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The Beach Boys: Soundtrack To My Childhood

The Beach Boys took the stage at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel last week during their 50th Anniversary Celebration Tour. So, I took the one person I shared all of my Beach Boys memories with — my dad.

So many thoughts come to mind when I hear "The Beach Boys": hot summer days at the beach, surfing along Long Beach Island, kayaking in the lagoon behind my house. But more importantly, I think of memories from my childhood and one of the best men I know — my dad.

As a child, my parents worked tirelessly to make ends meet and to put money away for family vacations, ski trips and college for my sister and me. My mom worked locally for a state senator, and still does to this day. But my dad had a very odd schedule — working the night shift at ShopRite, stocking shelves — which was really only supposed to be a temporary gig after the family trucking business shut down in the late 80s, but is still his job today. He eventually became a real estate broker and sold houses part-time, too.

My dad’s schedule actually worked out swimmingly in my eyes. As a little girl on summer break, I would nap in the morning when my dad was catching some much-needed shut-eye, while mom was at work. We’d wake up by noon or so, and head straight to the beach.

In my heart, I hold countless memories with my dad, set in front of sweet summer days along Long Beach Island, at our pool, and fishing off our boat in the Barnegat Bay, and evenings spent playing mini-golf and eating waffle cone vanilla sundaes with rainbow sprinkles and chocolate sauce from Mrs. Walker’s Ice Cream Parlor. Yes, my dad and I loved the same exact sundae. Sometimes, we’d even take a trip to Seaside Heights or Great Adventure for a change of pace, to get some thrills from the rides and games.

The Beach Boys is the soundtrack to all of these memories because their classics like “Surfin’ USA,” “Good Vibrations,” “Barbara Ann” and “Fun, Fun, Fun” were always in tow, blasting from the car radio or our boom box. Fittingly, too, since my dad is a true beach boy, through and through. He vacationed in my hometown of Forked River and on LBI as a child, and could always be found at the beach. You can still find him there now, too, catching waves on his boogie board. 

When I heard The Beach Boys were releasing a new album and kicking off an international tour to mark the band’s 50th anniversary, I thought the new album and tickets to one of their concerts would be the perfect Father’s Day present for my dad this year — or possibly ever.

Dancing in front of our seats, 14 rows back, at PNC Bank Arts Center last Wednesday, I checked off one more thing from my dad’s “bucket list”: to see his all-time favorite band perform one more time.

For a bunch of guys in their 60s and 70s, The Beach Boys still know how to rock. With Brian Wilson on the piano most of the concert, Bruce Johnston on the keyboard, Al Jardine and David Marks on guitar, and Mike Love as the main vocalist, the concert was one of the best I’ve seen.

Without an opening act, the original Beach Boys, along with eight other band members — some new, some old and all of various ages — took the stage at 7:30 p.m., kicking off the three-hour performance with classics like “Catch a Wave” and “Surfer Girl.” The nearly full-house crowd, ranging from little kids to senior citizens, got on their feet, swaying and singing to the harmonious music.

During the first set, some fans inflated several beach balls, and audience members passed them around in the air for two to three songs. But then a very tired-looking Brian Wilson, who hardly moved from his piano seat except for the last three songs of the concert to play guitar, asked everyone to put the beach balls on the ground because it was “distracting the audience.” The beach balls really only added to the theme of the night. I don’t know about you, but my dad, who is 64, and I thought that was Wilson just being a "grumpy old man." (We still love you, Brian!)

Mike Love livened up the mood, jokingly saying, “There are some people who haven’t shown up yet. When they get here, we’re going to play all of those songs again!”

The audience only sat down for other fan favorites like “When I Grow Up To Be a Man” and “Back Home.” This was the first of several times that night when my dad, a former Marine who served in Vietnam and hardly ever shows his emotions, said, “Thanks for doing this,” and even got a little teary-eyed, a rarity in my book.

All of the band members, mostly decked out in jeans or slacks with button-down collared shirts, took turns on vocals for the next classics like “Please Let Me Wander,” “I Want You Back Again,” “Wendy,” and “Come and Go With Me.”

The band’s sound was spot-on, reminding me of the classic 8-track tapes, records and cassette tapes I’d often play as a little girl. I think they made a wise decision when bringing on new band members. It really added to their original and iconic sound of the 60s.

