The Politics of The Beach Boys

From The New York Times:

In May, James Werrell, a syndicated columnist for McClatchy, speculated that the real reason behind the incident at the Cranbrook school in the spring of 1965, in which Mitt Romney, then 18, held down another student, John Lauber, and cut his long bleached hair, wasn’t that Lauber was gay, but because he looked like a surfer. It was too radical to have a “bushy bushy blond hairdo,” as the Beach Boys sang in “Surfin’ U.S.A.”

More than four decades later, Romney included “Good Vibrations,” the band’s most psychedelic hit, on one of his Spotify playlists. And at a recent stop in Cincinnati, the Romney campaign played the song not once, but four times before the candidate came to the podium for his stump speech.

Meanwhile, the Beach Boys are enjoying a renaissance. Buoyed by an evergreen songbook and resurgent interest in Brian Wilson, the formerly reclusive genius behind all those glorious harmonies and arrangements, the band is marking its 50th Anniversary by calling a truce.

After the death of Carl Wilson in 1998 (drummer Dennis Wilson died in 1983), the Beach Boys split into two touring factions, with Love and Bruce Johnston touring in one and Al Jardine in the other. Now that Brian Wilson, who had worked solo since 1988, is back in the fold, all three living original members have reunited. There is a new album, a world tour and TV appearances on the Grammys and Jay Leno.

The band’s Independence Day gig, always their largest and highest-profile, will take place on Wednesday at the annual “Stadium of Fire” event on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. With that part of the country being both a Republican and a Mormon stronghold, and this being an election year, it’s worth remembering that the Beach Boys, like the country itself, have several conflicting legacies to reckon with.

On the one hand, we have our country’s first, and to many ears its best, rock ‘n roll band, our only rival to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Revived interest in Wilson’s artistry and its influence on a new generation has been a large part of this reevaluation. It culminated last year, when the band’s legendary album, “Smile,” shelved in 1967 after squabbles over its radical musical departure, was finally released. Wilson’s “teenage symphony to God” is now rightly hailed as a masterpiece, receiving the Obama generation’s stamp of approval with a perfect 10 from Pitchfork, the indie music aficionado Web site.

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