Into the Mystic? The Undergrounding of Brian Wilson, 1964-1967

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Between 1964 and 1967 the music of The Beach Boys underwent significant change, not least in relation to its thematic profile and textual content. During the early years of the group’s recording career chief songwriter Brian Wilson had, alone and in association with a number of lyricists, addressed a limited set of closely-related concerns, particularly romance, cars and southern California’s surfing sub-culture. From late 1964 onwards, however, the focus, tenor and substance of Wilson’s songs began to change: on the one hand, moving in a more introspective, reflective direction; on the other, pursuing a less parochial compass to address major historical, social and cultural concerns.

The chapter seeks to explore this, in some ways, paradoxical trajectory. More precisely it endeavors to explain and interpret the deepening of Brian Wilson’s creative vision and its musical expressions. In large part it does so by placing Wilson within the social and cultural context of the burgeoning Los Angeles – but ultimately trans-national – underground scene of these years. It traces the major lineaments and contours of the city’s nascent counter-culture, ranging from its indebtedness to earlier west coast beat and folk music sub-cultures via its relationship with dissident urban politics and journalism to its absorption of psychedelics and other alternative cultural practices in the region. It rehearses Wilson’s growing proximity to these influences via his changing circles of group members, collaborators, family and friends, within and around the music business. And it illustrates the results of these novel social and cultural intersections through his studio work during 1966 and 1967.

Its title intended to question the extent to which Brian Wilson was prepared, felt able or won support for a voyage into the underground’s deeper territories, the chapter pursues the thesis that its subject sought to embrace but, for a variety of reasons, was unable fully to grasp the counter-culture. For good and ill, it adds, the resultant tensions were written into the work he pursued during this period. The chapter draws on a range of primary and secondary sources, as well as interviews with figures involved in the scene at the time.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGood Vibrations: : Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys in Critical Perspective
EditorsPhilip Lambert
Number of pages21
Place of publicationAnn Arbor
PublisherUniversity of Michigan Press
Publication year2016
ISBN (print)978-0-472-11995-0
ISBN (Electronic)978-0-472-12227-1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
SeriesTracking Pop

    Research areas

  • popular music, Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, Beach Boys, Smile, psychedelia

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