But they weren’t just performing the classics. The name of the first song they performed from their new album was the title track “That’s Why God Made The Radio," followed by “Isn’t It Time.” They only played four or five songs from the new album, and I honestly thought they should have played more. Dad agreed.

The concert hit its most sentimental note with tributes to the two fallen Wilson brothers and original band members, Dennis and Carl, without whom the band wouldn’t have become what it is today. The band performed “God Only Knows” and a slideshow, featuring photos and actual footage of the two in action many years ago. I did get choked up and felt a little foolish, until I realized my nearest audience members and even my dad were touched by the tribute, too.

In true Beach Boys fashion, the band then lightened up the mood again, getting fans cheering, dancing and singing along to other rock classics like “Be True To Your School,” which included a slideshow of school symbols for Monmouth and Rutgers University, and even the USA Olympic Team symbol. But the fun didn’t stop there, as Mike Love led the boys through a nonstop performance of “Little Deuce Coupe,” “409,” “Shut Down” and “I Get Around.”

After a brief break, fans were back on their feet for many more hits, including: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “I Wanna Go Home,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Rock ’n’ Roll Music,” “Surfin’ USA,” “Good Vibrations,” before the final set of “Kokomo,” “Barbara Ann,” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.”

After the concert ended and we dodged through mobs of people, my dad and I patiently sat in the parking lot while waiting to get on the Parkway, and he began reminiscing about the three other Beach Boys concerts he’s seen.

Dad said he saw the band for the first time at the Convention Center in Atlantic City in the early '60s with the original band members. After he returned from Vietnam and met my mom in Hawaii, they saw the band together at Kean College in the early '70s.

We joked about how Mike Love was flirting and “making love” to the audience during our concert.

“He was always crazy," Dad said. "Years ago, he’d wear flip flops and take them off, be up there with bare feet. I remember at Kean College, he was barefoot. Even in Atlantic City.”

In the early '90s, my family and I saw the Beach Boys at Great Adventure. I thought they were the best thing since sliced bread. My parents said they were absolutely terrible, probably because they were missing some key band members. I didn’t mind — I just wanted to see my favorite band in action.

This concert was far better than my first, and the performance still has my dad raving.

“It’s the best concert I’ve seen. It was very nice,” Dad said. “They’ve had their ups and downs, but they’re still going strong. They are better now than they ever were, even without Dennis and Carl.”

I asked my dad if he remembered just how much I loved the song “Barbara Ann,” and how I thought it was pronounced “bah-bah-ran” as a child. (Don’t worry, I eventually learned the correct pronunciation). Apparently my dad remembers it even better than me.

“Waiting for the school bus, you always wanted me to play it in the car,” Dad said happily. “Every day, for quite a few years.”

While my dad never wears his emotions on his sleeve, I’ve always known how much he loves me. It was often unsaid, but always shown through his actions and endless sacrifices.

I always try to do special things for both my parents, mostly as a way of saying “Thank you for all you’ve done and continue to do for me.” They really are the best parents in my eyes. But this experience truly touched my dad in a way that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trump. Then again, I’m sure just hanging out with my dad, listening to The Beach Boys, will do… that is, until the band tours again.

MErwin July 03, 2012 at 05:44 PM
AWESOME piece Caitlin! This is the best write-up of the Beach Boys concert tour I have read. Thank you for sharing your experience with your Dad!!!
Bob OBrien July 03, 2012 at 09:41 PM
My wife Susan and I were also at the concert with Joann and Bill White and we had a great time. Bill and I were surfing in Lavallette and LBI back when the Beach Boys were # 1. Our kids all grew up listening to their great music. For me the best part of the concert was that Brian Wilson was together with the band again after way too long. Without Brian there are no Beach Boys. Fans should check out the Beach Boys special which is currently showing "on demand" Bob OBrien
David Hirsch July 05, 2012 at 02:48 AM
Beautiful article, thanks so much for sharing. I am in my 60's now and my kids don't understand my love of The Beach Boys, so I envy your chance to bond with your Dad (Mine has passed on).
Mary Mann July 05, 2012 at 07:25 PM
A lovely tribute to your dad!
Cynthia Cochran-Carney July 05, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Great article. My husband and I were at the concert too, singing and dancing to every song. I am a southern "California girl" transplanted to NJ so I felt right at home. We thought the concert was one of the best we had ever heard - their harmonies and guitar licks were spot on. Glad you enjoyed the concert with your dad.

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