Mariecar Mendoza

“I don’t give a goddamn about the Beach Boys!”

It was 1963, and the generational gap had never yawned wider. My grandfather, the principal of Lennox High School in Hawthorne, Calif., had suffered a particularly bad day; two young scoundrels named Brian and Dennis Wilson had caused a scene by trespassing onto his closed campus during school hours, gunning the engine of their souped-up ’57 Chevy in the parking lot. The plan was to whisk their cheerleader girlfriends to the beach, but he’d removed them in a screaming display of authority. Now, in his own home, he was receiving a rapturous lesson from his 8-year-old son, Dale, about how these delinquents were actually members of the most famous rock band in the country.

Dale displayed his prized possession – the 7-inch single for “Surfin’ USA,” which he’d played with single-minded intensity for weeks. And then he had to grab it back, when his father threatened to smash it over his head.

Forty-two years later, Brian Wilson crashed back into my father’s life, just when he was needed most desperately. But this time, I was around to complicate matters hopelessly.

* * *

By the time my dad had children, the apple fell much closer to the tree. As the only child, I shunned my mother’s interests (ballet, math, feminine decorum in general) and grew into my father’s enthusiasm for trumpet, guitar and ’60s rock. Hours of shared practice on the instruments, and even more spent listening to classic rock, kept us close – especially when he suffered a near-fatal brain tumor in 1993, and we passed the months of sterile hospital hours comparing The Beatles trivia with forced levity. He predicted then that we would collaborate someday, on something unprecedented and fantastic. At the time, it seemed merely hopeful; our future was not guaranteed, or even imaginable, in those bleak surroundings. But several surgeries later, he was renewed – muted in some ways, but more confident than ever in our impending collaboration.

Twelve years later on a lazy October afternoon, it arrived. While trolling music ‘zines online, I read one fans’s enthusiastic coverage about the Brian Wilson Katrina Relief Challenge, which was currently underway on the musician’s Web site. The premise: Donate to the national hurricane relief effort, and Wilson would make a personal phone call. To you.

It seemed like such an odd concept – help the country in its rebuilding, and chat with the Mozart of ’60s rock! But it was also vaguely noble – surely, Wilson had better enticements than making hundreds of calls to stammering fans. But it wasn’t until the next day’s fatherly phone update that the idea took root.

“Time is running out,” he sighed. “I don’t know what to do.”

These comments had become repetitive, but no less depressing. My father, aside from being a bilingual public schoolteacher, had been a Bay Area singer-songwriter for years. His easygoing folk-rock had always fared well with students and state radio stations; in the late ’90s, he joined forces with one of the oldest independent labels in the country. He didn’t seem an immediate match for them – their typical offerings were cloying novelty songs – but he had recently received airplay on over 350 contemporary radio stations around the country. It was one step closer to his ultimate goal: enough popularity to headline a series of ambitious charity concerts for children. (Sort of like Live 8 for the under-8.) But the promotional expenses were bleeding him dry, and now he only had a few weeks left in his promotion contract, then airplay of his songs would halt for good. And so would his only dream.

“If this attempt fails, I’m done,” he said. “I lose.”

Down a phone line, and 200 miles away, I listened in silence. Our talks had evolved to a dismal routine; I spent my days immersed in coed life and my own idealistic future plans, only to spend hours delving into his brutal mid-life misery. Sometimes he broke down, teary in his blue period. He was right – without the new recordings and radio promotion he couldn’t afford, his newfound career would plummet. But that one night, I thought of something ridiculous.

“Why don’t you talk to Brian Wilson?” And it made sense; my father needed a buoyant spirit, a trouper, someone filled with inspiring musical shop-talk. After all, he’d identified with Wilson for decades; he too had felt the emotional hari-kiri of a cold and disapproving father (my grandfather has refused to acknowledge Dad’s musical accomplishments from fourth grade to present). After his brain tumor and surgery, he leaned far more to his creative instincts, and came to imagine Wilson as a positive leader, a mentor. So maybe he would get a good nudge for his own songwriting career, or at least culminate a lifetime of Wilson worship – not a bad consolation prize.

