As the small, white-haired, bespectacled man in a sleeveless cardigan took his seat a few rows from the front of the stalls in London’s Royal Festival Hall one night in 2004, several dozen people among the already packed house greeted him with a standing ovation. Those who did not recognise the seemingly insignificant figure were soon apprised of his identity and importance: this was Van Dyke Parks, the former wunderkind who, almost 40 years earlier, had supplied the lyrics to the work whose world premiere the audience was about to hear: Brian Wilson‘s SMiLE, the album designed for the Beach Boys at the height of the 60s but abandoned in despair and left to acquire the status of myth.
Reconstructed under the supervision of its authors and a small orchestra of acolytes, SMiLE turned out to be, if not quite the “teenage symphony to God” that Wilson had promised during the album’s original gestation period, then a compellingly original symphonic portrait of America, studded with brilliant moments of pop fantasy. At the conclusion of the performance the lyricist stepped up to share another ovation with his old friend, relishing the belated acclaim for a work that had once been engulfed in acrimony.
As a child chorister and actor in the 1950s, Parks had sung under the batons of Toscanini and Beecham, performed Silent Night to the accompaniment of Albert Einstein’s violin, and appeared in Grace Kelly’s final movie. Yet his first substantial contribution to pop music was initially met with incomprehension and disdain when Mike Love, the lead singer of the Beach Boys, took angry exception to the wordy, allusive, double-punning lyrics being supplied by Parks to Wilson, the group’s chief composer and resident genius.
Strange Random Beach Boys Quote:
“Music is Brian Wilson’s best friend, lover, everything. On a one-to-one basis, it’s the only thing that has never wronged him.” – Van Dyke Parks
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