“There is no one to turn to but self”

Meme - Neville - No one to turn to but self

From Neville Goddard’s lecture “Faith In God.”

In the Hebraic world, the rabbi is the father of his congregation. (The apostle) Paul called his followers his little children, saying: “Although you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. I became your father in Jesus Christ through the gospel. I urge you then to be imitators of me”

Defining Christ as “the power and wisdom of God,” Paul tells us we have many guides. In fact, there are as many guides to your success as there are people in the world. Ask someone how to get a job and he will say you must know the right people. Another will tell you that you must have an education, and still another that you must join the right club, or live on the right side of the street. You will be given as many directives towards your objective as there are people you ask.

Although our guides in the operation of this law are countless, as we apply it our creative power will become personalized and take on form, as it did in Paul. And when that happens there is no one to turn to but self.

That is why Paul urges everyone to test himself, otherwise he will not realize that Jesus Christ is in him and fail to meet the test.

Paul tells us that the world was created by the word of God, and John says Jesus Christ is that word. (Revelation 19) Jesus Christ is he who created the world and all things within it, be they good, bad, or indifferent. And who is He? Your own wonderful Human Imagination! God’s creative power – as pure imagining – works in the depth of your soul, underlying all of your faculties, including perception. He streams into your surface mind least disguised in the form of creative fancy.

This is what I mean when I ask you to test Him.

Click here to download or read a PDF of this lecture.

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Two collections of quotes, passages and lectures from the mystical teachings of Neville Goddard, available now as e-books.

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Eva reviews: “Mammals”

mammals-zimGoldenGuideMammalsMammals by Herbert Zim

The publisher says… An accurate and fascinating introduction to more than 200 of the most common species of mammals in North America, including information on habits and habitats, family trees, raising young, foods, enemies, and more. Full-color illustrations accent features that help you to recognize each animal in its natural environment. Range maps show where various species can be found.

Eva says… MIMI always gets me the best books and this one is PERFECT. It’s a fact book and you know, just the pages about FOXES told me more than I knew already about those guys. But there’s other animals in here too. There’s maybe 200 different animals in here and they’re all MAMMALS, which means they drink milk from their moms. And this book shows you where you can see these guys, and whether they’re in Vermont or not, so that’s real useful.

This one is written like a grown-up book but it’s not hard, and it also has lots of pictures so kids can use it, too. And what makes it great for kids too is that it’s LITTLE, so you can carry it around and read it anywhere. And that’s what I’m doing. So in case I see any of these guys I can read about them.

So this is a good one.

So thank you, MIMI!!!

Eva’s rating: ♥♥♥♥♥ (out of five)

(Mammals by Herbert Zim. A Golden Guide. Published by St. Martin’s Press. ISBN 978-1582381442)

Cover front finalEva Kelly’s Book Of Book Reviews is now available in print!

120+ children’s book reviews written by five-year-old avid reader Eva Kelly (with help from her parents and author Max Harrick Shenk).

Click here for more information.


Ascend to the plane of our ideal…

Meme - Neville - Ascend to the level of our ideal

From Neville Goddard’s 1948 lecture “No One To Change But Self”:

Because life molds the outer world to reflect the inner arrangement of our minds, there is no way of bringing about the outer perfection we seek other than by the transformation of ourselves. No help cometh from without: the hills to which we lift our eyes are those of an inner range.

It is thus to our own consciousness that we must turn as to the only reality, the only foundation on which all phenomena can be explained. We can rely absolutely on the justice of this law to give us only that which is of the nature of ourselves.

To attempt to change the world before we change our concept of ourselves is to struggle against the nature of things. There can be no outer change until there is first an inner change.

As within, so without.

I am not advocating philosophical indifference when I suggest that we should imagine ourselves as already that which we want to be, living in a mental atmosphere of greatness, rather than using physical means and arguments to bring about the desired changes.

Everything we do, unaccompanied by a change of consciousness, is but futile readjustment of surfaces. However we toil or struggle, we can receive no more than our concepts of Self affirm. To protest against anything which happens to us is to protest against the law of our being and our ruler ship over our own destiny.

The circumstances of my life are too closely related to my conception of myself not to have been formed by my own spirit from some dimensionally larger storehouse of my being. If there is pain to me in these happenings, I should look within myself for the cause, for I am moved here and there and made to live in a world in harmony with my concept of myself.

