Tell us a little bit about your new book, Tired of California.
I've always been a big fan of the Beach Boys, and I'm particularly fascinated by the music they put out in the early 1970s. Tired of California mainly focuses on an album called Holland that they recorded in the Netherlands during this period. The book examines the band's efforts at re-branding themselves as funky and socially-conscious recording artists while simultaneously trying to recapture the glory of their early career.
What do you like about this period in the Beach Boys' career?
It's such a transitional period for the band. The days when their songs regularly reached the top of the charts were behind them, but they weren't yet the golden-oldies revue that they'd eventually become later in the 1970s and beyond. As a result, they were still pushing artistic boundaries and taking risks, but there's also a distinct sense of vulnerability in their music from this era.
I also like that the music from this era is fairly obscure compared to some of their earlier work. If there's one story that most people know about the Beach Boys, it's that Brian Wilson was a genius who produced some amazing music in the 1960s but lost his mind during the recording of the abortive Smile album towards the end of that decade. The story that usually goes untold is the one I tell in Tired of California -- the story of Brian's brother Carl essentially taking the reins and, with the help of the band's publicist and manager Jack Rieley, rebuilding the Beach Boys for a new decade.
Are there any songs that readers might recognize from this period?
The big one would probably be "Sail On, Sailor," from Holland. I still hear that one from time to time on WXPN, a radio station here in Philadelphia. There's also a song called "Feel Flows" from Surf's Up that appeared on the Almost Famous soundtrack back in 2000. And John Stamos sang "Forever" from Sunflower on Full House in the 90s, I think.
Was John Stamos a member of the band?
He toured with them and appeared in the "Kokomo" video in 1988, but he was more of a sideman than a full-fledged member of the band. I actually saw him perform with them in 1995. It was a Fourth of July concert on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was a great show! I think the whole city came out to see them play. Or maybe it just seemed that way -- people as far as the eye could see. My mom drove me and my sisters and a friend of mine into town to see the show. I broke off from the rest of them and pushed my way to the front. Fun, fun, fun, as the Beach Boys would say!
Who was in the band when the Beach Boys recorded Holland?
That's an interesting question. The classic lineup of the Beach Boys included the Wilson brothers -- Brian, Carl, and Dennis -- along with their cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine. Bruce Johnston joined the band when Brian stopped touring, but he temporarily quit after the release of Surf's Up in, I think, 1971. At about the same time, Dennis suffered a hand injury, so Carl brought a pair of South African musicians named Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin into the fold. It's actually Blondie Chaplin singing lead on "Sail On, Sailor," which is one reason it sounds so different from what most people think of as the usual sound of the Beach Boys.
In terms of writing, what did your research for this project look like?
I managed to track down a lot of music magazines from the early 1970s -- old issues of Rolling Stone, Billboard, and Crawdaddy, for example, but also more obscure magazines and fan publications. Each article or interview gave me a little piece of the puzzle, and writing the book was largely matter of arranging all of the pieces into a coherent big picture. One particularly helpful source was a series of books called the Beach Boys Archives, which essentially consists of photocopies of hard-to-find magazine articles on the band. I also found some PDFs of old interviews that fans have posted online over the years. And, of course, I read a number of more contemporary books on the Beach Boys. Long Promised Road by Kent Crowley was particularly interesting, since that one focuses on Carl Wilson.
In addition to being a writer, you're also a teacher. How do the two endeavors complement each other?
It helps that I teach writing -- mainly Freshman Composition courses. One of the big things I teach my students is the value of synthesis or creating something new with the information at hand. Ultimately, that's what I was doing as I took all of the interviews I'd found and pieced them all together to form a coherent narrative about the recording of Holland. What emerged from the process wasn't just a straight timeline of events but also an examination of dynamics within the band during that era. When you have five or six different guys giving interviews at around the same time, you're bound to have some conflicting perspectives. A writer needs to be able to reconcile some of those conflicts and find some kind of middle ground that comes close to the truth.
As a teacher, one good thing that came from writing this book -- and that comes from any writing project -- is a constant reminder that writing is hard work. When my students struggle with it, I can tell them that I'm going through the same struggles myself -- not just in terms of research, but also in terms of what to do with the material I find, how to arrange it, how to make the points I want to make as clearly as possible. Working on a project like this one keeps me grounded in the process that I'm trying to teach to my students and allows me to draw on my own struggles as I talk with students about their work.
I don't have any writing projects slated for the near future. Maybe it's the influence of my recent research, but I find myself increasingly drawn toward making music.
Right... You record and perform music under the name Zapatero. Why the alter ego?
I like the idea of keeping writing and music separate. To be honest, writing causes me a bit of stress, and music is more of a release. As Zapatero -- which is Spanish for shoemaker, just like Schuster is German for shoemaker -- I can have more fun and not worry so much.
Can we expect anything from Zapatero in the near future?
Time will tell!
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.