It was “I Get Around.”
Before the Beatles there was music, but that band woke us all up, got us all addicted. They infected not only television and radio but the jukebox too, where I heard all their songs at Nutmeg Bowl, where we went bowling every Friday with our sixth grade class, where I was a league member on Saturday mornings, did I ever tell you I had my own ball?
That’s where we were the day President Kennedy got shot. We found out when Mrs. Taylor, the seventh grade teacher, came downstairs to our faraway room, she was crying. We didn’t believe it, but there was no internet back then, certainly no television in classrooms, we wanted to go bowling and when the bus pulled up we got on and rolled away. But I distinctly remember watching the TV at the lounge at the lanes, waiting for the bus to go home, finding out that our President was truly gone.
Now before the Beatles I did love the Four Seasons, still do. I hate that they’re now called “Franki Valli and…,” you never want to mess with someone’s memories, their illusion of a group, and Bob Gaudio deserves so much credit. And around the same time I loved “Dawn (Go Away),” it was and still is my favorite, I bought the single.
But I bought Beach Boys albums.
Not right away. But hearing Mike Love sing about teenage life in “I Get Around” at Nutmeg Bowl I was possessed with the possibilities, and the background vocals in the chorus, this was not the moment I decided I wanted to live in California, that came earlier, with all the TV shows filmed there, but this cemented the deal.
But I didn’t buy a Beach Boys LP until the following summer, when I rode my bike down the hill to the discount store to purchase “Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)” on the day it was released, to own “California Girls.” “Good Vibrations” gets all the accolades these days, but “California Girls” was an equal breakthrough, with its lengthy instrumental background when that was unheard of on the radio and then the loping intro to the verses about how much better it was on the west coast, and still is, don’t pay attention to the stories saying otherwise, those people are just jealous.
And at this point, my favorite cut on “Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)” is “Girl Don’t Tell Me,” which reminds me of camp, those exquisite days that lasted only a month, which I lamented the passage of for the other eleven. And for Carl Wilson’s vocal. He’s gone and he’s been forgotten but his voice had a quality of wistfulness and honesty. He wasn’t different, but just like a guy you went to high school with, he was a gem.
And from there, I was on a tear.
I bought “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and tried to comb my locks like Dennis Wilson’s on the back cover.
And “Surfin’ Safari,” with not only the band’s first hit and the title cut, but the consummate car song, “409.”
I was filling in holes, I bought “Shut Down Volume 2,” with the indelible “Pop, Pom Play Girl,” never mind “Fun, Fun, Fun.”
And “The Beach Boys Today!”
But not everything. Because money was precious. And I tracked the cuts, decided what I absolutely needed to own.
And then Ellen gave me “All Summer Long” and “Surfer Girl” for my birthday.
Not actually on my birthday, she said she’d call, we’d do something, but she didn’t. So I drove with my relatives to Boston and stayed with my camp friend Ronnie and got stoned for the very first time on my actual seventeenth birthday and went to see “Woodstock,” and when I got back to school the following week Ellen gave me those two records wrapped in yarn which made me wish I’d hung around in Connecticut, but I hadn’t.
“All Summer Long” is the one with “I Get Around,” as well as “Don’t Back Down,” which Lyndon used to sing before he got in the Saab to go surfing.
But “Surfer Girl” contains “In My Room.”
Not that that’s my favorite cut on the album, that would be “Catch A Wave,” with its harp, which Jan & Dean rewrote as “Sidewalk Surfin’.”
But it was “In My Room” I’ve been singing to myself the past few days, it came to me while I was reading my book, Meg Wolitzer’s “The Female Persuasion.”
I loved her previous work, “The Interestings,” speaking of summer camp, and this new one didn’t get as good reviews, and it deals with feminism and #MeToo issues, but that didn’t turn me off, you fall in love with the creator and you follow them wherever they might go.
And where she went was to college. And high school before that.
I didn’t anticipate this. What I got were the interior thoughts of the protagonist Greer, who had checked-out, stoner parents, who’d failed to fill out the financial forms adequately so she couldn’t attend Yale, but a B minus school which offered a free ride.
And it’s there where she encounters the famous feminist, Faith Frank.
Never underestimate the power of the individual to have an influence on you.
And to tell you the truth, “The Female Persuasion” wobbles. Sometimes there’s plenty of plot, and sometimes there’s too much feminism, but there are moments of truth and insights into life, turns out everybody stumbles, and we all pass the torch to the next generation.
And I was thinking about how much I was enjoying reading this book, in the dark, by the light of my backlit Kindle, alone, after midnight. This is my time, when the iMessages and e-mails slow down, when I have room to move, when I’m uninterrupted, when my mind is set free and the ideas come. In a perfect world I’d wake up at noon and go to bed at four, and I did that for decades, but the truth is no one else can handle it, but it’s great for creativity.
And I’m thinking about this feeling, of being alone and reading and resonating. And I hear Brian Wilson singing in the background…
“There’s a world where I can go
And tell my secrets to
In my room
In my room”
I didn’t share one, it was mine only, being the only boy in the family. It was late to a window air-conditioner, there was frost on the windows in the winter, but when I shut the door I could dream and be my best self.
“I this world I lock out
All my worries and my fears
In my room
In my room”
After midnight it’s not only too late to go to the doctor, but too late for bill collectors to call. Everything goes quiet. Nothing will happen till the next day, you’re free.
“Now it’s dark and I’m alone
But I won’t be afraid
In my room
In my room”
It’s gonna be my birthday again soon. Getting old is so weird, kinda like that Joe Walsh song, everything is so different but I haven’t changed. Never mind the internet and cell phones, but so much I relied on, as bedrock, is gone. Oh, there are fumes of classic rock. And it’s a golden age of television, but I’m never going back to summer camp and friends of mine are actually dead and eventually, I will be too and the longer I live the less I know, even though I know more than I ever did.
And I wonder how these musicians of yore knew so much at their young age. How they created these concoctions that struck our hearts and still do.
I vacillate, from wanting to be integrated and wanting to be alone. Do either one long enough and I want to do the other.
But these records, they’re embedded in my brain, part of my DNA, they help explain my life, when I’m lying on the couch in the middle of the night staring at the ceiling wondering what it’s all about.