Still Teens after all These Years

I had the most fun this week that I’ve ever had at a concert—seeing the Beach Boys at Red Rocks in Denver.

On tour for the first time in more than twenty years, they played 51 songs, during which I and most of the 10,000 others in the open-air theater sang along and couldn’t stop dancing. It was impossible not to dance. The pleasing harmonies and cheerful beat took possession of the body and made you sway, bounce, wave your arms and cheer. As the band sang, in a new number: “Isn’t it time we danced the night way?”

Beach Boys Today:
Bruce Johnston, the original 3—Al Jardine, Brian Wilson, Mike Love—and David Marks

By God, we’re overdue. It was amazing to hear men in their 60s and 70s sing, Be True to Your School, and hear the graying audience shout, “Rah, rah, rah!” When I looked over the crowd it seemed that everyone was smiling, everyone felt young and alive and no one wanted the night to end.

Musicians often say that Red Rocks is the most beautiful venue in the world. The rows of stone seats are carved out of giant red rock formations that rise in fabulous shapes around the audience. The concert begins before the sun sets and when it does, the performers and audience are bathed in red light.

Beach Boys celebrate their 50th anniversary tour with a stop at Red Rocks Amphitheatre Monday, July 9, 2012 to a sold out crowd. John Leyba, The Denver Post

Before the concert, I hadn’t realized how many hits the Beach Boys produced and how much they’ve been a soundtrack to our lives. They’ve had albums on the Billboard top-ten charts for a span of 49 years, a record that’s only been surpassed by Frank Sinatra.

Almost every song brought a flood of memories. California Girls — that’s me. Born and raised in L.A., I remember spending every summer weekend at the beach and Friday nights cruising Sunset or Hollywood Boulevard, preferably in a convertible. Those were the twin poles of our teen life: the beach and the car. I heard the Beach Boys on car radios and on transistors while lying on the beach, smeared with cocoa butter and holding an aluminum sun reflector under my face to create the perfect red-brown tan. I’m still paying, in visits to the dermatologist, for those years of religious sun-burning.

The music was enhanced by photos that flashed on a screen behind the band: University High, a T-bird crammed with 7 kids and no seat belts, Zuma Beach and State Beach. There was a code: girls wore bikinis but never went in the water for fear of ruining their hairdo, and boys surfed the waves and never used a towel.

Beach Boys Then: Mike Love, Carl, Brian and Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine

On the street where my family lived, the young surfers introduced me to John Milius, an ace in the water who later wrote the screenplay for Apocalypse Now, (Remember the troops surfing on the beach in Viet Nam?) and made Schwarzenegger a star in Conan the Barbarian. Decades later, when I had lunch with John in Malibu, he asked if we could stop at the beach afterward so he could catch a few waves. He parked, pulled his surfboard out of the back of his car and did just that.

John Milius – he loved shooting as much as surfing

But the Beach Boys’ popularity stretched far beyond California. It wasn’t the words but the joy transmitted by the songs and the intricate blending of voices that made them so evocative. Hearing them again, live, I couldn’t help thinking of a young man I met when I first moved to New York, Denis Meacham, who’d gone to Princeton, played 12 string guitar and wrote songs. I thought he was the essence of East Coast intellectual cool, and then he confided that he loved the Beach Boys!

At Red Rocks the band mostly played their hits, and they were legion: Good Vibrations, Help Me Rhonda, Barbara Ann, Do it Again, Sloop John B, Kokomo and that theme of puppy love, Wouldn’t it be Nice?

They sang a beach medley: Surfin’ Safari, Surfer Girl, Catch a Wave and Surfin’ USA. Then came the car medley: Little Honda, 409, Little Deuce Coupe, Shut Down and I Get Around.

But they saved the T-bird for last—Fun Fun Fun. When it ended, I was so revved up I had trouble sleeping and I’m still feeling the buzz. As we started down the miles of steps from Red Rocks to the parking lot, strangers laughed and spoke to each other as if they were old friends, sharing memories and stories. A line from the Eagles played through my mind, about how we haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty-nine. It didn’t matter what roles we played in our everyday lives: progressive or conservative, younger or older, richer or poorer. In the words of the Beach Boys’ California Saga, “The people there in the open air — one big family.”

Reporting on the tour for Rolling Stone, Mike Powell wrote that the band’s best music has the power to “elevate the adolescent to the divine.

Amen.

