STEPHEN JOHN KALINICH: A PURE GOOD HEART
1969 saw an America committed to a useless war overseas, threatened by fear of nuclear annihilation, the bullets of assassins, the tear gas of policemen and riots in the streets—in short, a world completely not ready for an album such as this, A World Of Peace Must Come. This spoken word album of 13 songs, produced by Brian Wilson, was recorded in his Bel Air home with the Beach Boys, Wilson’s wife, and even his dogs Banana and Louie as part of its cast of characters—in parts as lo-fi as the Beach Boys’ Party album but as beautiful, wide-eyed, and haunting as his best post-Pet Sounds recordings. But maybe because albums like Friends hadn’t been selling well even with the Beach Boys name on the cover, Capitol passed on Stephen Kalinich, and this album was shelved for the better part of four decades, appearing, like the tracks from Smile, only on much-treasured bootlegs here and there to hungry fans. Light in the Attic released a CD version a few years ago, and now finally it is seeing its vinyl debut. We caught up with Kalinich at the IHOP in Glendale to talk with him about his heyday writing for the Beach Boys and whether he still thinks peace is the only alternative to war in the 21st Century. This interview by D.M. Collins.
World Of Peace is a much different style from Brian Wilson than we’ve heard in Smile and other albums. What was recording it like?
We did a co-production but Brian came up with many of the innovative ideas. He would be the conductor and I was like a co-conductor. He would take the dogs and he would have them be barking in the back of the track. Little things. He would have the mic next to the telephone. With ‘America I Love You’ he took my mono tape that we did in the shower at this house—he had the mic over the shower thing and I was in the shower and recorded. Then he got the people from the Wrecking Crew and gave them a direction of ‘Americana’ and they improvised. So ‘America I Love You’ was all like, you know, Aaron Copland—that’s Brian’s direction. Once at Marilyn’s birthday party—14 of her friends were there, and they brought them in the studio and they sang. He used all of the elements. He did a very elaborate track on ‘America I Love You’ but then he said, ‘Stevie, let’s go simple. Let’s make it like a home recording.’ We went from that extreme production with the Wrecking Crew to just like me—I wrote those melodies on a four string guitar, you know? It’s almost like middle ages. You could’ve played with a little stringed instrument. With a lute. Or I could do it alone with nothing.
There’s an idea that Brian Wilson was off his rocker during that period of his life, and I think that the truth is certainly he wasn’t. When you were with him was he a person who was in control of his faculties?
He was quite in control. The Beach Boys do not need me. I’m still good friends with Al Jardine and Mike Love and they use my songs and they’ve been very sweet with me but I think my impact in all the chaos in his life and the fame and everything—that some guy, that was not wealthy, that just was friends with him, that would sit with him. And that he listened to me. And I think that my album is partly not me, it’s partly Brian Wilson in the sense in some of the tracks we became one being. We were like a harmony together, we were like a unity together.
Brian was known for being meticulous—were there parts of World of Peace where he really worked you to the bone?
Yeah—like with the harmonies, he kept working with me till I got it right. The other stuff we went with because we were a bit spontaneous—creative flow—but he listened to my ideas. We did the shower, we did the crickets, we did the dogs, we did nature sounds, we did people on the phone, we did echoes. The thing is when I say we became one, it’s very creative. If you listen to that album, he let me play with my four-string guitar. That’s my melody, that’s his voice in ‘Lonely Men’—that high voice is Brian. It’s Brian and me doing like a middle ages thing. But the thing we’re hoping is that maybe somebody will pick up on one of the pieces— I pray that it’ll have its day. He had the foresight to believe in me. In those days it was mainly Brian and Dennis believing in me. I don’t want to say only, but they were my two strongest horses—and Al Jardine, too, when they got into meditation. I don’t think he was … when they say he was lost, he would have gravitated toward the spiritual. I used to read to him from the Bible. I would talk to him, I would recite to him. ‘Lonely man,’ the whole message is me ministering … that’s the wrong word but we were in love with wanting to give love to the world. And here’s a guy that did ‘Good Vibrations.’ He could’ve rocked out. And there is funny stuff. When you hear ‘Lucy Jones’ you’ll crack up. We had another one about riding high under the music that never came out. Someday that’ll show up: ‘You’re ridin’ high on the music / high and you feel like you wanna fly / and the music clicks you round and round / you can’t keep your feet on the ground / you can’t tell your ma, you can’t tell you pa / so talk to your girl tonight.’ There’s just all kind of beautiful stuff. The other name for ‘California Feeling’ was I think ‘Rhapsody in Sunlight’ or something like that. Listen to it. ‘Look at the orange groves and taste the grapefruit from the grapefruit tree / feel the loveliness and the beauty of that California feelin’.’ I came from upstate New York—I never saw oranges grow out of a tree. I never saw a grapefruit so that was my zen. That simple grapefruit and orange becomes a symbol. You could throw it in the air like the world and solar system—take the orange and throw that in space and you’ll see California through a New Yorker’s eyes? Does it make sense? I mean, I’m going crazy—but just what I’m doing with you now are how Brian and I worked. It came out of those conversations and that’s the period that everyone says … that he was gone. That was the period that I felt was extremely creative because it’s a minimalistic album and there was minimalism and art then. It all could have been like ‘America I Love You’ and it would have been another nice album but this is almost like raw, out of the bedroom. A couple other things that I want to tell you that he did—he staged like he and I were arguing and he coached me how to do it. ‘No! You gotta be more aggressive!’
