Bicheno, late 1990s
You could sense we were getting closer by the occasional glimpse of blue ocean emerging from between trees. Even the soil on the side of the road seemed to take on a sandy tinge as we travelled closer to our little holiday home on Tasmania’s sleepy east coast. After three hours stuffed inside a car with my Dad and sister, these small signs acted as a glimmer of exciting times ahead. A sign our summer holidays were about to begin. The final remaining sign was our track position on our much-loved and battered Beach Boys Greatest Hits CD.
Brian Wilson and co quickly became the soundtrack to my childhood summers of the 1990s, just as they had for generations before me. Echoes of Good Vibrations would ring out as we drove through small country towns that probably hadn’t seen a good vibration (or anything else for that matter) in years. The voice of Carl Wilson singing God Only Knows would soon be forever associated with driving through the mining town of Fingal. The rocking rhythm and layered harmonies of Barbara Ann would occasionally be the soundtrack to our dog taking a leak at some old footy oval.
Almost on cue, as if coming to our rescue, would be Don’t Worry Baby – usually during a moment of impending car sickness, or the unwrapping of a “this-will-settle-you-down” barley sugar. The eerie, psychedelic nature of later Beach Boys tracks really complemented our surroundings as we approached treacherous Elephant Pass. Mysterious lights would flicker in the rugged hills as the sun slowly went down. Abandoned cars would occasionally litter the side of the road, rusting away in the sea air. On one occasion, random old-fashioned shoes lay scattered at various points along the road, that also happened to feature sheer cliff-drops to the side. Heroes and Villains was right at home in this territory.
The Beach Boys were there with us on each and every road trip. Each song had its own special moment to shine along the journey. The somewhat obscure Break Away always coincided with us finally seeing the lights of Bicheno shining in the distance as we drove along the otherwise pitch-black and remote coastline.
At just 11, I was too young to know and fully understand the abusive, troubled dynamic that the Wilson brothers shared with their father, Murry Wilson. He had co-written Break Away with Brian back in 1969, using the pseudonym ‘Reggie Dunbar’. When asked why his father had used a pseudonym, Brian simply replied: “I don’t know. He was nutty. He was crazy”.
It failed to make an impact on the charts upon its 1969 release, yet it never failed to make an impact on me. The beautifully layered harmonies and vocals are to me, an example of the Beach Boys at their vocal-best. The theme of “breaking away” from it all was fitting as we neared our seaside arrival. So too was the school holiday sense of “Now I’m free to do what I want to do”. Whenever we heard this Beach Boys track, summer had quite literally arrived for all of us.
The song that Brian had written with his troubled father had somehow become the soundtrack to some of the best memories with ours.