God Only Knows: The Beach Boys and My Hometown

Beach_Boys_Landmark_-_Plano_general_IPhoto: The Beach Boys Historic Landmark in Hawthorne, Calif., which was erected on the site of Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson’s childhood home.
Photo Credit: CHL# 1041 Beach Boys Home Site by Konrad Summers is licensed under CC BY SA 2.0

Nestled between Inglewood and Lawndale lies a city that bore one of America’s greatest treasures. Not only is Hawthorne, California a place I call my hometown, but it was also the place The Beach Boys crafted most of their of legendary songs.

The band is so important to the soul of this great city, named after Nathaniel Hawthorne, that all you have to do is look. What you’ll find is a plaque where the home of the Wilson brothers used to be. The Beach Boys, especially early on often wrote about the surf and the sun. To anyone who has ever visited this great town it is apparent where they got the inspiration.

I remember growing up there, listening to what I call the soundtrack to a sunny day. Incredible tracks like “Sloop John B” and “Surfin” really set a tone for exactly what the city of Hawthorne is. With all the sun-soaked beauty and sugar sweet pop sensibility, there’s no way I can think of the Beach Boys without reminiscing of home.

For me there’s so much I could say and not enough words to symbolize all of the times I’ve coasted down Imperial Highway with music blaring, chilling in a little deuce coupe with my father.

I can picture it like yesterday: A slight wind blows, the sun hitting my skin — not enough to burn but enough to warm your arm. I’m eight years old and my dad is in control of the tunes in our beat up old Volkswagen Rabbit. As I’m listening, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” begins and as those opening harp notes hit I ask my dad “Dad what is this? I like it!” My father in his accented voice says, “Hijo, this is a song that made me fall in love with the idea of California.” I think my dad was up to something there.

When you hear anything off of Pet Sounds, there’s this clear dichotomy between Brian Wilson’s bipolarity and the pull of the band not wanting to change their sound that much. There’re numerous stories involving my parents and bands from the ’60s and ’70s. This one in particular was fun for me because as I got older, I realized the guys who’d made that song were just kids from my neighborhood.

When thinking back to my neighborhood I start to find the inspirations that Brian Wilson and company found inspiration in. Going to what remains of the old mall, particularly Montgomery Ward. See the ice cream shop that you have to know inspired “California Girls” as the boys watched all the pretty faces order their Foster Freezes.

My city, known as “The City of Good Neighbors” is a great one. I for one, however, petition they change the motto of this city to “The City of Good Vibrations” after all its native sons, and most prominent musical talents (sorry Tyler, the Creator you aren’t there yet) should perhaps represent this city to the utmost. To quote the man for which the city was named “Sunlight is painting.” and no one band has painted with more broad strokes. No record more colors than so The Beach Boys and their sun-drenched melancholy known as Pet Sounds.

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