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The Beach Boys on the Beach

by David Soulsby, author of the novel "Somewhere in the Distance"


Wouldn’t it be nice, hopes Rick, if the reunion goes well, echoing The Beach Boys’ sentiment on the car radio as he travels down from Seattle to California along the Pacific Coast Highway, admiring the scenery and looking forward to meeting up again with friends from his teenage years. Although he’s been in touch with John and Mike by the occasional letter and phone call and, of course, the obligatory card at Christmas, he hasn’t seen them for several years now and the anticipation of seeing them again is tinged with a slight nervousness. After all, he ponders, people change and move on and the close links that used to bind become looser and seem less important. Still, Rick tells himself, what they had going for them growing up can’t be thrown aside and disregarded easily.

The invite to join up came out of the blue. A call from John one rainy night with a stiff breeze causing tree branches to come knocking on the windows. In contrast, the voice at the end of the line was soft and persuasive. Agreeing to go was easy. It was only in the intervening weeks that Rick has slight doubts.

Taking a few days off work, Rick waves goodbye to Cathy and the boys as he starts his leisurely journey down to Los Angeles, Cathy has told him to ‘take care, drive safely, and don’t drink too much, and give my regards to those two big lugs’. His two sons give him a hug and remind him ‘to bring back some big coloured pebbles from the beach’. It is such a simple request but one that fills him with pride. Rick loves his family above all else and feels a slight pang as he pushes down on the accelerator and turns south towards LA.

Rick has amused himself as the miles mount by drawing up his favourite Beach Boys songs, replaying them in his head, recalling them as if they were scripted for his life story so far. Songs, he muses, act as a soundtrack to ones experiences, emotions and expectations. ‘Play me a Beach Boys track and I’ll tell you where I was when I first heard it, who, if anyone, I was with, what was going on in my life and what was going on around me.’ Past memories, he believes, are just under the skin of the present.

One song in particular, Good Vibrations, means a lot: ‘Late 1966, and Cathy has finally agreed to marry me. What a lucky guy! Good vibrations were certainly what I had then. John and Mike ribbed me that Cathy must have felt sorry for me, me being “so ugly and boring”. You’re just jealous, I retorted, that such a gorgeous, smart gal should choose me when she could have had any guy she wanted. She had only to flutter those big brown eyes and do that coy smile thing she’s so good at and guys were left eating out of her hand. It sure worked on me. Yes, I’m a lucky guy, blessed beyond belief.’

Stopping off to marvel at the giant Redwood trees looming through the foggy morning air, Rick recalls witnessing their grandeur for the first time as a gawky kid on a school nature trip, staring in wonderment at their breath-taking height and immense circumference, in awe of living things that had been on earth for hundreds of years and thinking that perhaps there was, after all, a God, a supreme creator. How else could something so spectacularly inspirational and moving have come about? Now, back on the road, he runs through I Know There’s An Answer and God Only Knows, the lyrics beautiful and uplifting, and asserts that for all the horrors and heartbreak that plague the world, the good things always re-cement the crumbling belief and uncertainties that destabilize and unsettle the human condition.

Rick was an East coast kid originally, having been born in Boston, so when his family uprooted to settle in California he arrived as a novice. He was in alien territory, but he quickly took to the Californian life style like a duck to water and all with the help of John and Mike. They took him under their wing, befriended him and nurtured him in the wiles of their wonderful world. He felt like a pioneer, a groundbreaker.

With John and Mike in the summer of 1963, Rick, just 17, had spent day after day on the beach with the portable radio constantly on, listening to the pop songs of the day, particularly the Beach Boys’ Surfin’ USA and Jan and Dean’s Surf City, delighting in the imagery and glory of the sun, sea and surf that surrounded them. The songs brilliantly bottled the magic of the moment. With the sand between their toes and the gentle seduction of the ebb and flow of the waves, they were in heaven, wrapped in their idyllic existence and innocence of youth.

A cool breeze wafts across the open-top car, giving Rick some welcome relief from the hot, glaring sun. He adjusts his sunglasses, a gift from John on a birthday — was it 14 or 15? Can’t remember exactly, but he’d always treasured them. They weren’t expensive or stylish, but they were a gift from a friend, and that’s all that mattered.

