Sunday, January 03, 2010

When We Get to Surf City -- Bob Green

This was the first book I read in 2010, and it's going to be hard to top. Bob Greene, who's written a couple of books I've enjoyed, especially Be True to Your School, got a letter in 1992 from Gary Griffin, who was part of the group touring with Jan and Dean, mentioned in the book. Greene was a fan of the duo, and Griffin made him the dream offer of a lifetime. He invited Greene to tour with the group, not just as an observer but as a participant in the stage show.

If you grew up when I did, you'd respond just like Greene. He wasn't a singer or a guitar player, but he jumped at the chance. Every summer for 15 years, he was a part of Jan and Dean's back-up group when he could make the gigs. When We Get to Surf City is his account of those gigs. It's not a glamorous life, but Greene found it wonderful. You'll just have to read the book to find out why because I can't explain it. In a sense it's as simple as this: Guys never want to grow up, and Greene got to live his teenage dream when he was middle-aged. But there's a lot more to it than that. Every page or so, Greene comes up with an observation that really resonated with me. Here's one of them:

Who could have known it at the time - who could have known how long this would endure? On the loneliest nights, on the most joyful afternoons, during the sultriest summers and frigid winters, the music, since it was new, has been so profoundly and consistently welcome. In the very worst of times, and in the very best, this music - structurally uncomplicated, four chords in most of the songs, lyrics usually basic and bare - has been like a friend, something to be counted on and treasured. Magic: just guitars and drums and vocals, yet it has always been, without my even having to think about it, the most loyal and steadfast of companions. Wherever I have been, I have needed only to hear three or four seconds of any of hundreds of these songs, coming out of a radio or a loudspeaker or merely out an window on a city street, and I'm instantly somewhere I've been before, somewhere I want to be, familiar and somehow safe.

If that doesn't mean anything to you, you wouldn't like the book. If it strikes you as exactly right, then you should read the book ASAP.


Anonymous said...


I've read a couple of Greene's books (including BE TRUE TO YOUR SCHOOL) and this sounds great. I think that's what Dave Barry & Stephen King and friends get from their Rock Bottom Remainders touring as well.

For now I'm reading Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books, sort of an American answer to Harry Potter.


Unknown said...

Rick's books are a lot of fun. I saw the trailer for the movie version of the first one, and Rick's not going to have to worry about paying his bills for a looooong time.

Lesa said...

I've read most of Bob Greene's books. He's from my neck of the world, and it feels as if I'm going home when I read his books. I reviewed it back in May 2008. Like you, it's hard to comment on his books without using his own glorious descriptions. I picked this quote, Bob Greene "captures the freedom and the exhilaration and the blithesome mornings of our world."

Lesa -

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

This sounds "just right," and I'm adding it to my list of things I want to read. I was a big Jan and Dean fan. As a matter of fact - some of their music might be just the thing I need to help stave off the blues during one of the worst winters ever (and it's only just begun!). Thanks, Bill (and Happy New Year!).

Unknown said...

Kaye, I think you'll enjoy it, especially if you were a fan of Jan and Dean.

Lesa, I can see what you mean about going home. I felt that way a bit, too, and I'm from Texas.

Anonymous said...

We saw Jan & Dean in concert on one of their "comeback" tours long after Jan's accident and the music still sounded great.

And of course Dean sang lead on the Beach Boys version of "Barbara Ann."


Anonymous said...

Is this the same Bob Greene that wrote the story about the passing of his own father and the WWII hero Paul Tibbets? I think the book was called DUTY and I remember it was a fascinating read.

Bill Khemski

Unknown said...

That's the same guy, Bill. I haven't read DUTY, though.

Jeff, I wish I'd seen Jan and Dean perform. I remember when Jan was singing with Arnie.

Lesa said...

DUTY was fascinating. My father-in-law was in the Pacific in WWII, and my husband felt the same way Bob Greene did. Without Tibbets, Jim might not have been born because Harry might not have survived the war. Very interesting book.

Anonymous said...

My father was in the 40th Division and they were selected to be the first infantry division to hit the beaches of Japan in the Allied planned invasion called Operation Downfall. Expected Allied causalities for the invasion were estimated at 100,000. The Japanese were going to go down fighting. (man, women, and children) Thanks to Paul Tibbets doing his "duty" the invasion wasn't needed and many American and Japanese lives were spared. (May be even my Dad's)

Lesa, I agree, a very interesting book.

Bill Khemski

Richard Robinson said...

The dates confuse me a little here, I would have thought this would have happened a couple decades earlier, somehow.

The quite certainly does resonate with me, what younger generations will only know as the really old oldies were my coming of age songs and to hear one of them today, especially one that was important to me because of a connection to a girl or my buddies, really takes me back.

Darren Mitchell said...

In 1974 (?) Bob Greene toured with the Alice Cooper Band and wrote a book about it called "Billion Dollar Baby." I haven't read either book, but it might be interesting to read both.

Unknown said...

Yes, I'll have to check that one out.

Kent Morgan said...

I also have read almost all of Bob Greene's books including this one as well as Billion Dollar Baby. The fact that he lost his newspaper job in Chicago and some of his other freelance work because of his involvement with a teenage contact doesn't take away from the quality of his books. I'm looking forward to his new book about his early days in the newspaper world titled Late Edition.

John said...

Greene's book about working at the Columbus (Ohio) Citizen-Journal is a wonderful read about a great morning newspaper and the various reporters and columnists he worked with.
I read the C-J daily before its demise and Greene really brings back the memories for Central Ohio residents.