Pop Journal: Pop '66; Star Wars; Carl Wilson

It's been a while since I've expounded here on what I've been reading, watching, hearing, etc. But now that it's a new year, I hope to do such updates once a week or so.

Update: A new addition to the PCS family of blogs

Lately, much of my blogging time has been spent creating and scheduling posts for a new Pop Culture Safari spinoff site, Pop '66. It's basically this site as it might've appeared 50 years ago - if the Internet existed.

The posts are presented pretty much in real-time. So, for example, I may post on a particular movie or record on the same day, or during the same week, as when it first appeared. I've also been posting videos of primetime TV shows at the exact time when they first aired, 50 years ago (Eastern Standard Time).

Yes, I understand this is nuts. But it's interesting to think that we can, in some ways, replicate the past now that nearly everything is online. Getting the timing right has been tricky, but I'm relying on various books and websites to help. And I'm fudging a little bit, too, here and there. It's not like I'm obsessed or anything.

Anyway, it's been fun and educational. I hope it is for you, too. Along with a focus on movies, music, comics, books and TV, there also will be lots of vintage and other imagery from that seminal year. If you like PCS, I think you'll like Pop '66, too. At the very least, you can look at it and speculate whether I'll be completely bonkers by the end of this year.

My other blog, The Glass Onion Beatles Journal, is still running strong, too.

Review: Star Wars, of course

Like the rest of the world, I saw "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" over the holidays. My snide remark coming out was that it was "a remake of the first Star Wars film, but with better acting." In talking with family and friends, that assessment has pretty much held. But at the same time, I, and many I've visited with, really liked it.

It's my sense, and the sense of other first generation fans I've been talking to, that the script was so committed to replicating the spirit of the original trilogy that it ended up using the first film's plot:  Rebels blow up planet-sized weapon of mass destruction.

There are all sorts of other too-close parallels. In this new movie: Rey is Luke, the novice Jedi from a desert planet. Han Solo is Ben Kenobi, her protector and mentor. Poe is Han. Kylo Ren is Darth Vader. Maz Kanata is Yoda. Snoke is the Emperor. And BB-8 is R2D2. And the acting is considerably better.

But, even so, it was a blast. I left leaving the theater feeling happy and despite. And this is despite bowing to my kids' desire to see it in Imax and in 3-D, two gimmicks bound to make a movie worse.

The new characters, and the actors who played them, were my favorite thing about "The Force Awakens." Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn were fresh, energetic and charismatic. I want to see a lot more of both characters and suspect that I will. And now that we've all paid homage to original movie, maybe they can do something new next time around.

Review: Overlooked little brother

I'm all for Carl Wilson getting his due. Not only did he sing that glorious lead vocal on "God Only Knows," he also helped guide the Beach Boys through several great LPs during Brother Brian's post-Smile incapacitation.

And, as Kent Crowley's "Long Promised Road: Carl Wilson, Soul of the Beach Boys" details, Carl did a lot of other stuff, besides.

Crowley's aim is to give Carl his full due, and he discusses how it was the youngest Wilson's early interest in electric guitar that helped move Brian from piano and Four Freshman-focused ballads into guitar-driven rock'n'roll. After Brian quit touring, it was also Carl who took over as the Beach Boys' de facto leader and musical director on the road.

There are plenty of quotes from associated and past touring band members who offer nothing but praise of Carl's musical abilities, singing and all-around nice guyness.

My only critique of the book is a lack of focus. Rather than zero in on Carl, Crowley charts the entire history of the Beach Boys. He tends to downplay Brian's influence in an effort to play up Carl's but also gets distracted by other developments in the music of the times and often spends several pages without mentioning any Wilsons at all, not even Dennis.

Crowley might've come closer to his goal had he started by focusing in on those post-Smile albums and the enormous pressure placed on Carl to take the lead when Brian so obviously couldn't - and then flashback to show how all of this came about.

That said, the book serves a valuable purpose by giving this great musician a little more of the attention he deserves.

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