He thought so, too. We submitted a donation to the Relief Challenge and, as requested by the fundraiser form, listed the hours and days that Brian could call. Our times spanned twenty hours over two weeks, which my dad spent the duration of eyeing the phone impatiently.

But a week passed, then two, and Brian didn’t ring. Take-out boxes littered the ever-dwindling space around the dusty phone, and Dad slept skittishly. Even a week past the specified times, there was never a Beach Boy on the line. And our great plan seemed a disaster – now my father had been let down by his record label and his hero.

A world away, I investigated – and according to a press release, he was finished making calls. I was incensed. Irresponsible musicians were no novelty (I’ve come to a few ear-shattering showdowns in pursuit of this column), but I’d been raised on the Beach Boys because of my father; this was a more personal blow than being ignored by some piss-ant eyelined rocker. It was war.

In the over-caffeinated span of ten minutes, hunched maniacally over my laptop, I composed a brutally indignant e-mail to Brian’s fundraising manager. It demanded, in scalding pseudo-litigious fervor (mostly recycled from high school business club), an explanation for why my father had not received his call. I expressed, with the typed equivalent of schoolteacher’s scorn, that I hoped this was not their customary style of business. It was a rampage, and I debated sending it, but ultimately did. Odds were slim that anyone would see or consider the letter; it had almost been a therapeutic offering, to ease the guilt I felt for suggesting my dad place hope in Brian Wilson. It was my fault that his disappointment was now deeper.

Two nights, after the e-mail had faded from concern, I logged onto a campus computer and discovered a response to the letter! It came from his wife, Melinda Wilson. I gaped before opening it, starstruck at the idea of communication with a superstar’s spouse.

Too bad she was pissed off. In fact, she was furious and quite verbose about it, citing my letter the first “nasty” response she and Brian had ever received about their Relief Challenge (‘ever’ was highlighted in a startlingly red shade). She claimed that Brian had tried to call my father on two separate occasions, and went head-on to my other accusations, slashing my statements with vehement indignation for her husband. The duo had sincerely attempted to assist in a national crisis, and my callow behavior marred the process.

Right about there, I started to sweat – because the overall tone was not angry, but wounded. Melinda Wilson was as committed to her man as I was to mine, and her words pricked tears in my eyes. Though Brian had obviously not tried to call, I still had offended and hurt him and his wife. I’d added a political dimension to a charitable undertaking. In one succinct moment the whole situation, from origin to present, seemed to solely exist on my hurting others ” first my dad, then a rock legend and his spouse. And scolding Brian Wilson was a terrible accomplishment ” after all his mental problems and seclusions, attacking him was akin to waving a knife at a kitten. I couldn’t get lower.

So I wrote her back, tail lodged firmly between my legs. In my guilt, and the resentment still lingering, I explained my concern for my father – that, I would not apologize for. What did it matter? Brian hadn’t lifted his dialing finger in the times Melinda claimed, but he certainly wouldn’t be ringing now.

Afterwards, I started walking home, sobbing in exhaustion, guilt, and helplessness. Ironically, after this confrontation with Brian Wilson’s camp, I had begun to understand what it felt to be unhinged ” and it was awful.

I dialed my parents’ line, and vowed to repent – and once my dad answered, attempted to do so in a hysterical, monosyllabic wail. He sounded more than alarmed. But once he could discern that my situation wasn’t fatal, he laughed. “I have a story for you,” he said.

“No, I have a story for you!” I countered, and breathlessly began to recap Melinda’s terse response. I was wailing unintelligibly once more when my dad cut in.

“But Brian Wilson just called!”

You’ll never guess what Brian told Stacey’s father. Read the dramatic conclusion, and an interview with Brian, next week in the Art Beat.

