Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"San Francisco" (Van Dyke Parks/Brian Wilson)

“San Francisco, San Francisco/Her lovers' arms were open wide/With a gate so golden/Waits with charms unfoldin’/Hold that cable car up there with pride/I gotta ride; giddy-up down to…/San Francisco, San Francisco/Where love is true as time and tide/She was seventeen though/when I left from Reno/Like some Valentino with his bride/There by my side…/I panned gold from ‘Cisco down to Frisco/How I'm missin these days of yore…Eldorado/Miss those Irisky women and raw rye whiskey/With each kiss we would explore…Eldorado/For this desperado was gold in the dust/Like many a man in God do I trust/Gave up on Eldorado, so lost in my lust/Where love is not for sale/Out at the end of the trail…”

Been on a bit of a Beach Boys jag as of late. What with the improbable detente struck between Brian Wilson and Mike Love, resulting in their current and, from some reports, quite brilliantly performed 50th anniversary tour.

Then there’s that new LP. I’ve only heard the title track, which is, this far along, an equally improbable beaut: “That’s Why God Made The Radio” may carry tinges of everything from ‘Kiss Me Baby’ to doowop chestnut 'Silhouettes' (on the authority of current BW/BB cohort Probyn Gregory) and, jeez, even John Barry’s Midnight Cowboy theme, but it's still unmistakably as sweet as anything drawn from the fragile but fruitful creative mind of Brian Wilson.

So it felt like the time was right to unearth a song with BW involvement and a theme that strays for once well afar of those mythic Southern Cali shores. It actually comes from a ‘90s collaboration with one of Brian’s most compatibly imaginative musical partners, Van Dyke Parks: the album Orange Crate Art.

To be more specific, it’s an album of VDP’s songs with Brian as its featured vocalist. As with many songs in their respective CV’s, the album has its fans and deriders. As for me, at its best VDP’s richly genteel melodies, multilayered and playfully imagistic lyrics, and the topping of (thanks to studio magic) the BW Chorale make for fine listening indeed.

Many of the songs on OCA, as stated above, are inspired by Northern California of the past -  the world of Steinbeck, London and temporary resident Kerouac.  The title track even references the vineyards and agriculture of Sonoma.

As a recent transplant from the East Coast at the time of OCA's release - one who never traveled far without a little Brian Wilson, in addition to Big Star - the song ‘San Francisco’ became an immediate personal anthem to my new hometown.

Albeit one rather more fancifully articulated than Tony Bennett might (I didn’t quote a typically punny VDP allusion to Candlestick Park - by way of Stephen Crane - in a later part of the song).

In any case, for any faults one might dig for, OCA was Brian and Van Dyke together again, which perhaps therapeutically aided and encouraged Brian’s eventual, post-Millennial re-emergence…for which some of us in this sick old world are most thankful.

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