By Joe Livernois
Among the Central Coast’s most storied rock ‘n roll sagas is the world-class performance that didn’t happen. And, yeah, it’s another Monterey Pop Festival tale.
Brian Wilson, he of the Beach Boys, was one of about a half-dozen names on the Monterey Pop’s “Board of Governors,” a group of superstars patched together by Lou Adler and John Phillips, the event’s organizers. Also on the board were Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, Donovan and Paul McCartney.
The board never actually met, but their names looked great on the letterhead.
Wilson was into it, though, and he committed his band to close the Saturday night show at the Monterey Fairgrounds on June 17, 1967.
The Beach Boys were at their peak in the mid-1960s. “Pet Sounds,” which had been released in 1966, blew apart the band’s reputation as simple California beach bummers. It was a pioneering work, one of rock’s first concept albums, matching sublime orchestral arrangements that bordered on the psychedelic with meaningful lyrics. Fans weren’t sure what to think of it, but critics were awed by Brian Wilson’s masterwork.
That album was followed by the trippy “Good Vibrations,” a cosmic and episodic wall-of-sound single released in December 1966. Despite all that legendary work, the band was having its issues and bandmates weren’t feeling the love. A European tour in 1967 went south due to infighting, a loss of supporting musicians who weren’t allowed to take the stage due to issues with the musicians’ union, and the general indifference of European critics to the music.
They returned to the United States and, at the last minute, pulled out of Monterey Pop Festival.
Look folks, I’m not here to tell you how that went down. There’s been a lot of heavy research by deep thinkers who have committed huge chunks of their lives to doctoral-level dissertations about why the Beach Boys pulled out of Monterey in 1967.
The Prevailing Theory — and the one that makes me cringe — is that the Boys didn’t think they belonged. Adler and Phillips managed to pull in grungy equipment-smashers like The Who and Jimi Hendrix, blues belters like Janis Joplin, and dippy hippies like the Grateful Dead and The Mamas and the Papas. And Ravi Shankar, what the hell? The Beach Boys didn’t fit in with the cool kids and they knew it, according to the PT. They chickened out. And who can blame them, when they’ve been singing about Little Duece Coupes while the cool kids are backstage bickering about who gets to destroy their guitars first?
Individual Beach Boys have disputed the Prevailing Theory and they all seem to have their own view of what happened. According to one story, Brian’s brother Carl was in a dispute with the draft board over his military service and had a hearing scheduled the Monday after Monterey Pop. The idea is that the band would be too distracted by the possibility that Carl might get led off the stage in handcuffs by the feds.
And then there’s another story that Phillips and Adler had originally offered the Beach Boys a big pot of money to headline that Saturday evening, but the offer fell off the table and the band decided it had better things to do that day.
Whatever the reason, the decision probably cemented the Beach Boys’ reputation as a bunch of squares, on par with Barry Sadler (“The Ballad of the Green Berets”) and The Sandpipers (“Guantanamera”). Which isn’t fair. But there you go.
What happened after that is all part of the convoluted Beach Boy saga, much of which have been analyzed and deconstructed with doctoral-level research — and much of it focused on Brian Wilson’s struggles. Months after the Monterey Pops performance they didn’t make, the Beach Boys started touring with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, further alienating their fan base but creating one of the strangest stage pairings since Abbott and Costello co-starred with Frankenstein.
If it’s any consolation, in 1973 Mike Love and Al Jardine both wrote a couple of knock-out beautiful love letters to Monterey County for the Beach Boys’ self-produced album called “Holland.” And it’s a wonder that both of them have been lost somehow to the ages because they’re really quite wonderful..
Both of them have that classic breezy Beach Boy feel, but with hints of harmonica and pedal steel. Jardine’s song, California Saga, celebrates Salinas and Steinbeck and the Big Sur festival. He even drops in a reference to Country Joe and the Fish, and to Travels With Charley.
Love’s song, “California Saga: Big Sur,” is just as sweet. Big Sur I’ve got plans for you / Me and mine are going to / Add ourselves to your lengthy list of lovers / And live in canyons covered with a springtime green.
It might take a while, but I can imagine a day when the Star Spangled Banner that blares from the Naval Postgraduate School at 8 a.m. each morning will routinely be followed by “California Saga.”
Eventually, the Beach Boys did finally make it to Monterey County. Happily, they were booked for a fabulous show at the Laguna Seca Raceway that drew about 15,000 people in 1984. It was such a happy gig that the county brought them back two years later for a two-day commitment at Laguna Seca.
And while Mike Love dreamed of someday living in the canyons covered with a springtime green, Al Jardine is the one who moved to Big Sur, in 1973. He’s been there ever since. And when we’re lucky, he’ll play a local show.
By the way, the performers that did play the Saturday evening show at Monterey Pops included Moby Grape, Hugh Masekela, The Byrds, Laura Nyro, Jefferson Airplane, Booker T and the M.G.’s, and Otis Redding.
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