Where It's At
Brian Wilson explains what's behind his musical new direction
to journalist Tom Nolan sometime around November, 1966.
"About a year ago I had what I consider to be a very
religious experience. I took LSD, a full dose of LSD, and later,
another time, I took a smaller dose. And I learned a lot of things,
like patience, understanding. I can't teach you, or tell you
what I learned from taking it. But I consider it a very religious
If one tries to locate the two LSD trips that Brian refers
to in the above quote, using his biography as a guide (as it
is the sole source available for this type of thing), one finds
that Brian's first LSD trip had to take place prior to April
6, 1965 (the first recording date for "California Girls").
This locates Brian's first LSD trip well over a year and a half
prior to Brian's quote to Nolan and therefore not likely one
of the LSD trips that influenced Brian's spiritual musical direction
(note that David Leaf's SMiLE DVD Beautiful Dreamer completely misses the boat by solely referencing the first trip).
Brian's biography places his second LSD trip as having taken place months prior to the end of the year. This would likely place the second trip somewhere around October, 1965, about a year prior to Nolan's interview with Wilson. The biography notes that the acid for this trip was "Strong stuff....which I understood to be an extremely potent dose." This description jibes with the "full dose of LSD" Wilson described for Tom Nolan making Brian's second LSD trip an important SMiLE related event.
The biography describes Brian's third, and final, LSD trip as "four hours of enlightenment and spirituality"
which would indeed indicate that a "smaller dose" of
acid was ingested this time around. Wilson's third LSD trip,
then, is another important SMiLE related event; most likely the
event from which Brian Wilson "learned a lot of things,
like patience, understanding."
Keeping the above in mind here's a time line of SMiLE that
explains things logically. This time line shows SMiLE to be a
totally consistent and focused piece of art. There are
no contradictions! We start with Brian's second LSD trip.
SMiLE Time Line
Brand new Out-Of-Sight vision to help
you see just Where It's At!
(Keith Badman's book THE BEACH BOYS is a gas, and helped make
this thing easy.)
Months before late December 1965
Brian Wilson takes acid for the second time, an "extremely
This LSD trip serves up a "horror movie" that begins with the sound of sirens from nearby fire trucks. Brian imagines being consumed by flames and dying. "...I was bathed in flames, dying, dying, and then the screen inside my brain went blank. I visualized myself drifting back in time. Getting smaller and younger." Brian relives arguments he'd had with his father. He continues to drift back in time. "I continued getting smaller. I was a baby. An infant. Then I was inside the womb. An egg. And then, finally, I was gone. I didn't exist."
Did Brian Wilson lose his ego during this experience? Was
this ego-death? Only Brian knows for sure. But in any case it
seems likely that such questions must have entered Brian's mind
at this point.
When asked about the Pet Sounds song "Hang On To Your
Ego" and "ego" Brian responded, "Yeah. I
had taken a few drugs, and I had gotten into that kind of thing.
I guess it just came up naturally."
Brian may have "gotten into that kind of thing"
by reading books. Brian appears to have been interested in subjects
like psychology, philosophy, religion, and the psychedelic experience.
Books on Eastern philosophy and the psychedelic experience, in
particular, often point to the loss of ego, or ego-death, as
the key to a better way of living.
"Studying metaphysics was also crucial, but Koestler's book really was the big one for me."
November 1, 1965
Recording "Trombone Dixie." At this session
Brian also records "In My Childhood," which will eventually
be re-titled "You Still Believe In Me." The title "In
My Childhood" may be related to Brian "drifting back
in time" to his childhood during his second LSD trip.
December 20, 1965
"Barbara Ann" single is released.
Several days before Christmas 1965
Brian suffers what he considers an acid flashback in the Pickwick Bookstore. It is a totally unexpected experience.
"I couldn't even remember why I'd gone to the store. It
was spooky. I walked into the store anyway. The clerk, who knew
me, said hello and mentioned that he was crazy about "Barbara
Ann," which was all over the radio."
[Similarly, Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE
begins with "Gee," another doo wop classic, coming
over the radio.]
"Moving slowly into the aisles, I concentrated on reading
the book titles and their authors....I paged through books..."
[Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE offers up
the musical equivalent of this by presenting snippets of various
songs by various composers.]
"I stared at the pages, tried to read, but the letters all
vibrated on the pages and I couldn't make sense of anything."
