Van Dyke Parks
|Van Dyke Parks|
Van Dyke Parks in late-1967.
|Birth name||Van Dyke Parks|
|Also known as||George Washington Brown, Maestro Van Dyke Parks|
January 3, 1943 |
|Genres||Indie, film scores, Americana, calypso, psychedelic|
|Occupations||Composer, performer, instrumentalist, arranger, songwriter, author, poet, lyricist, producer, director, actor|
|Instruments||Vocals, piano, harpsichord, synthesizer, accordion, celeste, organ|
|Associated acts||The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Bonnie Raitt, Judy Collins, Ringo Starr, Haruomi Hosono, Ry Cooder, Lowell George, Little Feat, Inara George, Joanna Newsom, Harpers Bizarre|
Van Dyke Parks (born January 3, 1943) is an American composer, arranger, producer, instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, author, and actor. Parks is perhaps best known for his collaborations with musician Brian Wilson, and especially for his lyrical contributions to the Beach Boys' Smile album project.
He has worked with such notable performers as Phil Ochs, Tim Buckley, Haruomi Hosono, The Byrds, Loudon Wainwright III, Rufus Wainwright, Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, Bonnie Raitt, Judy Collins, Ry Cooder, Joanna Newsom, Inara George, Keith Moon, Frank Zappa, and Ringo Starr.
In addition to producing, Parks has released seven studio albums of his own recordings: Song Cycle, Discover America, Clang of the Yankee Reaper, Jump!, Tokyo Rose, Songs Cycled, and with Brian Wilson, Orange Crate Art. He has also released a live album, Moonlighting: Live at the Ash Grove.
Parks has also established himself in film scores, and over the years has directed, arranged, produced, and composed soundtracks for a great number of motion pictures and television shows. On occasion, he has even taken small acting roles.
Early life and musicianship beginnings
Born in 1943 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi as the youngest of four children, he reared in Lake Charles, Louisiana. His father Dick Parks was a clarinetist, and had a dance band to get through med school: Dick Parks and his White Swan Serenaders. Growing up, there were two grand pianos nested in Parks' living room, and he attended the American Boychoir School in Princeton, New Jersey where he would sing "Gershwin, Schoenberg, atonal music, everything".
He began his career as a child actor. Between 1953 and 1958 he worked steadily in films and television, including the 1956 movie The Swan (which starred Grace Kelly). He appeared as Ezio Pinza's son Andrew Bonino on the NBC television show Bonino. One of his costars on Bonino was 14-year-old Chet Allen, who appeared as Jerry Bonino. Parks and Allen were roommates at the Boychoir School. Parks also had a recurring role as Little Tommy Manacotti (the kid from upstairs) on Jackie Gleason's The Honeymooners.
During his childhood, Parks became extremely fond of old-style American music, most notably the sounds of Tin Pan Alley. This interest in Depression-era songwriting would correlate heavily with his artistic goals and interests during the 1960s and beyond. He was also deeply affected by musicians Spike Jones and Les Paul, which led him to develop an interest with studio experimentation in the form of pop music.
Parks originally studied the clarinet, but had moved to the piano before enrolling (majoring in music) at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he studied from 1960 to 1963 and developed an interest in Mexican music. In January 1963 Parks learned to play the guitar; upon dropping out of Carnegie Tech, he relocated to Los Angeles to play with his older brother Carson Parks (writer of "Somethin' Stupid") as The Steeltown Two (later enlarged to the Steeltown Three), which eventually became the folk group The Greenwood County Singers. (Parks took a short hiatus from this group, moving to New England to be part of The Brandywine Singers). Around this time, his older brother Benjamin Parks was killed while serving in the Vietnam war.
In 1962, Parks began studying guitar while he was working at a coffeehouse with his brother. According to Parks, he learned 50 Requinto solos of Mexican boleros, but gave up the prospect when he realized playing guitar had become too commonplace.
Parks reacted strongly to Beatlemania. Of it, he claimed "I lived under a billboard that said 'The Beatles is coming,' and I got the sense that it was a plague, and that it was going to have cultural implication throughout the world.…It's almost like the vestigial functions, the appendixes of the musical life that I had just begun to have a scant association with were begin excised from the body of music with the advent of folk music gone electric. So I started to learn piano." He has repeatedly stated his annoyance with contemporary pop music during the mid-1960s and the culture's increasing anglophilia, going so far as to say, "apart from Pet Sounds I didn't find anything striking coming out of the United States."
