Brian Wilson on Smile

7 10 2011

After 44 years, the Beach Boys are set to release the most famous (and infamous) unreleased album of all time, Smile.  Brian has been talking to the press lately about Smile, both its past and where it stands at present.  Here are some bits from one of his most recent interviews:

When you listen to “Smile” now, what words come to mind?

Childhood. Freedom. A rejection of adult rules and adult conformity. Our message was, “Adults keep out. This is about the spirit of youth.”

What’s the best way to describe the album?

A teenage symphony to God. That’s how Van Dyke, my collaborator, described it. It’s a teen’s expression of joy and amazement. It’s unrestrained. We thought of ourselves as teens then, even though we were in our 20s.

Was “Smile” an American response to English rock?

Not at all. We weren’t in competition with anyone on “Smile.” I was on heavy drugs—LSD and marijuana. We had no idea what people would expect. There was a lot going on.

What was the “Smile” concept?

Van Dyke and I wanted “Smile” to be a musical tour of America through the eyes of kids—from Plymouth Rock to Diamond Head. We wanted to show people how American music had evolved over the years.

Marc Myers: What was your obsession with youth on Smile?
Brian Wilson: We lose our childhood spirit as we grow older. When you hear this music, it takes you back to your childhood. That’s one of the reasons why we released all the tapes now. We want people to get a taste of what we were into. We want them to flash back to their youth.

MM: Smile was originally going to be called Dumb Angel?
BW: Yes. I was stoned one night sitting in my office in my home in Beverly Hills. I said to myself, “Dumb Angel. Hmmm, hey that’s going to be the name of the album.” I told [lyricist] Van Dyke Parks. He said, “No way. We’re going to call it Smile. I said, “Alright you win.” He said, “Alright, I win.”

MM: You didn’t put up a fight?
BW: Nah. Smile was better. More happier. No one would have understood Dumb Angel anyway.

MM: Do you hear Smile on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s?

MM: You don’t hear Surf’s Up in Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane?
BW: No, no way.*

*It’s hard to imagine that “Surf’s Up” could have been an influence on “Strawberry Fields Forever” considering that recording for both songs began in November 1966.  SFF was completed by the beginning of 1967 and “Surf’s Up” was shelved about the same time, not to see the light of day for several more years.  This seems like a very odd question to have asked in light of that.



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