Jesse Jarnow

the nearest faraway place

The newsman sez that the Beach Boys “reunited” the other day, which apparently means that Mike Love and Brian Wilson met on the roof of Capitol Records for a promotional event and managed to have a public conversation without slapping the other with a lawsuit. The Beach Boys’ story is one act in a long family saga that didn’t get too particularly weird until the Boys themselves came around.

Late Billboard editor Timothy White’s The Nearest Faraway Place: Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys, and the Southern California Experience is one of my favorite rock bios. White is less interested in placing the Boys in pop history as he is in an exacting contextualization of them as the product of a Southern California family in the mid-20th century. It’s really beautiful stuff.

From all [Brian Wilson] had been taught, from every risk taken in his own family tree, from what he could see and guess about the pain in his milieu and its sources, he believed he had no choice but to trust in the power of improvisation.

Southern California was itself an improvisation. As a Los Angeles newspaper columnists of decades past once quipped, in these parts “tomorrow isn’t another day, it’s another town.” Like his sunshine-bound forebears, Brian Wilson believed in the idea of California more than the fact of himself, feeling that the energy focused on the romantic concept could carry over into the substance of his existence.

The impossible hope that runs through this story live a river, bending, swerving, and nearly reversing itself over the course of five generations, is that California could eventually expand to become more than a mere destination, that the land of sun would finally fulfill its unreal promise as Improvisation Rewarded — the shortcuts of heart songs alchemized into the intricate accomplishment of a sonata.