Interview with Domenic Priore (7-20-04)
By Ronnie

Right: Domenic discusses the "Dumb Angel Fairy Tale" in London

To those familiar with SMiLE, Domenic Priore needs no introduction. He is the author of the only book in publication that deals with SMiLE, "LOOK! LISTEN! VIBRATE! SMILE" - known as the "bible for SMiLE". He is also the author of the upcoming book, "Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock 'n' Roll's Last Stand in Hollywood, 1965-1966". With the 2004 live Brian Wilson SMiLE shows and the upcoming release of a studio SMiLE release we recently talked to Domenic Priore about his personal views of the live shows, a possible update of LLVS and his upcoming projects.

E.C.: What were your feelings when you first heard that SMiLE was going to be played live?

Domenic: I had encouraged this all along, you know. Darian Sahanaja came to me one day and told me "I think we're going to be able to play 'Cabinessence'" but that there were people around discouraging this. We both knew that it was the toughest of the songs to play (see page 203 of Look! Listen! Vibrate! SMILE!, that's Darian's joke on top of the page) from SMILE. So with the band already playing "Good Vibrations," "Heroes and Villains," "Wonderful" and a bunch of others from SMILE, I figured if "Cabinessence" could be done, what's to stop Brian from doing the logical? I never cared what anyone said to put SMILE down, including Brian himself. The subject, and the music, needed to be braced. The dismissal of it in any quarter was to be repressed, not SMILE itself.

E.C.: I know you were at the SMiLE show on February 21st (the second night), but did you catch any of the other performances?

Domenic: We were there on opening night too. We were hoping to be there when Paul McCartney showed up, but missed the opportunity to meet him.

E.C.: Personally for me, it was "magical" hearing those recordings of the live SMiLE (which surfaced on the internet less that a week after the show). Upon hearing SMiLE live for the first time - what were your gut observations?

Domenic: My gut observation was the audio itself... I'd never been to a concert that sounded so good. You have to understand this was the nature of the music, the way Brian had originally created it in the studio during the '60s... wall of sound, with sonic clarity... and then the ethereal part of it, the feeling you get from the music, even just to use "Good Vibrations" for an example... the whole concert was like that single. Darian Sahanaja can not be given enough credit for pulling this off. Yes, there are other important members of the band, Nick Walusko and Probyn Gregory are also close friends of mine who worked on Dumb Angel Gazette. But Darian has to be singled out, because think of all the years of lame Beach Boys concerts since ENDLESS SUMMER came out, then the awful bands that both Andy Paley and Don Was put behind Brian. These over-50 people, I'm sorry, just do not get it when it comes to what made Brian Wilson great in the first place. They could not assemble "the studio circa 1966" in a live setting. Darian has pulled that off, especially with the SMILE shows where he was the secretary for all of Van Dyke Parks' and Brian Wilson's 1966 ideas. Baby boomers have this obnoxious tendency of "updating" things... Punk/New Wave or Gen Xrs (anything younger than boomers, actually) know better, aren't "embarrassed" by the '60s the way baby boomers have become. It's really pathetic how all these Elton John and Billy Joel people end up getting shoved into Brian's world. Darian Sahanaja's work with Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks is the opposite of that mentality. The '60s were a million kajillion times better than the '70s and especially the '80s, which were the artistic nadir of popular culture. The SMILE concerts opposed all '70s and '80s garbage, and that was their strength.

Royal Festival Hall itself is a part of why the concert sounded so good. It was designed long enough ago, probably the '60s, when there were special locations going for optimum sound design... we have two here in L.A. like that, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion... both designed by Welton Beckett, a true master who also designed the Capitol Records building and the L.A. Airport Theme Building (the Encounter)... Beckett actually hired the best people for the job, it was his architectural company, but for example a guy named Paul Williams designed the L.A. Airport Theme Building. That said, Royal Festival Hall had those great audio dynamics. Wood side paneling jutting out from the stage in a layered process, the roof angling away from the stage, the walls angling away from the stage, so the audience is caught up in this swell of sound. Now put the calliope of SMILE, with its counter melodies and juxtaposed sounds, in that environment... an in front of a bunch of British people, who were brought into the Beach Boys with PET SOUNDS... this was the perfect environment. I do feel the L.A. people also have the right sentiment for SMILE too, but the English deserved this debut of SMILE. Their thirst for it was quenched with their own tears of joy. There was some real passion in the room. Proto-Pepper in Pepperland, and all who were there knew it.

