I'm not crazy because I hate "Smile": I hate "Smile" because I'm crazy.
What kind of retropop pasticheur can one be if one hates "Smile"? Everyone songwriter and arranger needs to own "Smile"; what's good on it is really, really good. But what isn't good is, well, read on.
When I was in The Best Four Years Of Your Life And Don't You Goddamn Forget It I had a friend named Jimm Chanson who was awesome, brilliant and a schizophrenic. First time I met him he ran into my dorm room yelling, "I've solved Unified Field Theory! I've solved Unified Field Theory!". He thought I was Lou Reed and he also though quite presciently that Michael Jackson was out to Get Us. Jimm was (is still, I'm sure) a brilliant songwriter and wrote incredibly involved "Mock Operas" that operated on about sixteen levels.
Second semester Jimm hooked up with some really good medication and rounded himself off quite nicely by becoming sane. Guy was sharper that a fucking tack. And he loved it- he thrived on sanity. Guy was a walking poster for good medicine.
So I knock on his door one night and I'm blazing on Purple Microdot. Yeah, boy. Everything Is One, Baby. We hang out a bit and I notice he is extremely uncomfortable. At first I don't understand, but then it dawns on my racing, inchoate mind that my mental state is distressing the hell out of him. When you're Blazing like that you're essentially insane. Your brain chemistry is like a goddamn dirty bomb. Jimm was in no mood to hang out with a pre-medication version of himself. You get me? Nothing sexy to him about that schizoid LSD shit. He wants that, he can go off the meds.
So I took my leave, apologizing, and we made a date to talk about "Imperial Bedroom" and Kierkegaard when I wasn't Certifiable.
That's what "Smile" does to me. "Smile" is important and beautiful and all that, but mostly it's a life-support system for "Surf's Up", "Good Vibrations" and the lovely "Wonderful".
The Beach Boys ended for me at "Pet Sounds". Now THAT is a god damned record. Unified, taut, brilliantly and innovatively arranged, bravely and achingly emotional, all that. The songs are lessons in structure. I can't say enough about "Pet Sounds".
"Smile" is the document of a crackup. A bad, bad crackup. The cut-and-paste thing isn't Side 2 of Abbey Road. It's the sound of someone who can't maintain a thought for 3 minutes. It is the sound of craziness. It makes me uncomfortable. It isn't brilliant. It is the sound of an artist being intensely dishonest with himself. "Vega-Tables"? "I'm In Great Shape"? Dude, the only Vega-Table in evidence is BRIAN. It's self-indulgent and addled and asks too much of the listener. That is the first thing I ask myself with ANY piece of music I make, in the studio or on stage; am I asking too much?
I've flirted with that kind of craziness way too much to be relaxed around it. It makes me whimper.
I'm sure if I hadn't spent so much time Staring Down The Abyss I'd think "Smile" was just dandy. God knows it has a couple of fantastic moments. I think its greatest importance as a piece of art is how accurately it chronicles a drug-facilitated surf run down the Crazy Wave.
And that's the wave you just wanna sort stay on your belly and paddle over. Trust The Lightfoot.
Le Scripte D'Poste: Old bud of mine, Nelson Bragg, is the percussionist on this. Awesome drummer- he was in my "Mr. Sherwood" band. He's crazy.