John Carlson: They Don’t Write ‘Em Like…

Need some feel-good music? Look no further. Photo by: Nancy CarlsonNeed some feel-good music? Look no further. Photo by: Nancy Carlson

By: John Carlson—

While listening to music recently, it struck me that someday we’re going to wake up and learn that Brian Wilson, founder of The Beach Boys, has left us, and I’m going to get real depressed. Ditto for Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

That’s assuming Keith isn’t dead already, and what’s been walking around the last 20 years is actually his hologram.

But The Beach Boys? Their being homegrown American legends, it may be that Brian’s loss stings a little worse. It could arguably be the day the music really dies, which won’t sit well with my friends and me who grew up to the sounds of The Beach Boys’ classics like “I Get Around.”

We lived that song.

Well, we sorta lived it. We were the teenage sons of Baptists. The teenage sons of Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics  and the unchurched were the ones living it more, going to dances, guzzling Strohs and stuff. When my buddies and I were “getting around,” it was mostly to Wednesday night prayer meetings.

But just like the groovy dudes in that song, though our school class numbered more than 600 kids, my pals Dave, Tim and I ranked about third-through-fifth on Elyria High’s popularity scale.

From the bottom, I mean.

But with “I Get Around” on the record player, for two minutes and 14 seconds it was possible to think we were those “cool heads” who played football, wore letter jackets and dated cheerleaders. This was even while we were hunkered in a basement chugging Fizzies, the only girls being in the Playboy magazines we’d risked our lives to sneak downstairs.

And the cars! No performers ever did more to promote the American car culture than The Beach Boys, with an occasional assist from Jan and Dean.

Having spent hours listening to songs like “Our Car Club,” “409” and “Shut Down,” we’d be out there cruising around, looking for some action after Sunday night services, reveling in the incredibly meaningful lyrics. Take the ones to “Little Deuce Coupe.”

“She’s ported and relieved and she’s stroked and bored,” we’d sing enthusiastically, like we actually knew what any of that meant. I mean, sure, we knew what “bored” meant. Speaking strictly for myself, I was bored with having my butt dragged to church all the time. “Stroked”? It was our wildest fantasy. Ditto for “relieved.” But “ported”?

Maybe it was about driving onto ferry boats!

Of course, in those days of the emerging American muscle car, we were relegated to driving our family flivvers until we’d saved enough burger-slinging money to buy Corvettes. Meanwhile, our machines were ones that even the nerds riding Honda 50s could beat.

We couldn’t complain, though, when poor kids in China were racing rickshaws.

Nor did they have surfboards.

But we here in the Midwest didn’t have surfboards either. That makes the nationwide popularity of surf music the most obvious evidence of Brian’s genius as a songwriter. If we couldn’t get to the surf, he brought the surf to us.

I can’t imagine how kids around Muncie made that leap to surf music, but make that leap they did. At least where I grew up just west of Cleveland, we had a pretty decent hunk of choppy water called Lake Erie to look at.

On the other hand, were you to go there and try to “Catch a Wave,” the only things you were liable to catch were a dead carp in your swim trunks, some disgusting stuff stuck to your surfboard and a boffo case of ptomaine poisoning.

Nevertheless, there were lots of us walking around up there humming”Surfin’ Safari” and  “Surfing USA,” and getting all moon-eyed over the thought of some gorgeous, long-haired “Surfer Girl,” frolicking in the sand.

Speaking of which, more than getting around, hot cars and surfing, Brian was the best at writing and producing songs about girls. Interacting with girls. Flirting with girls. Singing the praises of girls. Giving God thanks for girls.

Girls. Period.

These and other girl topics were addressed in songs like “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” and “Don’t Worry Baby.” Then there was “Darlin’” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “California Girls” and “Caroline No,” plus plenty more.

But of course, the best of them all was “God Only Knows.”

Brian, being the brains of The Beach Boys, pulled out all the stops producing the album “Pet Sounds,” proving to be the incredible artist that he remains. When he tapped his younger brother Carl to sing lead on “God Only Knows,” I once read, the younger Wilson was extremely grateful. Carl, who would die much too young of cancer at age 51, knew with that song, his older brother had assured him a measure of musical immortality.

Anyway, there are days when I just have to sit around listening to The Beach Boys’ music for an hour or two. This spurs feelings of gratitude for having grown up attuned to that time, that band, and its special, special leader.

It never fails to put  a smile on my face, and how many things can you say that about these days?



A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on Muncie Journal every Friday.