You’re fake arguing?
He’s telling me ‘You gotta get more into it!’ with encouragement to disagree with him so we’d have that ‘No! You don’t do that, Stevie!’ and stuff. And he would direct me. That was really cool. That was a great exchange.
Are there more recordings that aren’t out yet?
Yeah—like ‘Woppin’ and Boppin’ Lucy Jones.’ There is a recording which I’ll ask Brian if I can play you with me doing the lead singing. It’s great. ‘This is the story of Lucy Jones / 5 foot tall and she’s skin and bones / She rides a motorcycle and she rides a jeep / she’s awake when everyone else is asleep.’ You’ll get a charge out of it.
Why didn’t this album come out at the time?
I think it wasn’t commercial enough for what they wanted. I think he went to Mo Ostin and they liked it but they felt they couldn’t do it. Mike Curb was gonna do it but I think he was looking for the album America I Love You and that he was gonna be pro-America which would have maybe given the wrong message to him. They were gonna put it out as a single and I think it would have probably been a hit, but then they would have geared the album toward America. So it probably wasn’t meant to come out then. I had to wait 50 years for this album and I had to go through all the experiences of life but I love this album now. I’m in tune with it and someone said that it is maybe my Pet Sounds. Maybe like as a poet, it seemed like I actually thought that by putting this out I could help usher in world peace. It’s naïve—I’m just being honest. I had a pure, good heart then.
What was the real point of this album?
The point was that all the things we’re looking for are within us and so real peace must come from the rebirth within us from the consciousness of love. My view—which was a little different than the selfless way—was instead of letting go of the self, merge the self with the interest of other humans. Instead of denying and then having that suffering, the mentality is that you bless yourself and the others. You give and you start holding hands and it spreads out. It becomes we, us, let’s bring others into our goodness. We were trying to be an encompassing, to embrace—and I was naive enough at 19 or 18, 20, 22 or whatever—to embrace the planet and think we could change it. It was our album to try and bring peace to the world. In the beginning when we sing the harmony, ‘A world of peace must come…’ Brian trained me. He showed me how to do the harmonies and he knows I wasn’t a great singer but he told me how—to almost whisper it. I get almost perfect pitch on those because of Brian. Carl mainly taught me that but Brian also. Like the other night … a good example, at the Michael Love tribute, who is a dear friend of mine and one of the Beach Boys, the lead singer Rita Wilson was there. She sang ‘The Warmth of the Sun.’ I told her about that thing with Carl—that she didn’t impose and try to make it dramatic. She respected the lyric, she stayed on the melody. She didn’t take a lot of liberty. Like I said, it’s like letting the grace through you. Being a channel and allowing the voice to come through. When she did ‘The Warmth of the Sun,’ she captured that. What I’ve done beyond that is I use it in my life when I feel there’s too much noise—when I get too loud in my perplexities, in my consciousness, in my depressions with all the madness in the world and all the sad things, I take it down to a whisper. A stillness. And that’s why I believe in a stillness practice. The madness, the chaos—there still is a calm voice even in all our adversity, if we can go to this. It’s not a cure-all and if you’re clinically depressed it may not help you, but it can help you in your everyday struggles. And so this is what I hope in the world of peace—that I can touch a life and they can impact other people and do something good for the world. I want it to be inclusive. A world of peace must come. The reason I say must is if we don’t, we’re gonna annihilate each other. We’re gonna destroy each other.
STEPHEN JOHN KALINICH’S A WORLD OF PEACE MUST COME DELUXE VERSION IS OUT NOW ON LIGHT IN THE ATTIC. LIGHTINTHEATTIC.NET. VISIT STEPHEN KALINICH AT STEPHENJOHNKALINICH.CO.UK.