The Beach Boys' "Kokomo": The Musical And Personal Horrors

Categories: The Beach Boys

This month, to celebrate the Internet's unbridled love for wallowing in nostalgia and even greater relishing of talking about why certain cultural artifacts are horrible, Sound of the City presents First Worsts, a series in which our writers remember the first time... they ever hated a song enough to call it The Worst. (And to be fair, we're also going to see how these songs have stood the test of time.)

THE SONG: The Beach Boys, "Kokomo."
THE YEAR: 1988.
THE REASONS: Personal humiliation.

The first time I smuggled outside media into my parents' house, I was six, and I had just accidentally discovered Magnum P.I. For two full minutes I stared full-eyed at Tom Selleck, resplendent in florals, trying simultaneously to both determine what alien culture I was observing, and to commit to memory the rabbit-ear alchemy with which I had finally extracted the illicit CBS signal from the open air. My parents held a principled and effective cross-source embargo on violent and sexist media from my birth until I was in junior high (I can instead recite parts of Free To Be You And Me from memory), so my Tom time was cut short only moments thereafter, but the Selleckian afterimage stayed with me, iconic, for decades. And, just to be clear, I understand fully how insane that sounds. These are the aftereffects of such a paucity of interaction with popular culture—when you can only grasp at culture's hem, you obsess over the nature of the garment.

Consequently, I can not only count the important records of my childhood on one hand, but summon them with terrifying recall. My dad's Pontiac LeMans had not a stereo system, but a pink cassette deck hard-wired into a raw gap in the console, duct-taped face-down to the dash, a live Louis Prima and Keely Smith tape jailed within—that was one. The Mothers of Invention's We're Only In It For The Money, art and music both jeweled with strange, unknowable references—that was another. The late-80's theme to NPR's Morning Edition, with the trumpet—I should not be allowed to count this, but here it is. Lastly, though, was a single 45, so impactful that the center label is probably scorched in miniature onto a sub-nape synaptic cluster, and I am sorry for speaking it aloud because it is about to get stuck in your head. I am talking about The Beach Boys' "Kokomo."

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Live: The Beach Boys Bring The (Mostly) Good Vibrations To The Beacon

The Beach Boys
Beacon Theater
Wednesday, May 9

Better than: You were almost definitely expecting.

Yes, John Stamos introduced them. And, yeah, they filed onstage, called out one by one by their bandleader in true showbiz style while the backing musicians—twice as many as original members—struck up a tasty groove. But then, there they are, the Beach Boys. "For fifty generations they are still going strong," Stamos says during the intro, a tongue slip, but it makes more sense with the sight of Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnston. All around 70, theirs are faces that seem to have occupied vast tracts of time—'60s sunshine, '70s implosion, '80s chintz, '90s wilderness730151;and somehow survived into the second decade of the 21st century to arrive at the Beacon Theater for two shows this week. To point out that they are grandparents many times over is besides the point, which is that they're the Beach Boys.

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Nine Starting Points For A Beach Boys YouTube Wormhole

The Beach Boys on The T.A.M.I. Show.
Beach Boys YouTube wormholes can take many paths, from sunshine-draped reveries to sudden decisive turns towards the seriously depressing. But no clickbait-enhanced listicle of questionable Mike Love sartorial/dance/aesthetic moves, horrifying Brian Wilson zombie moments, made-for-TV movies, or John Stamos appearances could ever possibly top the legendary bootleg Endless Bummer: The Very Worst of the Beach Boys, which has all the Brian rap, Budweiser ads, drunken in-studio rants by stage-father Murry Wilson, and Spanish versions of "Kokomo" that one might (hopefully) ever desire. With the band coming to town for two shows at the Beacon Theater this week, and at least a few people planning to go—plus the onset of actual summer and all that—it's good vibrations only today. You can Google the rest yourselves.

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Q&A: Brian Wilson On His Gershwin Influences, Working With Van Dyke Parks, And The Smile Reissue

Below are more excerpts from my late May interview with Brian Wilson that served as the basis for this week's cover story. We talked about his thoughts on this year's release of the long-delayed Smile, the unpleasant memories of its creation, reuniting with collaborator Van Dyke Parks after 40 years, and the much-rumored Beach Boys reunion.

You've talked about listening to "Rhapsody in Blue" as a child, and last year you released your album of Gershwin standards. What is it about Gershwin's music that has proven so impactful throughout your life?

Well, his harmonies I like a lot. I learned a lot about music from him.

What specifically in the harmonies is so resonant with you?

His violins.

Your love of Gershwin certainly answers the question from "When I Grow Up (to Be a Man)": "Will I dig the same things that turned me on as a kid?" What else from your childhood do you still love today?

Chuck Berry. Phil Spector.

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Brian Wilson: "I'm Not Really Interested" In Reuniting The Beach Boys


Brian Wilson's interview with the Voice's Stacey Anderson will appear in our June 8 issue, just in time for his residency at Highline Ballroom June 11-13. During the shows, the reclusive genius will perform last year's album of George Gershwin standards, Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin, as well as select Beach Boys hits.

While speaking with Anderson today, Wilson denied the rumor that the Beach Boys will reunite next year in celebration of their 50th anniversary, as reported in Rolling Stone and by the BBC.

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