[The sound effects that precede "I Wanna
Be Around" on Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE may be
a musical depiction of this sort of thing.]
"Then I saw the books melting down the shelves, dripping
like wax down the side of a candle."
[The ending of "You Are My Sunshine"
may be a musical depiction of this visual.]
"The room began to spin. I was in the center of a giant
spinning top. Turning, turning, turning. The moment was completely
[The opening section from "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" seems like a musical representation of this.]
"As the buzz subsided into a manageable burned-out
sensation, I remembered Loren once explaining that hallucinations
were comparable to Zen riddles, mysteries full of meaning. What
had mine meant? I had driven to the bookstore, looking for what?
Inspiration? Instead, I'd seen books melting, unable to grasp
the knowledge contained in them.
If that was a riddle, I wanted to know the solution."
Brian seeks guidance from his astrologer regarding the direction for his next album. Brian tells her "about the hallucination I'd had in the bookstore last December, presenting it as a riddle." The astrologer gives advice that resonates well with Wilson. "If I wasn't able to find inspiration for songs outside myself, as in books, then I had to look someplace else. I had to look inward. I had to write about the spirituality I felt in my heart."
We can infer from the above that Brian was looking to books for inspiration and thinking in terms of albums and riddles.
The song "In My Childhood" effectively becomes "You Still Believe In Me" at this point as Brian now knows the musical direction he'll take for his next LP, Pet Sounds.
January 7, 1966
The Beach Boys begin a tour that takes them to Japan
and will end in Hawaii on January 29th.
January 10, 1966
The photos of the Beach Boys in Samurai outfits are taken at Samurai Studios in Kyoto, Japan. Some of these pictures will eventually adorn the back cover of Pet Sounds. Perhaps the Samurai's connection to Zen and its riddles played some part in the decision to use the pictures.
Sometime during this month, Brian meets Van Dyke Parks
at a party held at Terry Melcher's house.
Brian notes in his biography that Parks "...spoke in funny,
poetic, often beguiling torrents." And one wonders if Wilson,
already thinking in terms of albums and riddles (see January
1966), had Parks pegged as a potential lyricist for this sort
of thing right from the start.
February 7, 1966
Recording sessions are held for "Let Go Of Your Ego" AKA "Hang On To Your Ego." The ego-loss idea is related to LSD but it is also a major component of Eastern philosophies. Brian also noticed the relationship between ego and humor.
"It explains that people attach their egos to their sense of humor before anything else."
~Brian Wilson on THE ACT OF CREATION
During the recording session for "Ego" Brian mentions the comedy album How To Speak Hip.
The album includes the following:
'"Like in Zen...the Zen Buddhists
have these koans, you know, they're riddles that you meditate
on. And the whole purpose of the riddles is to hang you up, like,
"We know the sound of two hands but what is the sound of
one hand?" Now that's had Buddhist monks hung up for years."'
This passage would have registered
with Brian given his bookstore flashback riddle experience in
The title and lyrics of "Hang On To Your Ego" were eventually changed. The resulting song, "I Know There's An Answer," contains the line, "I know there's an answer. I know now, but I have to find it by myself."
Wilson will indeed find the answer to his flashback riddle in late April.
February 17, 1966
The first sessions for "Good Vibrations"
April 9, 1966
Brian records "Good Vibrations" (session
5) in the same fashion as he has recorded the songs for Pet Sounds.
The track is given a master number (#55949) indicating that it
is a recording potentially worthy of release.
April 25, 1966
Pet Sounds promo film shot in the mountainous areas above Lake Arrowhead, California. This completes the group's work for Pet Sounds.
The Arrowhead is located above the warm mineral
This is the Great Spirit's sign that there is to be peaceful
location for all,
and that the valley below was given to them.
April 26 or 27, 1966
This webpage contends that Brian Wilson drops acid for the third time on the beach located in Lake
Arrowhead, California. Brian contemplates the riddle and finds the answer to the riddle he was presented with in December. It is the ultimate religious experience ("...this trip was the ultimate in LSD joyrides--everything it was supposed to be, four hours of enlightenment and spirituality") from which a new "reborn" Brian Wilson emerges. Part of the enlightening spiritual experience is the conceiving of the Beach Boys' next album and single.
This statue points to the sacred hot springs.
When Indians fought,
both sides would take their wounded to the healing mineral springs,
which was considered neutral ground. There was peace in the valley.
