I ran into them, appropriately enough, near the pier at Huntington Beach. After a full morning of surfing, they were carrying their boards up the concrete steps that lead to Pacific Coast Highway. They were finished for the day but most likely would be back tomorrow, they said, just as they probably would be every day this summer. Just a couple of beach boys out riding the waves.
Endless summer, eh, boys? Yeah, I've heard that somewhere before.
I met one of my best high school buddies because of the Beach Boys. I was new in town and as the superintendent's kid wasn't exactly being welcomed into the inner sanctum of the other guys. Then one night we were riding the school bus to some event, and my future buddy--the biggest jock in town--started singing Beach Boys' songs. Knowing every Beach Boys' lyric proved to be my initiation rite, and by the time we had sung our way home through the darkness, a beautiful friendship had blossomed.
That would have been sometime in the fall of 1963, surely a distant outpost now and making it increasingly difficult to remember how California looked then to a 14-year-old boy living in Nebraska. But, just as surely, whatever image I had was created by the Beach Boys and their music.
It's almost too bad that I've heard their songs so many hundreds of times over the years--too bad because repetition dulls how great they still sound. But after long stretches when I haven't heard the early Beach Boys' music--and then listen anew to Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson--I'm enraptured again.
Part of it is pure nostalgia, remembering my buddy Tom doing a pretty good Brian Wilson falsetto and me a passable Mike Love. Thinking of us being 16 and 14, respectively, and combining on "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)" makes me wonder how 30 years can get away that quickly.
So, I wanted to find some modern-day beach boys under this fine California July sun, wondering if they appreciate the surfing legacy handed down to them. And when I came upon Paul and Andy, a couple of 14-year-olds with boards in tow, I knew they were exactly the kind of bronzed kids we would have been imagining those many years ago when we dreamt of California.
I offered to buy them a Coke if they'd indulge my quest, and they sat down for a chat near the pier.
They both live in Huntington Beach. Paul Cesario has been surfing for about two years, and Andy Raptis for about four. Paul's first time on a board came when he was about 7 and a friend threw him into the ocean and told him to stand up. He did.
"Do you guys feel like you're part of any kind of surf culture?" I asked them.
"What do you mean, surf culture?" Andy said.
"Uh, well, you know--"
"Oh, like Surf City?" Paul said.
"Yeah, I guess so," I said, realizing I didn't exactly have a sterling line of questioning in mind.
"It's not a big deal," Andy said. "This used to be a real surf city," Paul said. "Now it's all high-rise," Andy said.
"Do you feel any connection to previous generations of surfers, like there's a legacy handed down to you?"
"Not really," Andy said. "You just surf, I guess," Paul said.
Stupid questions, I thought. I'm thinking legacies and kids in Nebraska, and they're thinking: ' What is this guy talking about? '
"What if I were to say Brian Wilson ?"
"Who's that?" Andy said.
"Is he a surfer?" Paul said.
"How about Al Jardine?" I said.
"Who is he?" Andy said cheerily, warming up to the game.
"No clue," Paul said.
"What does he do?" Andy asked.
"This is very depressing, guys," I said. "Do the Beach Boys mean anything to you?"
"Oh, yeah," Andy said.
"Brian Wilson!" Paul said. "Now I know who he is."
I told them I thought that maybe Brian Wilson would be a god to anyone who'd ever surfed.
"I've heard that name before," Paul said, "but I didn't recognize it when you said it. I know who the Beach Boys are; it's just not something I'd sit down and listen to."
He likes punk rock, he said.
I started giving them a little of my history in Nebraska, being 14 and thinking of the California scene and guys like them surfing. I might as well have been talking Urdu.
"Nebraska, huh?" Paul said.
I figured I might as well give it one last shot.
"Do you know the line to any Beach Boys song?" I asked.
They thought about it for a second.
"Doo-wah diddy diddy--" Paul said.
"That's not the Beach Boys," Andy said.
Needless to say, it was time to wrap things up. I had gone off in search of sociology and come back a geezer.
They thanked me for the Cokes and left. I walked the strand, taking in the beach scene. It seemed crowded for a Tuesday. The noonday sun was beating down, just as it would have 30 years ago when my buddy Tom and I conjured up images of California while looking for ways to kill time in a small Nebraska town.
This is the scene we pictured . This is exactly how it would have looked.
I walked past a beach rental shop, and music poured forth from inside. It was Depeche Mode doing a song I'd never heard.
Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.