He relocated to Los Angeles in 1963 with the intent of being involved with the growing west coast Beatnik subculture. By 1964, Parks was growing more and more interested with songwriting, and signed an artist contract with MGM Records. For them, he would record the singles "Number Nine" and "Come to the Sunshine" which did not succeed commercially. They were both notably produced by Tom Wilson.
Two years later, Parks' compositions written for other artists were becoming known for their lyrical wordplay and sharp imagery. Producer Lenny Waronker was reportedly obsessed with the song "High Coin" in particular, and contacted Parks to persuade him to switch to Warner Bros. Records. During this time he worked frequently as a session musician, arranger and songwriter, and became acquainted with future close friends Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Terry Melcher, and Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson. Parks performed on The Byrds album Fifth Dimension, and refused an offer by David Crosby to join the band.
In 1965 Parks briefly joined Frank Zappa's The Mothers of Invention on stage, where he was referred to as "Pinocchio". After being asked why he left, he said "because I didn't want to be screamed at." At some point, he did perform at least one solo date as the opening act for the Lovin' Spoonful. His accompanying musicians included guitarists Steve Young and Steve Stills. Parks would later write a song for Steve Young, titled "The All Golden". He was also later offered to be part of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but declined.
Meeting Brian Wilson and the Smile project
Van Dyke Parks initially became aware of The Beach Boys during their early popularity in the early 1960s. Speaking on them in 1995, "I knew they didn't surf.…I felt some resentment about [them], and I had been a fan of Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones.…Instinctively, I was not a Beach Boy fan. 'Something really dumb about it.'" He added that, "I loved Pet Sounds, you see. I came back to love them, and thought they had done a great job. It seemed to me that they would be fine in fighting spirit to take on this challenge of resting that trophy out of the hands of those interlopers."
In February 1966, Parks became acquainted socially with Brian Wilson, chief songwriter of the Beach Boys. In Wilson's ghostwritten 1993 autobiography, it was said that he gave his first impressions of Parks as being "a skinny kid with a unique perspective", and that he "had a fondness for amphetamines" at the time. Parks hesitantly confirmed this, but added "Those were his amphetamines. They were in his medicine cabinet. I'd never had amphetamines. I was working for Brian Wilson at 3:30 AM when he wanted to have his amphetamines." It was also Parks who introduced Wilson to Beatles publicist Derek Taylor, who later became the Beach Boys' publicist for some time during the 1960s.
Unsatisfied with Pet Sounds collaborator Tony Asher's lyrics for "Good Vibrations", Wilson first asked Parks to help him re-write the lyrics to the song; Parks declined, stating that he didn't think he could improve on them. During the recording of "Good Vibrations" in 1966, Parks suggested to Wilson that he have cellos playing eighth notes.
Speaking more about Brian Wilson in later years, Parks stated:
|“||I heard music that was both romantic and had a rock sensibility of sorts, although we didn't throw that word around too much in those days. That was after the love beads, and rock became a corporate classification, just like the blues. They took off its sexual organs. Some people got paid a lot of money to bottle the rebellion of the 60s, and that's when it started to mean zero to me.…He made music that could be enjoyed beyond its time. Phil Spector meant nothing to me-- I thought his sound was just smoke and mirrors. People who said Pet Sounds was bastardizing classical music led very sheltered childhoods. That's a bunch of bullshit. Brian Wilson was not imitative, he was inventive; for people who don't write songs, it's hard to understand how inventive he really was.||”|
Brian Wilson soon convinced Parks to write lyrics for the Beach Boys' next LP, the ambitious but ill-fated Smile. In preparation for the writing and recording of the album, Wilson purchased several thousand dollars worth of marijuana and hashish for him and his friends including Parks.
In light of Wilson's increasingly fragile mental state, the group tensions and his signing to Warner Bros., Parks' involvement in Smile effectively ceased in March 1967, where he left to begin work on Song Cycle. Giving his reasons, "I walked away from the situation as soon as I realized that I was causing friction between him and his other group members, and I didn't want to be the person to do that. I thought that was Brian's responsibility to bring definition to his own life. I stepped in, perhaps, I 'took a leap before I looked'. I don't know, but that's the way I feel about it.…As soon as I found out I was entering an eat or be eaten situation... I was raised differently. I didn't want to be part of that game." Recording sessions ground to a halt soon after, as Wilson became increasingly withdrawn, and the album was shelved a few months later.
