial, he’d just hide/Dennis was very protective of Brian/Carl was the referee/Mike was just always pushing, always trying to be the alpha male.” Brian wanted to change, Danny speculates that’s why Smiley‘s production was credited to The Beach Boys–to wean them into being more self-assured without him so he could do his own thing.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Cassie, As someone that lived through the 60s I remember that at the time the term “hip” meant to be “with it” I kind of thought of it as a term for middle age people trying to act like they were part of the youth counter culture. To me the whole hip and mod thing seemed like a bunch of pretensions followers. People who acted like they were more enlightened because they appreciated the philosophy of the youth culture. Understood modern art, new age philosophy, used drugs, engaged in sexual immorality, and had “liberal” political views. I remember thinking that instead of innovators they were thoughtless imitators who didn’t think for themselves. As a teen ager I had the image of a hipster as a middle aged man with long hair, wearing a turtle neck sweater under a Nerhru jacket with love beads, kind of reminded me of the people that claimed to see the fine clothes in the story of the Emperors new clothes” kind of a bunch of pretensions fools. Well at least that was my impression at the time, mostly when I was still in High School. Hip was the opposite of square, the opposite of what I thought were the more thoughtful down to earth people. Being Hip was not one of my goals then or now. I prefer independent thinkers that are for what is right not what is “in” or “cool”

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