Be it the garden of our deepest collective memory, the yearning for physical and psychological wholeness in our present, or visions of our final release from suffering, paradise is the resultant allegory of lost youth, glorified in the archetypal mind yet irretrievable in the material world.
Veteran San Francisco media personality Steve Wagner was co-host, writer, and executive producer of the Bay Area television programs Reel Life and Filmtrip.
Steve has ghostwritten several published books, contributed articles on music, film, and popular culture to numerous publications, and presented lectures and workshops on music, art, and mythology throughout the U.S.
His book All You Need is Myth: The Beatles and Gods of Rock (2019), a study of the classic rock era through the lens of classical mythology, is the product of ten years of research and composition.
Day three of our twelve days of mythic rock archetypes focuses on Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, who bought the energy of the child to the fore in the rock mythology. Just as the child archetype represents both past (Eden) and future (heaven), and thus is the anthropomorphic representation of our concept of paradise, the Beach Boys embodied a modern mythic paradise—the California dream. Below is an excerpt from All You Need is Myth: The Beatles and the Gods of Rock, that explores Brian Wilson and our search for transcendence through innocence.
For the Beach Boys, the state that inspired a gold rush and built a Golden Gate Bridge is nearly a member of the band, so vital is its contribution to their music and mythos. Further, the paradise motif is so crucial to their appeal that their only later-day commercial successes are highly dependent on it. In 1974, after the Beach Boys had suffered several years of critical and commercial decline, Capitol Records, in attempt to squeeze the last penny out of their catalog, released a double album compilation of their early ’60s hits: Endless Summer. The title itself suggested immortality and paradise, while the cover featured a painting of the group in a paradisiacal setting, peering through island flora with the ocean waving in the background.
… paradise is the resultant allegory of lost youth, glorified in the archetypal mind yet irretrievable in the material world.
To general shock and surprise, Endless Summer went number one, became the best-selling album of the year, spent 155 weeks on the Billboard chart, and landed the now-bearded, thirty-something group on the cover of Rolling Stone. Then, in 1988, after a decade of poor sales and critical rebuke, the band released the single “Kokomo,” an explicit ode to an imaginary island paradise—it became a global chart-topper and one of the biggest hits of the decade. As for the mythic Kokomo in the song, the location is somewhere “off the Florida Keys,” in the very waters once believed to source the Fountain of Youth.
The symbols the Beach Boys share with classic paradise mythologies—perfect harmony, healing water, eternal youth, gold—are all metaphors for purity and incorruptibility, which are in turn qualities associated with infancy and childhood. The grief of innocence lost fuels the archetype of the child, which—while we age (and eventually die)—retains its exemplary pureness and remains focused on the future, in a sense allowing and encouraging us to believe in our own regenerative process. Be it the garden of our deepest collective memory, the yearning for physical and psychological wholeness in our present, or visions of our final release from suffering, paradise is the resultant allegory of lost youth, glorified in the archetypal mind yet irretrievable in the material world.
Transcending the sense of underlying energy and the point of direct experience that is beyond the physical world, the logic of the brain, and, most frustratingly, language.
Representing the deeper feminine qualities of inner wisdom and intuitive process, concerns of ecology and equality, possession of hidden knowledge, and emphasis on truth and integrity, attributes of countless mythic goddesses of the ancient world.
Everything we experience in our material world is realized and created through a dance with its opposite.