Brian's biography describes Brian dropping Al Jardine off
at the William Morris Agency (the group's booking agency) the
day after Brian's third LSD trip. Wilson is telling Jardine about
the great trip he'd just had the previous day--trying to convince
Jardine to drop acid. Since the Beach Boys started another tour
on April 28th it is likely that Brian dropped Al off on either
the 27th or 28th.
The biography also makes mention that it is during Brian's third LSD trip that Wilson envisions the "grand Spectorlike production" that was to eventually become "Good Vibrations." And it should be noted that weeks after this acid trip Brian returned to the studio to work on "Good Vibrations" and began to record the song using new methods and techniques. Brian would use these same new techniques (recording in sections, using various studios, recording the same section of music in different ways, seeking perfection) for SMiLE.
Some SMiLE books point to Big Sur as the likely location for much of SMiLE's inspiration. This is based upon a quote from David Anderle. It is important to note that the Lake Arrowhead region features many of the same features that Anderle attributed to Big Sur while discussing "The Elements" with CRAWDADDY! editor Paul Williams. The Lake Arrowhead region has mountains, snow, beach, pools, and water fountains. When Anderle said that Brian "ran up to Big Sur for a week" he may have, for whatever reason, gotten the location and duration of Brian's adventure wrong (many years ago a noted Brian Wilson authority told me that the Pet Sounds promo film locale was "Big Sur." In other words, when David Anderle noted Brian's trip to Big Sur, he was actually noting Brian's trip to the mountains above Lake Arrowhead).
There is a good chance that rain may have fallen at some point during this LSD trip as there are repeated references to rain in mountainous Brian Wilson songs ("Sweet Mountain,""Diamond Head") as well as visual references in Frank Holmes' SMiLE drawings. The Wordsworth poem containing the "The Child is father of the Man" line is based upon the sight of a rainbow; which also implies
rain. The idea of rain, snow, the lake, pool, water fountains,
and as David Anderle put it "a lot of water" implies
that Brian's third LSD trip was water to his second trips'
Anderle observed that "the whole thing was this fantastic
amount of awareness of his surroundings" and much of SMiLE
supports this statement. SMiLE honors the site of Brian Wilson's
ultimate religious experience, presenting it as a riddle.
The distinctive dance pavilion.
The Lake Arrowhead region was inhabited by the Native American
Indians prior to the Europeans using the area for logging. In
the 1800s Chinese workers were used to blast tunnels through
the San Bernardino mountains bringing the railroad to Lake Arrowhead.
The Arrowhead Reservoir Company began dam construction in 1901
but work was eventually halted when a group of united landowners
won a court case against the company. Today, there are still
some old cabins in the Lake Arrowhead area that date back to
Dam project undertaken by the Arrowhead Reservoir and Power Company.
Note the "iron horse" at the bottom center of the picture.
The Lake Arrowhead influence upon SMiLE can be seen primarily in the project's earliest compositions, the sandbox songs; "Heroes And Villains," "Surf's Up," and "Cabin Essence." After Brian and Van Dyke had "canvas(ed) the town" they decided to "brush the backdrop" stretching things from Plymouth Rock to Hawaii. Their purpose remained the same; to document and share the religious experience.
The clock tower in the village.
In Jules Siegel's famous Goodbye Surfing Hello God! article Brian appears to link the beach experience to a spiritual "death and rebirth" when he speaks about the movie Seconds. Brian explains that, "the whole
thing was there. I mean my whole life. Birth and death and rebirth.
The whole thing. Even the beach was in it, a whole thing about
This likely places Brian's religious experience "on the beach" (the sandbox that Brian composed from was an attempt to recreate the feel of the beach in order to put the ultimate religious experience into the music) and the Out-Of-Sight! SMiLE Site places the beach at Lake Arrowhead. Ego loss, or ego-death, is very likely part of this beach experience.
"That which is called
ego-death is coming to you.
This is now the hour of death and rebirth;
Take advantage of this temporary death to obtain the perfect
Concentrate on the unity of all living beings.
Hold onto the Clear Light.
Use it to attain understanding and love."
~Leary, Metzner, and Alpert, The
This experience was described in Brian's bio as "four
hours of enlightenment and spirituality" and it led to Brian's
learning "a lot of things, like patience, understanding" as he explained to Tom Nolan. All of these little clues (ego-death, rebirth, enlightenment, understanding) fit together to form the classic religious psychedelic experience. As is often the case with such experiences there concurrently emerges a strong desire to help others achieve a similar level of spiritual success. This is what SMiLE documents.
