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The Warmth of the Sun

Dawn on Mt. Eisenhower / Indian Wells, California / John Fraim
The Warmth of the Sun / The Beach Boys / November 1963

A Song And A Time / By John Fraim

The concept for this post was originally started by a friend one night over dinner when he reminded me of one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s the Beach Boy’s “Warmth of the Sun” created during the days of the Kennedy Assasination. An important fact to know if one is to understand the symbolism behind this as the turning sound in American music and a turning song. Outwardly, the song could be about the relationship between a two teens back in the 50s or 60s in America. Especially, the early 60s.

The Wilson Brothers in Hawthorne, California / Circa Late 50s

One has to place themselves in those years to truly understand this story. For much of this story is the reader that lived these times in his or her memory. This requires them to remember back all the years in their own lives and “participate” more in what McCluhan might have called a “cool” method of participatory (two-way) coummunication. As opposed to non-participatory broadcast (one way) communication. As opposed to the reader of this who has not lived these times. While they were not part of this lived and rememver collective experience of an entire generation, there is still much to learn from famous like the Beach Boys “Warmth of the Sun.” The song is very attached to the greatest moments in our history. Immiately after of before the assasination of John F. Kennedy in November 23, 1963.

Brian Wilson / Hawthorne, California / Circa mid 50s / Around 13

* * *

The time of the writing of “Warmth of the Sun” is still argued by Brian Wilson and Mike Love against the views of their manager at the time

“That song was inspired by the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The day he was killed Mike (Love) and I went into my office where I had a piano and wrote a song in his memory. That came quickly.” Brian said this so it it his and Mike’s position on the whole thing.

But their manager at the time has a very different story on the activities around the composition of the song. It’s interesting to quote him somehat at length as it does take us back through a memory device like his diary of the times. Takes us back to the early years of the Beach Boys as few other recollections can take us back to those years.

“It made more sense to stay in Sacramento so that they’d be closer to the airport for the flight the next day. After a bit of a ‘pit stop’ we headed up to Marysville, less than an hour’s drive away. We arrived at the Marysville Auditorium and headed backstage to see about setting up the gear. A local act, ‘Freddy and the Statics,’ were to open. We’d do a long set about 9:30 or so. The auditorium was set up for a ‘dance and show’ with folding chairs along the outer walls and a wide open wood floor for dancing. Much like the high school dances in the Boy’s Gym that we all attended in our youth.”

He continues. “When ‘Freddy and the Statics’ completed their set, and the curtain went down, we immediately began setting up for the ‘boys’ set. As always, I would introduce the group, but on this very special night, it was agreed that I would ask the audience for a ‘moment of silence’ in honor of our fallen President. I went out to the microphone, thanked the kids for coming, and asked them to be silent in tribute to the late President, John F. Kennedy. Since this was something none of us had ever done before, I didn’t have any idea as to ‘what amount of time’ was appropriate for the audience to remain ‘silent.’ It seemed like hours standing out there, head bowed, while the audience was totally – and respectfully – quiet. All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye as I glanced back at the curtain, I saw it shift a little, and I could see Mike’s hand and face as he prepared to throw a towel at me! Just as it hit my back, I knew – right then and there – that it was time to bring on ‘The Beach Boys!'”

Continuing, he recounts …

“The show was a huge success. It not only broke the existing hall attendance record, but there were absolutely no incidents. The kids were well behaved and very, very grateful that their favorite ‘surfing band’ had gone ahead with the show. I settled up with the box office manager, stuffing thousands of dollar bills and small change into grocery bags, which Murry and I carried to the cars. We headed back to the El Dorado Hotel, excited about the success of the evening’s performance, but still very mindful of the tragic events that had happened just twelve or fourteen hours before in Dallas, Texas.”

Finally, he says …

“It was probably about 1:00 AM when we got back to the rooms. Everyone ‘doubled up’ in those early days. No lavish suites. Sometimes there were three to a room. Murry and I dumped the bags of cash out on to one of the beds. I can vividly remember the bright turquoise bedspreads. The ‘boys’ were amazed, perhaps, ‘shocked,’ to see all the cash sitting on the bed. On a typical William Morris Agency contracted date, the local concert promoters would put up 50% of the ‘guarantee’ in advance, often writing a check the night of the performance for the … “

It goes on but what he says that it was in the early morning hours that Brian and Mike originally composed the song “The Warmth of the Sun.” It was certainly recorded and released after the assasination of Kennedy. More likely, the project started before the president’s assasination and contined on until recored after the assasination.