PLEASE leave a comment. Can music transcend barriers? What songs or artists seem embedded in your bones?

 

 

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44 thoughts on “Still Teens after all These Years

  1. Harry

    Yes,music can unite people who are poles apart ideologically. How can we use the power of music to create greater compassion and generosity? To underscore what we all value: beauty, joy, togetherness, and that we're all in this together?

    Reply
  2. Richard Rossner

    Even though I come from New Jersey, your essay summed it all up. My beaches were different, but the tanning oil, reflectors, good times and good feelings were all the same. They really do capture an American spirit of harmony, optimism, youthful energy and love. Thank you for bringing it all back to me through your beautiful words!

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    Love the Beach Boys and love Simon and Garfunkel So great to hear about concert! How uplifting!! Thank you!!!

    Reply
  4. Greg Borchert

    Music can definitely transcend barriers, including the age barrier. The music that has transcended time for me, that often plays in my head, is stuff from the Moody Blues, and The Who, among others. But, while I will always celebrate 60's and 70's music, I've been putting some effort into listening to current stuff, mostly alternative or indie rock. I saw The Shins at Red Rocks in May, and recently spent a day with a lyrics sheet and Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto, listening to it just as I would have to the Beatles White Album when it first came out in 1968. Though I'm attracted to listening to “Classic Rock”, I find myself resisting it at times. It's great to celebrate the past, but I don't want to be defined by or stuck in the past. I think music can also help us connect to the present and to the future.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    We could sing along in those days… Now I listen to classical music because I can't stand today's rock. And there are no golden oldies stations any more in the Bay Area. Remember you and me cruising in Hollywood and stopping in at the drive-in (name long gone)on Sunset for carhop service? I didn't know you were such a devotee of the sun. I always body surfed and didn't attract too many boys. My friends and I had disdain for the girls who only sat around looking perfect… A big smile for you and those crazy,hazy, lazy days of summer. Linda

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    I loved the Beach Boys they defined an era, that of the transistor radio and simpler times before assassinations and alienation.
    I do believe music does and can transcend so many self imposed barriers. It would be another generation of music for me that made that so clear, the Beatles and All You Need is Love followed by the 'hippie' music of the late sixties, David Crosby sang it also, Music is Love.
    My twenty three year old daughter went and saw the Beach boys on her birthday Monday at Red Rocks and loved it. Not only can music transcend barriers, it can transcend generations.Hail, Hail rock n roll!

    Reply
  7. Jane

    …treasured every word of this! Reading it at our cabin on Thompson Pond, the ultimate
    place to relax, contemplate, write, except………I have nine children with me..7 grands and
    one of mine and one extra…still, I am in heaven..
    Would love a chance to hear that concert!

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    Thanks, Sara…the Beach Boys always were great and I love knowing they're still rocking out. Maybe they could be unofficial ambassadors and help to reunite this country. I hope to visit Red Rocks some day.
    Candace

    Reply
  9. Roz

    I enjoyed reliving our youth in your Email. i just turned 70 on Sunday and enjoyed looking back at my pictures of my sweet 16 at Richlors on La Cienga and seeing you. I saw Barry Manilow on July 4th at the Bowl and he looked ridulous with all the face work. The voice was okay. I can understand how you felt seeing the Beach Boys. My son is a rock muscian, the side man and lead guitarist for Lenny Kravitz. He has been with Lenny for about 23 years and travelled all over the world . I am sure when he is in his 60's and 70's he will still be playing and fans will be coming to see them with the same feelings

    Reply
  10. Andre

    Nice article, Sara.
    The Beach Boys stopped in Quebec many times through the years, and I attended their show almost every time. I know all their hits, as well as a great album of them not very known called HOLLAND.
    The Wilsons had an extraordinary genetic talent, like Don and Phil Everly.

    Reply
  11. Sara Davidson

    Yes, Andre, “Holland” is my favorite BB album as well. Especially the “California Saga.” They played part three, “On My Way to Sunny Califor-ni-a” at Red Rocks and I was in ecstasy. I knew every word, but most of the audience didn't. Shame. But even those who didn't know it were swept up in the good feelin'

    Reply
  12. Barbra

    Thanks for writing and sending that
    You took me to that place again, the one you were in at the concert.

