Friday, December 9, 2011

(today's zomby) AND THE SPIRIT OF AMERICA!

While Zomby and his rodent pal formulate their plans for the evening, let's you and I turn our attention to more inspiring matters.

Craig Breedlove and the Spirit of America, circa 1962.

Craig Breedlove. Could any dime novelist think up a better name for a hero than that? Just the right number of syllables, too. Born in 1937, Breedlove was the courageous (or foolhardy) driver who broke the land speed record on five separate occasions between 1963 and 1965 in a series of vehicles dubbed Spirit of America. These "cars" were really wingless jet planes, and you could really only "drive" them in isolated locations like the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. I'm not sure what was the ultimate good of all this. Records like these do not and cannot stand, of course, as technology inevitably improves over time. The current title holder in this ridiculous category is Britain's Andy Green, who achieved a speed of 760 mph back in 1997, while Breedlove never quite cracked 600. A mere century before Green, the land speed record was something like 40 mph, a velocity which most people achieve each day on their way to work.

But back in '63, Breedlove and his earthbound rocket car proved a source of inspiration to one of America's greatest groups, The Beach Boys. Their song "Spirit of America," which Brian Wilson himself cowrote and sang as part of the Little Deuce Coupe LP, is neither about spirits nor about America. It's not really even a patriotic song, though I've occasionally heard it on the radio around the Fourth of July. Instead, it's a gushy, romantic tribute to Breedlove's achievements in velocity on the remote salt flats of Utah. If you spoke no English and heard this song, you would probably guess that Brian Wilson was singing about his love for some suntanned beach bunny. But, no, it's a song about a rocket car.

POSTSCRIPT: This song's strange but potent combination of wistful romanticism and high-octane auto racing makes it a predecessor to one of the Beach Boys' true masterpieces, the gorgeous ballad "Don't Worry Baby" from 1964. Like "Spirit of America," this was cowritten by Brian Wilson and radio personality Roger Christian with Brian again handling the lead vocals. To me, this song is one of the great musical achievements of the Twentieth Century. Hope you enjoy.