* * *

The Assasination of Kennedy for my generation was an event somewhat similar to the sinking of the Titanic for anothr generation. But it was my parent’s generation and perhaps I inherited an innate curiosiity about the Titanic sinking. The “titanic” event of the first decade of the new century. My father had the originally famous book

The sinking of the ship took on a particular mythological status in my mind. It represented a type of symbol I began to conclude. It was at this time that I heard of an incredible book about the cultural dimensions of the sinking of the Titanic and read with growing admiration for the broad culture perspectives of the world associated with the Titanic. It became a type of symbol at the time of a world that was dying, as a new one is being born.

Brian Wilson / Baseball Swing / Circa Mid 50s

Down With the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster by Harvard professor Steven Biel. He writes about the symbolism of the tragic yet ultimately cultural event surrounding the sinking of the Titanic in his brilliant book. Each generation has this central collective memory of an event they experienced usually burned into the ever more rememboring mind of a child to a teen at the time of the event.

It comes back to my comments above that the assasination of Kennedy was the mythological Titanic event for my baby boom generation. Just as it was for the real event of my parent’s generation.

* * *

I was born and grew up in Los Angeles, not too far north from the Hawthorne, California where the Beach Boys grew up. An area just southeast of LAX today. My family moved to Ohio when I was ten where I lived until I was sixteen. At this time, I went back west to Los Angeles to complete my final years of high school. It was the same school my father had attended in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. He never liked Ohio and wanted to return the family back to California where he and my mother first went after being married in Ohio.

In Ohio I made many wonderful friends and had no intererst in leaving. But in the October month of October in 1963, dad and I flew out to Los Angeles, rented a car and visited a lot of schools he and my mother had reviewed for my final years of school in California, where the family would soon by moving back to. He was president of a national broadcasting network and was given permission by his board to set up corporate offices in LA. This made the transition back to LA much easier for the family.

We looked at a few schools in the LA area and a few up in northern California. But there was not much doubt that I would attend the Webb School of California, in Claremont, California, just forty miles east of downtown LA. It was founded by the son of the Founder of the Webb School of Bell Buckle Tennessee. The connection is so intersting when one thinks about it. In one sense, it is hard to think about more opposite states that Californbia and Tennessee in values, culture and lifestyles. But then, dad grew up in the south of Mississippi and the education and more he received at Webb meant more than almost anything to him. He certainly talked about it a lot to me during those years. I was doing well in sports and other things at the time. In fact, I was busy with a lot of part time activitis of friends at the times. My grades were going downhill and the parents (I imagine) saw all of this as a good pretense for trying out another learning environmment for me. In California where the family would soon be.

Santa Monica Beach / John Fraim

I ended up heading out to Webb in Claremont, California in Septembeer of 1964. A little less than a year since the assasination of President Kennedy. Among the things I brought with me to my new school was a Fender Precision (Candy Apple) bass. I had been playing with a band back in Ohio and especially following the music of the Beach Boys. In California, at Webb, we formed a surf oriented band and practiced when we could in the attic above the Old Gym.

Besides the Fender bass, I took out to Webb a record player with a few LPs. One was Louie, Louie by the Kingsman. A 45 I think. the other few albums, mostly from the Beach Boys.

Looking back on the event of the assasination of Kennedy (of Camelot) there seemed a divide manifesting itself on a large scale. The divide was not one between the ups and downs of a young couple. Although young people are certainly important, the real metaphor of Warmth of the Sun seems to be represent a type of boundary line between a type of innocense and non-innocense or knowing. Somewhat like that The Shadow Line Joseph Conrad titled one of his novels about this idea.

Certainly there was a new direction in American rock music as a whole (which was doing an excellent job at the time of providing insight into the collective American psyche of the time), especially being engaged in the escapist fantasy of surfing one’s life away. The power within the Beach Boys, in this way, seemed somewhat like a ticking time bomb. The idea the Elvis and the teenage beach movies (Like “Where the Boys Are”) with Sci-Fi films, dominated this geneartion. Much escapicism in the symbol of life in California. The Beach Boys were selling a place and lifestyle. There is little doubt about this.

Dawn Tree in Annadel Park / Sonoma County 2009 / John Fraim

What few have even attempted to speculated on is the harmonic symbolism of the new four part harmony introduced to the American teenager. To the American ear as a Media Ecologist might very rightly conclude. The four part harmony caused a very different reaction to songs as voices were different, yet the same, all blending together so beautifully. This was more the unseen, or un-discussed, item considered. In effect, new simultaneeous harmonics of voices played out against and with each other.

As one person recalls, Brian Wilson pioneered the use of adventurous chord changes The Warmth of the Sun’s transitions from C to A-minor to E-flat, were unheard of in 1964. It was released on their 1964 album Shut Down Volume 2 and also released on the B-side of their “Dance, Dance, Dance” single.

