California Girl

BOSTON, Mass. — I could feel it from a block away. As I moseyed down Arlington, shi-shi Newbury Street on my left and the Commons to my right, I could tell that tonight wasn’t just any night in Boston. When I reached the peak of the bridge leading into the Hatch Shell, my suspicions were confirmed. People—everywhere. Smooshed together as far as the eye could see, seated on lawn chairs or sprawled on blankets, snacking and chatting, just soaking in the dusk-hour breeze. “This is summer,” I thought to myself. And, as if in response, the Beach Boys struck their first note.

I grew up hooked to Los Angeles’s oldies radio station—K-EARTH 101. By the time I was five, I knew the lyrics to every Motown hit, every Beatles tune, every Supremes single. So, although I have long grown out of my childhood obsession with the 1960s, I couldn’t pass up the Hatch Shell’s free, outdoor concert series, sponsored by Oldies 103.3. And when I found out that on July 25, in the height of summer, the most quintessential So-Cal band would take the stage? Well, it didn’t really seem like a choice.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone. Almost 65,000 listeners turned out that Saturday night—braving massive crowds on the T, warm-weather mosquitoes, never-ending (and incredibly slow-moving) lines. I found myself sandwiched between anxiously-waiting attendees as I scanned the crowd for my friends, who I had stupidly planned to meet at the venue. With a yoga mat slung across my back, it wasn’t easy to navigate, and I had descended into the frustration that always crops up when trying to find people at large events. But, once a smattering of grey-haired men in what looked like Hawaiian t-shirts took the stage, mumbled a word or two, and began to play, it was literally impossible not to smile.

As the sun set over the Esplanade, we all sang along. From Kokomo, to Don’t Worry Baby, to Surfer Girl, concert-goers mouthed the lyrics, bopped around, and abandoned their stiff, Bostonian selves long enough to revel in the musical sun. A tiny girl—maybe eight—grabbed the hands of an even tinier boy, and they twisted ‘til the cows came home. Teenagers lounged in the grass by the Charles, 50-somethings waved their hands in the air, fathers danced with daughters on their shoulders. It didn’t matter that we were too far away to hear the harmonies, or that few of the performers on stage belonged to the original, 1961 band. As we watched the Red Line shoot across the Salt-and-Pepper-Shaker Bridge, and other listeners reclined on boats near the shore, I felt like I was part of something: a community.

The Beach Boys have always conjured up quintessentially California images in my mind: the Pacific coastline at dusk, tanned babes clad in 1960s bikinis with hair bobbed, palm trees and old-fashioned amps, surf boards and hot sand. They represent home for me in an idealized, totally inaccurate kind of way. But, sitting on the banks of a river across the country from the ocean I know so well, the familiar songs didn’t seem out of place. The crowd—including babies and senior citizens, business suits and flip-flops, new initiates and old fans—claimed the Beach Boys as their own.

Once the set began to wind down and we made our way towards the bridge, the band struck up its final song. I recognized the first few chords. Good Vibrations—my favorite. The crowd joined in, and I belted along, not caring about hitting the notes or staying in key. I was seven years old again. My sun-drenched beaches were nowhere to be seen, but it didn’t matter one bit.

Molly M. Strauss ’11, a Crimson associate editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House.