Monthly Archives: June 2006

Words of Wisdom


“Conservatism, though a necessary element in any stable society, is not a social program; in its paternalistic, nationalistic and power-adoring tendencies it is often closer to socialism than true liberalism; and with its traditionalistic, anti-intellectual and often mystical propensities it will never, except in short periods of disillusionment, appeal to the young and all those others who believe that some changes are desirable if this world is to become a better place. A conservative movement, by its very nature, is bound to be a defender of established privilege and to lean on the power of government for the protection of privilege. The essence of the liberal position, however, is the denial of all privilege, if privilege is understood in its proper and original meaning of the state granting and protecting rights to some which are not available on equal terms to others.” – F.A. Hayek

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Beach Boys Love You


When I was seven I was really into the Beach Boys’ Endless Summer album, which my mother had gotten on 8-track from one of those RCA record club deals that used to be inserted into Tv Guide. So for Christmas that year, I was given what was then the newest Beach Boys record, Love You. I quickly decided that the only song worth playing on the album was “Johnny Carson,” and not just because Carson was on late at night, when I wanted to be awake, and was in many ways a symbol of all the fruits of the adult world I bitterly longed for. It was more that I realized even at
seven that something very strange had to have happened in that adult world for “Johnny Carson” ever to make it on a record that someone could buy in a store. It sounded like something I could have made up banging on the piano in the living room, and the words weren’t lyrics so much as declarative statements utterly stripped of rhetorical figure. In fact it meshed exactly with how I would have described Johnny Carson at the time:

He sits behind his microphone
Johnny Carson
He speaks in such a manly tone
Johnny Carson
Ed McMahon comes on and says Here’s Johnny
Every night at eleven thirty he’s so funny
It’s nice to have you on the show tonight
I’ve seen your act in Vegas out of sight
When guests are boring he fills up the slack
Johnny Carson
The network makes him break his back
Johnny Carson
Ed McMahon comes on and says Here’s Johnny
Every night at eleven thirty he’s so funny
Don’t you think he’s such a natural guy
The way he’s kept it up could make you cry.

Of course I didn’t get the last line at the time. Now it seems clear that Brian Wilson was in the midst of a total public meltdown and saw Carson as the emblem of everything he couldn’t manage to be himself — full of grace under pressure and stamina in the glare of public scrutiny and hero worship. When I was seven it just seemed silly to me. The whole song seemed silly and I would play it over and over again and laugh to myself the whole time. Nothing was sillier to me than the cheerleader refrain that closes the song:

Who’s a man that we admire?
Johnny Carson is a real live wire.
Who’s a man that we admire?
Johnny Carson is a real live wire.
Who’s a man that we admire?
Johnny Carson is a real live wire.
Who’s the man that we admire?
Johnny Carson is a real live wire

It strange to think of it now, because the whole album now seems sad and poignant and completely shadowed in melancholy, in part because of the artless pathos of the songs, their childlike hopefulness in the face of having cosmically fucked everything up, and in part because it reminds me of being seven again and having no idea that things could ever get like that. The suite on side two — “The Night Was So Young”, “I’ll Bet He’s Nice” and “Let’s Put Our Hearts Together” — is pretty amazing. In the first song, the singer is mulling over his missed opportunities with a woman, stunned into a kind of blank simplicity by his devastating awareness of his helplessness, of the futility. He lays awake all night stuck in this melancholy rut that the music nicely conveys, wondering what miracle could end the impasse: “Wake up, call me, baby, call me, tell me what’s on your mind.” That’s not going to happen. The next song picks up what seems to be the same relationship, with the woman having moved on to another man. The singer can’t muster up much bitterness or jealousy; he seems too defeated for that. What makes this song so amazing is that it suddenly opens into this incredible middle eight, with Carl Wilson (with typical chill-giving mellifluousness) singing, “Baby, don’t you ever tell me that you’re leaving, now that you got me to believe in, / You are the sunshine and the flower, come on and make my every hour.” It’s a totally unexpected explosion of hope that gets snuffed out just as soon its impact has crested. In the final song, the singer’s ready to lay it on the line and propose to the woman, and just when you are prepared for more futile rejection and regret and stuporous recitation, a woman’s voice suddenly enters the scene with “I’ve never had someone I need someone to live with and be good to.” Is it real? Probably not. The clue is the passivity in the first verse, where he hopes that by waiting and doing nothing, the woman will suddenly just adore him. This seems to reveal that the singer has withdrawn entirely into fantasy, where he can put his heart together with his beloved’s rather than being stuck with it, broken and beyond repair.

I just didn’t get it when I was seven; I’m not sure I completely appreciate it now, because everytime I listen to it it still makes me feel like I’m suddenly in over my head. I’ll probably never reach those emotional depths, but I’m glad there are albums like this one to let me get a sense of how deep it can be.

Head Games

When this album came out I was given a copy on 8 track, and I listened to it a lot on one particular camping trip in the Poconos. I thought it was great, but I knew there was some controversy about it, both the album cover and the first single, “Dirty White Boy.” I deduced that the girl on the cover had just clearly made a mistake and walked into a men’s room, and people were probably afraid that the cover, like women’s lib, was just one more stepping stone to the futuristic horror of unisex bathrooms. And I figured that white people didn’t like being called dirty. That song featured my favorite lyric: “I’m a loner but I’m never alone / Every night I get one step closer to the danger zone.” As I was cruising around the lake at the campground on my bike by myself, I kept thinking about that — I could relate to the danger zone, because I couldn’t swim.

I was most puzzled by “Head Games.” What was wrong with head games, I wondered? I liked head games — I was into Rubik’s cube and solving logic puzzles in the Dell Crossword books. I figured a relationship in which “instead of making love we play head games” was a perfect one, but clearly Lou Gramm wasn’t pleased with the arrangement.