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Surfing Around: Surf Muzak

Thoughts on the nature of surf sonics.

I never could figure out what “surf music” had to do with riding a wave, other than hitching its appeal to the then-growing wave of surf enthusiasts and the whipsawing of its outer reaches in the far beyond. Surf music, and its specific sound, was introduced as merely part of the fabricated flood of “surf” products by non-surfing people, and soon became a dominant component of the lifestyle’s generally perceived identity.

Surfing, being a wave dance, does have a powerful relationship to music, just not so much what was billed, and ultimately later became tied to, as surf music. For me, at the time surf music became a thing, what actually permeated the feelings of the ride was jazz. I recall Wes Montgomery’s 1965 album Bumpin’ and Herbie Mann’s 1961 live recording of At The Village Gate as having a certain magical effect on our brains when we envisioned ourselves traversing a wave in stylish and rhythmic trims and moves. I even played those and other similar tunes in my mind when I paddled for one, although I left it behind when the ride actually began, being too absorbed in the act itself to fabricate a soundtrack to accompany it.

And what is wrong with surf music in that latter role? Perhaps, unlike jazz, it is too didactic, simplistic, and predictable to truly articulate the nuanced aesthetic of the wave dance. Admittedly, though, we did crank it up on the radio when in route to the beach.