The Religious Conversion
of the Beach Boys
By JULES SIEGEL
Originally appeared in
Cheetah, October 1967. Copyright Jules Siegel © 1967, 1999
It was just another
day of greatness at Gold Star Recording Studios on Santa Monica
Boulevard in Hollywood. In the morning four long-haired kids had
knocked out two hours of sound for a record plugger who was trying
to curry favor with a disk jockey friend of theirs in San Jose.
Nobody knew it at the moment, but out of that two hours there
were about three minutes that would hit the top of the charts
in a few weeks, and the record plugger, the disk jockey and the
kids would all be hailed as geniuses, but geniuses with a very
Now, however, in
the very same studio a Genius with a very large capital G was
going to produce a hit. There was no doubt it would be a hit because
this Genius was Brian Wilson. In four years of recording for Capitol
Records, he and his group, the Beach Boys, had made surfing music
a national craze, sold 16 million singles and earned gold records
for 10 of their 12 albums.
Not only was Brian
going to produce a hit, but also, one gathered, he was going to
show everybody in the music business exactly where it was at;
and where it was at, it seemed, was that Brian Wilson was not
merely a Geniuswhich is to say a steady commercial successbut
rather, like Bob Dylan and John Lennon, a GENIUSwhich is
to say a steady commercial success and hip besides.
Until now, though,
there were not too many hip people who would have considered Brian
Wilson and the Beach Boys hip, even though he had produced one
very hip record, "Good Vibrations," which had sold more
than a million copies, and a super-hit album, Pet Sounds, which
didn't do very well at allby previous Beach Boys sales standards.
Among the hip people he was still on trial, and the question discussed
earnestly among the recognized authorities on what is and what
is not hip was whether or not Brian Wilson was hip, semi-hip or
But walking into
the control room with the answers to all questions such as this
was Brian Wilson himself, wearing a competition-stripe surfer's
T-shirt, tight white duck pants, pale green bowling shoes and
a red plastic fireman's helmet.
Everybody was wearing
identical red plastic toy fireman's helmets. Brian's cousin and
production assistant, Steve Korthoff was wearing one; his wife,
Marilyn, and her sister, Diane RovelleBrian's secretarywere
also wearing them, and so was a once-dignified writer from The
Saturday Evening Post who had been following Brian around for
Find all about
I used to have a notice asking folks who
enjoyed this story to send me any book of their choice
as a gesture of appreciation. I guess Brian Wilson fans
aren't booklovers,as I never did get any. If you would
like to receive the full story, please hit the button
and follow instructions. The fee is only $3, but it will
keep this website going and help enable me to feed my
voracious book habit.
If you cannot afford to pay this, please
write to me at Smile
Story and tell me why you'd like to read it free.
Many thanks for your understanding.
A GREAT BIG
for the wonderful responses so far. "Goodbye
Surfing, Hello God!" is a piece of my heart that
I can never put a price on, but it is quite a thrill to
see those PayPal messages coming in.
I was very moved at the beginning of 2004
to learn that Brian Wilson received a five-minute standing
ovation at the conclusion of his Smile performance. In
Pop Relic," Jeff Turrentine mentioned my role
in the saga of Brian Wilson's Smile project.
Although Turrentine correctly reports that
the Saturday Evening Post killed my story, it was later
published in Cheetah magazine, October, 1967, as "Goodbye
Surfing, Hello God!--the Religious Conversion of the Beach
Boys." It's been anthologized in at least four books,
most recently in Library of America's Writing Los Angeles.
Without any false humility, I can say that
I was one of the people who invented rock journalism.
Journalists such as Al Aronowitz, Richard Goldstein and
I were among the first to write about rock in mainstream
media without being condescending or demeaning. Nonetheless,
I never thought of "Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!"
as rock journalism. It was a pretty far-out piece even
for regular journalism at the time. I don't think many
celebrity pieces before or since have ever gotten that
close to a subject.
Brian was quite upset about it. I heard
that the Beach Boys were still complaining about it a
few years later in Tom Nolan's Rolling Stone interview.
Maybe now that he's got some more distance on it and can
see that "Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!" was a
principal force in creating the myth of Smile. I know
that others did write about it at the time, but some of
them talked to me first. Other than David Oppenheimer,
I was the only one in the major media who took Brian seriously,
and even David talked with me at great length while he
was making his documentary.
In reading over my story 37 years later,
I see some rather awkward moments. At the time, Saturday
Evening Post writers did not usually mention themselves
in stories. I wanted to do this story exactly as I would
have written a short story or a segment of a novel. In
order to get around my adherence to the convention of
impersonality, I had to describe myself as a "Saturday
Evening Post writer" and a "friend."
Both were true, but these days I would just use "I"
or "me." Some of the writing is a little too
self-consciously jazzy, but I was young then.
Despite these minor flaws, I'm still very
happy with the story, and I am even happier that Brian
has finally achieved his dream. He was a giant then and
he is a giant now. All of us who struggle against the
mainstream currents can take heart in this outcome. For
once, a good guy wins. God bless Brian Wilson! God bless
all artists who try and fail, and try again and fail again,
ad infinitum, but never give up.
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