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.
"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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