“I don’t give a goddamn about the Beach Boys!”

It was 1963, and the generational gap had never yawned wider. My grandfather, the principal of Lennox High School in Hawthorne, Calif., had suffered a particularly bad day; two young scoundrels named Brian and Dennis Wilson had caused a scene by trespassing onto his closed campus during school hours, gunning the engine of their souped-up ’57 Chevy in the parking lot. The plan was to whisk their cheerleader girlfriends to the beach, but he’d removed them in a screaming display of authority. Now, in his own home, he was receiving a rapturous lesson from his 8-year-old son, Dale, about how these delinquents were actually members of the most famous rock band in the country.

Dale displayed his prized possession – the 7-inch single for “Surfin’ USA,” which he’d played with single-minded intensity for weeks. And then he had to grab it back, when his father threatened to smash it over his head.

Forty-two years later, Brian Wilson crashed back into my father’s life, just when he was needed most desperately. But this time, I was around to complicate matters hopelessly.

* * *

By the time my dad had children, the apple fell much closer to the tree. As the only child, I shunned my mother’s interests (ballet, math, feminine decorum in general) and grew into my father’s enthusiasm for trumpet, guitar and ’60s rock. Hours of shared practice on the instruments, and even more spent listening to classic rock, kept us close – especially when he suffered a near-fatal brain tumor in 1993, and we passed the months of sterile hospital hours comparing The Beatles trivia with forced levity. He predicted then that we would collaborate someday, on something unprecedented and fantastic. At the time, it seemed merely hopeful; our future was not guaranteed, or even imaginable, in those bleak surroundings. But several surgeries later, he was renewed – muted in some ways, but more confident than ever in our impending collaboration.

Twelve years later on a lazy October afternoon, it arrived. While trolling music ‘zines online, I read one fans’s enthusiastic coverage about the Brian Wilson Katrina Relief Challenge, which was currently underway on the musician’s Web site. The premise: Donate to the national hurricane relief effort, and Wilson would make a personal phone call. To you.

It seemed like such an odd concept – help the country in its rebuilding, and chat with the Mozart of ’60s rock! But it was also vaguely noble – surely, Wilson had better enticements than making hundreds of calls to stammering fans. But it wasn’t until the next day’s fatherly phone update that the idea took root.

“Time is running out,” he sighed. “I don’t know what to do.”

These comments had become repetitive, but no less depressing. My father, aside from being a bilingual public schoolteacher, had been a Bay Area singer-songwriter for years. His easygoing folk-rock had always fared well with students and state radio stations; in the late ’90s, he joined forces with one of the oldest independent labels in the country. He didn’t seem an immediate match for them – their typical offerings were cloying novelty songs – but he had recently received airplay on over 350 contemporary radio stations around the country. It was one step closer to his ultimate goal: enough popularity to headline a series of ambitious charity concerts for children. (Sort of like Live 8 for the under-8.) But the promotional expenses were bleeding him dry, and now he only had a few weeks left in his promotion contract, then airplay of his songs would halt for good. And so would his only dream.

“If this attempt fails, I’m done,” he said. “I lose.”

Down a phone line, and 200 miles away, I listened in silence. Our talks had evolved to a dismal routine; I spent my days immersed in coed life and my own idealistic future plans, only to spend hours delving into his brutal mid-life misery. Sometimes he broke down, teary in his blue period. He was right – without the new recordings and radio promotion he couldn’t afford, his newfound career would plummet. But that one night, I thought of something ridiculous.

“Why don’t you talk to Brian Wilson?” And it made sense; my father needed a buoyant spirit, a trouper, someone filled with inspiring musical shop-talk. After all, he’d identified with Wilson for decades; he too had felt the emotional hari-kiri of a cold and disapproving father (my grandfather has refused to acknowledge Dad’s musical accomplishments from fourth grade to present). After his brain tumor and surgery, he leaned far more to his creative instincts, and came to imagine Wilson as a positive leader, a mentor. So maybe he would get a good nudge for his own songwriting career, or at least culminate a lifetime of Wilson worship – not a bad consolation prize.

