“Surf City-The Jan & Dean Story”

Surf City: The Jan and Dean Story

This is strangely readable.

Writing is an art, a talent that most people don’t possess. After finishing this, I tried to crack the new Brian Wilson book, it was unfathomable, short sentences as if you were in the room and the man himself was free-associating. That’s Brian, but that’s not a book.

But both Brian and Dean Torrence collaborated in the old days, along with Jan Berry, of course, a rich kid with a high IQ who owned the record charts when hits were teen fodder and the Beatles had not yet legitimized the pop sound. Jan and Brian heralded the revolution, the latter sustained, but both were trailblazers.

They grew up in Southern California. That’s the heart of this book. Growing up in West L.A. and going to Uni High and playing football and going surfing, it was a simpler time. One all of those alive were exposed to on national television, where all these shows were shot, where it was sunny every day and if there might not have been two girls for every boy, you believed you had a fighting chance.

Dean met Jan on the gridiron. The latter was cool, the former was not. And when Jan invited Dean to a party at his house he was over the moon.

High school. It’s not all mini-Mark Cubans cooking up inventions promoted by social media. And despite today’s moms complaining to the authorities when their kids get bullied, back then you were on your own, and it was the hardest battle of your life, just surviving. Sure, as an oldster you’ve got to earn a living, but that’s nothing compared with walking the halls of high school and trying to remain unscathed.

So Jan’s dad bought him a bunch of recording equipment and turned their garage into a studio. That’s the way of the world folks, the rich have advantages, their charges don’t work at Dairy Queen and can indulge both their fantasies and desires. No equipment, no act. And only a rich kid would be cool with being dropped by his record label.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Jan was the driver and everybody else cared very little, one by one they dropped out, and when Dean went up north for Army Reserve training he was excised from the group, but then Arnie, the only other man left left, and Dean filled his spot. Because Jan needed somebody. But the label didn’t like the change and that’s how they lost their deal but…

Life is about accidents. For all the planning you read about in business books, most people float through and are thrown into situations that they either take advantage of or not. Dean wanted to sing, but he also wanted to make sure he didn’t get drafted.

And the people they were involved with! Lou Adler and Herb Alpert were their managers. Who ultimately passed them off to guys who could better penetrate the movie and TV business. Who you’re aligned with is everything, you need a manager with relationships, or one who is bullheaded and can make them.

And the act succeeds and they play football against Elvis Presley’s TCB team in a park in Beverly Glen and then Jan cracks up his Corvette on Sunset Boulevard and is brain-damaged.

Thank god Dean was going to USC, whose degree he could employ to become a graphic designer.

And then there’s a TV movie of their story fifteen years later and ultimately more touring and…

You end up with a charmed life.

Or maybe it just looks that way in hindsight.

After the reunion, Jan got hooked on cocaine. Dean had to shut down the act, work with Mike Love, he ultimately made Jan an employee, he needed to be in control. When the hits dry up that’s everything, for then it’s all business. And speaking of control, Dean talks about working with James William Guercio, who kept getting punted by acts by exerting too much of it. It’s a constant struggle, the acts think you’re wrong and sometimes they’re right and we only know for sure years down the line.

But what I do know is it used to be different. Music was a lark, not a road to riches. Some were bitten by the bug and there was a coterie of youngsters willing to slurp up every drop. Your parents did not have a hold on you, the most important thing was what kind of car you drove and the boys were in search of the girls, the boys are always in search of the girls.

And if you read this book you’ll learn nuggets heretofore untold. Like the reason Jan had a cast on his leg in that album cover photo was… They were filming a movie and there was a train wreck, Dean was off in search of lunch, he escaped.

And he’s now 76. And some of what he says in the book, you cannot say. Maybe it’s just humor, but youngsters may view it as sexist. These faux pas are minor, but glaring. Funny how we all think we’re so hip and find out we’re behind the times.

And the book could have used a proofreader. Sam Cooke’s name is spelled without an “e,” and that’s only the most obvious of errors. And there are some timeline issues, but…

The book kept calling me back. I wanted to immerse myself in what once was. See it from the viewpoint of someone who’s not complaining, just testifying. As to how it was when Southern California was a hotbed of hedonism and a recording industry was built by musicians bitten by the bug promoted by self-appointed hustlers. The disruption came from those making the music as opposed to those distributing it.

And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I loved “Surf City,” and “The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena).” And to hear any stories about Dennis and Carl Wilson floats my boat.

But I also realize that back then, in the era I grew up in, money wasn’t everything, following your dream was. The last place you wanted to work was the bank. You wanted to be on the beach, playing volleyball, having fun, experiencing life with the radio on.

With the radio on.

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