Smile, Smile... SMiLE

by Greg Panfile

(c) Greg Panfile 2004 all rights reserved

(*first movement*)

Our Prayer/Gee. It was back in college, in the dorm. A pal invited me in to smoke up and listen to this new thing he'd bought that would blow my mind. "You'll never believe who this is." Toke, toke, toke, headphones. "A diamond neckace played the pawn, hand in hand, some drummed along to a handsome mannered baton." INCREDIBLE music with it. "What is that?" "THE BEACH BOYS! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?" The Beach Boys... commercial band, singles only, bad lyrics, now members of a cult the Beatles left years ago. Yeah, right. Heroes and Villains. Working on an article about the Beatles and the Maharishi called "Inner Lite." Arguing with Doug Sulpy, editor of a Beatle zine... he won't publish it because some TM associate claims it's inaccurate. But I ask him if there are any good new Beatle boots coming out soon. He replies, no, but if you're a Beach Boys fan, Vigotone is coming out with Smile soon. I seem to recall hearing of it, the lost unreleased masterpiece. I buy it. It scares, allures, changes me. It is too big to take in. It forces me to finish and record and produce my own material if only to avoid that fate. Ten years later I cash my first BMI royalty checks for two songs used on national television broadcasts. Used, because they were finished. Thanks, Brian.

Roll Plymouth Rock. Years later, I write a piece about Smile, how can you not if you are silly enough to "dance about architecture." I hope against hope that Brian can finish it someday, somehow, but don't want it to be lame or to drive him even crazier. Word leaks out a few years later that Brian has "a plan" for Smile. Few believe it, many don't want it to happen. They prefer the sweetness of melancholy and the sentimental tragedy, Moses forever imprisoned in stone, Leonardo dead. Bullshit.

Barnyard. Brian on tour with Pet Sounds. That part of the show is great, and so is the encore of hits. No need for any Beach Boys, we have the auteur and some great singers and players. But as the prelude, the orchestra does a very Smile-heavy instrumental intro. It works, it's beautiful. It means more than it appears to at the time.

Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine. The word comes, they are doing Smile live in England. Within days, I figure out how to do bit torrents and download a bootleg of the live show. It's excellent. It works. It's Smile. The most improbable, ridiculous, beautiful thing to ever happen in American popular music is real. They're headed to the studio. There's a release date. You have got to be kidding me! THIRTY-SEVEN YEARS????

Cabin Essence. It's a Tuesday, and it's raining. I look at the clock and it's almost two thirty in the afternoon and I haven't gotten it yet. I think about waiting seven hours and heading for Boston, just so I can drive "downtown in the rain 9:30 on a Tuesday night" just like Barenaked Ladies did. Silly. I buy it and put it on. And then there is a sound, acapella, from heaven, and it's all real, it really happened...

(*second movement*)

Wonderful. Years ago I had written, in response to some questions in newsgroups and so on, that it seemed to me (based on the Vigotone boot) that Smile was "a musical meditation on the American and Californian Dream, its darkside as well as its positive aspects." Duh! Yes indeed. It now emerges as a survey course in American sonorities and tonalities from pre-Columbian times through the art-pop era of Bachrach, Bernstein, Sondheim, and Brian Wilson. That's how they are going to view this one in the future, and that's Brian's place in musical history, and this cements it, and we were all right about him all along, and that is... wonderful.

Song for Children. The scope of this thing is amazing, in every possible way... its coverage of history is hundreds of years, of geography, thousands of miles. It's a really big piece... at this length (just above 46 minutes or so) it would not have fit on a single vinyl LP, and really benefits from the CD format so you can play it all through, no flipping or artificial breaks (contrast with the four sides of Tommy or the two of Thick as a Brick). This creates a flow that the earlier medium simply would not have supported, and is one of the many excellent positive side effects of the absolutely surreal 37 year elapsed time from conception to release.

Child is Father of the Man. In comparison, West Side Story is in two parts, with 16 songs or subparts, and runs about 56 minutes. Beethoven's Seventh Symphony is four movements, five parts or "songs," and about 45 minutes. It may not be a teenage symphony to God, perhaps it never was... but it certainly is a young man's symphony to America, and it bears the mark of God. Knowing this story, and hearing this CD, it is impossible to imagine that there is not a higher intelligence behind this universe. End of story.

Surf's Up. It's America in all its wondrous optimism, its naive hope, its ignorant self-obsession. We are heroes, and villains, we built a great country, we slaughtered the natives. We made glorious music in saloons and shot one another with lead over gold. We gave the world unprecedented destruction and incredible music that came from no other culture. We met the enemy, and he was us.

