Ramona Gonzalez, a Los Angeles musician, is the core member of Nite Jewel, which is performing Friday, October 8, at the Music Box with Caribou and Emeralds. Nite Jewel just released the EP Am I Real?
History repeats itself, sort of. In the summer of 1961, the Beach Boys released their first single, “Surfin',” on Candix Records. The deal was brokered in part through a convincing pitch by the young Dennis Wilson that the band would get in on the surfing craze booming in California at the time.
In fact, many bands mined that aesthetic: the Bel-Airs, the Surfaris, the Pyramids, the Marketts, the Honeys, the Challengers and others. It was the Beach Boys, however, who popularized the trend into something national and then global.
All the while, leader Brian Wilson had never touched a surfboard save for promotional use.
It makes sense that Los Angeles would be a place to market an aesthetic of optimism: beaches, good weather, pretty girls, fast cars. And now, once again, the stereotypes of Southland culture have become a global trend. Nowadays not only on the Pacific Coast, but to some degree on the Atlantic as well, we see another rise of a beach craze — not as a real pastime or object, but in the form of “just being coastal.”
With the lack of regionalism in the U.S. due to the capacity of the Internet to turn the nation into one big blob — to give kids the idea that their locality is closer to a Facebook wall than any particular town — this concept of “being from someplace” seems particularly novel to the new generation.
These new “coastal” groups have found that merely expressing their day-to-day rituals stereotypical to their California lifestyle (good weather, weed stores, health food) can become a marketable band ethos. While the Beach Boys used California stereotypes that didn't correspond to who they actually were in an attempt to market themselves effectively to mass consumers, musician kids seeking to hop onto the coast trend nowadays engage in self-parody in order to appeal widely.
They can choose to discard their privacy using interfaces such as Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and the like, and give their audiences an account of their real life. Fans can track their favorite bands' diurnal activities from what time they go to bed to what they eat for breakfast.
One can easily observe that with many of the bands that have the California stereotype embedded within all promotion and nomenclature, what you see is what you get. That weed leaf on the cover corresponds to a real-life interest in getting high. And even when certain bands attempt a mild wink at irony, what ends up happening is just good old-fashioned sarcasm that still manages to be quite literal.
History repeats itself. What are the supposed historical facts? Well, for one, optimism and simple ideas sell. Ideas about the good life sell, especially ideas about California. Other supposed facts? Music, at its best, is about more than money, because it has layers, and then is like art. Money is a literal exchange of product; art is a moment of metaphor.
When I said before that Brian Wilson never surfed and didn't much like the ocean, it was to illustrate a point about the metaphorical nature of the Beach Boys' message and what allowed for Wilson's career to last as long as it did. A few years into his career, he clearly sought a way out of the surfing aesthetic that he helped define.
And that's the lasting appeal for fans: creating a vision by seeing certain aesthetic trends as trends, which can monetarily bolster music or alternatively confine musical genius. Bands that have a literal one-to-one correspondence between their very being and their marketing choices have an uphill battle, using aesthetic trends as tactics to further something else.
Not all artists in Los Angeles take the Beach Boys literally. While relishing the deceptively simple messages, the talent and the dulcet harmonies, we can also see elements of haze and dark debauchery, which perhaps better connect to the multilayered experience we have in being from this coast, neither the best nor the worst.