I walked a stretch of Coast Highway on Monday afternoon, wondering if that big yellow thing in the sky was ever going to get down to business this summer and start shining. Past the yacht shops and shrimp shacks, past the fancy restaurants and the burger joints of Newport Beach, I strolled up and back and let my mind wander about this wonder known as Southern California.
No fresh reporting here; it's all been said before. This corridor of a highway (north and south from here it's known by its more poetic "Pacific Coast Highway") running through and alongside the beach towns is every bit as iconic as the old Route 66 that cut across America.
It beckons, it tempts, it defines.
Count me as merely another lonely traveler who came here. Or was it lured here?
Don't know, but I can trace my steps from the stone stoop of my grandparents' duplex in Omaha as the summer of '63 unfolded and my most dependable friend -- the radio -- played songs about the beaches of Southern California.
I was already a Beach Boys fan, but then a more polished surf song hit the air. With nothing better to do, it was easy duty to wait out the clock and hear it again every two or three hours.
The song was "Surf City" by Jan & Dean. It hit the charts in June and was No. 1 by mid-July. It stayed on the charts all summer.
The lyrics were mystical and almost foreign. Shootin' the curl. And what's this? "I'll strap a board to my back and hitch a ride in my wetsuit."
Was Surf City real? Wherever it was, it was a million miles away to a kid living off an alley near downtown Omaha.
And now we're 40 years down the road, and the song that gave Jan Berry and Dean Torrence their first No. 1 hit still gets played on oldies stations.
"Quite honestly, our friends were saying, 'Why are you doing a record like that?' " says Torrence, now 63 and ensconced in Huntington Beach. "They didn't get it. They said, 'We see the beach every day and go down and play volleyball almost every single day of our lives. So what?' It didn't mean anything emotionally to our close friends. They thought we were kind of stupid for doing it."
I ask Torrence, who still tours occasionally with Berry (severely injured in a car accident in 1966), if the song meant as much to him as to me. "Us creative folks tend to look at stuff as a project," he says, cheerfully, "so I looked at it as a project where we tried to make a record. It needed to have all the right elements -- the right arrangement, right words, we had to perform it as well as could be performed, it had to come off technically in the studio ... By the time you do all that, it really is something that doesn't feel all that personal."
He's not discounting the song, on which he joined Beach Boy Brian Wilson on the falsetto parts, but neither did they think they were creating anything timeless. "We couldn't even tell it was a hit at the time we were doing it," Torrence says. "We had a feeling it was OK, pretty good, but we'd been pretty optimistic about things before that absolutely never saw the light of day."
Torrence has heard these stories before; he understands how music takes hold of people.
So, when I ask why "Surf City" survived, he says, "You can answer that better than anybody. That's why it survived -- people like you have attached themselves emotionally to the song, either the time or the place. When [a hit record] happens, a lot of people can tell you what porch they were sitting on when they first heard it and what it meant to them."
Full circle, huh? From an Omaha stoop to living in a SoCal beach town and talking to one of the guys who made "Surf City."
It works for me.
Better yet, the sun did come out on my walk Monday. I felt it later on my face. Looks like the summer will be a good one.
Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821, at email@example.com or at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626.