If we would become as emotionally aroused over our ideas as we become over our dislikes, we would ascend to the plane of our ideal as easily as we now descend to the level of our hates.

Love and hate have a magical transforming power, and we grow through their exercise into the likeness of what we contemplate. By intensity of hatred we create in ourselves the character we imagine in our enemies. Qualities die for want of attention, so the unlovely states might best be rubbed out by imagining “‘beauty for ashes and joy for mourning” rather than by direct attacks on the state from which we would be free.

“Whatsoever things are lovely and of good report, think on these things,” for we become that with which we are en rapport.

There is nothing to change but our concept of self. As soon as we succeed in transforming self, our world will dissolve and reshape itself in harmony with that which our change affirms.

I, by descent in consciousness, have brought about the imperfection that I see. In the divine economy nothing is lost. We cannot lose anything save by descent in consciousness from the sphere where the thing has its natural life.

“And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” John 17:5

As I ascend in consciousness the power and the glory that was mine return to me and I too will say “I have finished the work thou gavest me to do.” The work is to return from my descent in consciousness, from the level wherein I believed that I was a son of man, to the sphere where I know that I am one with my Father and my Father is God.

Read a complete transcript of this lecture; click here.

Neville From My Notebook


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Two collections of quotes, passages and lectures from the mystical teachings of Neville Goddard, available now as e-books.

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“In a theater? Are you kidding?”

What answer do you get when you ask a former porn star which X rated movies she saw in a theater?


The former porn star is Rebecca Christy, the porn pseudonym used by my character Christy Kelly when she went into “the business.”

This blurb is from one of my current works-in-progress, Rebecca: An Oral History Of A Former Porn Star. The book will be structured as a fictitious oral history, comprised of “first hand accounts” from the characters in the form of interviews, articles, letters, emails, and Facebook posts.

If you want to read some excerpts that have already been published, look for the books Interviews With A Porn Star  and Colloquium: Further Interviews With A Porn Star. Scroll down to the bottom of this page for more information on these two titles. –Max

Q – What X-rated movies did you see in the theater?

RC – None.

Q – None?

RC – In a theater? Are you kidding? I NEVER went to see them in a theater.

Q – Really?

RC – Oh, no. No way. No… those theaters… they were gross. Scary. (laughs) Plus there wasn’t one nearby. I think the nearest one may have been in Mt. Holly, which was 20 miles away, and otherwise you had to go all the way to Harrisburg, to York, or down to The Block, to Baltimore, or Philly. And if there HAD been one in town… I mean, just that it was in town would’ve been enough of a deterrent. I mean, maybe see someone you knew? From church? Some adult? I don’t think so.

Q – So no X rated theaters nearby?

RC – Well, there was one drive-in nearby, at Strinestown, and my friends, my boyfriend and me, we always joked about going, but we never did. Now my SISTER, Kath, SHE went a couple times with her boyfriend– Marty’s big brother, Davy– and she said… (laughs) She said one time that they went, he wanted to walk around the lot and peek in on people screwing in their cars, right? And she said “YOU can. Go on ahead!” And so he did: he got out of the car and went tromping around the lot of this drive-in while the movie was playing, looking in peoples’ car windows, while Kath sat in her VW with the doors locked and the windows up, watching this movie that, in her words, was just this dick going in and out of a pussy the size of a house.

Well, she starts to nod off waiting for him to get back, and just as she’s about to fall asleep, she hears this commotion outside and then this pounding on the window: “Kath! Get the door! Come on!” It was Davy, and he’d peeked into the wrong car window, apparently, and the guy he saw jumped out and started chasing after him. So Kath lets him in and he gets the door locked just as this guy makes it to the car and starts pounding on the window. “I’m gonna KILL you, you little son-of-a-bitch!” Trying to get in or break the windows, right? Well, Davy’s all shrunken down in his seat, Kath said, like he’s gonna crap himself, and Kath was like “Fuck me,” and she unlocks her door and stands up and looks at this guy and says “Do you wanna know who my father is?” And this guy froze like he didn’t wanna find out, and he went back to his car. Kath said “That was the closest I ever came to playing the ‘Daddy’s in the senate’ card.”

Anyway… yeah. I never went. But I kinda wish I had. I always felt like I missed out on all the fun.


There are two volumes of Interviews With A Porn Star…

INterviews coverFront cover v 5


Interviews With A Porn Star (left) 


Colloquium: Further Interviews With A Porn Star (right).