E.C.: Having written the only book about SMiLE (Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile!), did the live show validate any of your assertions in the book? Or where there any points in the show where you said to yourself, "Whoa! Never expected that!"?

Domenic: I was not shocked too much by anything, except for "Surf's Up" being in the middle of the album and "Good Vibrations" being at the end. "Surf's Up" does work with those songs in the middle, that blew my mind. "Good Vibrations" also works at the end, I mean, if you sum up the elements in the best possible combination, yes, they bring on "Good Vibrations". That's why Surfers Rule...

Right: Becky, Domenic Priore and Eric White after the SMiLE show on Feb. 21, 2004

E.C.: When Eric White reviewed the SMiLE show on the 21st for EAR CANDY, you were mentioned in the group that hung out afterwards. There must have been some stimulating conversations going on that night, with SMiLE having just been unveiled. Any memories of that night stand out in particular? Were there any SMiLE-related people that you hadn't seen in awhile?

Domenic: I was really happy to get back in touch with Peter Whitfield and John Porteous, both of whom I'd been out of touch with for a while. John managed to get Peter on the phone backstage (on his cell) and that was a gas. John, Peter, Darian, Nick, Probyn and I had all hung out in the '80s when things were pretty grim, musically, in the outside world... Beach Boy-wise, and other-wise. Peter Whitfield was an early enthusiast of SMILE for all the right reasons. There were some tape traders who liked to horde things so that they could be "important" people. Peter wasn't one of those, he got it with the music, so when I got the mother lode of tape from Curt Boetcher, gave it to Peter, he was ostracized in tape trading circles by these power-hungry dorks... but he now had ace quality tapes, so fuck 'em, you know? Peter had shared things that he'd gotten with me early, and I simply stoked him back. This angered "the gods," some of them who are still out there, lambasting me and hating my guts on the internet. So, ha ha, fuck you, dorks, eat shit!

Peter Whitfield, the first time he came to Hollywood, the time I first met him through Paula Perrin of Beach Boys Freaks United, he was on the plane, looking over the massive land expanse of L.A., the whole L.A., and his words were "IT'S DOWN THERE!!! SMILE IS DOWN THERE!!! SOMEWHERE, IT'S THERE!!! IT'S HIDDEN, BUT IT'S DOWN THERE, SOMEWHERE!!! SMILE IS DOWN THERE!!!" Fuck the city, fuck the whole history of Hollywood, all that mattered about that parcel of land was that somewhere, SMILE was hidden in it like buried treasure. In 1982, when most Beach Boys fans were yelling "Hooray! 'Beach Boys Medley' is on the Billboard charts," this Peter Whitfield was just the guy I'd rather be hanging out with. Talking to him after the SMILE show in February, 2004, tossing the phone around to Darian, and all that, we'd weathered all of our detractors and it was sweet bejesus...

E.C.: Now that there is a new "chapter" in the SMiLE saga, do you have any plans to update Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile!?

Domenic: When I was in London I met with Sanctuary Books, and we have a different SMILE book on tap. I'd like to update Look! Listen! Vibrate! SMILE! in color, that may happen after Dumb Angel Gazette #4 comes out too. Brian Chidester and I have been working on Dumb Angel Gazette #4 for the past 3 years and it's really a pretty hot lil' thing, you know. We've focused on the year 1964, think about all the great music Brian Wilson did in 1964... and 1965, pre-PET SOUNDS, which is the echo of '64. We feel that the current administration of Beach Boy reissues people has little appreciation for anything pre-PET SOUNDS, especially pre-TODAY, they dismiss "Gonna Hustle You" and "Malibu Sunset" the way SMILE was called drug-addled garbage years ago. They'd rather release stereo re-mixes of songs we've heard a trillion and a half times (who gives a fuck about a "bi-naural" mix? -- soon these people will release their "anal" mix -- on us), and "vocals-only" things -- rather than SONGS AND TRACKS WE'VE NEVER HEARD from the early days, well, like the 1963 tape of "Back Home" (or the 1969 tape of "Back Home," for that matter). We've set out to correct that lame notion in Dumb Angel Gazette #4.

