Wouldn't it be nice . . . I mean we can't all be California girls, but . . . "If everybody had an ocean across the U.S.A./Then everybody'd be surfin' like Californeye-ay."
The stage on the edge of 17th and Independence is monumental. There are dozens of huge trailers -- for sound, for television, for food and for the stars. The Beach Boys have come to celebrate the Fourth of July in Washington.Whisked in at 2 o'clock in five Fleetwood limousines, the Beach Boys spent two hours lounging in a wagon-like compound, waiting for their 4 o'clock appointment with an estimated nearly 200,000 fans who had drifted in since dawn. They were drawn by the appearance of America's most enduring rock 'n' roll band.
Rock 'n' roll extravaganzas don't come to town very often, but the essential crews have won their stripes in previous campaigns -- Woodstock, Alta mont, Watkins Glen. Yesterday's concert was a gift from the Beach Boys, though the bills were picked up by a tanning lotion manufacturer, Hawaiian Tropic, and a local radio station WRQX-FM.
By 1963, they'd had four hit "Surfin'" singles, although only Dennis Wilson surfed regularly. He told older Brother Brian about it, and though Brian was too frightened to go in the water, he wrote the songs and invented a different California for that part of the world that hadn't fallen for Hollywood.
In 1963, Charles de Gaulle escaped an assassination attempt, John F. Kennedy didn't. The U.S. death toll in Vietnam rose to 30 in January when five helicopters were shot down. On the Mall 200,000 demonstrators marched for integration and equality.
In California, the kinetic energy of the Beach Boys celebrated a middle-class, suburban life style that offered life on the beach, or on the way to and from the beach. And the surf was definitely up. The Beach Boys promised an endless summer no matter where you were. "Surfin' Safari" first broke as a hit in landlocked Phoenix. At least they had sand. And if you closed your eyes, well wouldn't it be nice. "Days of Wine and Roses" was the record of the year and the Swingle Singers were the Best New Artists. A Liverpool quartet would capture the same honor, but not until the following year. Mariner II flew past Venus.
The crowd, spread out on thousands of blankets and towels, threw out occasional surges of claps and cheers. Renegades from the annual marijuana smoke-in at Lafayette Park drew generous applause. Coolers and jugs and pocket flasks were in abundant supply.
The Beach Boys are old hands; they've been giving concerts since 1961. They sat around backstage while radio and television crews asked the same old tired questions. Brian Wilson, the group's creative, reclusive genius, darted out of a trailer, filled his plate with food and dashed for cover.
By 1968, the Beach Boys had a new hit: "Do It Again." The Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia. There were riots in the cities. The death toll in Vietnam had risen to 20,000. LBJ bowed out, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. Three astronauts flew around the moon. Simon and Garfunkel celebrated Mr. Robinson. There was a line in the song titled "I Get Around" that got special attention: "I'm getting bugged driving up and down the same old strip." The big wave was starting to turn in on itself, and somebody lost the key to the little deuce coupe.
Dennis Wilson looked tired. Actually, he looked as if he'd been on the beach about a week too long. Carl Wilson, on the other hand, had managed to keep it fresh. Al Jardine and Bruce Johnson seemed bemused. It's a job, after all, and the bonuses have been coming in for almost two decades.
By 1971 Carole King was singing "It's Too Late," and the Beach Boys were starting to be convinced of it. They showed up in West Potomac Park, unannounced, and played for 175,000 war demonstrators. Nixon ordered a predawn riot police raid that scattered the 30,000 encampers from the Mall.
The Pentagon Papers appeared. "Patton" and "M*A*S*H," with their disparate views of war, fought it out for critical honors. Jimmy Carter, a 45-year-old peanut farmer, succeeded Lester Maddox as governor of Georgia. Louis Armstrong died. Shepherd and Mitchell landed on the moon. And America's involvement in Vietnam entered it's second decade. Rhonda wasn't the little girl we once knew. When they grew up to be men, it would be student demonstration time.
Yesterday's concert will end up as a film. It was captured on six cameras and through 44 audio channels. It was clearly a promotion, but for whom? The Hawaian Tropic girls looked like California girls, but they'd been flown in from Florida. The Beach Boys still gave it a good shot, but for the last five years they've had a hard time transcending the sheer repetition of their material. The crowd loved it, and if it had been dark, a lot of matches would have been lighted.
By 1974 Nixon was out. Ford was in. Streaking was just taking off. Moscow was awarded the 1980 Summer Olympics, and one of the most popular songs in Red China was "How I Loved to Carry Fertilizer Up the Mountainside for the Commune."
The Beach Boys' first big album in years came out, but "Endless Summer" consisted entirely of tracks cut before 1965. The album and that summer's tour spurred a revival that has yet to let up. New audiences accepted the cheerful values of the '60s for their fun, fun, fun, and good vibrations. The myths of the early '60s -- both the exuberant extroversion of the beach party and the introversion of "There's a world where I can go/And tell my secret to/In my room" -- were suddenly revitalized.
It's 1980 and both the Beach Boys and the crowd have returned to the Mall. But instead of Mayday, it's a Fourth of July blowout.As for the crowds -- well, a swarm is a swarm. There were a lot of bare backs, bare chests, a few bald heads. Everybody tried to stand in someone else's shadow. There were lots of kids: fodder for another generation of Beach Boys fans.There were three generations on the Mall: the original fans from the '60s, their younger siblings, and now their children. They were good timin' and the Beach Boys kept asking "Do You Wanna Dance." For 19 years, more often than not, the answer has been yes. The beach party will not be canceled.