"Surf's Up" as written by and Van Parks Brian Wilson....
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Surf's Up song meanings
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  • +6
    General CommentHere are my thoughts on this song...

    First up, the title. Surf's Up. A surfing analogy - but this song has nothing to do with surfing. It's about the collapse of everything. Look around you, today. Two thousand years ago, the end of the Roman Empire. Collapse. No helpful situation, that's damn sure. Surf's Up! The end! So long, farewell. Also the second intention - the surfing intention, where the wave is at its zenith (interestingly, only Dennis surfed). Here comes what I think about the rest of this song.

    A pawn? A key, yet small part in an investigation, of sorts, this being about the breakdown in a certain niche, quirk of society. A monument standing tall in stature, yet small when destroyed so cruelly.

    A blind aristocracy? Those who are high up but oblivious of their situation. They being the upper-class owners of the metaphorical diamond necklace - the equivalent Brahmins and doubtless the Kshatriyas among today's multi-ethnic society. Empires of many, creating many strata within society. Back through the opera glass. The panes (sic) of time past. People look through blinkers at their life. They never know what they can do, what they expect of themselves, what they think they shall achieve tomorrow, let alone next time.

    Tragedy strikes. Societal pain. Colonaded ruins domino, those which seemed so strong after such time, finally buckle under very little pressure. The pit and the pendulum. A bottomless desire/passion and a timed destruction. Almost to the point where this was a painful play. Act one, the pain. Anguish, despair, call it what you want. Who's making the best of this? That to come.

    All is over. Lost in the dawns of time. An unspoken time - one where stillness of spirit was going to prevail. Now awake, aware to responsibility, this person knows what has happened. All has been lost. Vanished, forever. Music, empirations of a lost age. "Muted trumpeter swans"... even they are outraged by this happening. They, naturally, have no power, no voice to speak out among the masses.

    Another hour passes. The strike of a bell, and the moon striking a shadow on the floor. No longer to keep goodbyes in theory, as the moon glazes over a foggy night sky. The dances. The metaphorical parties, those that haven't yet taken place, and the well-wishes for those loved for whom we save our last wellmeaning goodbyes.

    A background forever changed by tragedy. No time to say goodbye, no time to laugh ones last mature laugh, as a well-meaning adult, who had much to say, but little in due to respect his or her own feelings. Time for one final dance, party, knees-up - whatever. Auld Lang Syne (sign, not zyne), a farewell to old, and an embracement of new. The children, the loved, the treasured.

    Even he, a man, feels moved by this destruction. The last drink, the last nourishment before mans last choke of breath. It's unbelievable. Astonishing. The end.

    Up among such sweet sweet wishes of yesterday. A joie de vivre never seen by adults, but visible in the words, the breaths, the songs of the children. And there comes their song.

    The child is the father of the man.

    Teachings of love, of praise for what we have, of appreciation for what we can do, and of never trying to give up. Determination by the young to do anything they can. No way are they going to take half measures. They love to expand their minds, and finding happiness through the suffering, are the real winners. They, at least, have love for a hardened world. Hardened by the end as is known for us right now, but the start of a new, happy generation. You can never lose what you're not conscious of having, and, as such, they are happy to get on with what they can while they can.

    So that does it, for my explanation. Anyone else, theirs would be very welcome. Please, I'm curious as to what others think.
    Bobo192on August 07, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General CommentFrom Jules Siegel's article, "Goodbye surfing, hello God!"

    At home, as the black acetate dub turned on his bedroom hi-fi set, Wilson tried to explain the words.

    "It's a man at a concert," he said. "All around him there's the audience, playing their roles, dressed up in fancy clothes, looking through opera glasses, but so far away from the drama, fromlife. Back through the opera glass you see the pit and the pendulum drawn. "The music begins to take over. 'Columnated ruins domino.' Empires, ideas, lives, institutions;everything has to fall, tumbling like dominoes. "He begins to awaken to the music; sees the pretentiousness of everything. 'The music hall a costly bow.' Then even the music is gone, turned into a trumpeter swan, into what the music really is. "Canvas the town and brush the backdrop.' He's off in his vision, on a trip. Reality is gone; he's creating it like a dream. Dove-nested towers.' Europe, a long time ago. 'The laughs come hard in Auld Lang Syne.' The poor people in the cellar taverns, trying to make themselves happy by singing. "Then there's the parties, the 'drinking, trying to forget the wars, the battles at sea. "While at port a do or die.' Ships in the harbor, battling it out. A kind of Roman empire thing. "'A choke of grief.' At his own sorrow and the emptiness of his life. because
    he can't even cry for the suffering in the world, for his own suffering. "And then, hope. 'Surf's up! . . . Come about hard and join the once and often spring you gave.' Go back to the kids, to the beach, to childhood. "'I heard the word'of God; 'Wonderful thing';the joy of enlightenment, of seeing God. And what is it? 'A children's song!' And then there's the song itself; the song of children; the song of the universe rising and falling in wave after wave, the song of God, hiding the love from us, but always letting us find it again, like a mother singing to her children."
    almcn82on August 24, 2002   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"The music hall, a costly bow"

    The word "holocaust" is hidden in there. I didn't notice this myself, my friend pointed it out to me. This fits with the theme of the destruction and decadence of society.
    three575on November 25, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI agree with a lot of what has been said, although about the idea of the band breaking up: this was written for Smile in '67, not for the post-Brian 1970 album that took its title. It is about a break from all the stuff about surfing, but the brief answer, the one that struck me without seeing anyone else's interpretation is this:

    It is about death and rebirth.