    Reply
  13. Jim

    I am happy to read that Sara Davidson was so moved. You have had
    unhappiness in your life but rise above it. Yet I was also thinking
    independently about the ability of music to reach women. In any case, “Loose
    Change” affected me because of the determination that you and your close
    friends showed in trying to make a life for yourselves, and I still wonder
    if Suzie ever completed medical school. I–and I lady on the staff at
    Berkley–got a copy of the book that was supposed to contain the photo of
    Suzie raising a clenched fist but could not find the photograph. Yet your
    long time friendship with Joan Didion is pleasantly surprising. You both
    must put other qualities above politics. Vietnam did not alienate me. I
    served there as an infantry soldier. But Iraq did alienate me. If it
    alienated me, how did it affect you and Suzie? It seems to have alienated
    Ms. Didion.

    Reply
  14. Linda F

    Try a Rolling Stones concert with decent seats! The most fun I've ever had at a concert (with a little help from my friends) — at the Meadowlands the last time they passed through town.

    Reply
  15. Moyra

    Thanks so much, Sarah – I love your writing and always feel I've just had a master class! Wonderfully uplifting, poignant and witty …With respect and gratitude

    Reply
  16. Anonymous

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience at BB concert. I lived in San Diego during 60s and they were definitely the soundtrack of my teens despite my growing up in minority area of San Diego. We also went through a surfer phase with our attire and music choices. I wanted to share that I love your writing and have shared your pieces with many of my friends!

    Reply
  17. Anonymous

    Never cared much for the Beach Boys … enjoyed Jan and Dean
    and other singers and groups from the 60's much more.

    Enjoy the three daughters who have a group out now much more.

    Reply
  18. Marian Thier

    I agree w/ Ted, I bounced out of my theater seat at the music in Rock of Ages. My now 40 year old son called me when he was in h.s. to tell me he heard a band he bet I'd love. The Grateful Dead. I told him I knew them before I knew him–he took me to one of their concerts–a double pleasure.

    Reply
  19. Jan

    On the very morning that I purchased “That's Why God Made the Radio,” I read your tribute to the Beach Boys. Now, you're talkin'. Baby, the Beach Boys are my team. I have everything they ever recorded, and they're the reason for my love of the beach, the surf, the sand, and the convertible. Thank you for writing about them (and about you).

    Reply
  20. Barbara Y

    Wow, great article; I resonated with everything you said, as if I was writing the words. I too was born in LA (although, my mother divorced my dad and took me east, I still have California blood running through my veins). I had another exposure to the Beach Boys – they all learned and practiced Transcendental Meditation, and so did I. So, I saw them regularly (especially Mike Love, who to this day, if my memory serves me right, is still involved….I have since moved into pathless living. Since the topic is musicians, Donovan was another TM-er (and still is), and so were the Beatles (Paul still is). So, through TM I got lucky to enjoy 'front row seats' to hear some pretty awesome musicians. Even the Rolling Stones learned TM (along with Clint Eastwood, Mary Tyler Moore, Merv Griffin, and most recently Oprah and her entire staff).
    I love your icon: Leap. I often share my life story (as a life coach), describing my leaps off cliffs (figuratively), free falling, wondering if I will crash and burn; wondering whether or not someone will be there at the bottom to catch me….always discovering that the universe always supports me/us.
    I now have a chocolate company. My niche is fun food that is pure, clean and simple, but does NOT taste health foodie.
    Thanks again for sharing your times at Red Rocks, with the Beach Boys!!

    Reply
  21. Carol

    I can relate. A few years ago the Kingston Trio performed at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. Strangely, my husband wanted to see them. I personally liked rhythm & blues. But when they came out on stage they looked at the audience and said, “God, you look old”.

    Reply
  22. John D. English

    This story was so captivating that I almost missed my massage this afternoon. Thanx for sharing your gift. Yes, music is a bridge. Yet only rarely (Beach Boys are a good example.) is the bridge wide enough to impact the culture. Narrow bridges are great for individuals, but we need bridges like the Beach Boys who can draw in large swaths of the population. And then we need the magicians who can conjure respect and peace from those commingling on the bridge. Or, maybe we need wordsmiths like you!

    Reply
  23. Anita

    Thank you for writing about the Beach Boys; I felt like I was there and of course wish I had been. As a teen, my parents drove T-Birds so Fun Fun Fun was my theme song!

