Beach Boys Reunion Film Doin' It Again Offers More Than Memories

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Boys to Men to Genius
Music vet and
New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares observations, insights, and updates relating to South Florida's musical environs. This week, 50 years on, the Beach Boys matter more than ever.

I received a new Beach Boys DVD recently, aptly titled Doin' It Again. After I watched it, I have to admit, I found myself a bit choked up with sentiment. It's the latest in a series of salutes to the band's 50th anniversary, a celebration that included a terrific reunion album, That's Why God Made the Radio; the single of the same name; and a reunion tour that brought them to South Florida and the nation a few months ago for a victory lap that affirmed their place in America's rock firmament. 

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Of course, two of the Wilson brothers -- Dennis and Carl -- are no longer with us, causing some (yours truly included) to wonder what kind of reunion they could mount without two of the essential members. I can now admit, I was wrong. Yes, the new DVD offers a reverent tribute to those two men, all in the service of the group's ongoing trajectory. Yet the most moving portions of the documentary are conveyed not only through spoken word but also in the archival clips that show these young and eager musicians when they were first starting out on the road to fame, fortune, and future brilliance.

It's easy getting caught up in nostalgia while viewing these old stills and videos -- one heretofore film of the band creating its epochal "Good Vibrations" is especially astounding -- but somehow the very word nostalgia seems sadly inaccurate and underwhelming in this context. 

Admittedly, when I first encountered the Beach Boys as a young fan, bowled over by the Beatles, Stones, and all things British, I considered them kind of square, what with their white chinos, striped shirts, and that preening lead singer, Mike Love. But as I evolved in my thinking and they evolved in their music, I gained an appreciation that lingers to this day. It revolves around those breathless harmonies; Brian Wilson's remarkable, heartfelt melodies ("teenage symphonies to God," he once called them); and the sheer endurance of boys, now men, bound together by a bond that seems heaven-sent.

"If they'd told me back in the '60s that we'd be doing this in 2012, I would've said, 'You're crazy,'" Brian Wilson tells an interviewer, looking far more lucid on camera than he has in concert lately. "There's a special chemistry between the five of us. We love each other, and it comes out in our music, in our harmonies."

Indeed it does. All those sentiments are celebrated in this wonderful film, ideals that are evident in every interview, every one of those dusty home movies... And most especially in the live performances that grace the current tour. One of the many things that distinguishes the Beach Boys from their peers is that their songs never get tiresome, no matter how many times you hear them. The joy that emanates from "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Fun Fun Fun," "Little Deuce Coupe," "California Girls," "Good Vibrations," "Surfin' USA," and all the other up-tempo tunes that bounded from Brian's pen remains undiminished by time, even 50 years on. They're palpable and contagious in a way that few other works of art have ever been.

Consequently, enjoying the Beach Boys now becomes more than a matter of reshuffling some old memories. It becomes a reminder of the innocence that once characterized an era and the possibilities that are often forgotten in the midst of the hard realities of today's world. At the same time, the film tweaks our emotions with a certain sadness that comes with the realization that life has indeed changed and that we're hardened and isolated and less capable of soaking up those happy vibes.

Watching these young men, boys really, exalting in their newfound glory and their giddy carefree exuberance takes us back to a time when such celebration was possible, unburdened by responsibility or the realities that take us off-track and leave us despondent. And there are wistful moments as well, particularly those that spotlight the Wilsons who are no longer with us. Carl singing "God Only Knows," a song that Paul McCartney claims made him weep. Dennis serenading us with "Forever," showing that for all his devil-may-care attitude, his heart and soul were entwined.

Ultimately, I believe that Doin' It Again ought to be considered no less than required viewing for both those who witnessed the Beach Boys the first time around and those who are discovering them only now. This is pop music of prime importance, music that transmits emotion in a way few things can. It's a cumulative sum of craft and distinction, immaculately constructed as a pure labor of love. When they sing about California girls who keep their boyfriends warm at night, it's not a feeling of sexual satisfaction but rather a wider embrace, a supreme feeling of what it's like to be alive.

These days, music entertains. It exploits our frustrations. It vents our frustration. But unlike the Beach Boys and their Pet Sounds, it doesn't speak to a higher calling. It lacks that impetus to lift us beyond our ordinary existence and challenge and transcend. How ironic that they should release a beautiful new song titled "That's Why God Made the Radio" and yet they're the kind of band that today's music lovers all but ignore.

"Everything we were doing was pretty good," band member Al Jardine admits at one point. No greater case of understatement has ever been uttered.



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