E.C.: I got a private viewing of the "Dumb Angel Fairy Tale" by DAFT films and it was a great surprise to see you in the intro to the film (they also interviewed David Leaf and Darian). You are wearing that same psychedelic shirt as the Eric White photo, so I imagine that you saw the film earlier that day? Were they inviting all the concertgoers to see the film?

Domenic: DUMB ANGEL FAIRY TALE was exquisite, even just for the way they mixed the sounds together... from one song to the next. Very insightful to use "Sweet Mountain" along with SMILE material, for example. The story was sweet, I mean, they let the music guide the story, they built the story around the songs, it seems, and those songs have so much passion that the story benefits tremendously from the moving material. Also charming were the locations, which were beautiful, as was the girl who played in the starring role. Those guys were playing that film in the basement of a bar near the Royal Festival Hall during the time of the SMILE concerts, and on Monday, my last night in town, I showed up and watched it. They told me that if I'd come, I'd be filmed, so I brought that shirt down on purpose. There is something about that shirt, it is from Waltah Clarke, the same man who released Duke Kahanamoku's album LIVE AT A BEACH BOYS PARTY (or whatever it's called) on Duke Kahanamoku Records... this album preceded BEACH BOYS PARTY and features all the actual Waikiki Beach Boys singing at the beach. Panama singing "Cafe Lights" is a highlight, it sounds like Dennis Wilson doin' "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away". That shirt is real inside stuff, very Psychedelic but right from the Waltah Clarke source. To be wearing it in London for SMILE, I thought, was only appropriate. What you didn't see was my "End of the Trail" belt buckle that I'd bought in Wyoming back in the '80s. I was wearing that under the Waltah Clarke shirt, so there was the Great American West underneath Psychedelic Hawaii via Duke Kahanamoku Surf. See, I think of these things.... still a huge spazz.

E.C.: I think the film was really well done, especially the little surrealistic nuances throughout the film (and of course the "Vega-Tables" video!). Being involved in film, what do you think are the chances that we will see some kind of "official" release? It would be a pity if more SMiLE fans couldn't see it!

Domenic: Yes, it would be really cool if Brian's team would get behind that film and support it. It has so much heart and soul, and only the music needs to be cleared. If they can get that from the powers that be, then the fans will be happy. Simple.

E.C.: When I recently interviewed Mark London, he told me that he had heard the new studio version of SMiLE (which was about to get it's final mix). Have you heard it? If so, without giving too much away, what can you tell me about it? Will it be worth the wait?

Domenic: I imagine they just performed the SMILE concert in a studio setting, which of course would be great. I have been invited to hear it, but I kind of don't go down and play the game with the Brian Wilson staff too much. A lot of what goes on around Brian has been like the Emperor's new clothes, and I'm the guy on the sidelines applauding if it's great and passing on it if it's nothing. The SMILE concerts were great, it's among the best live music I've heard in my life along with Keith Moon playing in the Who, Big Brother & the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin) at a Love-In, Duane Eddy backed by Steve Douglas, Hal Blaine, Don Randi and Ry Cooder... you know, real stuff.

Worth what wait? This is not the 1966/1967 SMILE tapes. We're still waiting on that.

E.C.: Well, by "worth the wait?" I meant ANY cohesive, complete version. I wasn't specifying any timeline.

I loved your timeline in the SMiLE tour programme. Will you be supplying any new essays for the booklet that will go with the SMiLE 2004 CD?

Domenic: I haven't been asked yet.

E.C.: Also, with the release of the 2004 SMiLE, do you think that Capitol will release some sort of box set for SMiLE (of the original tapes), or do you think that the Brian Wilson version will end the chapter?