As a solo recording artist
In 1968, Parks released his first solo album, Song Cycle (produced by his friend Lenny Waronker) which combined orchestral textures and traditional Americana-meets-psychedelic pop song structure. Song Cycle established Parks' signature approach of mining and updating old American musical traditions, including ragtime and New Orleans-style jazz, and includes the Randy Newman song "Vine Street". The album reportedly cost more than US$35,000 to produce, making it one of the most expensive pop albums ever recorded up to that time. It sold very poorly despite rave critical reviews, but gained status as a cult album in later years. Shortly after Song Cycle, Parks released a 7" single: the A-sided "The Eagle and Me" backed with "On The Rolling Sea When Jesus Speak To Me", which failed to chart.
The 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill was life-altering for Parks and changed his "very reason for being". Sometime after, he met the Esso Trinidad Steel Band, a Trinidadian calypso band whom had been performing with Liberace in Las Vegas. According to Parks, "I saw them as enslaved in their relationship to Liberace; I thought it was a vulgarity. I wanted to save them from their trivialization." What had begun as Parks' desire to popularize calypso at that point became his crusade. He would work with the steel band the next several years. Speaking about his life then, Park stated:
|“||To me, 1969 really suggested the death knell of the counter-culture revolution. The terrible event of Charles Manson showed the cultism of the period; I was always wary of crowds. I didn't go to Woodstock. I didn't want to be in a mudflat waiting to get into a portable toilet. I thought it was a terrible idea. So I stayed at my office at Warner Bros.…I don't even know what happened around then, for many reasons. One is I was working so hard and was too busy to really get totally turned around by what other people were doing. My favorite group was the Esso Trinidad Steel Band, whom I worked with. I loved calypso all my life. I knew every Trinidadian in Hermosa Beach back then, there were probably about 20 families. Now there's a huge population.||”|
In 1972, Parks' travels to the West Indies inspired his second solo album Discover America. Discover America was a tribute to the islands of Trinidad and Tobago and to calypso music. Parks re-arranged and re-produced obscure songs and calypso classics. This direction was continued in the 1975 release Clang of the Yankee Reaper.
Although he had only recorded two albums in the span of 13 years, he performed on a multitude of albums recorded by friends who were working in or around the Los Angeles music scene, most notably Harry Nilsson, whom Parks considered the "smartest guy" he had ever met in the music business. During the early 1970s, Parks dealt with prescription drug abuse. He would later say of himself as being "dead for five years", and spent the former half of the decade "trying to regain an interest in living". Parks further stated:
|“||When I was head of audio-visual services and on the A&R staff at Warner Bros., a man came into my office and he had a snake and his name was Alice. Right then, I knew that my days were numbered as a person really interested in the record business.||”|
After Clang of the Yankee Reaper, Van Dyke quit his day job at Warner Bros. and "retreated from further record interests, seeking the more gregarious plain-speaking of the film community...with no less satisfaction". He would spend the next several years and most of the 1980s focusing more on motion picture projects, ranging from high-profile film scores such as Popeye to musical director for low-key television programs such as The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour, and taking on as much work as he could to stay out of unemployment.
Parks made a slight comeback with the 1984 album Jump! which featured songs adapted from the stories of Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit. The album exhibits a Broadway-style reduced orchestra plus Americana additions like banjo, mandolin, and steel drums. Parks composed the album but did not arrange or produce it. Martin Kibbee contributed to the lyrics.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Parks grew considerably more active in arranging and producing albums by independent artists, which inspired him to return more fully to the music business.
Following Jump!, in 1989 Warner Brothers released Tokyo Rose. This concept album focuses on the history of Japanese/U.S. relations from the 19th century to the "trade war" of the time of its release. The songs are pop tunes with an orchestral treatment including Japanese instruments and old Parks Caribbean favorites like steel drums. The album did not sell well and was not widely critically noticed.
Between 1992 and 1995, Parks teamed up again with a then-reclusive Brian Wilson to create the album Orange Crate Art. Parks wrote all of the songs on the album, except "This Town Goes Down At Sunset" and George Gershwin instrumental "Lullaby", with vocals by Wilson. Orange Crate Art is a tribute to the Southern California of the early 1900s, and a lyrical tribute to the beauty of Northern California. It was recorded during a stressful period for Wilson, after being involved in court orders relating to years of psychiatric misconduct he had been subject to. According to Parks, "When I found him, he was alone in a room staring at a television. It was off." The album was met with poor commercial reception, much to the disappointment of Parks.
