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There's a reason your kids love the Beach Boys: It's in the music

Will I joke around and still dig those sounds, when I grow up to be a man?

 

Al Jardine is having a grand old time on tour with his Beach Boys bandmate Brian Wilson.

"I enjoy revisiting the, shall we say, more esoteric stuff that we've done in the past," he said by phone from Easton, Pa. His tour with Wilson, which hits St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater on Tuesday, digs deeper than the "hits machine" that is the modern version of the Beach Boys, led by Mike Love.

"A lot of people like that, and that's okay," Jardine said. "We tend to take it to the next level."

But if you really want to hear Jardine gush, ask about his son Matt, who sings falsetto and plays guitar in Wilson's band.

"He got a standing O last night!" Al said. "He covers Don't Worry Baby, and the girls start screaming just like the old days. I couldn't believe it! He comes downstage with me, and he does his thing, and I mean, the girls love it."

Considering the music he grew up on, it's no coincidence that Matt followed in his father's footsteps. The Beach Boys' sweet and deceptively simple songs have long transcended generations, appealing to both parents and children in ways few artists ever have.

Baby boomers who grew up swooning to Surfer Girl and God Only Knows played those songs for the children of generation X, many of whom did the same for their own young millennials.

Credit for this ageless appeal, Jardine said, goes to Wilson, "a writer, composer, arranger, producer and singer without compare." Fifty years on, his glorious summer anthems still feel like the essence of innocence, forever preserved in the amber of the California sun.

"Those simple little songs you learn as a child," Jardine said, "are the ones you remember for the rest of your life."

 

• • •I'm picking up good vibrations ...

• • •

There's a moment in the recent Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy when his future wife, Melinda Ledbetter, played by Elizabeth Banks, tells him: "I love your music. I grew up on it."

Imagine how many times Wilson has heard those words: I grew up on it. I can imagine, because, well, I grew up on it, too. I remember long road trips in the family van with my mother's Beach Boys cassette plugged into the dash — this, mind you, was in the '80s, long after the band became America's answer to the Beatles.

"That music was really my dad's music," said Phil Celli, 50, co-owner of the rock school the St. Petersburg Music Factory. "That's how I got into it. There were Beach Boys albums just lying around, and you kind of fall in love with those harmonies."

The song that hooked Celli was Surfin' Safari, from the Beach Boys' 1962 album of the same name. This was the mid-'70s, and Celli was maybe 10 at the time. You can hear why it appealed: that chugging little beat, a falsetto just begging to be mimicked, lyrics so simple even a child could parrot them back.

While it was not written as a children's song, Surfin' Safari, like other early Beach Boys hits, features many sonic elements that resonate with kids in early childhood.

Patricia Shehan Campbell, a music professor and head of ethnomusicology at the University of Washington, said young children are drawn to faster, driving tempos (think Surfin' Safari or Surfin' U.S.A.). They also respond to repetitive sounds and lyrics, especially when delivered with "melodic motifs and rhythms."

Ba-ba-ba, ba-Barbara Ann ...

Round-round get-around, I get around ...

And she'll have fun, fun, fun, till her daddy takes the T-Bird away ...

As children develop, so do their musical minds. Some, Campbell said, intuitively embrace syncopated rhythms that "they would never be able to intellectualize" — think Little Deuce Coupe, Help Me Rhonda or Good Vibrations.

And once they begin to hear and comprehend harmony around ages 7 to 9, that opens up a whole new world of sonic interpretation.

Five years after discovering Surfin' Safari, Celli graduated to Wilson's 1966 magnum opus Pet Sounds, featuring iconic, harmonically complex singles like Wouldn't It Be Nice and God Only Knows. "As a teenager, you'd never heard anyone sound like that," Celli said.

Decades later, the same was true for Charlie Ries. He was 17 when, inspired by a Rolling Stone list of the greatest albums of all time, he downloaded Pet Sounds for his iPod.

"When I was in school, I'd take breaks and go listen to it," he said. "The first time I heard it, I was like, What is this? Why is this so popular? This is crazy. And then the second time, it hit me, and I realized what a genius he was."

Now 20 and half of the Clearwater rock duo the Ries Brothers, Ries became obsessed with Wilson's songwriting, his life story, his vocal arrangements. He found a vocals-only mix of Wouldn't It Be Nice on YouTube and played it over and over and over, trying to unravel harmonies that resonated with him in a way that he still can barely explain.

"You can do harmonies on many different instruments, but this is all voices," he said. "The more parts you add in, it gets harder. They were able to do five-part harmonies, and they're all different, and they're all perfectly in synch."

 

• • •Will my kids be proud, or think their old man is really a square?

• • •

Wilson was still a teen himself when he formed the Beach Boys in 1961, along with his brothers Carl and Dennis (who died in 1998 and 1983, respectively), cousin Mike Love and their friend Jardine.

Even when things turned dysfunctional, family was always a deeply ingrained part of the Beach Boys experience. Every member had children who went on to music careers of their own, including Jardine's sons Matt and Adam, and Brian Wilson's daughters Carnie and Wendy of Wilson Phillips.

In the '70s, these children would join their fathers in the studio. You can hear Matt and Adam Jardine alongside their dad on the Beach Boys' 1978 cover of the Del-Vikings' doo-wop classic Come Go With Me.

"They did the finger snaps, which was really cool," Jardine said.

For Matt, growing up in close proximity to the "perfect symphony" that is Wilson's music couldn't help but inform his life as a musician.

"Everyone has this perception that Beach Boys songs are easy to play," said Matt, who has toured with both Wilson and Love's Beach Boys. "But I challenge anyone to pick up a guitar or sit down at the piano and try to play these things correctly. They are very intricate. And then you pop the harmonies on top of them, and it's a challenge. But they're very, very, very easy on the ear."

Even an album as complex as Pet Sounds can be profoundly accessible to young listeners. The twinkling Sloop John B is actually a traditional Bahamian folk song; Jardine, who initially urged Wilson to record it, later adapted the song into a children's book.

Today, you'll often see multiple generations in the crowd at a Beach Boys or Brian Wilson concert.

"Everyone brings their kids, and their grandkids," Jardine said. "It's important to see it while we're still here. ... We're just lucky to be in the presence of some great music, and the creator of a lot of that great music. It's a pretty amazing time."

Wilson may not have imagined, 50 years ago, that his songs about cars and surfboards and wistful innocence — the sunny soundtrack of youth — would still resonate with children and teens as he reached his mid-70s. Today, it's clear they always will.

"Twenty years from now, you can have a kid discover Beach Boys music, and it's going to sound brand new to them," said Celli, who has seen Wilson in concert at least 20 times. "I suppose you could say that for every song, but Beach Boys music resonates this freshness, this vocal purity, if that doesn't sound too corny. It just makes you feel good."

You feel, in other words, like a kid again. Like you'd just gone surfing in the fountain of youth.

Happy times together, we've been spending

I wish that every kiss was neverending

Wouldn't it be nice?

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

If you go

Brian Wilson

Wilson performs with Al Jardine at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Mahaffey Theater, 400 First St. S, St. Petersburg. Tickets are $49.50 and up. (727) 892-5767 or themahaffey.com.

There's a reason your kids love the Beach Boys: It's in the music 11/11/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2015 2:51pm]
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