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Tuesday, July 20, 2004

What happens to old surfers?
Old surfers share the same problem that old rockabilly artists from the 50s have. They start to degrade.  The problem isn't necessarily one that is an inward problem, in fact, many of them improve inwardly. But we have to face a fact here. They both tend to start looking like candidates for the nerd house, if there is one, after a few decades.
This thought struck me while I was listening to the Beach Boys on a road trip. How did Brian Wilson go from being a mop haired kid that sang songs like Catch A Wave to being the half nutty looking dad of former fat chick Carnie Wilson? That is his daughter, right? The one from Wilson Phillips who used to weigh in just under a few kilotons, then went under the knife on TV, and now is just known as the loud one of the group? I think the consensus is that with Brian, misfortune struck the Beach Boys and this guy now teeters on the brink of sanity. He has a new album out, and really, I hope it does OK, and at the same time I hope that people aren't going to his shows with the hope that in the middle of one of his hits he finally careens off the edge and ends up finishing the set on his back, naked on top of a white piano, staring at the sky and singing songs from Pet Sounds.
Some of the old school rockabilly guys from the 50s went from super cool to downright crazy. The penultimate example is Mr. Presley. The King was the epitome of cool at one point. Slowly we watched him go from a guy who could do a dance number like the one in Jailhouse Rock -- and pull it off, no less -- to the fat guy in the white sequined jumpsuit. Personally, I feel since this was Elvis, it is forgivable. I have a friend who thought that he was a superhero in the 70s and had a poster of him in his room, with Elvis wearing a cape, fist aloft, ready for flight.
There are plenty of other examples, though. Conway Twitty is a good one. Have you seen a picture of that guy in the 50s when he was making songs like "It's Only Make Believe?" Very cool looking dude.  By the 80s, it was polyester slacks and a trucker's hat riding way up high on his huge fuzzy permanent. George Jones, with his 50s flat-top, now sports a silver helmet with photo-sensitive huge glasses, and sideburns that he must have borrowed from Elvis in '77. Roy Orbison went from goofy cool dude to a black hair helmet and Plastic Man shades singing with KD Lang in the late 80s. The Killer went from two tone to velcro shoes. Johnny Cash was still cranking out great music, but his black shoes were velcro, too.
The looks go with age and apparently the style goes with it. Beauty is fleeting, and ultimately, doesn't really matter.  These guys all put out great music right up to the end of their few years here. They're probably all playing in a super group in heaven right now, with a horn and strings section.
I'm using these musicians as examples, but I know a few surfers. The ones over 50 are trying hard to stay cool. They shave their heads and grow goatees. They wear surf shirts and would probably break your board if you got in their way in the water. You can see the slide from style in some of the more recent surf movies put out by the Brown family. Gerry Lopez wearing goggles and a helmet like he was still Subotai from Conan the Barbarian in Endless Summer 2. That was not a good look, even if he might have cracked his head on the reef. (To be honest, I don't know him and he seems cool enough, but I don't know that he ever had any style to start with.) I'm just waiting for Endless Summer 6 when they roll Laird Hamilton out on a boogie board and gush about how he is a water god, with an invention he made that floats his oxygen tank next to him, while he's wearing some orthopedic brazier to hold his massive chest up. That would be cool.
Maybe that's the point. If it can happen to Elvis, Roy, Jerry Lee, Conway, and the rest of these cats, it can probably happen to you. And it probably will. Think about that next time you're getting that new tattoo -- use some foresight and consider something that will go well with a perm.


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