I haven’t written a short story for a while and tonight I’m in the mood to do so, so that’s what I’m going to do. And there’s nothing you can do about it...so there! (All photos in this post are by David Dalton.)
Last week it was announced that the Beach Boys were going to reunite for a 50th Anniversary tour. I’m a big Beach Boys fan, but I have mixed emotions about it. Both Dennis and Carl Wilson are dead, and to me, they were the heart and soul of the band, much in the way that Keith Moon embodied the true spirit of The Who. One cool thing coming out of this, is that original guitarist, David Marks is going to be part of the band for the tour and I think for the new recording they’re working on. He played guitar and sang on the first four Beach Boys albums and played about 100 shows with them. He quit after he and his parents had several arguments about money with Murry Wilson, Brian, Carl and Dennis’ father who was their manager at the time and an uncontrolled lunatic. I’ve always thought of David Marks as the “Pete Best” of the Beach Boys and it’s nice to see him get a decent payday out of the deal. Maybe they should call the tour: “The David Marks Can Finally Pay Rent Again, Tour!”
This was also the year that they finally released the legendary SMiLE album and sessions. I was happy about this as I’ve been dying to hear the original tapes, put out in a well produced and engineered manner.
Anyway, all this news made me think about the very last issue of fishwrap, which was a magazine version of the aforementioned Beach Boys legendary SMiLE album.
I started writing and publishing my magazine fishwrap in 1994. I’ve written about the magazine before, but it was basically devoted to satirizing and making fun of the world of mainstream magazines. It started out as a 14 page black and white fanzine and eventually grew to a 48 page, glossy magazine with distribution out of San Francisco from BigTop Publishing. The magazine had gotten nice write-ups in the NY Daily News, Spin Magazine, Sassy magazine, NY Post, Men’s Journal, USA Today and my hometown paper, the Peoria Journal Star among others and it had built up a loyal cult following.
Every issue sold between three to five thousand copies and that wasn’t too shabby considering I did the bulk of the writing and my friend Clare did the layouts and we were both working fulltme jobs. I was always hoping that someone would back the idea, put some money behind it and we could take fishwrap to the next level and maybe break even or even—gasp—make money doing it. I had gotten a few meetings, but none of them panned out and by 2001, I was really burned out and was thinking about putting fishwrap to bed for good.
Then September 11th happened and after that, I was totally bummed out and I decided it was time to move on. At first I wasn’t going to do a final issue, but one night in October I was home listening to a bootleg version of SMiLE, by the Beach Boys.
One of my favorite albums of all times is Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. It’s right up there with Revolver by the Beatles and other classic albums from the sixties. It kind of tanked here in the states, because Capital records didn’t get behind it, but it was huge in England and Paul McCartney has said it was an inspiration for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The follow up to Pet Sounds was a project that Brian Wilson called, “a teenage symphony to God.” The working title was, “Dumb Angel” but eventually it was going to be called “SMiLE.” It was really an ambitious project and the songs and sounds were as far away from what the original Beach Boys surf and car songs could be. It was an album that was highly anticipated, but never came out.
Brian Wilson and lyricist Van Dyke Parks were doing a lot of drugs and there was some resistance to the new songs, particularly by Mike Love, who berated Van Dyke Parks so badly, he walked away from the project. Finally, Brian Wilson pretty much had a breakdown and shelved the tapes and retreated to his bedroom. SMiLE never came out till this year, but there’s been plenty of bootlegs of it released and I had one and it's what I was listening to on that fateful night.
About halfway through the album, the lightbulb went off over my head while listening to it and wishing they would’ve released it: “Why not do a magazine version of SMiLE?” SMiLE would finally be released but in magazine form instead of a musical entity. I thought it would be a fun way to end fishwrap and decided to do it.
Instead of myself doing all the writing, I decided to pair up writers and artists and have them take a song from SMiLE and write a story or essay about it and the artist could do a piece of art inspired by the song. Then I’d pair them up in a layout. I decided not to write much myself, but rather act as the “producer” of the magazine and put it all together.
