The ‘Lost Years’ of the Beach Boys
I recently appeared on ‘Rock and Roll is Here to Stay,’ on WTBU Radio at Boston University.
Host Kiran Galani allowed me to put together a setlist and yammer about one of my favorite periods in American music: The Beach Boys, 1966-1972.
Their surf-and-turf heyday was past. Brian Wilson was semi-incapacitated by grief over his failed project, the ‘teenage hymn to God’ that was Smile. The other members of the group came forward and we begin to discover the creative soul of Dennis Wilson. The youngest Beach Boy, Carl Wilson, assumed leadership.
The show begins with part of Don McLean’s ‘American Pie,’ but soon moves into ‘Good Vibrations,’ then the music of the lost years. This is the period explored in Everybody Had an Ocean.
Hope you enjoy.
From a Reader
I just finished your excellent book Everybody Had An Ocean. You have a way of presenting the diverse stories surrounding all these artist and groups that is very compelling.
Truly a page turner. Really loved the way you jumped from one story to another, chapter by chapter. Little Byrds, here, some Buffalo Springfield there, then back to the Brian Wilson saga.
I have read a great deal in my life, and lately a lot about those magical times we lived through, and it is always nice to get a hold of a book that transports me back to those days in the way yours did.
Remembering Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe died May 14 at 88. He was a titanic figure in American journalism.
I wrote a book about him and his work in 1995 and later helped him while he was doing research for his college novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, which came out in 2004.
He was very kind to me and to my daughter Sarah, who hosted him at her University of Florida sorority, also part of his Charlotte Simmons research.
He was nice enough to write blurbs for a couple of my books — he called me “incomparable” when he praised Rock and Roll is Here to Stay — and sat still for a couple of interviews.
I was asked to write this piece for The Conversation about Wolfe’s importance to journalism.
Go to my Tom Wolfe page on this site — the page devoted to my book — to read a memoir of my time as his host. I also have a link to an interview I did with him for American History magazine. The subject was heroism. The Washington Post published a piece some years back about Wolfe’s time at the paper and it references my book. Here it is, if you’d like to read it.
He was an important figure in my life and I think we will all miss him terribly.
As I say in my piece for The Conversation, because of him — and some of the other literary journalists of his time — journalism went from being merely the means to an end, to being a justifiable end.
When young people ask me why all the fuss about the 1960s, what made it “pandemonium with a big grin” (a classic Tom Wolfe phrase), I hand them a copy of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. That seems to do the trick. Fifty years on it remains the Great Book about the 1960s.
Talking About Hunter S. Thompson
The primary interlocutor is Kobe Yank-Jacobs, with questions here and there from Patrick Reid.
Click on the logo to hear the podcast.
It’s always a pleasure to talk about Hunter S. Thompson — and especially fun when the questions are so good and thought-provoking.
Hey, Look Me Over!
Click on the Huffington Post logo to find my latest on a list of the ‘Most Overlooked Books’ of the last year.
You can order this fine book by clicking here, and it will not be overlooked — at least not by a cool, groovy, neat and outasite person such as your own bad self.
From a Another Reader
Highway 61 is like all of my road trips – I didn’t want it to end. The beauty of Highway 61 is what most of us would dream of – a long road trip with our child.
Thanks for this wonderful book, so full of information, facts, pleasures and observations. Don’t know why it took me so long to find it, but it is significant as a documentation of a time, places and people.
Thank you for writing.
“McKeen weaves his story with
a natural storyteller’s grace.”
As far as I can tell, that’s the first time the word grace has ever appeared in a sentence with my name. (The sentence comes from a review in Under the Radar.)
Everybody Had an Ocean is available at fine bookstores everywhere, but if you are too lazy to go visit one of those wonderful places, you can order the book through IndieBound, a community of independent bookstores. You can get it at all the usual places, of course.
For example: here is the Amazon link.
I interviewed all of the Beach Boys over the years, except for Brian Wilson. A writing partner interviewed him for a story we were working on in the mid-1970s. He said talking to Brian was like talking to a throw pillow.
I think he’s a lot better off now.
Beyond the Beach Boys, Everybody had an Ocean has an impressive cast of characters, including Michelle Phillips and Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas, Charles Manson, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Sam Cooke, Tina Turner, Bobby Fuller, Phil Spector and an buttload of others. It’s a history of Los Angeles rock’n’roll in the 1960s, with a focus on the crossroads of the music business and crime.
The Current said “Everybody Had an Ocean is a great read, one that offers real insights into the burgeoning L.A. music scene in the ’60s.”
I post a lot of things related to the book on Facebook: videos of the artists I profile performing, for example.
Check out the book’s Facebook page.
People talk to me about stuff
and / or I write about other stuff
- The Boston Globe: Talking about gibberish in songwriting
- The Washington Post: I’m quoted about Tom Wolfe
- The Boston Globe: I talk about Facebook
- BU Today: Remembering my late colleague Jon Klarfeld
- The Houston Chronicle: Thoughts on Charles Manson
- The Conversation: Charles Manson’s perverted American Dream
- The Daily Bee: I make Mike Leach’s reading list
- The Miami Herald: Tom Petty, homegrown in Florida
- Agence France-Presse: Key West hunkers down
- BU Today: Recalling the Music and Mayhem of Los Angeles
- Pantsuit Politics: What the Hell is Going on with Journalism?