Both of these are excerpts from my work-in-progress Rebecca: An Oral History of a Porn Star.

For more information on these works and to read further excerpts, click here.

(Confused? Read this post about the timeline in my books and stories…)



Groucho and the gorilla

circus5In a 1969 interview with Dick Cavett, before singing “Lydia The Tattooed Lady” from the Marx Brothers film At The Circus, Groucho Marx told this story about the production of the film…

In this picture (At The Circus) we had a gorilla. It wasn’t actually a gorilla… it was a gorilla skin with a man inside of it. And he had a manager… this gorilla skin had a manager! This is true!

And we engaged them to bring the pelt over to the studio and then we engaged a man to go inside of the gorilla skin. And he also had a manager. So we had two managers there for one gorilla!

And, you know, this skin was awfully hot, with all the lights, and it was in the summer we were doing this scene. And during lunchtime, the fellow who was in the skin, he went over to the lunchroom, and he got an ice pick, and he bored about 40 holes in this gorilla skin. And when he came back he was very comfortable inside of this skin.

s-l1000But the manager got wind of this– the manager of the skin. And he was in a rage. And he says to us, “We’re not going to permit this,” and he says “Give me my skin– get that guy out of there!”– threw the pelt over his shoulder and walked out of the studio.

Now we had about three more scenes to do with the gorilla but we had no skin!

So we had six people from MGM rushing around San Diego and all around that section of California looking for another monkey. We needed another gorilla. But we couldn’t get one– we got an orangutan, which is only half the size of a gorilla. And then we had to get a midget to go into this orangutan skin.

And then we got hundreds of letters when the picture come out, from fans who said, “We don’t understand it. The gorilla was this high (puts his hands over his head) at the start of the picture, and he was only this high (puts his hands at his waist) in the second half.”

And we never told them that we had an orangutan with a midget in it.

cavett-large groucho


Click on the screenshot to the right to view the complete 1969 Dick Cavett interview with Groucho. Groucho tells this story at about the 19 minute mark. 

“LOOKS new…”

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…

Murphy's 1

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…

1487291_432971060164832_1546003961_n“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.

Her hesitance?

“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?”

“Transcendental meditation.”

“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.

Also, though…

…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…

Would it?

“–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.

Now what?

Meeting Dennis Wilson by Max Harrick Shenk

All seven books - best.jpg“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)

Meeting Dennis Wilson is available in both softcover print and Kindle editions, in either seven serialized installments or as an omnibus edition gathering all seven books.

Click here to order these books in print or kindle edition from Amazon. 

To read other excerpts from Meeting Dennis Wilson, click here.

Get into THAT space…

Garrison Keillor ~ …I don’t have a great eye for detail. I leave blanks in all of my stories. I leave out all detail, which leaves the reader to fill in something better…

Interviewer ~ (But) the (Lake) Wobegon pieces are marvelously full of detail about what’s in a barbershop, what is here, what is there, what are in the store windows. No?

Keillor ~ No. The Lake Wobegon stories are remarkably empty of detail. They are like twenty-minute haiku, they are absolutely formal and without detail. This is what permits people who grew up in Sandusky, Ohio, or Honolulu, Hawaii, or people who grew up in Staten Island for God’s sake, to imagine that I’m talking about their hometown. (from PARIS REVIEW # 136, Fall 1995)

 * * * *

“I want to give the audience a hint of a scene. No more than that. Give them too much and they won’t contribute anything themselves. Give them just a suggestion and you get them working with you.” ~ Orson Welles

 * * * *

One of my favorite of many lines from MAD MEN concerned detail and mental imagery, and how writing and art can either facilitate or stifle imagination.

1185999_10201453464353954_311877177_nIn this particular episode of MAD MEN, Don Draper (the lead creative man at a fictitious ad agency, in case you never saw the show) and his creative team are trying to sell an ad concept to a Hawaiian resort, and the client is uneasy about the design they’ve come up with: a picture of footsteps mysteriously walking into the surf.

Don’s reply is something like (not exact quote): Look, anyone can buy time or space for an ad that a person will see once and forget about. The key is to get inside their heads.

“You get into THAT space,” he concludes, “and your ad can run all day.”