John was always a favourite with the girls. They loved him: his good looks, his charming smile, his confident demeanour, his wicked sense of humour. He could charm the birds out of the trees. Ricks smiles: he put Mike and I in the shade, but we were always grateful as some of the female attention did occasionally come our way. While The Beach Boys extolled the joy of having Fun Fun Fun, we did just that.

Rick always knew when Mike was wrestling with a problem. He’d prowl around like an agitated animal inspecting the boundaries of its cage. He’d be restless until he’d solved whatever it was that was troubling him. When he was like that, both Rick and John knew not to push him. They let him work things out for himself. It always worked that way.

Arriving at his destination, Rick looks out across the vast Pacific, transporting his thoughts to the conflict that raged thousands of miles away, a conflict that, thank God, finally ended. Mike fought there, made it back safely, but never seemed quite the same. Soon after his return, Rick asked him what it was like. ‘It was hell,’ said Mike, his eyes in a faraway stare. Not wanting to pry too deeply, Rick let it go at that. Mike never spoke of it again, and Rick respected the silence, although he often wondered whether he should have pushed the issue, tried to understand what had gone on, how it had affected Mike, but he never did, and some part of him always regretted it.

A squawking gull swoops overhead, interrupting the moment. Rick takes a deep gulp of bracing air and smiles wryly, recalling that his mother once stood many years ago on a different shoreline, looking out across another vast ocean to an earlier bloody conflict from which his father returned physically unscathed but inwardly scarred. Rick had tried to talk to him about the war but, like Mike, his dad would only say that he was glad to be alive. That’s all he said and the matter was never mentioned again. The difference, thought Rick, between life and death must have been as thin as a sheet of paper.

Having time to kill, Rick grabs himself a cup of coffee and a chocolate bar, and finds himself a quiet spot on the beach. The early-morning sun smiles through faint wisps of clouds and the gulls soar and dip along the shoreline. A group of crack-of-dawn surfers have had their fun, dried themselves off and are heading back inland, their boards tucked tightly under their arms, and in the distance out at sea the bobbing sails of a small armada add movement to the curve of the horizon.

The sweet melt of chocolate helps lessen the bitter tang of coffee and Rick lips his lips to taste the salty air. The positive ions created by the pounding waves lift Rick’s spirits. He always felt that way about the ocean right from the off. Its power and vastness never cease to amaze, and move, him. So, now sat on a dune, he digs his hands into the sand and then makes arches with his fingers, happy in the warmth of the maturing sun. He turns to look up the beach where a group of giggling swim-suited young women dip their toes gingerly into the foam, running forward and then retreating as the incoming wash strokes their feet, noisily daring each other to be the first to take the plunge. Ah, California girls, says Rick, so tanned and cute, just like The Beach Boys told us all those years ago.

The beach is getting busier now as Rick bushes away the sand from his pants, discards his empty coffee cup and chocolate wrapper in a waste bin and heads towards the steps where the old friends have agreed to meet. The warm breeze fans his face. He peers over the sunglasses and squints into the distance as two familiar figures loom at the top of the steps. There’s no mistaking John’s upright gait and Mike’s round-shouldered shuffle.

Halfway down the steps, they quicken their stride, bounding forward like two teenagers from yesteryear. Hitting the sand, they both rush forward with their arms held out wide, faces beaming. Rick knows what’s coming: the big bear hugs that they used to give each other all those years ago. Rick braces himself for the impact. Everything looks like it’ll be OK, he whispers inside his head. Like Brian Wilson said ‘Wouldn’t it be nice?’.


David Soulsby lives in Romford, Essex,David Soulsby England, and is now retired after 46 years as a journalist. During his career, he worked on local and national newspapers and magazines, and in the Sixties met many of his musical heroes, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Brown and Mel Torme. He’s now freelancing as a writer and proof-reader, working from home. He’s the author of Somewhere In The Distance, a novel about four friends growing up in the Sixties.




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