Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys
Capitol, May 16, 1966
Track Listing: 1. Wouldn’t It Be Nice, 2. You Still Believe in Me, 3. That’s Not Me, 4. Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder), 5. I’m Waiting for the Day, 6. Let’s Go Away for Awhile, 7. Sloop John B, 8. God Only Knows, 9. I Know There’s an Answer, 10. Here Today, 11. I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times, 12. Pet Sounds, 13. Caroline, No
“Well I feel so broke up
I want to go home”
-from “Sloop John B”
Sneak attack, like how it was the other night when a TV show blindsided me, triggering recollection of a phone call I had with my grandpa back when he was laid up in bed dying. I am ashamed I didn’t say the right words, didn’t convey the right level of appreciation, not that he called me out on it. But why didn’t I try harder? I didn’t thank him enough, at least not like I should have and not just for giving me his precious ’75 Nova either, but for all of it. With respect to the car, maybe my gratitude was deliberately muted because I knew his car was never mine to take. I can still see him driving it around town, waving to everybody and I mean everybody because they were all his friends and I can see their smiles and hear them shouting back, “Hey Birky!”
“God only knows what I’d be without you”
-from “God Only Knows”
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were younger? If only it was summer, endless summer, and we were at Montrose and Central and the biggest worry of the day would be how to come to a consensus over the proper ranking of albums by The Beatles, Stones, and Beach Boys. A fixer-upper sky blue ’58 Chevy would still be in our driveway—for that matter our driveway would still be our driveway—and we would all be standing there waiting our turn to look up at the rings of Saturn through Dad’s amazing telescope, only this time we would look just a little bit longer, a little bit longer.
“Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true”
-from “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”
My brothers were bigger Beach Boy fans than me. Tunnel vision and The Beatles kept me sufficiently satisfied but that is one of the many great things about having siblings or at least having siblings with good taste. The music that they play spills out from their rooms, inevitably seeping into your subconscious. The Beach Boys were on heavy rotation with both my brothers. This is how I would be introduced to other greats as well, like Jimi, The Clash, CCR, Minutemen, and many others.
I remember thinking that The Beach Boys were surf music and nothing more, not that there was anything wrong with that. The harmonies were heavenly, the melodies great. But we lived in the Midwest and so it was hard for me to relate beyond simply digging the cool hooks and good vibrations. But then one day Pet Sounds found its way into the house and one of my brothers developed a Brian Wilson-like obsession towards it. Next thing I know I am hearing it over and over and over. The thing that struck me is that the happy surf music seemed to have taken a turn towards sadness but I was not exactly sure if that was more my own projection or whether indeed their music had in fact shifted. One thing was certain, whether I knew it then or not: Pet Sounds was the first album beyond anything in the The Beatles catalog that gave me pause to listen more closely than before.
“I know there’s an answer
I know now but I have to find it by myself”
-from “I Know There’s an Answer”
Today, it’s easier to understand why the songs on Pet Songs make me feel sad. Just as I understand better why a scene in a TV show of a grandfather giving his prized car to his grandson cuts me up. Life experience adds layers upon layers of perspective. I understand how much weight a phone call can carry over a lifetime and how all the things we leave unsaid can cement into such deep regret. I certainly concur with that age old lament that meant nothing to me as a kid: time flies. One day, I am on top of the world in the back seat of a car with grandpa at the wheel and the next minute, my hero is gone.
“Keep in mind love is here today
And it’s gone tomorrow
It’s here and gone so fast”
-from “Here Today”
Back in the driveway of my dreams, I see our family mutt—a schnauzer mix—running back and forth with all the energy of a pup. Such a great dog. Just like my Boston Terrier is now. A perfect little angel. As I am jotting these thoughts down, I am listening to his congestion caused by spring allergies, and it worries me because it sounds worse than last year or the year before that. I see him slowing down more than ever before and it’s like that TV show all over again when out of nowhere, a wave of sadness engulfs me.
“How could you lose that happy glow?”
-from “Caroline, No”
But I get it. It’s all part of the game. I just got back from visiting my parents and my 96-year-old grandma. The visits are a blessing of course, at least until I get back home and other thoughts creep in.
“I’ve been trying hard to find the people
That I won’t leave behind”
-from “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times”
It’s way too easy to get trapped in depression especially with regards to the inescapable sadness inherent with losing those you love. I think that is why Brian Wilson’s music is so amazing to me and I understand better the thing that was awakened in me when I first started hearing Pet Sounds. It was an understanding or acceptance that sadness can actually be beautiful too. Brian Wilson wrapped sadness and melancholy into such gorgeous arrangements and melodies that it made you want to listen again and again, undeterred by any emotions conjured.
I will always regret all the things I left unsaid to my grandpa. But likewise, I will always be happy for any memory of him—even the one of the phone call that fills my heart with remorse—to come around, anytime because now I get to be the one that waves back in joyous salute, exclaiming, “Hey Birky!”