In late December, 1965 after his acid flashback in Pickwick Books Brian remembered "Loren once explaining that hallucinations were comparable to Zen riddles, mysteries full of meaning." And, true to form, SMiLE songs actually are "mysteries full of meaning," so much so that when anyone attempts to explain them they are automatically at fault for not addressing the multiple meanings that each track appears to have.
"...the listener has to work out by himself what is implied by the laconic hint;
he has to make an imaginative effort to solve the riddle."
~Arthur Koestler, THE ACT OF CREATION
Brian could not find inspiration outside himelf for Pet Sounds, but a book did provide inspiration for the riddle, for SMiLE.
"...it turned me on to some very special things."
~Brain Wilson on THE ACT OF CREATION
Arthur Koestler's THE ACT OF CREATION: A Study Of The Conscious And Unconscious Process In Humor, Scientific Discovery And Art (1964) served as an instuctional guide for the creators of the SMiLE album. The book laid out how a hidden layer of meaning could trigger laughter and the spiritual experience. The three quotes below indicate that Brian believed that laughter could help someone let go of their ego.
"The book's about the logic of laughter."
"It explains that people attach their egos to their sense of humor before anything else."
"He (Brian) felt that the moment somebody laughed, that while they're laughing,
that all control was gone. They cannot control themselves.
And at that moment they can have a spiritual experience."
"I have explained earlier on that the term 'self-transcending' or 'participatory' tendencies is meant to refer to those emotional states where the need is felt to behave as a part of some real or imaginary entity which transcends the boundaries of the individual self (whereas when governed by the self-assertive class of emotion, the ego is experienced as a self-contained whole and the ultimate value)."
~Arthur Koestler, THE ACT OF CREATION
The unique lamp design of the Old Lake Arrowhead
Early May 1966
David Anderle enters the picture. Brian immediately
begins working in his new spiritual direction with Van Dyke Parks.
Wilson asks Parks to write lyrics for "Good Vibrations."
Parks declines but begins working with Wilson on "Heroes
And Villains" and SMiLE.
May 4, 1966
Brian re-records the opening section of "Good
Vibrations." He is apparently dissatisfied and decides to
rethink things. He doesn't revisit "Good Vibrations"
for three weeks and when he finally does, he begins recording
the track in sections.
May 11, 1966
Excited by his new direction and his work with Van
Dyke Parks Brian holds a recording session for "Heroes And
May 16, 1966
Pet Sounds is released.
May 24, 1966
Brian returns to "Good Vibrations" and begins
employing his new recording methods. Producing an acceptable
version of "Good Vibrations" will be a difficult task
as Brian is attempting to realize the perfection of his vision
for "Good Vibrations," a vision which originated during
Wilson's ultimate religious experience.
August 3, 1966
The SMiLE sessions commence with the instrumental
tracking for "Wind Chimes." The SMiLE sessions will
be recorded using the same techniques as "Good Vibrations"
and Brian will have the same problems with the SMiLE sessions
that he has with "Good Vibrations." As with "Good
Vibrations," Wilson will seek perfection for his spiritually
inspired music, his teenage symphony to God.
September 21, 1966
Brian holds the final session for "Good Vibrations."
October 10, 1966
The "Good Vibrations" single is released.
November 28, 1966
is Where It's At and it's Out-Of-Sight!
Session for "The Elements (Fire)." This scary track, at least partly based upon Brian Wilson's bad second LSD trip, marks the beginning of the downfall of SMiLE, and it is this observer's opinion that Brian's reaction to the track marked the beginning of his questioning the appropriateness of SMiLE and the idea of mystically bringing (via the riddle) the spiritual LSD experience to the general public. The negativity that begins at this point eventually will lead Wilson (a decade after SMiLE's demise) to claim "It was destroying me! I was being destroyed thinking about it!" and "We were doing witchcraft, trying to make witchcraft music." Wilson would continue to claim that the music is "inappropriate" into the next century.
This is where the Out-Of-Site! SMiLE
Site ends its time line. SMiLE was meant to do good things and bring wisdom, health, and happiness to people and in that positive spirit we'd like to stay. The story of SMiLE's undoing can be found elsewhere (unfortunately without the Out-Of-Sight! website's Where It's At insight into why Brian shelved SMiLE).
Thank you Brian Wilson!