Two Rock and Roll Miracles

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In a world of short attention spans, 24-hour news cycles, and celebrities who are lucky to get even 15 minutes of fame, it is remarkable that two rock and roll bands have not only withstood the test of time but in fact continue to record and perform in today’s ever more fickle, cutthroat music industry for more than 50 years. The bands are The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones.

It would be unusual for any performer to remain popular and relevant for over five decades, let alone two rock bands. The punishing physicality of rock and roll concert performances, the mental stress, and the free-flowing drugs and party atmosphere so prevalent in the recording business just about guarantees a shorter than normal life expectancy for rockers. In fact that has often been the case with so many, which makes the longevity of The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones such a miracle.

The Beach Boys were formed inHawthorne,Calif., in 1961 and I was the perfect age when “Surfin’” and then “Surfin’ Safari” became hits on the radio the following year. As a 13-year-oldSouthern Californiakid the whole surfing music wave (pardon the pun) washed over me (sorry, I can’t help myself). Like almost every other young teenage boy in my junior high school I started wearing plaid Pendelton board shirts, white Levi’s, and huarache sandals, imitating The Beach Boys look.

But it was the sound of The Beach Boys that really got me. Yes, they had the rock beat but it was their strong melodies and terrific vocal harmonies that pulled me in. The sound of The Beach Boys became my favorite kind of rock and roll music, it still is.   Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Mike Love, Dennis Wilson, and Al Jardine were the seminal five, with David Marks, Bruce Johnston, and even Glenn Campbell filling in at various times.

The up and down story of the group is well known. The Wilson boys’ abusive father, Brian’s nervous breakdowns, the early deaths of Dennis and Carl, the fragmenting of the group and the court battles that lasted for years make up the dark side of The Beach Boys. But the amazing part is that with all the tumult, all the tragedies, the depression, the drugs, the lawsuits, and the infighting, The Beach Boys survive. They have come together again. Now in their seventies they have recorded a new bestselling album, they are on tour performing for fans both old and new, and what’s really great is that on stage and in interviews they smile at each other, they laugh, and you get the impression that they really care for each other. Summer is not over yet and The Beach Boys are still showing us how to have fun in the sun.

The Rolling Stones are something else again. They always seemed to me to be the dark side of the moon, The Beatles being the light side. The Stones were formed inLondonin 1962 with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Ian Stewart, Dick Taylor, and Tony Chapman. A bit later Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts came on board. The story goes that Stewart was kicked out of the band by manager Andrew Loog Oldham because he didn’t have the same skinny long-haired look of the other guys.

It’s surprising that any of The Rolling Stones are still alive given all we’ve been told of their abusive drug usage and crazy lifestyles. My personal theory on that is that a lot of what we’ve been lead to believe is simply an exaggeration. Not to say that these guys didn’t do drugs or play hard, only that maybe they didn’t do it as much as we may think. Just as Frank Sinatra didn’t really smoke and drink as much as we thought. From what I’ve learned, Sinatra never inhaled the smoke from those cigarettes he always lit and he would nurse a drink to last all evening. For Sinatra it was all about the image.

The Rolling Stones never influenced my life as did The Beach Boys. I was never a fan of their music or their stage persona; they always seemed too raunchy, too loud, and too ugly for my taste. But then again I wasn’t the typical teenager. I liked Dixieland Jazz, Big Band, Jolson,Crosby, Ella, Nat, and Perry. Melody, harmony, and uplifting, foot-tapping music were usually my choice. I never liked the screamers.

Nevertheless, The Rolling Stones have lasted for over 50 years. They never spoke to me, but they certainly have been saying something to an awful lot of people for a long time. The Beach Boys did speak to me, however, and have stayed with me to this very day. I bought their latest album and that’s not all. I even bought myself a brand new Pendelton Board shirt! Surf’s up, dude.

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