Today’s NYTimes review of a recent Beach Boys concert had me thinking about Mr. Cunningham, my very awesome high school physics teacher, who also happened to be an international Beach Boys expert. During my St. Paul Catholic High School years, Mr. Cunningham edited and published Add Some Music, “the preeminent Beach Boys fan publication of the late 70s and early 80s.” Sometimes we’d help mimeograph, fold, staple and prep copies of the “zine” for mailing while Mr. C. explained how Beach Boys music fit into the evolution of contemporary popular music, youth culture, American life, the universe and everything. It was not a surprise to me that someone as smart as a physics teacher would obsess about something that seemed so small. I grew up surrounded by accountants and firefighters and engineers like my Dad who could rebuild carburetors in their sleep. Looking back, what shocked me about Mr. Cunningham’s enthusiasm for the Beach Boys was his conviction that this passion had meaning. He made me think that if I could learn everything there was to know about a Brian Wilson song – or anything really – then the rest of the world might make a little more sense too.
There are many lessons Mr. Cunningham taught that I have not carried forward. My son knows better than to ask me for help on his thermodynamics test, and I still electrocute myself a little given too much time with a Van de Graaff generator. But sometimes, I can see a whole wide world just by pressing my face close to a very small glass or an old tinny speaker. I don’t think I would have figured that out on my own.
Listen to Don’t Worry Baby: http://grooveshark.com/s/Don+t+Worry+Baby/4iPMeJ?src=5
And then learn a little bit about it: http://www.cabinessence.net/essays/mob9.html