Birmingham was more about racism in those days, not surfing. But one of the fondest childhood memories I have was lugging my most unwilling father to the WVOK Shower of Stars at the downtown auditorium to hear the Beach Boys.
Yes, the dudes from California even penetrated the same state as Bear Bryant. Up the street, one of my friends used to leave the record arm up when he played the 45-rpm version of “California Girls.” Obviously, I was brainwashed.
I enjoyed the show. My father? “I couldn’t hear anything because of all the girls on the front row screaming,” he said.
Well, my father died prematurely, but the memories didn’t. Seems I became something of a paying groupie, several times catching the Boys, who revived themselves nicely in the ’70s and always included Atlanta on their tour. They were America’s Beatles, five handsome, athletic middle-class dudes singing about the beach, cars, girls. And unlike the Beatles, they went out of their way to tour.
Yes, there was even more for me. I fancied singer Mike Love, another lanky redhead who was so cool when he cut loose with those signature tunes like “I Get Around.”
Inexplicably, after moving to California in later years, the pilgrimages faded. But people who live in Vegas never go to the Strip, either. Too routine. When you can drive to La Jolla and have lunch, you don’t need to hear “Surfin’ USA.”
And time affects everyone. The Beach Boys made it a tradition to play after San Diego Padres games in the 1990s, but the voices were cracking and the hair was graying then. When Carl Wilson died in 1998, the group splintered. Brian Wilson and Alan Jardine went solo. Love kept the name alive with a bunch of session musicians, but it didn’t fool anyone.
Still, there were a couple of times I enjoyed taking them in. I saw the group at the Del Mar Fair in San Diego, and if you closed your eyes when Love wasn’t singing, it was worth the trip.
But it was different Sunday while watching the Grammys. I made it a point to tune in because I sensed something was about to come full circle. It’s not uncommon for me to fall asleep while watching TV, but I was glued in to this one. It was personal.
I actually found myself hoping that Brian didn’t stumble over himself, as he was prone to do while playing live in years past. I wanted to see if Love — the Wilsons’ cousin — still had preserved himself well. (He’s a non-drinking, non-smoking vegetarian.) I wanted to see if Jardine still had a beard.
What I saw was a group, not a bunch of guys who dropped in for 15 more minutes of fame. What I saw was a bunch of guys from Hawthorne, Calif., who did their legacy proud, for the first time in decades. (See the YouTube video embedded below.)
So I now can look ahead — and up — with some good vibrations. Surf’s up!