Domenic: You're a fan... will the Brian Wilson 2004 version of SMILE end the chapter for you? I mean, really, the 1966 tapes can't be beat. Why there isn't a Capitol-1966-SMILE thing in the works or out now, even now, is beyond belief as it is. Do I think? Yes I do. Does Beach Boys Inc. think? Good question.

But in the '80s Mike Love sang "I'm pickin' up Bush vibrations," so we can definitely say these are not "thinking" men.

E.C.: When we last talked in 2001, your current project was your book "Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock 'n' Roll's Last Stand in Hollywood, 1965-1966". What has been the hold-up on its release?

Domenic: There isn't any hold-up, it's a massive project that just doesn't get done overnight like a lot of schlocky books that come out and then disappear. The text was finished in September 2003, this week (July, 2004) I'm putting together the list of credits, which of course is massive. I've done about 75% of the photo work, still have more of that to do. You see how big the Beatles and the Rolling Stones autobiographies on Chronicle Books are? That's the company I'm doing this for. My book won't be that large, but will be just as much work to finish, and I'm doing it all by myself. Those books had teams behind them. Now, I've also begun work on a documentary based on Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock 'n' Roll's Last Stand in Hollywood 1965/1966. We've shot about 15 interviews just in the last few weeks. The subject is really about how Los Angeles Rock 'n' Roll of the mid-'60s brought social consciousness into the mainstream. All those bands, the Byrds, the Doors, the Mothers, all the L.A. groups on NUGGETS, the Chicano bands from East L.A., the Ferus Gallery art scene, it was pretty incredible... and prior to this book, an undocumented phenomenon. Little bits and pieces of documentation exist, but like SMILE, it's never all been put together and understood as a whole. People understand what happened in San Francisco during the '60s, London during the '60s, now it's L.A.'s turn.

E.C.: The film, RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP, was recently shown on our premium cable channel called "true stories". I really enjoyed that film, it was great seeing all the bands that played. It was like a hip version of DRAGNET. Being on the "true stories" channel, they were implying that the film was in fact true. I know the riots were, but how much of the film was accurate? Part of it seemed to me to be like a '60s version of REEFER MADNESS or COCAINE FIENDS - those old films that tried to demonize pot and cocaine. Was the film's real purpose to demonize LSD?

Domenic: Well, remember, this film was by Sam Katzman, who jumped on every important Rock 'n' Roll trend going back to his 1956 movies with Bill Haley & the Comets ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK and DON'T KNOCK THE ROCK. He began showcasing Chuck Berry and Little Richard (ROCK, ROCK, ROCK, MISTER ROCK 'N' ROLL, GO JOHNNY GO) then did TWIST AROUND THE CLOCK and DON'T KNOCK THE TWIST with Chubby Checker, Dion and others. In '64 Katzman was hip enough to grab the Animals, the Dave Clark 5, Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz performing "Girl From Ipanema," the Jimmy Smith Trio and the Standells for GET YOURSELF A COLLEGE GIRL. So what else is he gonna do in '66, he's gonna touch on the L.A. scene emanating from Sunset Strip. The story is close, it pretty much comes right out of several newspaper articles, but those articles were in no way the whole story. It would have been more accurate had he also read the Los Angeles Free Press, not just the L.A. Times or Herald-Examiner, get what I'm saying? Now, using the Standells and Chocolate Watchband was a brilliant stroke of genius. But how can one capture, in the two weeks it would take to make an exploitation film like that, the whole story and politics behind the L.A. music scene in 1966? Impossible. So what I've set out to do is grab what led up to the things that film set out to capture, and did, but only partially.

There is some REEFER MADNESS to the film, but acid was very popular at that time (it was legal) and is a bit too much to really for people to handle. People experimented with drugs, let's remember the word experiment. Recall, people would ask each other "have you tried Marijuana?" Today we know a whole lot more about this stuff, but then, there were floating question marks everywhere, like in that Simon & Garfunkel song "Cloudy". In fact, THE GRADUATE is a great film that also captures the 1966 L.A. scene thing in a big way, but they used Simon & Garfunkel's poignant songs... "Scarborough Faire," "The Sounds of Silence," you didn't hear any of the L.A. music in that one, but it's fine because that soundtrack remains one of the best uses of Rock 'n' Roll in any film, without a doubt.

