It is a little known fact that Brian Wilson embraced a Druid path just before the start of the recording of SMiLE. In ancient times the Druids were the repositories of the current wisdom, holding in their memories all the useful information that a society might need. They did not write things down, but preferred to keep the knowledge “safe” in their heads. Following this Druid practise, Brian refuses to talk about SMiLE to this day, keeping the knowledge “safe” in his head. Like the “Paul is dead” rumours that followed the Beatles in 1969, there are clues everywhere. We will uncover a few of these clues.
In 1966, while checking out some of the hip bookstores in L.A., Brian first came across a book on the Druids. The term “druid” roughly translates to basically mean “truth-knower”. Remember, this was the 60’s, and rock stars changed beliefs quicker than guitar strings. Brian read on. The Druids were divided into three classes: the Bard, the Ovate and the Druid. The Bard functioned as the losist, singer, musician and storyteller. Brian liked the sound of this…a storyteller.
With this inspiration, he started his first Druid inspired composition, “Heroes & Villains”. “The song is going to be a three-minute musical comedy. The whole album is going to be a far-out trip through the Old West. Real Americana.” Brian was on a roll. The Bard’s knowledge of and skill with the power of the Word becomes magical with the Druid: understanding the creative force of sound, the Word is used to generate seeds of light that echoes through creation. With this in mind, Brian started the composition of “Surf’s Up” with Van Dyke Parks: “I heard the Word, Wonderful Thing…”.
Brian had already started work on “the Elements” before his introduction to the Druid philosophy. Four songs were already completed: “Vegetables” (earth), “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow” (fire), “Water Chant” (water) and “Wind Chimes” (air). However, there was a problem. Druid cosmology is based on the three realms of Land (earth), Sea (water) and Sky (air), rather than the 4 Greek elements common to other systems. Fire is the connecting thread of spirit that funs through all Realms. Brian was confused. What to do with “Fire”? How would it fit on the album? Several versions of “Fire” throughout the album?
Brian worked feverishly on SMiLE, deciding to unviel the album at Stonehenge on March 21, 1967-The Spring Equinox. To Druids, at the Spring Equinox, the Earth is waking from its winter slumber. They celebrate the time of sowing and of preparation for the gifts of summer. What better gift of summer than a new album from the band that signifies & perpetuates the idyllic American summer?
Brian pictured a giant SMiLE obelisk, encased in plastic, placed directly in the center of Stonehenge. He even went as far as having an artist do a conceptual painting of his “SMiLE monument within a monument”. This same artist also did a woodcutting, depicting Brian as a Druid, holding a copy of SMiLE. Note: these two pictures are the only record of Brian’s influence of the Druids, besides the songs themselves.
However, the card-carrying Druids of England caught wind of what they viewed as Brian’s intended “hippie desecration” of their holy day. They quickly started a petition drive to “keep the Beach Boys far away from our Beaches!” Parliament discussed the matter and made the proclamation that the Beach Boys could not come within 100 miles of any stone in England, which pretty much made safe all of the stone circles within England. The reaction in England, coupled with Brian’s dilemna of where to put “Fire” pretty much killed the SMiLE project. Less than a year earlier, there were Beatle bonfires when John had made the comment that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus”. The Beach Boys feared similar repercussions in England. Brian pictured Druid bonfires of thousands of SMiLE album covers. SMiLE was officially dead.