That is one of my goals with writing: to spur a reader’s imagination… to create places and characters that live in someone’s imagination. A book speaks to you and only you; no one sees the universe created by words on a page in quite the same way. Say “school” or “public swimming pool” or “movie theater lobby” to ten different people and each of those ten people will come up with THEIR OWN mental image of a school or a pool or theater which connects with them. The reader then OWNS the work and is making it live and breathe and grow with their imaginative powers, which equal or surpass that of the writer. The writer, after all, is only providing prompts; the work LIVES with the readers.

Keep the detail at a minimum and trust the reader to fill those details in.

This, by the way, points to a reason why (not to get ahead of myself, because no one’s made the offer yet, but career planning is EVERYTHING) I will not take my characters or my story and sell them for movie or TV adaptation.

Take the following place description from my novel MEETING DENNIS WILSON:

“A two-floor tall lobby in an old school, with stairs on either side of the lobby, a bathroom under each staircase, and a mural of ‘great learners and thinkers’ on the walls above the stairs.”

That’s not really a description or a word picture so much as it is a PROMPT. Each reader will take that prompt and fill in different details– color, light, texture, smell, sound– and make it their own.

But… show them a picture of the lobby, one that visually depicts “exactly how the lobby looks”, and you’ve done the most important work for them. You’ve taken away their capability to see the setting in their own way.

You’ve stifled their imagination, in other words.

I think that this is ESPECIALLY true with characters. When a literary work is co-opted for TV or film, the image of an actor or actress– or, maybe, the actor’s interpretation of that character’s persona– is imposed on the audience, and any readers who see the movie before they read the book will come into the book with an image of what the character looks and sounds and acts like based not on their imaginative powers (which are a projection of the reader’s experiences, etc) but on someone else’s idea of what the character “should” look and act like.

And again, the character is taken away from the reader’s imagination.

I have some great ideas for screenplays which I may work up eventually, but as for the the characters in my written fiction, they are print only and shall remain so.

I’d rather have them play in my readers’ theaters of the imagination than in a movie theater.

As Don Draper said: you get in that space, and your work can run all day.

Origins of a novel…

My serialized novel Meeting Dennis Wilson had its origins in a long, couldn’t-quite-get-it-right-no-matter-how-many-times-I-revised-it story entitled (I think) “Bad Vibrations,” in which the book’s protagonist, Margo, bought a copy of the then-new Beach Boys album Fifteen Big Ones and had to repeatedly return it to the record store because it wouldn’t play, only to discover, thanks to her best friend (and our narrator) Brian’s help, that she had her stereo speakers too close to her turntable, and THAT, not a defective pressing, was making her record skip.

When I sent a draft of the story to a friend to critique, he said “What’s this story about, anyway? Speaker placement?”

Well, KIND of… but one thing it WAS about was how music and records permeated our lives as teenagers (and, for many of us, still does).

To me and a lot of people, pop music is more than “just a song on the radio” or “background noise,” and records are more than just vehicles for that noise. The songs say what we feel and think in words we couldn’t think of; the records are relics that remind us of a time and a place.

I realized that “Bad Vibrations,” whatever it wasn’t, WAS an idea which could probably be part of a bigger and better whole… a novel of some kind, although, clearly, it couldn’t be “about speaker placement.” I wanted the records and the music to occupy a place in the novel akin to the place that they occupy in many peoples’ lives.

So while the plot of Meeting Dennis Wilson is “teenaged girl has a crush on the Beach Boys’ drummer and decides she’s going to meet him,” and all the subplots spinning around it, one of the devices I use in telling that story is old records and music.

Most of the chapters in Meeting Dennis Wilson are set up by records and songs that would have been on the radio, on the jukebox, and in these kids’ bedrooms and hearts and souls back in spring of 1976. Many of the chapters are “set up” with actual pictures of record labels or covers, as “prompts” for the action that follows. In some cases, the records make direct appearances; in others, their presence is more covert.

So, in many ways, Meeting Dennis Wilson is a novel that has evolved from a failed short story about speaker placement to a novel “about” music and records and its importance to those of us who love them… among other themes and subplots.

Here is an excerpt from Book Seven of Meeting Dennis Wilson: the vignette that evolved from the “Bad Vibrations” short story.  –Max


We heard from all of our disparate sources (Rolling Stone, Creem, Circus, Crawdaddy, and whatever magazines Margo read that boys wouldn’t be caught dead looking at) that the new album would be in stores before July 4th, 1976. “15 Big Ones,” Margo explained, “because it has fifteen songs on it and it’s also their fifteenth anniversary. Fifteen new songs.”

