Wonderful “Smile”

When I first read Lewis Shiner’s Glimpses (Paperback| Audiobook) in the mid 1990’s I had no idea what I was getting into. Shiner had written a comic book miniseries called The Hacker Files that, as a young computer programmer still not having out grown a strong comic book reading stage I had been in during college, I had found to be interesting and entertaining. On reading some background information on the writer I learned about Glimpses and thought I’d read it based on how much I enjoyed reading The Hacker Files.

Anyone who has read Glimpses can tell you that I approached it on the wrong premise. This book was nothing like The Hacker Files. It was a deeply intense account of a middle aged man as he deals with the death of his father, a marriage that is in trouble and a middle aged crisis with the help of Jim Morrison of The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. Both of my parents were still alive, I was a single 20-something and all I knew about Morrison, Hendrix and The Beach Boys were some of their bigger hits. I had nothing in common with main character of this book and was out of touch with the subject matter and themes.

But when I finished reading it I found myself deeply affected by the book. I learned things about myself, the need to be introspective and to carefully weigh every decision I make in life. I also learned a lot about Morrison, Hendrix and Wilson.

One of the settings in the book was the failed recording sessions for The Beach Boys’ Smile. The Boys were coming off of the ground breaking Pet Sounds album and Brian’s mind was bringing him to higher song writing aspirations. The result was a group of songs that was slammed by their record company who wanted more hits than this record would ever hope to produce. (The only song the average person would know from these sessions would be Good Vibrations, a bonafide hit for sure but the record company was looking for more than a one hit album.) Smile was more of a concept album. It was not to be taken one song at a time but as a whole. The record company’s reaction pushed Brian deeper into a depression that would take many years to come out of.

And so in 2004, roughly 10 years after reading the book, when Brian Wilson released a newly recorded version of what his vision of Smile was (CD| MP3) I jumped at the opportunity to listen to it. The preparation I got from Glimpses helped me set my expectations and when I finished listening to it I was amazed. The record company’s decision at the time was probably right but this album was a work of art. Something to be admired, not put down.

Imagine my excitement when I learned of the impending release of the original Smile session recordings (5 CDs| MP3 or 2 CDs| MP3). About 17 years after having read about these sessions, in an historicaly fictional yet intimate account, I would finally have the opportunity to hear what I had read about.

My expctations had now been set by Brian Wilson himself (not Shiner) and once again I was not disappointed. And this time I was able to listen to some of the demos and other sessions so I could get even closer to the scene.

I won’t compare Wilson’s version to this one. Wilson’s version was completely finished and this obviously was not. I will say that I prefer Wilson’s version of some of the tracks but this version of the others. Both are definitely worth a listen. The lyrics are wonderful, the sound is authentic and the emotion is real. In all Smile, no matter which of the two versions you listen to, is a wonderfully creative work and highly recommended.

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