1998 saw the release of Parks' first live album, Moonlighting: Live at the Ash Grove, which shows a love of the work of 19th-century American pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk as well as performances of several of Parks' better (and lesser) known songs. The live ensemble includes Sid Page as concertmaster.
In 2010, Parks stated "At this point, I don't have an album in me. But I have some songs, so I'm putting out them out as 45 rpm stereo records this summer." Between 2011 and 2012, Parks issued six double-sided singles which featured new original songs, collaborations, unreleased archival recordings, re-recordings of older tracks, and covers. The singles also featured guest spots from singers Gaby Moreno and Inara George of The Bird and the Bee.
In March 2013, Parks announced the release of Songs Cycled, which compiled the singles into one LP. It was Parks' first full album of relatively new material since 1995's Orange Crate Art. The album was released on May 6, 2013 through Bella Union.
Work for other musicians
Parks has produced, arranged, or played on albums by artists including Delaney Bramlett, Vic Chesnutt, U2, Cher, Sam Phillips, Frank Black, The Beau Brummels, The Manhattan Transfer, Medicine, Sixpence None the Richer, Carly Simon, Little Feat, T-Bone Burnett, Stan Ridgway, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Victoria Williams, Bonnie Raitt, Peter Case, Gordon Lightfoot, Fiona Apple, Sheryl Crow, The Everly Brothers, Saint Etienne, The Thrills, Scissor Sisters, Laurie Anderson, and Susanna Hoffs/Matthew Sweet's covers collection.
Although Smile had dissolved in mid-1967, Parks' collaborations with Wilson hadn't for the time being. He was instrumental in getting the Beach Boys signed to Reprise, and contributed vocally to "A Day in the Life of a Tree" and the writing of "Sail On, Sailor".
Parks produced the album Esso for the Esso Trinidad Steel Band in 1971. It was cultivated as a tribute to Prince Bernhard, the head of the World Wildlife Fund at the time. According to Parls, "Everything was directed to making it a proper, political, green album."
In the early 1970s, Parks was brought in to produce the third album by influential Japanese folk rock band Happy End. Sometime after, he became acquainted with member Haruomi Hosono, whom of which would go on to be one of the founding members of the extremely influential electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra. Parks went on to produce his solo album Hosono House, and for the next few decades participated in several future projects by him.
By 1984, Parks was refused future collaborations with Wilson, instead being informed by an unnamed representative that "Mike Love is Brian Wilson's exclusive collaborator". Though Parks would work with the other Beach Boys on songs such as on "Kokomo" and the Summer in Paradise album, he would not work together with Wilson until a few years later, during the aborted Sweet Insanity album.
In 2004, following the great success of his acclaimed live performances of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album, and with the support of his band's musical director Darian Sahanaja, Wilson made the surprise announcement that he was going to finish the mythical record using his current touring band. He contacted Parks, who helped fill in gaps in the original lyrics, and the duo re-recorded the album and then presented it on a world tour, beginning with the world premiere performance at the Royal Festival Hall in London, which Parks attended. Parks later provided some lyrics to That Lucky Old Sun (A Narrative), released in 2008. The album once again featured almost completely new compositions written by Brian Wilson, but with minimum input from Parks compared to the previous Smile collaboration.
He composed orchestral arrangements for Silverchair's fifth album Young Modern album in 2007. Daniel Johns, the band's lead singer, traveled to Prague with Parks to have the arrangements recorded by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. The album's title is a nickname Parks uses for Johns.
Parks worked with Inara George on a record released in 2008, An Invitation, and they performed two songs together on 8 January 2008 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, as part of the program Concrete Frequency: Songs of the City.
In November 2011, after 44 years, a compilation box set of sessions from The Beach Boys' Smile was finally released by Capitol Records. Parks was personally absent from its advertising campaign and liner notes, and refused to comment on the box set despite initially giving his approval. After Mike Love suggested that Smile collapsed due to drug use in a promotional interview, Parks responded with a post on his web site that accused Love of "revising facts".
Film and television work
Parks has also scored a myriad of music for feature-length motion pictures and television shows, including Sesame Street 's Follow That Bird, Jack Nicholson's The Two Jakes and Goin' South, Casual Sex?, Private Parts, Popeye (with Harry Nilsson), and The Company, and for the Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special.
