(Crossposted from https://www.patreon.com/posts/79473962 )
For those who don’t know, I’m currently on holiday, and specifically tomorrow I’m going to be going on the Beach Boys Cruise, a five-day cruise from Miami to Belize and Mexico, on which the Beach Boys. the Temptations, the Righteous Brothers, Jimmy Webb and the Isley Brothers are all performing.
When I asked on my Patreon if people wanted to hear about the cruise, since after all my backers are paying for my holiday, and all those performers have been featured in my podcast (either on the main podcast or in Webb’s case in three bonus episodes) almost everyone who replied said yes, but also a couple of people said they thought it might be interesting to find out about how I decided to go on a cruise like this, because I don’t seem like, and indeed am not, a cruise person. Indeed when I worked a day job I used to use almost all my holiday time to stay at home, explaining that if I’d rather be somewhere else I’d live there instead. So for the next few days I’m going to do a daily blog post talking about the performances on the cruise, but I thought I’d explain today why I’m doing this.
The simple answer is I went last year and enjoyed it.
The longer answer is that 2021 was by far the worst year of my life. I can’t and won’t go into details because they all involve other people and private information about myself, but a truly astonishing number of things had gone wrong in my life. The one thing that hadn’t was my income — 2021 was the first year when I made enough money purely from my creative work that I could live comfortably without having to take on any outside work.
One thing I’d wished was that I’d been able to go to see the Monkees on what was billed as their last tour — I’d seen Michael Nesmith as a solo artist in 2012, and had seen the other Monkees perform as a group (and Tork and Dolenz as a duo twice, and Dolenz solo once) but had never had the chance to see Nesmith performing with the Monkees. Nesmith and Dolenz (Tork by this time had died) toured towards the end of 2021, but only in America, and the situation with both covid and my finances had been too unpredictable for me to justify that kind of expense, no matter how much I wished I could.
But then in late autumn of 2021 one extra date was announced for March 2022 — on a three-day cruise with the Beach Boys, who I’m a massive fan of, and the Temptations, my personal favourite of the sixties Motown acts. But it was so expensive…
But then I realised — I was going through a divorce at the time, and every previous year (other than 2020 for obvious reasons), no matter how little I’d earned, my ex and I had gone to visit my in-laws in Minnesota for Christmas. Travelling at Christmas is ridiculously expensive, and I realised that if I was to book onto the cruise in a shared room, and booked the flight far enough in advance, it would cost about as much for me to go onto the cruise as it would have every other year for me and my ex to visit my in-laws. And when I thought of it that way — would I enjoy three days in the Caribbean with the Beach Boys, the Monkees, and the Temptations, more or less than I had a week in rural Minnesota with my in-laws — then that was no contest. (And that’s not meant to slight either my ex-in-laws, who are lovely people, or rural Minnesota, an area with many charms of its own.)
So I booked onto the cruise, taking a 0% interest cash advance on a credit card, and paid it off in instalments over the course of a year.
Then of course, Michael Nesmith sadly died, and the Monkees performance was reworked into a Micky Dolenz solo show, but by that point I was already committed, and so I went along, and I turned out to have a great time.
I’ll talk about my observations a lot more over the next few days, but last year’s Beach Boys Cruise was simultaneously the least me thing ever, and the *most* me thing ever. Much of the stuff on that kind of holiday doesn’t suit me at all — I hate the heat, don’t go swimming, and I am very much not a “fun” person, being far, far, too much in my own head to let myself go in any real way — but because the main performers on the cruise were precisely my kind of thing,
There were multiple moments on that cruise that will stay with me forever — Scott Totten, the Beach Boys’ musical director, doing a wonderful talk about what a musical director’s job actually involves; Andrew Sandoval interviewing Micky Dolenz about his career and managing to get more than just the pat lines out of him (though being Micky Dolenz, he did still say “I’m told I had a good time” three times in a one-hour interview); watching Dolenz soundcheck and seeing him put his all into soundcheck performances with almost nobody watching (and when the woman next to me, a die-hard Monkees fan, burst into tears when Dolenz and his sister Coco started singing “Me and Magdalena” in the soundcheck, and just quietly said “no Mike…”, I connected with that song for the first time ever); conversations I had with various of the backing musicians — and on top of that there was something that’s very hard to explain, but had a very strange emotional effect on me.
The Muzak throughout the ship — in the corridors, lifts, and so on — was a playlist of songs by the acts performing, mostly the Beach Boys, Monkees, and Temptations. This is obviously very much to my personal taste anyway, but the thing was, they were not just playing the hits, they were playing basically *everything*. So walking down the corridors of the ship, you’d not just get the hits playing, but you’d hear “St. Matthew” or “Hold On Dear Brother”, “Pillow Time” or “Never Learn Not To Love” — songs which I have otherwise *literally never heard except in my own house*.
The only way I can describe it is that it was like walking through my own brain, my own internal soundtrack made audible for everyone to hear. It was… a strange feeling.
So last autumn, when they announced they were doing a second Beach Boys Cruise, a longer one, I booked on straight away. This year they sadly don’t have Dolenz, which is a disappointment, but on the other hand they do have Jimmy Webb (a favourite songwriter of mine, and someone who’s a great live performer), the Righteous Brothers (who I’ve never seen live, but whose work I enjoy), and the Isley Brothers (who I’d had a ticket to see in 2020 before covid shut live music down, so it almost feels like restitution of one little thing I’d been looking forward to and lost out on).