- BU Today: David Carr’s Will to Excel
- NHRA: Hot-rodding with the Beach Boys
- BU Today: Advice to graduates
- The East Bay Express: Fear and Loathing in (the New) Oakland
- The New York Times: Rolling Stone Stays Focused as Defamation Trial Is Set to Begin
- Salon: Fifty Years of Dylan, Album by Album
- Uproxx: Stories of the iconic ‘Johnny B. Goode’ Scene in ‘Back to the Future’
- The Christian Science Monitor: Google Removes Author Information from Search Results
- The Register Mail: Was JFK’s Assassination a Watershed Moment in the Redefining of Journalism?
- The Sun Sentinel: Tom McGuane’s Time in the Shade
- CNN: Journalism Jobs are Picking Up
- BU Today: A Day in the Rock’n’Roll Life
- The Sarasota Herald Tribune: What if ‘In Cold Blood’ Got it Wrong?
During a summer trip to Ireland, I met two Hunter S. Thompson scholars — Martin Flynn in Dublin and Rory Patrick Feehan in Limerick.
Oddly, they have never met each other, but they promise to get together soon and wrestle nude in creamed corn.
I was flattered to be asked to serve on Rory’s doctoral committee at Mary Immaculate College. He produced a superb piece of work. He insisted that I accompany him to four or five (I lost count) taverns that evening to celebrate.
For my absent friend
I recently learned of the death of my friend and mentor, Starkey Flythe, Jr. I feel that I have done something awful by walking the earth these last four years without knowing he was gone.
Starkey Flythe was managing editor of the Saturday Evening Post when I worked there in the mid-1970s. I learned so much from him.
He shaped my tastes in writing, introducing me to the works of Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty, and was himself a great voice of the South (and an O. Henry Award winner).
He was my graduate school, my mentor, my role model and my friend. He led a remarkable life. I hope he rests in peace.
Please spend the next eight minutes of your life watching this beautiful short film by Matthew Buzzell, “The Moment Before the Song Begins.” It’s a celebration of his art and a tribute to a remarkable, eccentric and deeply talented man.
Three years after multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, I remain cancer-free. That does not mean things are ducky, though.
My sudden absence from social media in the late summer of 2018 made some worry that I was seriously ill. Of course, this indicates that I spend too much time online, but friends felt there was something fishy about my silence and that, perhaps, I was sick.
Indeed I was. In fact, I nearly died.
In late August, I was home, recovering from knee-replacement surgery and dealing with a series of urological issues. I thought I was going to be all right, but boy, was I wrong.
Turns out I was about four hours from death when Sarah, my quick-thinking eldest daughter (with an able assist from my ex-wife), made the executive decision to call an ambulance for me, over my objections.
I’ve told Sarah she now gets to play the I-told-you-so card the rest of her life. I was in septic shock with a 104-degree temperature, delirious and shaking with chills.
After emergency surgery and lots of antibiotics, I came back from the brink.
I didn’t cancel any of my classes and got help from colleagues who sat in for two class sessions. Luckily, another colleague, Susan Walker, stepped forward and shared the department-chair duties. This gave me time to concentrate on the limited things I could do — teaching class — before I resumed the chairly duties.
It was a tough time. I lost 15 pounds in one week. Sarah Kess, with whom I share an office suite, said I looked gaunt. As a guy who’s spent most of his life overweight, ‘gaunt’ was music to my ears. But gaunt is no good if you’re dead.
The strangest part of the experience was the double whammy thrown on my brain by the blood infection and the fever. I was rendered totally inarticulate and mute, unable to answer the simplest of questions. Talking to the EMT’s and struggling to answer their questions was probably one of the scariest moments of my health adventures of the last five years.
In other health news:
I had a gastric-sleeve operation in Spring 2017, which made for a total of 10 surgeries in two years. In the aftermath of this surgery, my stomach was reduced by three-fourths and I have little interest in eating other than that which is needed to stay alive.
I have lost 95 pounds since the gastric surgery and I feel pretty darn good. All the post-surgery walking I plan to do might help me lose the last 20 pounds I hope to lose.
I applaud and deeply appreciate the vigilance of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. I’m there about four times a year as the staff studies my loathsome carcass, to make sure the cancer does not return. The quality of care is astonishing.
Rockin’ in the free world
When the semester isn’t in session, I feel like a nuclear power plant that’s been shut down.
I’m entering my 41st year as a college teacher and I’ve never gotten tired of it. I’ve never even had a sabbatical.
I taught at Western Kentucky University 1977-1982, at the University of Oklahoma 1982-1986, at the University of Florida, 1986-2010 and at Boston University, 2010 until today.
If you were in one of my classes, I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I keep up with a lot of former students on Facebook, which I use as a sort of illustrated Rolodex of my life. It’s good to see how everyone’s doing.
Being a teacher is a lifetime commitment, so let me know if I can do anything to help you.