The Beach Boys…Why?
The fanfare this past week in the music community has been moving along quickly from story to story. Saturday brought the news of Whitney Houston’s death, which in turn led to hastily planned tributes and memorials that most of America witnessed Sunday evening at The Grammy Awards. Now, the narrative has moved on to the announcement of the performers at this year’s upcoming Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Once invoking hysterics only amongst the jam-band set of world travelers, Bonnaroo has morphed into the country’s most recognizable festival, attracting fans worldwide and bands and artists from all musical genres and styles. Bonnaroo has also become the rare cultural event that unites the hipster-cred music snobs and the casual Grammy-watching, Top 40 listening crowds together in anticipation. And though there are hundreds of bands on the docket spread out over four days and a number of different stages, it is the headlining acts that draw the most press. This year, much ado is being made about the selection of The Beach Boys as one of the main draws. Social media is buzzing about their inclusion and scribes are coming back to offer their homage to Brian Wilson’s genius. I’m here to tell you that anyone who is excited about seeing The Beach Boys live is as crazy as Wilson himself was back in his late 60’s period of burnout and instability.
There’s no doubt that The Beach Boys have made some brilliant music that will stand the test of time. Their name and brand is recognizable, the way that Mozart, Beethoven, Dylan, The Beatles, and The Stones’ legacies are. Pet Sounds is one of the greatest musical creations ever and still sounds as sharp as today as it did 46 years ago. But, as anyone who tuned in to The Grammys the other night can attest, their days as a live outfit have long passed. In fact, go back to 1987 and watch the shamelessly cheesy video for the Buffett-lite “Kokomo” and you can see the times had passed them by even then. Sunday night at The Grammys was painful. Mike Love pranced around the stage like the sprightly old man at the retirement home, pointing and smirking at the audience as if he’s trying to impress ol’ Glenda who just moved in the other day. Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks gamely tried to follow, but chances are they couldn’t hear their parts over the cacophony of noise such surroundings bring. And the myriad background musicians lurking in the shadows just overemphasized the fact that the actual Beach Boys aren’t doing much, save for showing up and smiling. And then there’s Wilson. At The Grammys, he was centered in the middle, seated at his piano and singing his verses and background harmonies in what appeared to be great pain. As soon as their number mercifully ended, he leapt up and exited the stage as if he couldn’t stand to be there another second. Not a good omen for an upcoming tour and headlining performance.
Such performances beg the question of why. Why do it? Why subject your legacy to tarnish by going on national television and then headlining giant festivals? Surely, the individual members have enough money to go around for generations, although with the murky nature of the music business, I guess one never knows. Unlike Dylan, Neil Young, or unfortunately in the case of Paul McCartney’s dreadful new album, there is no new music to celebrate and perform. That leaves enjoyment as a possible reason to tour, and from the looks of things, The Beach Boys, with the exception of the preening Love, would rather be anywhere but the stage. It’s depressing in a way. This music should endure and inspire future generations. Instead, folks too young to know better are instead more inclined to simply laugh in the face of these icons and turn their attention elsewhere.