AI NO DERRIDA

Friday, 19 November 2010

The album that haunted itself



Whilst it may not concur with the full Derridean (is that a word?) meaning of the word, i've become obsessed with the notion of Smile as being the most hauntological lp ever (not quite) released. It's certainly the most fascinating. At it's creative genesis, Smile obsessively utilised the very height of studio technology to lyrically and sonically invoke a past that never 'truly' existed anyway. Surely that alone qualifies it as the hauntological act par excellence. However, this is just the start of the strangest musical trip of all time. Because of course, the original Smile doesn't actually exist either. Just scraps and sketches and concepts and endlessly intriguing snapshots of an artist possessed with an ambition so monstrously inconceivable that it ended up sealing it's maker in an internal hell that lasted decades. Although they're a world apart, I think Wilson was at this point in parallel with Coltrane at the end of his life, summoning every ounce of his being in an attempt to communicate (with) God.


Time (probably) passes and Smile suddenly, miraculously appears out of the blue, sans the other Beach Boys who are now either mad, dead or in Hawaii. There's no doubting it's beauty and it's brilliance but it still feels surreally incomplete, a tribute album to itself with the itself never having existed in the first place. Brian Wilson presents Smile is the entirely bizarre attempt of a man in his 60's attempting to put himself back in to the frame of mind of himself in the 60's when he quite obviously was out of his mind anyway. It's Wilson attempting to exorcise a curse he somehow placed on himself. The new Smile obsessively utilises the very height of studio technology to recreate, in fact almost pastiche, a past that never truly existed in the first place. It's function is to recreate the songs without tapping into the mania that gave rise to them in the first place thus creating a bizarre sense of dislocation. If 60's Brian is attempting to communicate with God, Brian in his 60's is trying to communicate and find the self that he originally lost back in the 60's.

You would think that the release of Brian Wilson presents would finally draw a line under the most wondrously fucked up musical story of all time. But can you actually bring closure to a story that never truly happened to begin with...?

22 comments:

  1. Excellent piece. As an avid collector of 'Smile' bootleg tapes for many years, I was both amazed and appalled by the Brian Wilson LP - it was very well done but I missed the murk and truncated starts and ends of the original lost material.

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  2. It still pisses on pretty much anything else ever recorded in my opinion... the sequence of Wonderful-Song For Children-Child Is Father Of The Man-Surf's Up is untouchable. Holy music. And yes, I've heard and love the bootlegs too.

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  3. and yes, the movement from Song For Children to Child Is Father Of The Man is literally Divine.

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  4. YES and therein lies this huge paradox whereby something that is so full of love, beauty and innocence did nothing but wreak complete and utter havoc on everyone involved. and this is why i can't ever subscribe to the auteur theory- great artists are conduits for something... else and i mean that from Debussy to Kristin Hersh to Omni Trio.

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  5. "Brian in his 60's is trying to communicate and find the self that he originally lost back in the 60's".

    There is only one "i" in 'Smile'. Maybe he should have called it 'Simile'?

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  6. But bringing beauty into a sick universe IS painful... excuse my gnosticism ;-)

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  7. 'monstrously inconceivable' is as good a description of the original project as any I've read. I was disappointed with the later release: the bootlegged sketches point at a world of music beyond what could ever be tied down without disappointment & are maybe sufficient in their own right in the end.

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  8. Many good points made in the above post and the subsequent comments. I agree that the "Brian Wilson presents..." version doesn't quite cut the mustard. I have several bootlegs of the original sessions as well (my favorite being the "Sea of Tunes" release) and, although he stuck to the original arrangements for the BW release, it's missing the magic (partly due to the absence of the Beach Boys' magnificent harmonies, but not entirely). Hence, I never listen to the BW version.

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  9. I grew up a huge beach Boys fan, and it was always 'Fun, Fun, Fun' or 'California Girls'. It was incredible for me to discover their darker, psychedelic era. I became obsessed with collecting odds and ends of the original Smile sessions and video of the Beach Boys from that era. The one thing the new release showed me was that he was actually a lot closer to finishing the original Smile than I had thought. It seems the real hurdle was just in Brian's mind. I ditto everyone on the originals, they have a musical quality that absolutely boggles my mind.

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  10. I think the real beauty of the bootleg versions is that they are unfinished. The final mixes of my imagination were always vastly superior to the ones released on the BW presents.. album. Maybe that was a part of Brian Wilson's 'creative paralysis', he just couldn't fully realise the pieces he was hearing in his head. He sure did give it a damn good try though, and we are all grateful for that...

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  11. i just can't ever get over the beauty of those endlessly mutating Good Vibrations sections which seemingly run wild over every musical genre ever invented and just keep going. i guess that was something i was trying to say but didn't quite manage to- the incompleteness of it is ironically it's very essence- it's somehow strangely appropriate that there is no real version of it.
    er, which is what you just said PCA hahaha sorry about that :)

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  12. I think the blessing and the curse of the album also was his use of LSD. It obviously influenced the sound and feel of the album. I read some where that he used to have aural hallucinations and he'd capture those for his music. Sounds you hear in 'Do You Like Worms' and the goat sounds in 'Barnyard' have such a creepy haunting feel to it. I also remember seeing him in the Theremin documentary and it sounded like he had a lot of head wind from the label and producer who discouraged his use of the theremin on Good Vibrations. I'm sure that kind of pressure to put a radical sounding record compiled with the state of his mind made it impossible for him to put out Smile. Plus Mike Love was a total douche bag that wanted to stick to singing campy surf songs. Well this thread is inspiring me to pick up a copy of Dominic Priore's 'Look, Listen, Vibrate, Smile'.

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  13. This is an interesting song from the 70's that Wilson wrote from bed.

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  14. oh fuck i'd totally forgotten about that song- it's so insane how it moves from the absolute mundanity of him wanting to eat and then jumping to wanting to be in love. haunted in every sense.
    cool- thanks for posting that link- i think i'm going to spiral in to yet another wilson obsession :)

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  15. Special mention for the scaled back 'Smile' songs that punctuated The Beach Boys post 'Smile' records. All those albums have a desperate, broken quality about them - some great music, without Brian or with Brian at reduced capacity.

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  16. Oh yeah, I think Carl and Dennis really took up the slack on the post-Smile albums. I think Dennis blossomed in a rather special way! The Dennis Wilson/Charles Manson interface spawning the amazing "Never Learn Not to Love" and "Be With Me" for example...that's haunting.

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  17. My dad was lucky enough to see the Beach Boys at Jennison Field house when they premiered Good Vibrations. Lucky, lucky, lucky. I don't know why they would premier that song in that town (it's a huge industrial/agricultural town with two polluted rivers) but that's where it happened.

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  18. So, looks like we discovered that hauntological house band we've been looking for. The Beach Boys are a thing of wonder - good to have so many like-minded people to talk to - it's tough out there and I swore to never go to another convention!

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    Replies
    1. Just bought the album and am ready to kick it up to the 150.00 box set. It's a mind blower! I give it a perfect 10 and I highly recommend buying it.

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