Thursday, June 30, 2011

"When I Grow Up To Be A Man"...

"Will I dig the same things that turn me on as a kid?"
Anyone who knows me knows I am a Beach Boys fan. When you grow up in a musical town like New Orleans, you hear and are influenced by so many great sounds. Obviously, this gumbo was greatly influenced by Dixieland Jazz, NOR&B, Motown and Stax soul and later the Neville funk. At sock hops, until the British Invasion, we danced slowly to Smokey, and Otis and Bobby"Blue"Bland. Our fast sets were to the likes of James Brown, Sam and Dave and the "Wicked Pickett!"

As a eight year old, I remember my mom and dad dancing amongst the mosquitoes at company picnics till long after dark. They danced to Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, but they also boogied to songs like "You Rascal You," "Caledonia," "Muskat Ramble," and local tunes by Fats, Little Richard, and Louie Prima. Boy, they sure were great dancers especially my dad, who had other ladies waiting in line to dance with him... whenever mom had to stop to catch her breath.

My father always had a song to sing. When we were real young, Adele was ten, I was seven and my little sister, Rebecca, was five, dad would sing us at least one tune before turning out the light. We all slept in one bed, so when he sang, he sang to we three. "Tennessee Waltz," "How Much Is That Doggy in the Window," "Peg of My Heart," "Sunny Side of the Street," "Bye Bye Blackbird," "I'm in Love With You, Honey!" "High Hopes" were all tunes he would mangled lyrically, but sing ever so sweetly, musically.

After my dad lost his job with the phone company, things went to hell pretty quickly, but we shared baseball and listening to popular tunes on the car radio from the radio station, WSMB. For some reason, I gravitated to the instrumentals like Stranger on the Shore, Alley Cat, That Happy Feeling, Honky Tonk, Yakety-Sax, Whipped Cream and many others. Lyrics were silly, mushy or incoherent, but the melodies always stuck with me. Doo Wop songs that mimicked instruments were also big and I loved the harmonies and the cross melodies. The Ink Spots, The Mills Brothers, The Ames Brothers, The Robins, The Crows, The Flamingoes, The Platters were mostly black and super smooth. But, when I heard the Four Freshman, the Four Aces, the Limelighters, and the early college folk music stuff, I heard a different kind of doo wop sound. And many of my favorite instrumentals were on that new fangled, twangy instrument played by the likes of Duane Eddy, Santo and Johnny, and Tom and Jerry. I was hooked and begged mom to purchase me a guitar... any kind of guitar, even pedal steel, which I knew nothing about!

Well, everyone knows the explosion that happened mid-fifties with Elvis, Fats, Little Richard and all those great rockers including Chuck Berry, who, one could argue did more for the guitar and rock 'n roll than anyone until Jimi Hendrix exploded on the scene. There's nothing here I can add to all the great essays and books out there on rock 'n roll, but for a kid at fourteen or so, looking to replace all that black and rockabilly music with something else and not having my dad around to sing with, I bumped into the perfect combination when I first heard Jan and Dean's,"Baby Talk", Dick Dale's, "Let's Go Trippin" and the Beach Boys,"Surfin' USA".

As our family grew, so did my responsibilities and so did the arguments between my mom and dad. With the anxieties, the tension and strife that, to this day, defines our family psyche,  I'd go to bed listening to those beautiful melodies, cross harmonies and hauntingly painful wails of my new hero, Brian Wilson and find solace.

To many, Brian's falsetto singing was considered too girlie or fake like Frankie Valli's helium highs, but what I heard was his expression of pain, a pain I felt I shared with him. I found some kind of release as I hit the high notes. It was so soothing and cleansing to do so, like a blues singer or chain gang prisoner sang to help ease their sorrow. It was something to me so primal, so mournful and yet soulful enough to stir the heart of every wolf to ever throw back their head and howl on a moon lit night. Within my room, whether it was a slow song or a fast one, his voice sent me away to the nearest faraway place I could find just as fast as I could find it. In so many ways, he helped me get through the night and in so many ways, he helped me survive the sixties and early seventies.

Thanks Brian, thanks Beach Boys!

P.S. Notice there's no mention of surf, sand, boobs and babes, polka-dot bikinis or beach blanket bingos. That never was the Beach Boys to me!

Copyright 2011/ Ben Bensen III

1 comment:

  1. I created this montage a billion years ago and I remember a friend was horrified that I glued these well-worn '45's to the art. A story about going to my nearest faraway place!