Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Be True To Your School..."

...was released by the Beach Boys in October, 1963, on their fourth album, Little Deuce Coupe. A second version, above, appeared as a single on the flip-side of "In My Room."

(Note: This is Part II of "My Pilgrimage to Hawthorne, California." Click here for Part I. As I mentioned then, unless you're as big a fan of the Beach Boys as I am, you probably need read no further.)

The single version of "Be True To Your School" features (at about 1:09) a few bars of "On Wisconsin" in a tribute to the Hawthorne High School fight song, which used the same melody. In addition, the voices of the cheerleaders were supplied by the Honeys, a girl group which included Marilyn Rovell, Brian Wilson's girlfriend at the time.

The Honeys (the name a slang term for a female surfing groupie enthusiast) consisted of Rovell, her sister Diane and their cousin Ginger Blake. Brian Wilson and Marilyn were married about a year after "Be True To Your School" was released when Brian was 22 years old and Marilyn only 17. (They divorced in 1979.)

I was five years old and in kindergarten when "Be True To Your School" hit the airwaves in the fall of 1963. My oldest brother was fifteen at the time and a sophomore in high school. As younger brothers often do, I idolized him and his friends. I know it sounds like a cliche, but from the vantage point of my high school years -- the cynical, drug-addled, anti-war, Watergate-era 1970s -- the mid-1960s seemed like a much more innocent time. I doubt, for example, if my brother and his crowd drank or smoked in high school or even used much bad language. And premarital sex? Well, in his all-boys, North Shore Catholic school I'm pretty sure it was unheard of. Not unthought of, but unheard of.

(Ironically, Beach Boy Mike Love married his high school sweetheart, who was pregnant, shortly after graduation.)

But, as I said, I romanticized my brother's mid-1960s high school years and "Be True To Your School" was the perfect anthem for that generation of wholesome, clean-cut, madras plaid jacket-wearing youngsters who had nothing more serious to think about than this weekend's Big Game.

So I've often wondered over the years, what inspired Brian Wilson and Mike Love to write that song? What were their high school experiences like? Did they really get varsity letters for football and track? Was their high school filled with surfers, "rodders" and blonde, blue-eyed honeys? What were their schools really like? Well, it turns out I was finally in Hawthorne and could get a look for myself.

Let's start at the beginning.

If you walk west on W. 119th Street from the Beach Boys Historic Landmark to Prairie Avenue and then turn right (north) you'll pass Repossess Auto Sales, a Sofa Warehouse, and not one, but two smog inspection stations, Zack's Smog and G & D Smog Check (don't tell me: we're in southern California), before you see York Elementary School, above, across the busy street. Brian Wilson and his brothers probably walked the half-mile or so to York back in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

On the day I walked past the school there were a ton of seemingly happy children playing in the playground. But I kind of doubt they resembled the kids the Wilson brothers played with at York over sixty years ago

According to the 2010 census, Hawthorne's population of roughly 84,000 is over half Hispanic or Latino, almost a third African American and only about ten percent white. As that older woman who moved there from Minnesota told me, Hawthorne in the 1950s resembled a small Midwestern town when the Wilsons were growing up there.

But more about the town later.

As for York Elementary, it was surrounded, like many of the schools I saw in the Los Angeles area, by a high chain-link fence. (Was that to keep people like me out, or to keep the students in? I couldn't tell; many of the schools looked like prisons.)

When I walked down York Avenue between the two buildings I half-expected to get stopped by somebody. But by then the kids had gone inside and I was able to take a couple more pictures. Would Brian Wilson and his brothers even recognize this place?

Next: Hawthorne Middle School and beyond.

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