The year was 1976. Two acts were on the rise and would eventually become part of our American fabric. One for the first time, the other enjoying a resurgence. The first group spawned from Saturday Night Live which had debuted the previous year and was gaining cultural traction. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd had gelled as a team and had their trademark bullshit artist bravado act down pat (it would be another four years before we'd see them in another cop car, in The Blues Brothers). Another cultural icon was The Beach Boys. While many had written them off as an oldies act, by the 70s they had quietly blossomed into a real rock band. Recently recruited members Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin broadened their sound significantly both in the studio and on the stage. They put out quality AOR-type LPs like "Holland" and "Carl and the Passions -- So Tough" during this time and it only takes one listen to "The Beach Boys in Concert" to understand they were were a force to be reckoned with as a live act. Rolling Stone magazine went as far as naming The Beach Boys the #1 band of the year in 1974, eight years after the release of "Good Vibrations."
Today, Brian Wilson is a household name among hardcore music fans. But in the 70s, he was a dazed and overweight recluse, spending a few years (yes, years) in his bedroom. He had stopped touring with The Beach Boys in late 1964 to focus on writing, producing and arranging however the combination of drugs and paranoia eventually drove him further from the public eye into his sanctuary (cue "In My Room").
Anywhooo, someone in the entertainment community decided it was high time to combine the two acts and contracted Lorne Michaels to produce the intro to a Beach Boys TV special. The result is classic:
My takeaways: Belushi and Aykroyd were comedic genius and their shtick was a sign of many more laughs to come. Brian Wilson's first wife, Marilyn Rovell, playing the straight man to a "T." Third, the CHP cruiser with a long board fastened to the top. I can only imagine what people must have thought seeing a black and white driving down PCH, sirens blaring, lights swirling, with a surfboard on top (strangely, the image somehow fits perfectly in quirky Malibu). As an aside, I'd love to know who shaped that board and how the crew acquired it. Lastly, the cutaway to the band playing one of their classics, "Surfin' USA" with front man Mike Love struttin' loud and proud like a rooster. Mike's definitely got the "Moves Like Jagger."
While this clip is classic 70s SNL, it also highlights the irony and tragedy that was Brian Wilson's life during this time. Always a joker with a great sense of humor, you can tell he's having fun playing along with the gag while in the comfort of his own house and bedroom. But once he hits the water it's clear that Brian, the heart and soul behind all of those Beach Boys classics, is afraid of the ocean. He looks lost and scared and unable to even fake it in waist high water. He struggles to get through the shore break and once he's finally able to lie on the board he's got it fin first. I can imagine he didn't have much of an appetite for multiple takes to get it right.
But my how things have changed in the almost 40 years since this was filmed. Brian has emerged from his haze of drugs and paranoia and is creating new music and enjoying more popularity than ever before. Belushi is long gone, a victim of the drug abuse that partly drove Brian indoors. And Aykroyd is, I presume, enjoying retirement, listening to Blues music and collecting well earned royalty checks.
I fell in love with surfing through The Beach Boys' music and learned the power of laughter by watching SNL. The coming together of these two gems therefore holds special meaning for me. And even though Belushi isn't around to enjoy it, Brian thankfully is. I hope he'd get a kick out of it if he were to see it now. I sure did and hope you did too.
Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.