Fortunately, amongst my pre-internet correspondence is a letter, which some people say could be valuable because the guy who wrote it was once sort of famous, even if younger readers will have never heard of him.
But I am not the collector type. I am more enthused knowing that by the click of a button I can effortlessly share this letter with 263 plumpluckers. This to me is more exciting than any price it might fetch at Sothebys.
I am going to pass this on to you unedited and without judgement on my part. Though it is true, as Carl writes, that I was pretty good at the Surfer’s Stomp, that was, by all standards, a very stupid and physically limited dance.
One little bit of editorial comment is called for. The author of the letter I am forwarding to you complains that NASA only sent up high-brow cultural material in the space capsule, when, in fact, amongst literature’s greatest tomes, replications of famous art pieces, scientific laws and the works of classical composers, there was a song from Chuck Berry, which led to a famous Steve Martin joke:
There is life out there after all, folks. Aliens have responded to our Voyager space probe and I am privileged to read for you their first message to earth: “Send more Chuck Berry”.
Were we important? Did we matter? That’s what I want to get straight once and for all because there are some people out there who want to put us down, saying we were just a product of our time, which I don’t think is fair. I don’t think it’s true, either.
You see I’m not talking about just back then. Everybody knows we were important then. For Christ’s sake, we were — and as far as I know — still are, the most successful music group in the history of America. We reached hundreds of millions, touched the lives of hundreds of millions. No, you see, I’m talking about the long run, historically speaking. What’s our place in the big, long, historical picture? Ten years, twenty years, a hundred years on? That is what I want to get straightened out and established, Greg.
For starters, everyone knows that Brian was a genius — it’s a documented fact. Is it too much to claim that we were all somehow part of that geniusness? and that the band was itself a genius band? Because beyond all doubt we struck a chord with, not just America, but the entire civilized, free world. And I’m talking about both our music and our lyrics here.
Why do know-it-alls mock our lyrics? Is it because we didn’t go for the big fancy words and all the mystical razzmatazz? Do you really think that the hippies and the junkies had a clue what they were singing about? Our songs went to the core of what really matters. You don’t need big and fancy words to tell it like it is.
Oh what she does to me When she makes love to me And she says don’t worry baby Don’t worry baby Everything will turn out alright
Do you see what I mean, Greg?
And then there is this thing about how nice, clean cut guys can’t be exceptional at anything. The media needs you to be weird and eccentric and carry on like an asshole to make your mark in this business. Hey, we hung out with Charles Manson — a mass murderer, but nobody remembers that — nobody gives us credit for that. And even though me and my brothers know a thing or two about drugs, just because we dressed Ivy League and avoided four-letter words we were considered corny, prissy, square, and unexciting. That’s so distorted.
Is Jim Morrison more cool because he drowned in a bathtub after shooting himself up with heroin? Or Jimi Hendrix? Let me tell you, Brian could easily have done that, if we hadn’t paid that SOB Landy to have him bodyguarded 24 hours a day. Christ, Brian could have eaten himself to death on hamburgers and fries if we hadn’t stopped him. OK, that most likely wouldn’t have helped our ranking in history. It would have probably been just one more thing to hold against us. Anything to put us down.
Not that we aren’t used to it. Can you imagine how it felt for us when the English invaded? And I mean not just the Beatles and the Stones, who afteral had something going for them, but all those other idiots with weirdo hairdos and stupid three-sizes-too-small suits. All you needed was a British accent and a flat ass and all of America was at your feet. What is it with America, abandoning their best bands and greatest artists for that crap? Let me tell you — that hurt.
But I’m not just comparing us to the Brits. I’m talking about the whole world of music. Take the classic dudes, for example. Who is to say that what we did counts for less than those old European guys — Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and all the rest? Who is to say that they should be immortal and yet deny that status to us? Sure, they had more notes, longer songs, bigger orchestras, wore funny outfits and worked for kings and princes. But so what? Is a melody with a hundred notes worth more than a melody with seven? Are symphonies better than rock songs because they’re longer and more elaborate? Is old stuff better than new stuff? Do American presidents like Ronald Reagan and George Bush count for less than German royalty? Because those guys — the presidents I mean — they were our fans in case you didn’t know.
I am fully aware that charts and sales are not the whole story. Just because we sold more records than all those classical guys combined — and I mean like ten times more — this is not proof enough. They didn’t have record players and charts back in the old days, so you can’t make that comparison. But what are you going to measure with? And who gets to make the call? Music professors? DJ’s on classical radio station? Cultural snobs? Wealthy widows? Politicians? Do the big shots alone get to lay down the law? What about the people? What about you, Greg?
Of course we’re used to all the negativism. Remember when they said we were stealing our material from the blacks? C’mon man, weren’t we, like, the whitest band in history? Who ever heard of a black surfer? Obviously I’ve got nothing against them, but the other day I heard someone say that Chubby Checker was going to be immortal because he invented the Twist and that even if theTwist was not in vogue right now it would always come back in style every 27 years and then people would remember Chubby.
Sounds like bullshit to me. But OK, what if it is true? Then what about our Surfer’s Stomp? Is the Twist a cooler dance than the Surfer’s Stomp? You were pretty good at the Surfer’s Stomp, Greg — would you say the Twist was superior?
Anyway, I don’t think Chubby Checker invented the Twist. I think he stole it from someone. Probably from a white guy, ha ha.
May I add here, on a personal note, without boasting, and hopefully not confusing the issue, that I had a beautiful voice. Excuse me for saying so, but hello! I sang lead on Good Vibrations, one of the greatest songs in history. Do you think I’m just another voice amongst thousands of beautiful voices, Greg? Would you say I’m not special — that just anybody could have sung Good Vibrations? Give me a break. Do you think the Supremes, or Elvis Presley, or the Three Tenors, or Caruso even . . . ? Think about it!
God only knows what the world would have been without us. But I don’t think it would have been the same. I don’t think we were just silly little boys from Hawthorne, California, riding a silly little wave that was just one of many waves that wash up on the shore and sink into the sand, gone forever. Listen, Greg!Little surfer Little one Make my heart come undone
They didn’t want to send that up in the space capsule. The professors and academics didn’t get it. It wasn’t arty-farty enough for them. They just sent up the European classical stuff and a bunch of weird music nobody ever heard of. Who is so dumb that they think they know what the space people are going to go for, anyway?
Keep on surfin’
Jan 21, 1998