Through the first six books of my serialized novel Meeting Dennis Wilson, sixteen-year-old Beach Boys fan Margo LeDoux keeps hoping and waiting in vain for new music from her favorite group. Finally, toward the end of book seven, spring 1976, she and her best friend (and narrator) Brian Pressley make a Tuesday after-school visit to Murphy’s in their hometown of Quaker Valley, PA (“Like Gettysburg, except nothing happened here”), and then…
As I held the door open for Margo, she swished past me smartly in her red sundress and sandals, and I followed her into the icily air-conditioned store, past the registers and down the aisle past the three-tiered display of candy. Margo almost stopped to examine a big box of Topps 1976 rack pack baseball cards, and then, a few steps later, at the bins of Brach’s penny candy (“Come on… you know you wanna snag a butterscotchy!”), but kept her forward momentum, through the stationery and office supplies, then the men’s socks and underwear.
“You know,” Margo said, eying a display of plastic-wrapped men’s white briefs, “I don’t think I ever heard Christy laugh as hard as she did when we came through here that one time and I saw that display and said ‘Fruit of the Loom JEEE-zus!’ She pretty much almost wet herself. And I said, ‘Woman, it wasn’t that funny,’ and she goes, ‘I know, I know… I’m goin’ to hell.’ And I said, ‘You’re laughing because you’re goin’ to hell?’” She shook her head. “I just don’t get religion.” She took a breath. “O.K…”
O.K. = We’d made it: back corner of the store, Murphy’s small but serviceable record department: a double-sided row of two-tiered album bins, with a big crate of shrink-wrapped 3-for-$1.00 (39 cents each) cut-out 45s against the rack at the far end, and, at the near end, a tall rack of current 45s…
“Hey!” Margo said…
…and there, at her eye level, in front of a divider card in the B section of new 45s, were ten copies of what looked like a new Beach Boys single: Brother/Reprise #1354, “Rock and Roll Music” backed with “The TM Song.”
I could tell Margo was excited and trying not to look that way. “’Rock and Roll Music,’” she said, as nonchalantly as she could, but she fumbled a little pulling a copy of the record from the rack. She read the label, her sandaled right foot swinging back and forth over her left. “Looks new…”
Looks new… but…
Margo’d simply been burned too many times by reissued singles of songs she already had. So any time a “new” Beach Boys record appeared, it was the same drill. Two Christmases before, when “Child Of Winter” appeared in the racks (“Why are they releasing a Christmas song after Christmas? Makes no sense”) –ironically, also at Murphy’s and no other store– Margo took five minutes before deciding it was worth risking a dollar (six percent Pennsylvania sales tax included) on the disc.
“This other song–” the b-side of the single, “Susie Cincinnati” “–was definitely on another single. I have it with some other song on the other side, but I can’t remember what the other side was. But it’s definitely a few years old.”
She was right: “Susie Cincinnati” had been released on the flip side of the single “Add Some Music To Your Day” more than four years earlier. But “Child Of Winter” wasn’t familiar to her, so, she said, “I’ll take a chance… I have a feeling…” and so she slapped a dollar down (94 cents plus tax) and bought it, and it turned out that not only was “Child Of Winter” a new song, but “Susie Cincinnati” was a remix, issued only on that single, which reportedly only sold a few thousand copies nationally, so, to this day, it’s one of the rarest singles in her collection.
“Not that I care about any of that rarity stuff,” she insists. “I just like the music.” But it taught her to trust her instincts.
Margo was holding “Rock and Roll Music,” checking the a-side credits, then the b-side credits… then back to the a-side again.
“1976,” she said, reading the copyright date.
So far, so good…
Margo’s eyes darted over the fine print on the cream colored label. “Chuck Berry wrote ‘Rock and Roll Music,’ Bri,” she said at last.
“I know,” I said. “The Beatles did it.” I had it on Beatles ’65.
Margo raised her eyebrows. “Really? So it’s a Beatles song?” Her face got a little sour. “An oldie?” She studied the label. “But see… I heard that some of the new album was oldies. But does that mean new versions of other peoples’ songs or remakes of theirs? See, if Carl’d come to Tara’s picnic…“
Everything Beach Boys the last few weeks had come down to either If Carl had come to Tara’s picnic or If Denny’d write back. Never mind that there’s no way that either of them would have been able to answer questions that Margo hadn’t known to ask…
Margo flipped the record back over and read from the b‑side label. ‘The TM Song,'” she said. “What’s TM again?”
