News

The ‘Lost Years’ of the Beach Boys

The Beach Boys at Zuma Beach, August 1967

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.

Dennis Wilson on the set of ‘Two-Lane Blacktop,’ the film in which he starred alongside James Taylor, Laurie Bird and Warren Oates.

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.

Click on this player, which will take you to the web page where you find the show filed under ‘July 18.’

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

Click on the cover to order

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.
JIM

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

Here’s my appearance on the Common Thread Podcast, run out of the Howard Thurman Center at Boston University.

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.

 

My Manson Commentary
To listen, click on the insane man’s face. This audio is from the ‘Academic Minute’ at Inside Higher Ed, and is adapted from my article in The Conversation.

Hey, Look Me Over!

It’s not the kind of list you necessarily want to make, but hey — I guess this means my latest book, Everybody Had an Ocean,
was worth some attention.

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

Just finished Highway 61. Same emotion as when I recently finished Mile Marker Zero for the second time – tears. 

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.

Click on the covers to order

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.
STAN

 Recent Writing

Read ‘Gonzo Without End, Amen,’ from ‘Fear and Loathing Worldwide.’
Read ‘The Ultimate Freelancer,’ my preface to ‘Gonzology’ by Eric Shoaf.

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.

Click on the picture of Dennis Wilson above to read the review from the Houston Press.

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.

Click on the image of Joni Mitchell and David Crosby above to read the review from Under the Radar.

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.”

Click on the photo of Buffalo Springfield above to read the Tampa Bay Times review.

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. 

 

Click on the montage above to learn more about the characters in the story.

People talk to me about stuff
and / or I write about other stuff

Long-distance friends

After Rory Patrick Feehan‘s doctoral defense at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, Ireland, February 21, 2018. Left to right: Professor Eugene O’Brien, me, the newly minted PhD Feehan, Professor Eoin Flannery (extra bright blue sweater) and Professor John McDonagh. We toast the new Dr Feehan at Fennessy’s. Rory’s dissertation was a wonderful piece devoted to Hunter Thompson’s creation of the ‘Hunter Figure’ in his writing.

During a summer trip to Ireland,   I met two Hunter S. Thompson scholars — Martin Flynn in Dublin and Rory Patrick Feehan in Limerick.

Martin runs the HST Books website, and Rory manages Totally Gonzo. We’d corresponded for years, but these were the first face-to-face meetings.

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.

With young Charley McKeen and Rory Patrick Feehan at Durty Nelly’s in Bunratty, Ireland. Photo by the most beautiful human being I’ve ever seen, Maeve.
With Marty Flynn at The Ginger Man in Dublin. Photo by Cathy Wyse

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.

Click to watch the film.

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.

Health update

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’d nearly died.

Sarah, with daughter Pearl

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. After emergency surgery and lots of antibiotics, I was back from the brink. It made me miss the start of the school year, which depressed me.

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.

After knee surgery in August 2018, I aspire to finally walk without pain. Watch this space for updates.

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.

 

That’s me during my Western Kentucky University years. Photograph by John Rott.

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.

Congratulating Maggie Day on her graduation from the University of Florida. (Photo by Casey Brooke Lawson)

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.

November 1989, with  University of Florida colleague Jon Roosenraad and two of the all-time greats: Mary Shedden,  left, now of WUSF in Tampa, and Kathy Rohrbach Laughlin,  now of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

If you were in one of my classes, I’d love to hear from you at wmckeen@bu.edu.

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.

Take care.