New records hit the stores on Tuesdays, and the morning that the album was slated for release, Margo and I biked side by side downtown to the record store so we could get a copy as soon as they opened. “I am so ready,” she said as we pedaled. “Not only did I clean my room, but I rearranged my stereo and stuff. Put the speakers so that if I lie on my bed, I’m right between them and I can hear everything.”

1623206_448212195307385_353206712_nWe were waiting in front of the record store at 9:59 when the aging hippie manager unlocked the door, and Margo walked in quick steps ahead of me, right to the rack of new releases. There it was: 15 Big Ones… a blue cover with the group’s name in gold neon, and their individual portraits framed by five multicolored neon Olympic rings (not only was it the Bicentennial; it was also an Olympic summer).

“Here it is!” Margo tittered, and she examined the pictures on the front cover. “God… is that Brian Wilson? He’s all fat… and look how greasy his hair is! He still has a cute smile, though…” Her voice got hushed. “…and Denny has a beard!

She looked at the price code sticker and then up at the price list on the wall. “D… five-forty-nine,” she said, looking down into her purse to make sure she had enough money, and then she flipped over the album and counted the songs.

“Fifteen songs,” she said, nodding her head, “and only three that I already have.”

“Those are all new,” the manager said from behind the counter, and Margo took some money from her purse.

“Well, not all new,” Margo said as she stepped up to the register. “I have three of them on singles already…” She set the album on the counter. “…but that still leaves 12 out of 15.”

Margo bought a copy of the album and I bought two (“Awwww… you bought one for Christy? See, this is why I like you, Bri. She’s not even here and you’re buying her presents. You can wrap it and put it in the fort!”), and instead of going to one or the other of our rooms to listen, we decided to split up and listen separately.

“Meet me in an hour,” Margo said, “and we can talk about it…”

That sounded like a good idea to me. Seriously, I wasn’t expeccting much, There seemed to be a reason that they hadn’t done a new album in over three years: Endless Summer, a double album greatest hits collection from a couple summers before, was not only a gigantic seller (talk about Beach Boys all over the radio), but to the group, it was both a blessing and a curse: it sold a lot of albums and drew a lot of fans to their concerts, but most of those fans wanted to hear the oldies, so the group stopped doing adventurous new music…

That was how Fifteen Big Ones struck me at first listen: unadventurous. Like John Lennon’s Rock and Roll a year before, it was a new album, and new Beach Boys or Lennon was better than no Beach Boys or Lennon (as we unfortunately found out a few years later with John), but it was nothing to really get all that excited about.

Half covers, half new songs, and there was just something about it that sounded half-baked.

Like they weren’t trying.

I wondered, as I tracked through side one, if Margo felt that way. She was a fan, but she never hesitated to say if she didn’t like something–

“–Briiiiian? Phone! Margo!”

Mom. From downstairs. I hadn’t even heard the phone ring.

I went down the hall to my parents’ room and picked up the other line. “Yeah?”

“Brian,” Margo said, her voice serious and deep. “We have to go trade my album in downtown. There’s something wrong with it. ”


“Yeah. Every song skips.”

That was weird. “Is it scratched?” I said.

Tsk! “Brian, it’s brand new. It’s not scratched. I looked at it under the light. Both sides. And my needle’s fine.” Sigh! “There’s something wrong with it. I need a new one.”

I met Margo at the foot of our joined back yards a few minutes later. “And you said yours plays?” she said.

I nodded my head. “All the way through.”

“Do you like it?” she asked, and before I could think up a way of saying “Well, you’ll like it,” she said “Don’t tell me! I want to hear it for myself.” She sighed. “And just watch him try to tell me it’s my needle. That’s always the first thing they try and sell you…”

We biked back down to the record store, her with the defective copy of the album in the bag, where Margo explained that, no, she didn’t need a new needle (“Didn’t I tell you, Bri?”), she’d just replaced it a couple weeks before… all this while the aging hippie put on his reading glasses and examined the surfaces of the vinyl.

“Looks fine,” he said, slipping the disc back into the sleeve, “but if it doesn’t play…” He looked at Margo. “Go get another one. Sorry about that.”

“Thanks,” Margo said, and she flipped past the front copy and snagged the second copy of the album from the rack and we rode our bikes back home so she could play it.

