Yesterday, on one of his long walks along the beach, Brian found a conch shell and named it Shelby. As the studio executives selected this island specifically for its lack of sharp objects, I’ve already planned to hide it from him the first chance I get. But he carries it everywhere, offered it spoonfuls of his Lucky Charms at breakfast, and slept with it under his toga last night. I dread the stomach-churning, wounded moose-like cry Brian’s going to wail when he discovers Shelby’s gone—he’s so terribly lonely, after all—but he could do a ton of damage with that thing. He’s not even allowed to have shoe laces, for Christ’s sake.
[Let's Go Away For Awhile]
Tonight, Brian set Shelby down next to him on a stool as the sun was setting, and picked up his bass guitar. Carl perked up like a deer, dropped his metal detector in the sand, quietly walked over, and strapped on his 12-string. Dennis exhaled a large bong hit, calmly stood up, and slid in behind the drum kit. Mike strolled over to the Theramin with his head down, looking more like a shoplifter, and flipped the ON switch. Al strapped on his guitar, and I turned on the tape recorder. We stood in readied silence. Brian diddled absently on the bass. Soon a melody began taking shape within the random notes he was plucking. A bouncy ditty that reminded me of Oklahoma. Perhaps we were witnessing an evolution, a departure from the young genius’ increasingly downbeat, minor-chord melancholia. If I could bring back twelve singles good-to-go for radio, they’d probably make me Vice President or something—at least get me a date with Nancy Sinatra. The melody bopped along happily. With his brow knit in concentration, Dennis raised his sticks, but Carl shook his head. Brian continued to noodle, and finally bellowed operatically, “Oooooooh the wheels on the bus go meow-meow-meow, meow-meow-meow, meow-meow-meow…” Dennis whipped his sticks into the serene, blue sea, and I switch the recorder off.
[On A Holiday]
Movie night. The only thing Brian will allow us to watch is Brigadoon, because, he says, he likes watching Gene Kelly sing at cows. “Gene Kelly would sing into a tube if the other end was up his ass, and so would you,” Mike barks, and staggers off into the darkness. The boys have been hitting the bottle harder in the last few days. We watch the movie on a bed sheet hung between two palm trees. As Gene whirls and twirls around the cardboard glen, Brian begins to giggle. I look at him. “You can see his underpants!” he says, in a voice as high as a little girl’s. He holds Shelby up for a better view of the screen, and whispers to it, giggling.
Brian emerges from his hut wearing his underpants over his toga, leaping around like he’s having a seizure. It’s not pretty. For some reason, the inside of his mouth is bright blue. He must have been eating candy all night. “You think your studio big shots can afford to buy my brother a clean pair of drawers?” Dennis asks me quietly under his beard. “I mean, come on, man—that’s disgusting.” “Dennis, I brought a whole carton of underwear for him! He won’t put on a new pair!” “Where’d he get blue candy?” Al asks. “I have no idea,” I say. “I want some blue candy,” Al says.
[In Blue Hawaii]
While eating an entire birthday cake at lunch, Brian says, “I’m writing an album of songs played on nothing but dog whistles—ones that are too high to be heard by the human ear.” “You are so fucking crazy, I don’t even know how you keep on breathing,” Al says, his angry eyes on the horizon. Brian doesn’t hear him. “And I’m gonna call the album, Farty-Fart-Shitty-Shit-Dumpy-Dump.” The collapse of the sessions seemed to be taking the greatest toll on Al, who’s been jogging in circles around the tiny island screaming, “Fuck!” Al says, “How ‘bout callin’ it Crackers, Fruitcake, Screwballs and Nuts?” “Shhhhh,” Brian says with one hand in the air, “can you hear that?” No one speaks. “Neither can I,” Brian says, shaking his head, as a single tear slides down his cheek.
[I Just Wasn't Made For These Times]
Sometime in the middle of the night, Peter O’Toole showed up, drunker than I’d ever seen any human being, ferried by a heavily-tattooed native man in a canoe. How they had found us, I would never know. O’Toole’s could barely stand and his speech was incomprehensible. He tried to bugger me in my hammock, but I fended him off with a badminton racket. Suddenly Brian was standing in the door of the hut, naked, covered in something sticky that smelled like cling peach syrup, with his own name written across his chest in toothpaste. In his left hand, he was holding Shelby; in his right, his bass guitar. “Mother!” he shouted, and embraced the crumpled thespian with all 283 pounds of his mighty, insane, sticky nudeness. “Let’s make some magic!” he whooped, and dragged O’Toole out of the hut by one arm, leaving a deep rut in the sand.
Recording for 48-hours straight. Everything from spectacularly weird, complex masterpieces to a a three hour-long version of “Go Tell Aunt Rhodie.” O’Toole tried swimming away several times, but Brian finally tied him to a tree, leaving one of O’Toole’s hands free into which he placed an uncapped bottle of bourbon, said, “Happy Mother’s Day,” and kissed the old man on the mouth. O’Toole actually seemed to be enjoying himself after awhile, and even requested “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Ol’ Kit Bag.” By my calculations, we have just enough booze to keep O’Toole alive, and way more than enough jars of Goober Grape to get this sucker in the can by Christmas.
I Led the Horse to Water
because it said it was really thirsty. “Water’s
right there—go for it, horsey,” I said. “I’m not
gonna drink from that puddle of bilge,” it said
disgustedly, then again, “but I’m really, really
thirsty.” I looked around. The nearest thing
I could see that wasn’t a bush or a mountain
was a gas station, maybe about 10 miles away
through a curtain of the wavy heat lines coming
off the desert. I could probably get there and
back before the meaner, wilder animals came out
from under their rocks to howl and hunt. I explained
what I had in mind, expecting a whinny or nuzzle
in gratitude. It was a really long walk—I could
die! “I wasn’t talking to you,” said the horse staring
off in the other direction, “I was talking to no one,
to myself maybe, to the mysterious force that led
me here.” “Uh, I led you here, you idiot. This is
my puddle,” I gestured to the little wooden sign
that read, “Jen’s Puddle” in crudely carved letters.
“And you could at least thank me, you big jerk.”
The horse gestured to a littler sign next to it
that read, “Do Not Drink. Poison.” He raised
his eyebrows and waited. “Well…you
get me all nervous!”
Jennifer L. Knox’s new book of poems, The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway, will be published by Bloof Books this fall. Her work has appeared three times in the Best American Poetry series, and in publications such as The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares and others. She wants you to know that she no longer absolutely hates The Beach Boys.
Questions, compliments, (hopefully not) complaints? Contact Jackie Clark: jackie [at] coldfrontmag [dot] com. Check out previous POP essays here: http://pop.coldfrontmag.com/