    Reply
  24. Anonymous

    Off the music note (!) but I wanted to ask if it was indeed you in the picture of the young couple with the baby and you and the man were wearing bandileros? Where could i get a copy of the pix? I had it for years and now I can't find it. My husband and I love it! It was us,too! Liz Quigley
    Quig45@comast.net

    Reply
  25. Peter Lake, LAKE Real Estate

    How many of us (me included) immigrated to California because of the mythological aura created by the Beach Boys?
    The state should erect a statue to them all.
    Somehow the proposed bullet train through trackless desert seems the antithesis of what the Beach Boys promised.

    Reply
  26. Mitch Davis

    Dear Sara,

    Thanks for your red glowing and nostalgic report of the Beach Boys concert you went to. I wish I could have been there, especially after reading your comments.

    Recently reread “Loose Change,” which also brought my cherished 60s days all back. (I'm 72 now).

    Keep writing and stay very well.

    All the best, Mitch Davis.

    Reply
  27. Kathy

    Sara,
    We share our love of all this…but there is a difference. I wore a bikini and destroyed my skin. Yes. But, I went into the water and spent hours there! I miss it right now. I wish I had been at that concert.

    Thanks for the blog.

    Reply
  28. Clarence Hayward

    Beach Boys are one of our favorites but last summer my wife and I taking our twenty one year old son Jason to Wrigley Field in Chicago to hear Paul McCartney play for three hours non stop was our all time favorite concert. I never dreamed I would have a son who loves the same music I grew up with.

    And in the end
    The love you take
    Is equal to the love you make.

    Reply
  29. Candace

    Thanks, Sara…the Beach Boys always were great and I love knowing they're still rocking out. Maybe they could be unofficial ambassadors and help to reunite this country. I hope to visit Red Rocks some day.

    Reply
  30. Anonymous

    Sara, I enjoyed what you wrote about the Beach Boys concert. I went to one of early shows on the tour in April in Atlanta and had a terrific time(we have a wonderful venue here, Chastain Park Amphitheater, although it sounds like nothing is a match for Red Rocks – hope to see a concert there someday). It was 2-1/2 hours of genuine joy.

    In many ways I think their history represents the struggles of life, especially Brian's story – the juxtaposition of the sweet, light, joyful sentiments alongside the heartache and absolute depths of the human soul. And the fact he is back on the road with them after all the years of darkness is pretty amazing and uplifting. Rob

    Reply
  31. Sandra

    You ask, What songs or artists seem embedded in your bones?

    Sixties Bob Dylan. I thought when I understood the lyrics, I’d be an adult.

    Reply
  32. Trisha

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I can literally feel the experience, including the majestic colors coming from the Red Rocks. Very powerful!

    U

    Reply
  33. Toby

    Lovely, Sara! I enjoy everything you write, but this tugged at some
    long-buried heartstrings as I remembered those days when our music
    expressed the innocence and hope we still had…long gone now.
    I hope all is well with you and I send hugs–

    Reply
  34. Eliz

    I went to Uni High. Mr. Rubinoff taught photo and mentored me along with quite a few other photographers. I swam at Leo Cobrillo beach along with shooting photos there. By the late 1960s I was more into the Stones, Dylan, and the Doors, but I too can sing every lyric by the fabulous Beach boys . Thanks for the memories.

    Reply
  35. Rachel

    Fantastic post. Iove the beach boys they were such a big part of my life too. Wish I could have been there too. Enjoyed hearing ur perspective re telling memories from the past

    Reply
  36. Shin

    Hello Sara from Shin Tokyo.
    You wrote in hte beginning “Can music transcend barriers?”
    Yes, That is true and I deeply enjoyed your message.
    As I was not so familier with that kind of music in US at that ages but I understood the importance music itself.
    Thank you Sara,
    Love, Shin

    Reply
  37. Anonymous

    Hi Sara – I resisted reading your blog until I saw the Beach Boys last night at Lake Tahoe. Every song has a memory – from spending time at the Sand and Sea Club in Santa Monica, extra-thick shakes at Delores' Drive-in on Wilshire and La Cienega to water skiing at Lake Tahoe.

    As we were driving out of the parking lot, the top was down, “All Summer Long” was playing on the stereo and while all of us are well past our teen years, we all felt 18 and terrific.

    Thanks for sharing.

    –Mark

    Reply
  38. Sara Davidson

    Hey Mark, I also went to the Sand and Sea Club with my kids, which we thought was heaven. I'm still bitter that it had to close, and the site sat fallow for 20 years.

    Shine on. Sara

    Reply