The harmonic achivements and effects of the Beach Boys in music have never been fully understood or appreciated. The exact date this song was composed less important to me. The power of the somber melody and the incredible harmony put an eloquent, final end to the innocence of youth, nurtured by the warmth of the new sun in their lives. What matters is the new “media” in effect, of a four-part harmony into rock music. It had never happened before. Soon, the Beatles would invade with a much similar harmonic style to the Beach Boys.

After the Beach Boys, few bands could be serious contenders for leading rock bands unless harmony was a factor. (Except a few like The Doors) Often, a big factor. More often, the biggest factor. Yet, it was in the almost hyponotizing new four part harmony of the Beach Boys voices, were they also able to deliver powerful messages within the harmonic power of the voices together. But this mysterious effect of four-part harmony on the vibrations and the ears of the world (rather than the eyes) still seems a novel, hardly raised idea about some great change that took place in many things of culture and society, and psychology, before the assasination of President Kennedy. After, rock music lost it’s innocence to other issues of the times rather than dating and the ups and downs of high school life.

The toll of the great battle of the times was seen in a number of things I immediately think of. As the present moves more into the future, these things often define the battles of my life. They seem defined more than anything else by the application of morality and ethics injected into modern situational rules ossr orders. Our baby boom generation is a battle-hardened generation of combat verterans from Vietnam. Many lived those early years of the 50s and early 60s in the grand fantasy of innocence hanging over the entire generation. And then, the wake up to the reality of the world outside the image of surfing, southern California, the beach and the great Pacific Ocean. It was one hell of a wake up call for many of the baby boom generation who had adapted the relaxed lifestyle of the Warmth of the Sun.

Whatever this haunting song is about for the listener.

Bringing back memories of a time in their life. Bringing perhaps a desire to reach out to hear the memories of those with memories.

It was funny. It wasn’t something media like TV or radio discouraged. As it was always good for business. There were formulas for this music of escapism and innocence in life represeted by interests in surfing in the ocean all the time. It was much in the overall zeitgeist of my memories of those early years in Los Angeles. The thing I noticed from then to the present day Los Angeles was the number of people living in Los Angeles. I am continually amazed when i return and see new ways architects, and engineers and developers and real estate agents are constanly reshaping the landscape of LA.

The song Warmth of the Sun gathered somewhat of a small cult following around lobbying the importance and mysticism of this song to great songs of the nation.

It was doomed by the British invasion of more adult and sophisticated and worldly concerns in the world. The world of the innocence of The Warmth of the Sun was now something of the past.


The Warmth of the Sun Lyrics

What good is the dawn
That grows into day
The sunset at night
Or living this way

The love of my life
She left me one day
I cried when she said
“I don’t feel the same way”

Still I have the warmth of the sun
(Warmth of the sun)
Within me tonight
(Within me tonight)

I’ll dreams of her arms
And though they’re not real
Just like she’s still there
The way that I feel

My love’s like the warmth of the sun
(Warmth of the sun)
It won’t ever die
(It won’t ever die)


Hawthorne, CA Review

By John Bush

Ever wanted to hear the Beach Boys‘ 1965 album track “Salt Lake City” in stereo instead of mono, or maybe an a cappella version of “Can’t Wait Too Long,” which the band recorded in 1967 but never released until it was tacked onto a 1990 reissue? If so, then you’re undoubtedly one of the more obsessive Beach Boys fans out there, and Hawthorne, CA was produced with you — and only a scant few others — in mind. More akin to an audio scrapbook or musical documentary than a true rarities compilation, this two-disc set is packed with over two exhausting hours of session excerpts, alternate versions, backing tracks (à la Stack-O-Tracks), and a handful of stereo remixes. It’s also interspersed with dialogue from bandmembers, a process that only enhances the already fragmentary nature of a collection like this. The only genuinely new songs are “Lonely Days,” an artifact from the Wild Honeyera, and Dennis Wilson‘s “A Time to Live in Dreams” from 1968. Still, almost every track has never been released previously, and fans of the band’s lost masterpiece Smile will find several tracks of intriguing material, including revealing stereo versions of “Heroes and Villains” and “Vegetables.” Also included is a considerable excerpt from the original tapes of the Beach Boys‘ first garage session (for the “Surfin'” single), complete with Dennis’ wacky mic testing and threats from various bandmates that they’ll get popped in the nose if they laugh during another take. Hawthorne, CA proves two things over and over again — with every a cappella mix, it proves the Beach Boys were one of the most amazing harmonists of the rock era, and with several of the newly stereo versions, listeners can hear what a good stereo remix can do to even the most lackluster songs, like 1970s “Cotton Fields (The Cotton Song)” — itself a misguided attempt to duplicate the success of 1966’s “Sloop John B.” A bounty of intriguing songs for the collector and true-believer fan, but far from necessary for disinterested listeners. 


Albert Bierstadt / A Storm in the Rocky Mountains / 1866

John Fraim

Founder of Midnight Oil Studios


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