By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Last week I watched a television show that took me back 60 years, to the joy of languishing on the beach, slathering Coppertone on my body, and listening to “surf” music.  The show was “A Grammy Salute to the Beach Boys” and it generated a fun, sometimes tearful, walk down memory lane.  I have always loved the Beach Boys and to this day, I have their “Endless Summer” album on my car’s hard drive.  I marvel at how I can forget why I’ve walked into a room, but when I hear one of their old songs, I can tell you exactly where I was when I first heard it.  The Grammy show featured many of today’s top performers singing the Beach Boys’ hits, including John Legend, Brandi Carlisle, Hanson, Andy Grammer, Leann Rimes, and many others.  Honestly, I didn’t recognize a lot of the groups, but I appreciated that they appreciated music from almost 60 years ago.

I spent two hours singing along with the performers and reveling in memories that can only be tied to the dual teenage emotions of fun and angst. I used to know a lot about the Beach Boys, but these days I only retain water, so I decided to re-familiarize myself with their backstories.  For those of you who also grew up during this period, I thought you might appreciate the following fun, and some not so fun, facts about them.

  • Brian Wilson was left to watch his two brothers one weekend when his parents took a trip to Mexico. They left him some allowance money to feed himself and his brothers, but Brian decided to use that money to buy musical instruments and recruited his brother Carl and his cousin, Mike Love, to help him recreate the harmonies of his favorite songs.  Childhood friend Al Jardine and Brian’s other brother, Dennis, soon joined these efforts and thus began one of the most famous groups in American music.
  • The Wilson brothers’ father, Murry, decided to involve himself in their endeavors as their manager. This was both a blessing and a curse for the boys. Murry helped get the group into the public eye, but he also had a chilling dark side. For much of the boys’ childhood, Murry was physically abusive towards his sons. He would beat and spank them for even the smallest infraction of his rules.  In one of the strangest punishments, he removed his own glass eye and forced his sons to stare into his empty eye socket.
  • Murry’s abuse of his sons not only had an emotional impact on them, but it also had a physical impact as well. Brian ended up mostly deaf in one of his ears as a result of his father hitting him so hard over the years. That makes the fact that he could compose such complex harmonies and instrumentations all the more impressive.

  • Despite their reputation as the “surfer band”, Dennis Wilson was the only member of the group who surfed.  In fact, Brian Wilson has an extreme fear of water and stays as far away from the beach as possible.
  • Dennis was also the only member who initially had no musical training.  They ended up assigning him to be the group’s drummer, thinking he could pick the skill up as he went along. Because of this, the group often hired professional drummers to fill in for him on many of its early recordings.
  • One of the first songs that Brian wrote was called “Surf City.” In a gesture of friendship, he gave the song to the group Jan & Dean, instead of having the Beach Boys record it.  Jan & Dean’s recording of the song ended up reaching number one on the charts.  Needless to say, Murry was not happy.
  • One of the group’s first big hits, and still one of their most popular songs, is the classic summer anthem “Surfin’ USA.” However, rock ‘n roll pioneer Chuck Berry noticed that the melody sounded suspiciously like an old song of his called “Sweet Little Sixteen.” Although Brian has never denied that the song’s melody was a reworking of the Berry tune, a back-and-forth copyright dispute between Murry Wilson and Chuck Berry’s record company resulted in the courts crediting the song solely to Wilson, then to both Wilson and Berry. Ironically, the song’s lead singer, Mike Love, received no formal credit at all despite his claim that he wrote the lyrics.
  • During a tour in 1964, Brian Wilson suffered a full-blown nervous breakdown while on an airplane traveling between concert sites. His bandmates rushed to his aid as he began shrieking uncontrollably and shouting into his pillow. For the sake of his mental health, the group decided that he would retire from touring and instead would stay home and focus solely on songwriting and recording from that point on. The person who replaced him on that tour?  None other than Glen Campbell.

  • Although staying home gave Brian the time he needed to focus on creating more incredible music, it quickly took a dark twist. Around this time, a friend introduced Brian to psychedelic drugs, and they changed his life forever. At first, they opened up new avenues of creativity for him that would take the Beach Boys’ music to new and fascinating places, such as the Pet Sounds album, but their effects also added tremendously to the mental health struggles that he was already facing.  Soon Mike Love and Brian Wilson began to fight about the direction of their music.  In addition to the discord, they also suffered the tragic death of Dennis Wilson, who drowned in Marina Del Ray in 1983.
  • After Brian regained his mental health, the group re-formed and in 1988 they released the song “Kokomo”, an instant classic that became their first Number One hit since “Good Vibrations” in 1966. The 22-year separation between these two tracks marked the longest-ever span between two Number One hits by any single band.
  • In 2023 Mike Love and Brian Wilson are still feuding.  Love and Bruce Johnston (who joined in 1965), have put together a “new” Beach Boys band and will begin a nation-wide tour in May, featuring all of the classic songs from the 60’s.