Disney hired Parks to arrange Terry Gilkyson's Academy Award nominated song "The Bare Necessities" for the 1967 animated feature The Jungle Book. Parks had four songs featured in the 1987 Disney film, The Brave Little Toaster. He worked closely with David Newman on the film's score as well. He composed the theme song for Rudy Maxa's Savvy Traveler radio program on NPR.
Parks composed the faux-psychedelic song "Black Sheep" (a parody of Smile and Brian Wilson's style in general) for Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, sung by John C. Reilly, who portrays the titular character.
Parks has taken small TV and film roles including appearances in Popeye, The Two Jakes, and as Leo Johnson's defense attorney Jack Racine in episode #2005 of Twin Peaks. The HBO Family series Harold and the Purple Crayon, is narrated by Sharon Stone with music and lyrics written and sung by Parks. He and David Mansfield are co-credited with the music for the 2006 mini-series Broken Trail.
In 2009, Parks performed in The People Speak, a documentary feature film that uses dramatic and musical performances of the letters, diaries, and speeches of everyday Americans, based on historian Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. Parks performed with Bob Dylan and Ry Cooder on the documentary broadcast on Dec. 13, 2009 on the History Channel. They played "Do Re Mi" and reportedly a couple of other Guthrie songs that were excluded from the final edit.
|2010||Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune||Himself|
|2010||All You Need Is Klaus||Himself|
|2010||Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?)||Himself|
|2009||The People Speak||Himself|
|2007||The Old, Weird America: Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music||Himself|
|1991||He Said, She Said||Priest|
|1990||Twin Peaks||Jack Racine|
|1990||The Two Jakes||Francis Hannah|
|1988||Ry Cooder & The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces: Let's Have a Ball||Himself|
|1985||The Beach Boys: An American Band||Himself|
|1980||Popeye||Hoagy - the Piano Player|
|1980||Loose Shoes||Indian #2|
|1971||Love It or Leave It||Himself / Songwriter|
|1959||A Gift for Heidi||Peter|
During the mid-1980s, Parks wrote a series of children's books (Jump (with Malcolm Jones), Jump Again and Jump on Over), based around the Br'er rabbit tales, illustrated by Barry Moser, and loosely accompanied by Parks' own album Jump!. The books contain sheet music for selected songs from the album. Parks also published a book called Fisherman & His Wife in 1991, which came packaged with a cassette.
- Dombal, Ryan. "5-10-15-20: Van Dyke Parks The veteran songwriter and arranger on the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, and more.". Pitchfork.
- Alex McNeil, Total Television, New York: Penguin Books, 1996, p. 111
- http://www.rbmaradio.com/shows/van-dyke-parks-fireside-chat Van Dyke Parks, during his Fireside Chat with Red Bull Music Academy
- 'MUSICIAN MAGAZINE Feb 1985; Copyright 1985 and 2000 by Timothy White
- http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2013/may/09/van-dyke-parks-victimised-brian-wilson-buffoonery The Guardian, Thursday 9 May 2013 "Van Dyke Parks: 'I was victimised by Brian Wilson's buffoonery'" by Dorian Lynskey
- http://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Article/audio-van-dyke-parks-part-3-1993 Barney Hoskyns, Rock's Backpages Audio, 16 June 1993
- Interview with Bob Claster, 1984. http://www.bobclaster.com/radioshows/Van%20Dyke%20Parks.mp3
- Sullivan, Denise. "he Day Van Dyke Parks Went Calypso...". Bananastan.
- Snapes, Laura (March 1, 2013). "Van Dyke Parks to Release Songs Cycled, First Album of New Material Since 1989". PitchforkMedia. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
- Stan Ridgway discography, Mosquitos, http://www.stanridgway.com/disco/stanard/mos.html
- Hoskyns, Barney (2007). Hotel California: The True-Life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and Their Many Friends. John Wiley and Sons. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-470-12777-3.
- Frank, Josh; Buckholtz, Charlie (August 2008). In Heaven Everything Is Fine. New York: Free Press. p. 103. ISBN 978-1-4165-5120-1.
- The Music of Van Dyke Parks
- musicOMH interview with Van Dyke Parks, 2011
- 80-minute 1984 KCRW radio interview by Bob Claster A Visit with Van Dyke Parks
- Van Dyke Parks on creativity, an interview with about-creativity.com May 3, 2007
- Van Dyke Parks at the Internet Movie Database
- The Oxford American Book of Great Music Writing (Foreword by Van Dyke Parks). University of Arkansas Press. 2010. ISBN 978-1-55728-950-6.