Why you should see Van Dyke Parks

Mon, Sep 20, 2010

Longtime music scribe, genial campus denizen, record store manager, video store clerk, and generally deep thinker Marty Cole comes out of a years-long writing hiatus to weigh in on Van Dyke Parks, coming to the Wex Friday night.

If I had one small gripe about the events the Wexner Center hosts, it would be that I may not always be up to snuff on who, what and when—the details.

Granted, I'm a notorious hermit, and reaching me and my coupon-snipping brethren and cistern is not always an easy task.

Still, like a demented bat pursuing a juicy fruit-fly, my multi-culti radar sometimes sends back some interesting *pings.*

There was, for instance, the Hallogallo/NEU! show, the finest Not-Quite-a-Reunion Krautrock event to fahn down the Autobahn in many a blue moon. And then there's a name that looks suspiciously like Van Dyke Parks...

Mr. Parks, for those of you who suspect you've heard the name, is a man of vast renown in Beach Boys/Brian Wilson/Smile circles, and an interesting musical anomaly in his own right.

Believe it or not, there was a time when he was considered a rising star. After a stint as a child actor (Tommy Manacotti on the old Honeymooners) and a movie with Grace Kelly, Van Dyke graduated from the Carnegie Institute and lit out for LaLaLand, arriving in the middle '60s. Not coincidently, it was a time when "eccentric" was not always synonymous with "sold poorly.”

He was signed to a staff contract with Warner Brothers as a songwriter, and soon found himself spending time in the sandbox at Brian Wilson's house.

Poor Brian was having troubles. The other Beach Boys were touring a lot in those days, singing their hits and raking in the big bucks. Brian, who had difficulty with people, was left behind. He was working on his magnum opus, a project he hoped to call Smile.

Ambitious to a fault, it was conceived as a history of music, and music dealing with history. It had crackling fire, wind chimes, and the recorded sound of Paul McCartney chewing vegetables. And it wasn't going well.

Enter our man Parks, who helped Brian with really great songs, albeit with lyrics like "Columnated ruins domino" and "Over and over/The crow cries/Uncover the cornfield.” Brian was happy, but the others were not.

Who was this interloper to tempt their emotionally fragile meal ticket in this way? So Parks departed. (Although, in a recent interview, he was unbowed, proud of his involvement, and dismissive of the short-sighted others. Good for him!) Time has shown the wiser.

Next up was a solo album, Song Cycle, a slice of mildly psychedelicized Americana that was critically acclaimed.

Other albums, calypso-themed for a while, appeared sporadically, and Mr. Parks returned to the big screen, too, most notably in Robert Altman's Popeye.

He collaborates, string-arranges, and fills odd holes in others' work these days, and on his own has found a comfortable niche in the music of the late 19th century (with one ear in the modern world).

But one thing he does NOT often do is tour, and that is where we come in again.

He will be appearing at the Wex Friday, September 24th, and I suspect he will at the very least be very, very interesting. And how many Friday nights can you say that about, these days?

Jean Dubuffet, Vaches au pre (Cows in a meadow), 1954

Transfigurations: Modern Masters from the Wexner Family Collection closes Dec 31. Don't miss the exhibition artnet named among the world's 25 "must-see shows."

Artists featured in Transfigurations: Modern Masters from the Wexner Family Collection

Learn more about the artists represented in Transfigurations at our dedicated website. (Educators will also find curriculum resources to support their K–12 classrooms.)

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