I don’t know if I would go see the “new” band, even if it was playing across the street.  I guess I’d rather listen to my old CD and remember the original group, when they were in perfect vocal harmony, when we were all young and tan, and the summers were indeed, endless.

Best Place to Live – A Day in the Life

by Bob Sparrow

Top10A couple of recent ‘Best Place to Live’ surveys reminded me of my business travel days when I crisscrossed the country and would often be asked where I was from. When I responded, “Southern California, Orange County”, I would hear things like, “Oh, a surfer dude”, (I’ve never surfed), or “Oh, is that why you wear those cool shades?” (I wear sunglasses BECAUSE IT’S SUNNY THERE!), or, “Aren’t you afraid that an earthquake is going to cast California into the Pacific Ocean?” (No). If the conversation continues, people feel compelled to remind me that, 1) there are too many people in southern California, 2) the traffic is unbearable, and 3) the air is unbreathable.  Then, feeling the need to ‘throw me a bone’, they’d say, “But the weather’s nice” and then they’d remind me of the earthquakes again.

Last week in a California survey done by Movato Real Estate, I discovered that my city of residence for the last 38 years, Orange, was selected as California’s best city to live in.  In fact, Orange County had seven of the top ten cities.  If you’re interested in seeing the rest of the cities, here’s the link to the survey:

I hope everyone feels that they live in the ‘Best Place to Live’, but I wanted to confirm and perhaps help justify this elevated status for Orange County, so last Friday, February 27, I set out to help prove that it is, in fact, one of the very best places to live, in part due to its proximity to such a diversity of environments. Thus my journey began . . .

The Desert


pre-dawn at Desert Willow Golf Resort


Sunrise for a perfect day of golf

I woke up at 3:45 a.m. (The things I do for you readers!) and with an assortment of wardrobes in tow, I’m out the door at 4:05. It takes me 95 minutes to drive the 103 miles from Orange to the beautiful Desert Willows Golf Resort in Palm Desert – golf’s winter mecca. It feels like I’m in a whole different world, because I am. It’s 50 degree at 6:18 when the first sliver of sunlight appears over the  Little San Bernardino Mountain range and softly lightens the Coachella Valley below.  It will get to 77 degrees here today. I’m envious of the golfers that are teeing off at first light in perfect weather, but I have a full day ahead of me, so I order breakfast, read the paper, write some of this blog and then head to my next destination.

The Mountains


Photo taken from the sun deck

DSC01796I cover the next 85 miles to Big Bear Mountain in 115 minutes and arrive at Snow Valley Ski Resort where the cloudless sky is deep azure blue. I’ve gone from an elevation of around 200 feet to around 7,000 feet in less than two hours. It will get down to 21 degrees here this evening.  Bear Big Mountain provides great local skiing and snowboarding in the winter and great hiking trails in the summer.  There was a storm last week and another one coming in this weekend, but I am fortunate to find a window where chains are not required to negotiate the assent on this winding mountain road.  Once at Snow Valley, I step out of my car and take a deep breath and feel immediately exhilarated by a blast of fresh mountain air – this is air that no one has breathed before!  I enjoy a cup of coffee as I hang out on the upper sun deck of the lodge watching the skiers on the mountain and wishing I were amongst them. I make a snowball, because I haven’t done that in years, and throw it at a nearby tree . . . and miss. While I’m in the neighborhood, I decide DSC01799to head over to picturesque Lake Arrowhead – another 25 minutes and 14 miles. Back in ‘the day’, Lake Arrowhead was the mountain retreat for many Hollywood stars including, Shirley Temple, Tom Selleck, Patrick Swayze and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys (photo at right is one I took of Wilson’s former lake house) to name a few. Today Arrowhead Village  it’s fairly quiet; it’s off season – no boats on the lake, no stars in sight!  Time to head down off the mountain.

The Beach

HB sunset

Huntington Beach sunset


Huntington Beach pier

I drop from 7,000 feet to . . . zero – sea level, as I drive 87 miles in just under two hours from Lake Arrowhead to Huntington Beach. I could have gone to any number of great beaches in Orange County from Seal Beach to San Clemente, including tony Newport Beach or artsy Laguna Beach, but I wanted to visit my favorite beach restaurant, Dukes at Huntington Beach – ‘Surf City’. I find a place at the bar and watch surfers and street entertainers as the sun disappears slowly and beautifully into the Pacific Ocean.  My day is complete – sunrise to sunset.

I do understand that proximity to the desert, mountains and beach is not everything, but it just adds to all the other factors that make Orange County a ‘best place to live’.

I make the 23-mile trek back home exhausted, but feeling great about completing the ‘trifecta’ – desert, mountains and ocean all in one day. Next time I’m thinking it should be the ‘Trifecta Triathlon’ – same venues only I play golf, ski and swim.  Maybe not.

PS: For those wondering – 312 miles