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Bruce Golden, The Beach Boys: Southern California Pastoral (1976)


Bruce Golden’s Southern California Pastoral, one of the earlier Beach Boys books (the version pictured is the 1991 update), is an artifact from an era when laid back English professors were the primary academic curators of pop music studies. (A favorite from that era is David Pichaske’s A Generation in Motion from 1979, a unique, “rock lyrics as poetry” social studies exercise on the sixties.) Golden, recently retired, worked the English beat at the University of California-San Bernardino, and his book was the first volume in a Borgo Press projected series of pop music analyses. (Vol. 2 was a 1997 treatment of Rush, so watch for vol. 3 in 2018 or so.)

Golden’s main purpose is to tie the BB’s into the ancient Greek pastoral poetic tradition in which simple methods of expression, prompted by longings for peace and tranquility, were frequently used to communicate a wide range of complex emotions. Fine with me, and frankly, so is his decision to skip too many details on the ancient side of things and to present us with a manageable 50 pages (fewer than the 54 pages of discography, notes, bibliography and index).

Some things to keep in mind: 1) Golden is writing to an audience that has perhaps heard of the Beach Boys but knows little about them; 2) this is not a biography so much as a rumination on their cultural significance, and may therefore be the only Beach Boys book not to mention Murry Wilson; 3) He sets a world record even in this small book for words written about the Still Cruisin’ album (but he skips altogether Carl and the Passions as well as everything between Holland and Still Cruisin’); 4) He utters, in the beginning, what may sound like sinister words to those who have always yearned for Brian to break down barriers and to never stop reaching for the heavens: “Learning to operate freely within one’s limits is the first sign of professionalism in the arts.” But don’t worry, that’s as sinister as it gets.

(Passage spotlight: “Perhaps the most interesting aspect of 1985’s Golden Harmonies compilation is the cover. Set in a golden frame, it shows a postcard-like picture of ‘today’s’ Beach Boys running along the shoreline. Most prominent is Brian, running in the middle of them all, his large, white, untanned stomach thrust forward and bearded head tilted back. He seems to be enjoying himself, as does the rest of the band.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen this album before, and the picture Golden paints in my mind is kind of hysterical. Does anyone have it?)

One Response to “Bruce Golden, The Beach Boys: Southern California Pastoral (1976)”

  1. Boneyard Media » Blog Archive » The Beach Boys - Golden Harmonies (1985) Says:

    […] visitor Rex for sending me an image of the scarce UK Golden Harmonies compilation I talked about here. I recognize the pic as an outtake not from an 80’s photo session, but a late 60’s one […]

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