So from Friday through Tuesday, I’ll be doing little “What I Did on My Holiday” recaps, reviewing the shows, the talks, and whatever other aspects of the cruise I feel like talking about. Those of you who were worried about the idea of me working on my holiday — this is how I process experiences. I don’t really feel like I’ve done something until I’ve processed it as words, so this is not extra work on my part.
There’s a couple of things I should point out in advance. First, I am very aware that the bands on the tour have only one original member each (though both the Beach Boys and the Isley Brothers have two “classic” line-up members). I’ll be talking about what that means for the authenticity of the performances along with everything else, but I don’t really need people telling me “that’s not the real Beach Boys, it’s just Mike Love” or anything similar.
The other thing I feel I should mention is that one of the things that will come up in these posts is the difference between the white Middle American culture of pretty much everyone on these cruises and my own culture. I am not entirely comfortable in white Middle American surroundings, for reasons of both nature and nurture. The circles in which I move generally are drenched in irony, cynicism, and self-awareness. Everything is in quotes or postmodern, and there’s a comparative restraint, and a sense of embarrassment at direct emotional expression, it’s a culture of the head. I’m far from a hipster, but I can understand the hipster mentality. By contrast, mainstream white Middle America is a culture of face values, of surfaces, of wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve, of cheering when the sitcom character makes an entrance, rather than nodding knowingly.
For anyone who has read Neal Stephenson’s classic essay on operating system design, In the Beginning… was the Command Line (which you can find at https://www.hackneys.com/docs/in-the-beginning-was-the-command-line.pdf ) it’s the same cultural thing Stephenson talks about there in his observations of “interface culture” and Disney World compared to the written word. (And I am a writer and Linux user, so those who have read that essay will understand where my own instincts take me, though I don’t draw Stephenson’s small-c conservative political conclusions).
I find myself uncomfortable in that environment (though obviously not uncomfortable enough to want to avoid being on a ship that’s full of that culture for several days straight) and that discomfort *will* come through, but it is *not* a value judgement, or me being a snob. Both ways of being have their good and bad points, both are necessary, and I don’t believe my way of being is superior.
(Which is not to say that there’s *nothing* to criticise. Last year, there were fewer passengers of colour on the ship than there were Black people *on stage* during the Temptations’ set, while the ship serving staff were pretty much all people of colour, and the racial politics of that made me deeply uncomfortable — but that is not a uniquely American phenomenon. The audiences for Beach Boys gigs in the UK are also so white you could get sunburn from the faces.)
The reason I mention this is that whenever I say anything on my podcast about mainstream American culture that sounds even slightly critical or negative — especially of that culture’s attitudes towards race, but in general — I get a flurry of outraged messages from white Americans, many of whom claim to be fans of my work (and some of whom *are* financial backers of it), using every insult in their vocabulary to convey their disgust at what they believe to be me claiming that Britain is better than America, and usually telling me that I think I’m so great but I live in a country that still has a monarchy, and so on. If there was anything that *was* going to make me truly think badly of America, it would be the stream of vile abuse I get from people whose patriotism, rather than love of their own country, is hatred of everyone else’s.
But to be clear, I don’t think Britain is better than America, and when I say things that are critical of America or American culture, there is no implied “unlike Britain, which is great”. My own country is a mess in a myriad ways, some of which are the same ways that America is messed up, and some of which are all its own. And America has many, many good points which Britain doesn’t have. I wouldn’t travel to America, to see American musicians, including a band which bills itself as “America’s band”, performing songs including “Surfin’ USA”, “California Girls”, “Galveston”, “Wichita Lineman”, and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, if I weren’t at least somewhat positively disposed to the USA. I just also see its flaws, just as I see the flaws in my own country.
And more importantly, I see things in that culture that discomfort me *without that discomfort in any way reflecting a moral judgement on those things*. When I say “this thing makes me uncomfortable”, that is a sentence containing two nouns — the thing, and me. There are many things that make me uncomfortable but which are not morally objectionable or are even objectively positive. I don’t find jeans comfortable, and wear cotton slacks, but that doesn’t mean I think jeans are inferior in some way, they’re just not right for me.
This may seem like I’m protesting too much, and overexplaining myself, but I *guarantee* that there will nonetheless be a portion of the readership for these posts that takes some innocuous observation from one of them and decides that it’s evidence that I’m a snob who hates America because I’m too elitist and British and snobby and a British elitist snob. But I hope that this will at least make one or two of them second-guess themselves a little.
Anyway, I’m writing this from my hotel in Miami, and tomorrow I head off to the cruise. Expect a report tomorrow night US time about the Isley Brothers, Jimmy Webb, the Beach Boys, and whatever else comes along.
Andrew, I greatly appreciate the clarity and context in this message that you just left. I think it explains so much as tv defines your passion about the music and it gives clarity to the people that would use some of your statements to attack and conclude that you’re being judgmental on things that you’re not.
I really appreciate your passion and understanding about the music and I’ve had the experience of being on a great cruise from Florida to Jamaica with our show just imagine and it was a fantastic time.
There was even a jazz bar with great musicians, kind of a club that I was able to go to multiple times
but anyway I’m looking forward to reading your daily updates, and I think it’s fantastic that you’re going on the cruise which represents a nice little snapshot of great music history.
Won’t you let me take you on a pre-cruise.
I’m interested to hear about this, but I wouldn’t have gone on a cruise even before there was a global pandemic.