(*third movement*)

I'm In Great Shape/I Wanna Be Around/Workshop. Years ago I wrote that we, fans, Americans, humans as a whole, did not get the real Smile because we didn't deserve it. That may or may not have been true at the time, and it may still be true. What is certain is that we got this, and perhaps it is because despite not being deserving, we desperately NEEDED it. What other CD by anyone this year (2004) is remotely as significant? Do you remember the top headlines in music a week ago? I do. It was about the second wedding of a former female Mouseketeer, who has contributed absolutely nothing to American or world culture AT ALL, to a dancer. Thank you, Brian.

Vega-Tables. Rumor had it that on the bootleg, one of the sounds on this track was Paul McCartney. So let's do it. Sgt. Pepper vs. Smile is... 1967 versus 300 years. England versus America. Indoors versus out. Music hall versus the wide open prairie and the endless beach. A moment in time versus eternity. Apples versus oranges. Over time, this will be true: Sgt. Pepper was perfect in its time, defined its moment, and will always be remembered for that. Smile is a vastly superior and more endearing piece of art, in any context, even moreso thanks to its complex, dark, and utterly suprising history.

On A Holiday. What's now clear is that while the bootlegs, such as the somewhat definitive Vigotone one mentioned earlier, were 95% there musically, lyrically there were indeed wide gaps. Once Mike Love had driven Van Dyke Parks away with his idiotic and shallow comments, there was no way the piece could be finished. The key moment in this phase was clearly when Brian called him in and Van Dyke showed up. "Over and over the crow cries uncover the cornfield" sings perfectly well with Brian on the lead rather than Mike, and makes perfect sense poetically in at least two ways. The final triumph on this and all related questions goes to Brian and Van Dyke, and Mr. Love is left with his hats, beard, mantra, and what, eighth wife? And no talent.

Wind Chimes. One thing I had feared, besides Smile not being good if Brian finished it, was that it would not be well received or understood. Fortunately this matter seemed settled by the English concerts... the fan reception and the critical reviews, plus the sound I could hear on my very clear downloaded bit torrented boot of same, made it very probable that we were in for a great CD and at least a majority positive reception. Maybe it's the lack of anything else really good happening musically (or otherwise, except for comedy and Quentin Tarantino) in our very mentally ill society right now, maybe it's the sentimental and nostalgic appeal of the entire five-decade saga of Smile (one can envision the album being played by Mickey Rooney in a black and white Thirties movie... brilliant orphan, abandoned, wanders through dark alleys and indentured servitude for thirty years, and eventually opens on Broadway), or maybe it's just that Brian Wilson is a musical genius and all of this material has always been as excellent as we fans who wandered in the desert with it for so long... but the critics are getting it, the performance on Letterman was excellent, and we are on our way to a great sales record and album of the year and a Grammy. With so little competition it will be sort of easy. That would not have been the case in '67. Who'd a thunk it? How unlikely can something be and still be true?

Mrs. O'Leary's Cow. The packaging of the legitimate release is so like the Vigotone boot... CD and booklet, same color tones, track listings on the back, the only thing missing is the Smile Shop. The illustrations, so American in that commercial etching style, the songs, like the centerfold, precious, colorful, sometimes cheesy miniatures suggestive and evocative of larger, more real things, but not the same, and beautiful in their own way. Sometimes childlike, but never childish. That cover... are we thinking Blake by way of Aldous Huxley here, the doors of perception being unlocked so that people can see the universe for what it is, infinite? Is that the game here?

In Blue Hawaii. Critical to this collection is the way Brian brought with him all his own influences, from throughout American musical history, and even his own past... Smile does not disavow surf music so much as incorporate it as part of American music and then go beyond it to walk among the greats mentioned earlier... Porter, Bachrach, Sondheim, Bernstein, Brian Wilson's peers. In this collection, in reality, there is no such thing as "genre" or "style;" there is only music, and thought, and feeling, and the interplay between the three. At some point analysis becomes paralysis, and the only way to move rather than freeze is to stop thinking, stop talking, and play, listen, feel, be. And then... smile.

Good Vibrations. I have exactly one musical criticism to offer about this CD. I miss the low end on the final track, Good Vibrations. It's a tad slow and the bass simply does not have that bite and carry the tune the way it did on the old track. I don't know if people were tired, or somebody lost an argument, or it was about playing it safe with modern stereo systems or what. That is the one thing I would fix musically, seriously, although there's an occasional pickup note or two in Wonderful on the Vigotone set that doesn't seem to have made its way here. But this is an artifact, it's flawed by the very nature of being brought from the world of symbols and archetypes down to the dirty meaterial plain where we spend our fretful hours on the stage. The scars prove that it's leather. The sound of this CD, the knowledge that it's complete, up there on the wall, points on the board, a legend and a tragedy no more, just a beautiful piece of music from a genius, that is what's important. The Smile on Brian's face on the inside cover of the booklet, the knowledge that some part of him at last is at peace in the only way it ever could be, by doing this, by giving it to us, and having us love it. He even thanks us, the fans, because that's the kind of person he is.

No, Brian. Thank YOU.

Smile.