George Will’s column this morning celebrates the 50th anniversary tour of the Beach Boys, and brings along some excerpts from the late James Q. Wilson’s classic 1967 Commentary essay, “A Guide to Reagan Country.” (This is the essay where, among other things, Wilson said that not only did he not sympathize with Reagan, but that “even if I thought like that, which I don’t, I would never write it down anywhere my colleagues at Harvard might read it.” Wilson ended up as the Ronald Reagan Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University.)
But if you want the Full Monty treatment about the Beach Boys transected with California life and culture, run–do not walk–to the latest issue of the Claremont Review of Books, where Michael Anton’s essay on the Beach Boys, “Paradise Lost and Regained,” is just out from behind the subscriber firewall. It’s a splendid tour from the general to the particular–the particular being the release, after many years in semi-obscurity, of the Beach Boys’ famous unfinished album Smile.
The release last fall, after 44 years, of the Beach Boys’ abandoned masterpiece Smile is a milestone of American popular culture. Rolling Stone has called it “the most famous unfinished album in rock & roll history.” But Smile is also something much bigger. It is the pinnacle artistic achievement of a lost civilization, the middle-class, baby-boom, sun-soaked, clean-cut, work-hard-play-hard, bungalow-and-car culture of post-war Southern California. It wasa paradise for the common man, one that produced legions of loyal and productive citizens, developed the modern aerospace industry, helped the West win the Cold War, and exported an attractive and fundamentally decent (if often vapid) vision of American life to every corner of the globe.
That’s just the lede. Read the whole thing. You’ll be enthralled. And don’t forget to subscribe to the Claremont Review of Books if you haven’t already.