    It is such a sad song, a very sad song, but the "child is the father of man" section lifts it out of the mire and brings rebirth.
    light vesselon July 28, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIs that the one that I've read in "Wouldn't It Be Nice: My Own Story" by Brian Wilson? Because that sounds mighty familiar, in a good way.
    Bobo192on October 13, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General CommentSo basically, the first part = hubris? In more words than probably necessary, the decadence of civilization.

    The second part = violent change/reform? "Surf's up" seems to imply erosion and metamorphosis. Aud Lang Syne, of course, symbolizing the end of an era.

    The third part = the answer: Wilson's obsession with regression - songs about childhood as catharsis/longing/nostalgia. The bike horns in "You Still Believe in Me". The whistles and noisemakers in "Heroes & Villains", "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow", etc. The sing-songiness of "On a Holiday" and "Sloop John B", etc. etc.
    bkobashon November 23, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAllegedly Mike Love demanded to know what "columnated ruins domino"was supposed to mean;-Vandyke Parks(the writer)said he had no idea! Mr.Love,also alarmed at Brian's apparent change in musical direction (away from surf music)insisted he "stopped fucking with the formula!"....in later years Brian described this song as "a piece of shit".....I'm still undecided.
    oldfogeyon June 02, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAnything quoted from "Wouldn't It Be Nice" is suspect, as it is now regarded to have been written primarily by Landy.
    donutbanditon October 29, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is written to be translated in so many different ways.....
    I think the song is about the relationship with Brian, the band and Murry, his father

    A diamond necklace played the pawn (Brian)
    Hand in hand some drummed along, oh (the band)
    To a handsome man and baton (Murry)
    A blind class aristocracy (murry managing them in the past, and how his managing caused
    Back through the opera glass you see (dismay and anger in the band, and they fired him)
    The pit and the pendulum drawn
    Columnated ruins domino

    Hung velvet overtaken me
    Dim chandelier awaken me
    To a song dissolved in the dawn
    The music hall a costly bow (Brian being forced to tour and perform and write, he lost his way and
    The music all is lost for now (doesn't want to write or sing, Murry is not happy)
    To a muted trumperter swan
    Columnated ruins domino

    I LOVE the child/father/man portion at the end of the song, that is such a beautiful piece, it's a work of art..and I interpret the meaning as a message to Murry that the Beach Boys are doing fine, and to not worry about them.....

    I heard the word
    Wonderful thing
    A children's song (the BB's band, including Murrys sons Brian, Denny and Carl)

    Child, child, child, child, child
    A child is the father of the man (message to Murry that they are no longer children, they are adults)
    Child, child, child, child, child
    A child is the father of the man
    A children's song (message to Murry, the BB's wrote their own songs and played them
    Have you listened as they played (and they did fine even without his management)
    Their song is love (they are writing a new style of music, and they know what they are
    And the children know the way (doing and they are doing fine)
    That's why the child is the father to the man
    Child, child, child, child, child
    Child, child, child, child, child
    Na na na na na na na na
    Child, child, child, child, child
    That's why the child is the father to the man
    Child, child, child, child, child

    caseymomon January 18, 2009   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationI think one important point to make is that Beach Boys' albums had long been obsessed with surfing, as metaphors or literally: I mean, this was a band whose albums were, in order, Surfin' Safari, Surfin' USA and Surfer Girl. Therefore, saying "Surf's up" is more than just an idle comment, especially since this was long after the band had fallen on hard times, were on the brink of collapse and the early "surfing" days seemed a long, long way away.

    Of course, the song is far more transcendental than just a song about a band breaking up and it would belittle the song a lot to assume that. But I think that it plays an interesting part in the central theme of the song, which is that things will always end and that will cause other things to begin.

    A lot of the lyrics are highly stylised and there's it's difficult to analyse them at the best of times (I'm not sure the first 3 lines really "mean" anything in the traditional sense), but there's a lot of lines that suggest this sense of there being a circle.

    The major turning point arrives around "the laughs come hard in auld lang syne". Auld Lang Syne is famously a song about old aquaintances, ancient experience and remembering the past fondly. But Surf's Up subverts the idea by claiming that the past is cold and humourless. As the song goes on, this feeling gets stronger; "adieu or die" is obviously a statement of giving up or falling into this obsession with the past, and the much-reviled line "columnated ruins domino" is another example of this: columnated ruins refers to the ancient Graeco-Roman architecture that lies scattered around the mediterranean, and invoking a domino effect here puts it into the song's meaning; when one gets old, so do all the others, when one crumbles, so do all the others.

    This section ends with the lines "grief heart hardened". The emotion of grief has a strong connotation of death, and so this ends the aging process that has existed for the first half of the song.

    The next section changes tone completely: just look at the words used: "young", "spring"- here we have a sense of birth and growth, it's exactly the opposite of the death at the end of the last movement. The final movement of the song, the "children's song", is another symbol of youth, and movement. Claiming that the youth and renewal knows the way, rather than the old and dying ways, ends the song on a very optimistic note.

    And so I think this song is very stylised and rather than referring to anything specific try and evoke the long cycle of life and death. However, this song's interesting placement at the end of a band's career- hell, the album it was on CAUSED the death of the The Beach Boys- marks this as an interesting piece in moving on.

    Really, the final movement is probably one of the best pieces of music of all time, I really love it.
    Appers66on April 14, 2009   Link

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