So there are police busting pot smokers in RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP and the kids get to say that there isn't anything wrong with it. We all love to watch Mimsy Farmer do her freak-out dance "on acid," those lights, those clothes that people wear in the film, there is this real alluring look to RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP that makes up for whatever the weaknesses may be. The Doors "When the Music's Over" is a great song that kind of sums up the 1966 L.A. scene, go back and listen to that record for the real 1966. Listen to "7 and 7 Is" by Love, or the Doors' (again) "Not To Touch the Earth". Brian Wilson's "Surf's Up," the Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" (which was written about that riot), the Byrds version of "Chimes of Freedom" -- that's one of the most important ones, as a matter of fact. But I'll tell you, the Standells theme song "Riot on Sunset Strip" is also one of the best records to come out of that period. You know, Katzman worked with what he had, the best he could do with it. But Rock 'n' Roll had come to a point where its contribution to culture had grown beyond a quickie film. Rock 'n' Roll no longer has this power as it did during the '60s, but this year we are getting a hint of it's torque with films like FARENHEIT 9/11, THE CORPORATION and OUTFOXED. Neil Young even said something to this effect in the Los Angeles Times this month, that now film is where you can make an impact, the way records used to back in the '60s.

Drugs did screw up the point of the '60s, and we can see that in Terry Gilliam's film FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, Johnny Depp taking on the Hunter S. Thompson book... they play the Buffalo Springfield's (Neil Young and Jack Nitzsche, really) "Expecting to Fly" in this maze of delirium. Gilliam was an L.A. guy during '66, by the way. It's sad, how it all got fucked up back in the day. Finally, some important filmmakers are channeling what musicians channeled in 1965/1966 Los Angeles. The political activism slipped away when San Francisco emphasized drugs and "dropping out" over the kind of Trojan horse thing L.A. was doing with records.

E.C.: Finally, what other current projects do you have in the works, be it books or film?

Domenic: In December of 2003, Outre Gallery Press released BEATSVILLE!, an art book that I did the text for. It is a study of Beatnik exploitation of the late '50s and early '60s, with new art by Shag, Coop, Mark Ryden and a bunch of others. I cover the difference between real Beats and the Beatnik phenomenon the media portrayed... and recognize the value in both idioms. You can look that up at

I've been doing things in clubs, bookstores and art galleries, like one of the last symposiums at Midnight Special Bookstore in Santa Monica (on BEATSVILLE!) where I showed videos to accentuate my points. Then I did a tribute to Jan Berry at Taix in Silver Lake, just DJ'd rare-as-hell Jan Berry-related 45s and showed '50s and '60s clips of Jan... Last week I did a slide show of images from the forthcoming Sunset Strip book at Sponto Gallery in Venice, which in the '50s was the Venice West Cafe, L.A.'s home of the Beats... then we had Robert Carl Cohen in, who showed his 1965/1966 documentary MONDO HOLLYWOOD, and he did a symposium afterward. That was a unique night, going right back to the source. Also did a reading of materials from BEATSVILLE!, Look! Listen! Vibrate! SMILE! and RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP: ROCK 'N' ROLL'S LAST STAND IN HOLLYWOOD 1965/1966 at Filthy McNasty's in London this past February with my pal Paul Gorman, who read from his book THE LOOK. I'm just getting my feet wet with this symposium thing, but the videos have been a big help.

Other than that, I've handed in the text for RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP: ROCK 'N' ROLL'S LAST STAND IN HOLLYWOOD 1965/1966 and have begun to work on a documentary based on it, as I've said earlier. Brian Chidester is wrapping up Dumb Angel Gazette #4 right now. Literary-wise, I've been asked by Sanctuary Books in London to do a new book on Smile, so I'm working on that along with the Sunset Strip documentary. All that should keep me busy for a while.