He thought so, too. We submitted a donation to the Relief Challenge and, as requested by the fundraiser form, listed the hours and days that Brian could call. Our times spanned twenty hours over two weeks, which my dad spent the duration of eyeing the phone impatiently.

But a week passed, then two, and Brian didn’t ring. Take-out boxes littered the ever-dwindling space around the dusty phone, and Dad slept skittishly. Even a week past the specified times, there was never a Beach Boy on the line. And our great plan seemed a disaster – now my father had been let down by his record label and his hero.

A world away, I investigated – and according to a press release, he was finished making calls. I was incensed. Irresponsible musicians were no novelty (I’ve come to a few ear-shattering showdowns in pursuit of this column), but I’d been raised on the Beach Boys because of my father; this was a more personal blow than being ignored by some piss-ant eyelined rocker. It was war.

In the over-caffeinated span of ten minutes, hunched maniacally over my laptop, I composed a brutally indignant e-mail to Brian’s fundraising manager. It demanded, in scalding pseudo-litigious fervor (mostly recycled from high school business club), an explanation for why my father had not received his call. I expressed, with the typed equivalent of schoolteacher’s scorn, that I hoped this was not their customary style of business. It was a rampage, and I debated sending it, but ultimately did. Odds were slim that anyone would see or consider the letter; it had almost been a therapeutic offering, to ease the guilt I felt for suggesting my dad place hope in Brian Wilson. It was my fault that his disappointment was now deeper.

Two nights, after the e-mail had faded from concern, I logged onto a campus computer and discovered a response to the letter! It came from his wife, Melinda Wilson. I gaped before opening it, starstruck at the idea of communication with a superstar’s spouse.

Too bad she was pissed off. In fact, she was furious and quite verbose about it, citing my letter the first “nasty” response she and Brian had ever received about their Relief Challenge (‘ever’ was highlighted in a startlingly red shade). She claimed that Brian had tried to call my father on two separate occasions, and went head-on to my other accusations, slashing my statements with vehement indignation for her husband. The duo had sincerely attempted to assist in a national crisis, and my callow behavior marred the process.

Right about there, I started to sweat – because the overall tone was not angry, but wounded. Melinda Wilson was as committed to her man as I was to mine, and her words pricked tears in my eyes. Though Brian had obviously not tried to call, I still had offended and hurt him and his wife. I’d added a political dimension to a charitable undertaking. In one succinct moment the whole situation, from origin to present, seemed to solely exist on my hurting others ” first my dad, then a rock legend and his spouse. And scolding Brian Wilson was a terrible accomplishment ” after all his mental problems and seclusions, attacking him was akin to waving a knife at a kitten. I couldn’t get lower.

So I wrote her back, tail lodged firmly between my legs. In my guilt, and the resentment still lingering, I explained my concern for my father – that, I would not apologize for. What did it matter? Brian hadn’t lifted his dialing finger in the times Melinda claimed, but he certainly wouldn’t be ringing now.

Afterwards, I started walking home, sobbing in exhaustion, guilt, and helplessness. Ironically, after this confrontation with Brian Wilson’s camp, I had begun to understand what it felt to be unhinged ” and it was awful.

I dialed my parents’ line, and vowed to repent – and once my dad answered, attempted to do so in a hysterical, monosyllabic wail. He sounded more than alarmed. But once he could discern that my situation wasn’t fatal, he laughed. “I have a story for you,” he said.

“No, I have a story for you!” I countered, and breathlessly began to recap Melinda’s terse response. I was wailing unintelligibly once more when my dad cut in.

“But Brian Wilson just called!”

You’ll never guess what Brian told Stacey’s father. Read the dramatic conclusion, and an interview with Brian, next week in the Art Beat.

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