My Bleeding Brains

December 16, 2011

A smile on the inside

Filed under: Uncategorized — eeplebert @ 1:15 am

Anybody who has ever bought or read about bootleg music albums from the days before CDs has heard of a Beach Boys project called SMiLE. And if you haven’t, you should have. As with everything on the internet, though, take anything you read with a grain of salt the size of a bathtub.

I stumbled across a self-important article this morning on a random pop blog about “the smile meme” and how this morose bastard thinks any opinion other than his own is irrelevant. Just like half the nitpicking, self-defeating posters on the very message boards he finds himself utterly compelled to complain about. *facepalm*

I remember the existence of bootlegs being a thing of hearsay for years before actually encountering any dubbed onto tapes. It was a while after that when the sight of bootleg “silver” CDs, actually pressed and not just CDR burns, appeared in regional and local record stores. Often at inflated prices, but sometimes when they sold enough units of a popular title, you could find one for less than the $20-40 range.

2011 saw the release of a massive heap of session tapes and mostly-completed versions of those Beach Boys songs. Of course the history of that era shows that those songs morphed into other versions on an album called Smiley Smile.

I read about it in the dawn of the internet, circa 1995-1996. I actually traded a cassette tape with somebody back in the era before Prince’s The Black Album had been officially released and subsequently withdrawn. That tape had a lot of hiss, but promised there was something remarkable buried halfway in the dirt.

The “bootleg” tracks being passed around by Beach Boys nuts and SMiLE collectors sounded THE SAME to my ears as the half-finished, limp and full of guesswork, skeletal tracks which were churned out on the Smiley Smile album and subsequent “archival” releases, official or not.

When the Smile Sessions Box came out in 2011, the fanbase who had generated dozens of versions of the “what might have been” in the past had a whole new palette of source material to work with. Since the Sessions version of Smile follows the blueprint of Brian Wilson Presents Smile, a solo project from 2004, opinions once again are all over the map.

Armed with new material to process, Internet remixers have taken to editing software like Audacity and Ardour to expand their visions from grainy rough bootleg material to what will most likely be the very last hoard of session tapes from this era ever to surface. It’s Indian Summer for Smile remixers. While I’d never try my hand at it, I enjoy sampling the various efforts.

This morning I put on headphones and played through the Smile Sessions Disc One and found myself appreciating several of the songs as I never had before. Wonderful and Vegetables, specifically, while having a dopey kind of charm that modern music utterly abandoned, stand up as proper tracks now.

No previous versions of these songs, like the embryonic versions with skeletal arrangements barely reaching the two-minute mark on the officially released Smiley Smile album, could hope to compare to what’s been made available decades later.

This evening I made the mistake of speaking my point of view in another anonymous forum. One of the luddites therein crowed at me for having the audacity to exist – much the same as that pop blogger with too much cheek whom I read this morning.

So I learn to lurk once more, and keep my Smile on the inside, so to speak. For anyone who’s ever remixed a track, taken the “official” version as a springboard, a leaping-off point, we know when to shut up and DO something.

As the growing popularity of fan-edited content further blurs the line between artist and audience, I’ll be right here laughing, taking notes and munching popcorn, with some excellent music playing in the distance.

Rearranging reality between my ears, or remixing it anew with both my hands.

“A thousand Cheshire cats grin inside of me…” – XTC


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