I would have gone up with her to make sure it played, but I had work to do. I’d barely gotten out of the house twice before I got questioned about the lawn: the first time, Dad asked me if I was going to do the lawn, and the second time, he asked me when I was going to do the lawn. I wanted to listen to the record with Margo, but I wasn’t going to let Dad ask a third time. I dropped my bike in the garage… rolled the mower out onto the driveway… filled the tank with gas… punched the black rubber button a few times to prime the engine (loved those old Lawn Boys)… yank! yank! yank! the cord and the engine sputtered to life, spitting out acrid blue smoke. I took off my shirt and pushed the puttering mower out onto the grass, and I barely got ten yards down my first swath before I saw Margo standing in my path, brown record store bag in her raised right hand. I cut off the mower and wiped the sweat from my brow.

This one skips too, Bri,” she said. “Every song.”

We rode back down to the record store, and the whole time Margo was fretting. “He’s gonna give me a hard time, I just know it,” Margo said, but I said why would he give you a hard time, you just had bad luck, if it doesn’t play it doesn’t play, you have the receipt, it’s more of a hassle to you than to him…

“Wait out here,” she said, no idea why, but I did, and she went into the shop and, two minutes later, was back out with her third copy of Fifteen Big Ones.

“He said if this one doesn’t play, call him,” Margo muttered as she climbed on her bike. “Yeah, I’ll call him all right…”

Meeting Dennis Wilson by Max Harrick Shenk

All seven books - best.jpg“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)

Meeting Dennis Wilson is available in both softcover print and Kindle editions, in either seven serialized installments or as an omnibus edition gathering all seven books.

Click here to order these books in print or kindle edition from Amazon. 

To read other excerpts from Meeting Dennis Wilson, click here.

Not all the way there…

Brian Wilson solo album montageQuestion for discussion:

How important musically has Brian Wilson’s solo career been?

I made a BEST OF BRIAN WILSON SOLO playlist on my itunes, and it’s full of great music and songs, beautifully arranged and produced. But I’ve always detected a feeling of (for lack of a better term) non-presence in Brian’s solo work, like he wasn’t quite all the way there. It lends a sadness to some of his more poignant solo work. His solo SMILE, I think, is propelled by this feeling, as is THAT LUCKY OLD SUN, which, to me, is his best solo effort that, uhhh, isn’t SMILE.

Yeah… SMILE was originally supposed to be a Beach Boys record; yeah, the songs were almost 40 years old when he finally finished it as a solo artist. But the point was, SMILE was never a complete, unified piece of music before Brian and company put it together and performed it as such, then released it. And no matter how proponents of the original session tapes argue for the 1966-67 recordings, no matter how beautiful the Beach Boys’ voices were on those tracks, those tracks (a) weren’t a finished album, and (b) Brian’s age and experience in 2002 lent a melancholy and wistfulness to the music that simply could not have been present if he’d finished the album in 1967.

I’ve said it before: Brian had to live those intervening four decades in order to give SMILE the punch that it has. The Beach Boys’ sessions from 66-67 = beautiful and important in so many ways. But Brian’s solo SMILE = the definitive completed version of the work.

Brian seems to connect best as a solo artist with sadness; the hollowness and non-presence seems to come through most on uptempo tracks.

It’s hard to say that anything that Brian has done as a solo artist is as “important” as what he did with the Beach Boys, but then, that stuff was so groundbreaking, it’s almost not fair to make the comparison, so I won’t.

But I think it’s telling that the two best things Brian has done in the last 20 years are (a) the fulfillment and completion of SMILE (an unfinished Beach Boys record) and (b) THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO, a Beach Boys reunion album. Something about his songs and their voices is a perfect combination. Their voices are missed on his solo records.

What I loved about THAT LUCKY OLD SUN was that it seemed to reflect where Brian’s head was really at NOW. “Midnight’s Another Day” might be the best song ever written about depression.

And that’s what I like about Brian’s solo career. Jeez, you know… the guy doesn’t NEED to keep cranking out new music, but he is. The extent to which that new music reflects his current state of mind and spirit is the extent to which I like it. So songs like “Midnight’s Another Day” and “Lay Down Burden” and “Southern California” and “Summer’s Gone” get to me at my core, at age almost-50, the same way that songs like “In My Room” and “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” did at age 15.

And for that reason, I think Brian’s solo work is VERY important.

So, again: thanks, Brian.