“That’s what I thought,” Margo said. “Which is the name of one of their old songs.”
“Yeah,” I said. “But this is called ‘The T.M. Song.’”
“Yeah, but… you know…” She was studying the label. “TM,” she said. “Maybe I should try that…”
I laughed lightly and Margo tittered as she said “What?” but she knew exactly what. “O.K…. maybe not.”
(Margo’s chosen form of stress management was more Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale than Maharishi. “And I accept that.”)
She flipped the record back over and brushed her hair back again. “‘Produced by Brian Wilson,'” she read from the label. “You know…” She was tapping her red fingernails against the record: tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. “…there was this ad… in one of those magazines Kathy gets… Rolling Stone or Crawldaddy or one of those… anyway, it just said ‘Brian’s back.’ And we were, like, ‘Brian who?’ I thought maybe it was Brian Wilson because it had the Brother Records thingy at the bottom. So…” She flipped the record back over, biting her lip. “See, but I know they have a song on one of their albums called ‘Transcendental Meditation.’ An old song…”
I was distracted, drifting away, flipping through the Es. There was one remaining copy of “Strange Magic” by Electric Light Orchestra… and it had a picture sleeve…
…but dammit: I’d already bought “Strange Magic” without a picture sleeve.
…Christy’d told me how much she liked this song (funny how that wasn’t technically a hint, and yet…).
No… that wouldn’t be right…
“–What do you think, Bri? You think this is new?”
I looked over at the record in Margo’s hand, snapping myself back to reality.
I shrugged my shoulders. “It’s only a buck,” I said.
Margo’s shoulders drooped slightly but dramatically. “I knowwwww,” she semi-whined, “it’s just…” She sighed and then looked up and over to our right, toward the electronics section, and then back at me, and you know… I don’t know why, the other times we’d played this scene out, this simple solution never occurred to us before, but this time, we both were thinking the same thing, and even though Margo hooked me by my t-shirt sleeve, she didn’t even need to pull me, because I was already stepping in the same direction that she was: over toward a Panasonic All In One AM FM Stereo Receiver With Three-Speed Record Changer and Built In 8 Track Tape Player And Recorder (MAKE YOUR OWN TAPE’S FOR THE CAR!).
“I’ll know as soon as I hear it,” Margo said, and she flipped off the radio (“Welcome Back” by John Sebastian) and lifted the hinged, smoke-colored plastic lid to reveal the turntable.
Unfortunately, when Margo turned off the radio, it sent up an aural flare: out of the corner of my eye, I could see Our Favorite Murphy’s Salesman eying us through his thick, black-framed glasses (“Look, Bri! Joe Paterno sells stereos!”), but Margo was oblivious. She carefully removed the staple from the top corner of the cream-colored WARNER/REPRISE paper sleeve and held the shiny black vinyl disc in her hand, thumb in the center hole and fingers along the edge (“None of my records have any fingerprints. Christy’s, on the other hand…”) and then set it down on the turntable platter.
Meanwhile, the salesman was starting over toward us –I could see him out of the corner of my eye– but Margo was gently pushing the tonearm in toward the record; the turntable started spinning automatically.
“Nice,” she said of the auto-play action, and she set the needle down on the record…
…but I could smell the faint smell of Stale Tobacco Breath behind us, and just as soon as the needle touched the disc’s surface, an adult male hand reached around in front of us and lifted the needle up off the record.
“You can’t play records on this equipment, Miss,” he said, and he pushed the tonearm back so that the turntable stopped spinning, exhaling like even that was too much effort.
I was standing between him and Margo, and my face suddenly felt hot.
Meeting Dennis Wilson by Max Harrick Shenk…
“Today marks the day that I officially add Meeting Dennis Wilson to my ‘Favorite Coming of Age Books’ list. I adore John Green and his work [and] I fell in love with this book just as easily as I fell in love with Paper Towns or An Abundance of Katherines. Meeting Dennis Wilson can easily be compared to a teenager who’s just coming of age: awkward, quirky, hilarious, and loads of fun to be around. Meeting Dennis Wilson is incredibly comical, sweet, and ultimately feel-good.” (The Literary Connoisseur)