Well, I just had to say something about the SMiLE box set!
First, it pretty much goes without saying that it’s fantastic, utterly beguiling and presented in as good a sound quality as we could ever possibly expect, and now I’ve now spent a few magnificent hours listening, it’s just amazing how ‘otherworldly’ it still sounds. (and not in the all-to-easy to prescribe narrative of chemically induced near-madness or deliberate ‘childishness’)
To me, it feels like music from a parallel universe to what ‘pop’ and rock music have become and it’s still as unique and ‘out of place’ today as it was in its mid-sixties birth.
SMiLE could be described as taking cues from American, European and Oriental folk tales – from the Brothers Grim and Hans Christian Anderson – from classical music – from romantic and gothic poetry. (“It’s Red Riding Hood, Mark Twain, Twilight and Mozart, Jim, but not as we know it”) and, although it’s obviously unfinished, the music still manages to present such a powerful and magical half-remembered journey through everything that made America…
..and then it coats a dollop of humour and eccentricity to make what is surely the perfect American fairytale.
What struck me is how other talented (or not!) ‘western’ artists and even dedicated ‘copyists’ have never approached the true feel and scope of SMiLE. All those people who have tried to copy it, to use the same sounds, write in the same style… they have missed the spirit of SMILE by light years. Nothing FEELS like SMiLE, nothing transports you to the places where SMiLE goes.
Sure there was and still is lots of greatexperimental and interesting crossovers of music around… (and there hopefully always will be!) But when I go back and listen to a lot of music that tries to mix blues, country, r&b, pop, classical, Indian (or whatever) it’s starting to feel a bit like ‘cheating’. What is actually going on in these trendy genre-mixing conceits? Are we not just seeing self-proclaimed boundaries of race/culture/taste and class being deliberately built and then crossed by a relatively privileged bunch of people in an effort to appear ‘cool’ or gain popularity?
And SMiLE doesn’t do that. SMiLE genuinely does things that has not been tried before or since in popular western music. It’s classical in scope but does not sound like baroque-pop – it uses ‘country’ and folk instrumentation, but is certainly not country or folk rock. It’s sometimes wordy, but it never overstays it’s lyrical welcome. It dares to think that ‘Pop’ Music could have a scope beyond the deliberate and fleeting manifestation of ‘cool’ or ‘popular’ and that it can be both beautifully childlike and crushingly wise and battered by the wisdom of human existence. And it was still supposed to sell a million copies in January ’67!
Music has plateued now for several years with a crowd of shallow hipsters bemoaning how ‘I want you to help me but you can’t help me and that’s really sad’. Ughhh! So it’s with a little sadness when you realise how utterly bankrupt our popular culture has become.
But SMiLE does indeed still make me smile… and cry …and wonder.
Thanks Brian and the boys.