Two people that were key in putting this together were Domenic Priore and Gary “Pig” Gold. Domenic is a well-known Beach Boys historian and Gary “Pig” Gold is a writer who also played in Endless Summer, Canada's only authorized Beach Boys tribute band. Both of them, especially Domenic had contacts that would prove to be key to this project and led to a happy surprise at the end of it.
Domenic had a slew of emails including two people I was sure I’d never hear back from. The first was Van Dyke Parks, a legendary musician in his own right and he’s the man who penned lyrics for a good portion of the SMiLE songs. The other was David Leaf, a longtime associate and friend of Brian Wilson as well as one of his managers. Well, I sent off emails to both and was shocked to hear back from both of them within 24 hours!
I had asked David if he thought Brian Wilson would be at all interested in contributing anything to this project and I also asked him if it was okay to do it. He sent me back a nice email, wrote that Brian was busy, but it sounded like an interesting project and wanted to know if I would send him a copy when it was done to show to Brian Wilson. Holy shitballs, Brian Wilson was going to look at it, talk about putting the pressure on!
Shortly after that an email from Van Dyke Parks rolled in. He said he was too busy to contribute anything, but thought it was a great idea and wished me luck. Never in my life did I ever expect to get an email from Van Dyke Parks, really crazy!
Another person I immediately contacted was my friend David Dalton. David used to write for Rolling Stone and has written many books including: Faithfull, the Autobiography of Marianne Faithfull, (co-written with Faithfull), El Sid, Mr. Mojo Risin’ and To Hell and Back, Meat Loaf's autobiography (co-written with Meatloaf). I knew that David was friends with Dennis Wilson and I called him and he signed on and wrote a great story about the first time he met Brian Wilson. And as an afterthought he asked if I’d like some photos he took of Brian and the Beach Boys back in the day. And then he told me that some of them had never been published! I had hit the jackpot. (The photos are the same ones used for art in this post.)
And speaking of hitting the jackpot, another contact Domenic had was Frank Holmes, the artist who designed the SMiLE cover. I sent Frank an email and he agreed to do an illustration to accompany Gary “Pig” Gold’s story on the song, “Wonderful.” That was really the cherry on top of the sundae.
Everybody did a great job and I was thrilled with the issue when it came out. I nervously mailed six copies to David Leaf and anxiously awaited word from him. Part of me thought that maybe he wouldn’t even bother to show Brian, because I know there was always mixed feelings about the album that never came out.
Immediately it started getting attention on the internet and it started selling like crazy. I was getting emails from people in other countries asking for copies and in the end, Tower Records sold out of three separate orders. It kind of took on a life of its own. One thing that happened was someone put up a website about the magazine without my knowledge, this really cracked me up, a bootleg website devoted to a magazine that was inspired by a bootleg CD. That’s really going full circle!
About two weeks after I had mailed David Leaf’s copies out to California, I got a package in the mail and the return address was from David Leaf. I was curious as to what he was sending me and ripped the package open and I was staring at the back cover of the SMiLE issue of fishwrap. Immediately my paranoia kicked in full blast and I thought of the worst.
“Fuck, this must be his way of saying he hated it,” I thought to myself and breaking out in a sweat.
I flipped the magazine over and there was some writing up top in a black magic marker. After looking at it closer, I realized it said, “Brian Wilson.” I couldn’t believe it and fired off an email and asked him if that was really Brian’s autograph and he wrote back and said it was. He told me Brian liked it and thought the idea and the magazine was really cool. I couldn’t have been happier.
The issue ended up being the best selling issue of all the fishwrap’s. It was wonderful to go out on top. And with a SMiLE.
Special thanks to all who participated in the issue: Domenic Priore, Gary Pig Gold, Jim “Swami” Wombacher, Frank Holmes, David Dalton, Mark Johnson, Frank Scott, Jonas Land, Anissa Mack, Jaime Chirinos and Rich Ruggerio.