Quick question: What is the most enduring American pop group of all time? Has to be The Beach Boys, right? They are currently on their 50th anniversary tour across the country, if you can believe it.
I saw the boys the other night, and they can still bring it. Lead singer Mike Love is 71, musical genius Brian Wilson is nearly 70, as is keyboardist Bruce Johnston.
The audience was primarily aging baby boomers who were not only singing along to the surf tracks; they were memorializing their youth. In 1962, back when The Beach Boys were just getting started, America was a kinder, sweeter place where long summer days defined many young lives.
John F. Kennedy was president, and Camelot was in full flower that year. “Where were you in ’62?” later became the ad campaign for a film called “American Graffiti.” But many senior citizens well remember where they were: watching the No. 1 rated TV program, “Wagon Train,” listening to Elvis sing “Return to Sender,” maybe going to the movies to see the blockbuster “Lawrence of Arabia.”
Johnny Carson debuted on “The Tonight Show” in 1962. The unemployment rate was 5.2 percent. Average family income was $6,000, which didn’t leave much cash left over for recreational drugs.
I was 12 years old and loved The Beach Boys. “Surfer Girl” and “Little Deuce Coupe” were my favorite songs. I lived on Long Island and, like the boys, had access to an ocean. I used it frequently, catching waves, feeling the warmth of the sun. It was a happy time. The girls were pretty, my parents clueless, and all things seemed possible.
But life has a way of intruding on happiness. Two of the original Beach Boys, Carl and Dennis Wilson, are dead. And their brother Brian is one of the walking wounded, a poster boy for the downside of drug abuse. The picture The Beach Boys continue to paint with their upbeat lyrics is idyllic, but their lives, generally speaking, have included much turbulent water.
In that, they are just like most of us. So when we get a chance to revisit the past in a positive way, we should take it. I actually embarrassed myself at the concert by singing “In My Room.” I didn’t care. I remember my small, un-air-conditioned room in Levittown. I could go there to soothe my troubles. I did a lot of dreaming in that space.
So right on to The Beach Boys, even though they are now ancient mariners. The waves today are far more intense than they were back in ’62. In the face of the incoming tide, sometimes we need some relief, some positive perspective about our lives.
God only knows just how much the baby-boom generation has experienced.