L.A. sunshine, darkness 40 years down the line
EmptyThe light and the darkness in Los Angeles' historic rock bands are much on display this week in two 40th anniversary celebrations.
On Wednesday night at UCLA's Royce Hall, Brian Wilson delivered what likely was the last live L.A. performance of the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds." That sublime 1966 album was rereleased in late August by Capitol Records in a CD/DVD set comprising mono, stereo and 5.1 mixes, plus new and archival video.
Next week, the Doors kick off their own four-decade festivities with events at the Whisky a Go Go and other Sunset Strip locations. That shindig Wednesday at the Whisky will trumpet a forthcoming Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit; "The Doors By the Doors," a new coffee-table book; and "Perception," a six-CD/six-DVD Rhino Records box, due Nov. 21, that includes new 5.1 mixes of the band's studio albums, plus outtakes and video.
Even after a lengthy digital history, the Beach Boys and Doors catalogs have had long commercial legs. First released on CD in 1990, "Pet Sounds" has seen five reissues in the past nine years: a "Sessions" box, two slightly different stereo/mono packages, a DVD Audio version and the current edition. "Perception" will be the third boxed incarnation of the Doors' oeuvre. Just last week, "Best of the Doors" sold more than 9,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Former Beach Boys leader and "Pet Sounds" auteur Wilson views the album's protracted life as a product of its intensely executed craft. "A lot of work went into it, and it was a very big musical accomplishment," he says. "Using a lot of different musicians on it, the production and the arrangements all added up to one big album."
But, after a half-dozen more shows, Wilson will put "Pet Sounds" to bed as a concert vehicle. "We're going to move on to something new," he says.
While the Doors couldn't have been more unlike the Beach Boys, keyboardist Ray Manzarek claims with a laugh that the Doors were "beach boys," in a way: "(Drummer) John (Densmore) and (guitarist) Robby Krieger were surfers. I tried a couple of times, but I couldn't catch a fucking wave."
He adds, referring to his fateful first oceanside encounter with the band's late vocalist Jim Morrison, and to the somber cast of the band's work: "The Doors happened because of Venice Beach. I don't think the Doors could have happened unless we were at the end of Western civilization."
It seems odd that two bands with such opposite approaches reached their apotheosis at almost exactly the same time in Los Angeles and are commemorating their moment simultaneously. Even as the Beach Boys were dropping the melodic yearnings of the highly orchestrated "Pet Sounds," the Doors were preparing to unleash the lean severity of a debut album seething with sexuality and violence.
Today, these groups epitomize the strange bipolarity of Los Angeles. On the one hand, there's a blissful, sun-spackled sweetness in even the darkest corners of the Beach Boys' brooding romantic canvas; on the other, the menace of the Doors' "city of night" is seductively inviting.
Manzarek -- who recently published a novel, "Snake Moon," and issued a new solo album -- attributes the ongoing appeal of the bands' music to the freewheeling spirit of their era: "Anything you want to put into your rock music goes. The question is, does it work? If it does, it's good. For us, and a lot of bands in the '60s, that's what it was about."