BRIAN WILSON’S WAVE

Annie Leibovitz, 1976

Annie Leibovitz, 1976

Originally published in American Heritage – August/September 2004

The voices are clear and strong, their song crackling with energy. “Early in the morning we’ll be startin’ out,/Some honeys will be comin’ along/We’re loading up our woodie with our boards inside/And headin’ out singing our song….Let’s go surfin’ now/Everybody’s learning how/Come on and safari with me….”

This is “Surfin’ Safari,” one of the first songs the Beach Boys recorded, in 1962. Compared with the glossy, sex-drenched pop music of the twenty-first century, it sounds impossibly naive, a rattling contraption of tip-tap drums, rudimentary bass, wacka-wacka guitar, and hokey surfer slang. And yet, something vital radiates across the decades.

You can hear it in the music and you can glimpse it on the cover of the album Surfin’ Safari. There you see a cluster of mostly teenage Beach Boys—the brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and their neighbor David Marks—perched on a vintage yellow pickup truck that has come to rest on a California beach at dawn, looking toward the horizon. Yes, it’s corny with their matching blue Pendleton shirts and khakis and the awkward way Brian Wilson and Mike Love grasp a board to their sides. But you can feel the anticipation. Something’s coming with the morning.

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