top of page

Thom Zimny joins Frank Marshall for a new Beach Boys documentary, premiering on Disney+ this weekend

May 21, 2024

Filmmakers Thom Zimny (the award-winning director, editor, and archivist who is also Bruce Springsteen's longtime film/video collaborator and the director of the upcoming Road Diary: Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band,) and Frank Marshall (who's produced an astounding number of famous films directed by Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich and others, and launched his own impressive feature-length-documentary-directing career with 2020's The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart,) have co-directed The Beach Boys, streaming exclusively on Disney+ beginning this Friday, May 24, 2024... just in time for Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial beginning of summer here in the U.S. (How appropriate!)

The Beach Boys features never-before-seen footage and all-new interviews with The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks, and Bruce Johnston, interwoven with archival audio and images of the late Carl and Dennis Wilson. There's new interview footage of 1972-73 member Blondie Chaplin, as well, and archival audio of the late 1972-74 member Ricky Fataar. In addition, new interview footage of other famous musicians who've been greatly influenced by The Beach Boys is included, featuring segments with Lindsey Buckingham (who also did a bit of songwriting with Brian Wilson back in the eighties,) Janelle Monae, Ryan Tedder, and Don Was (who also has worked extensively with Brian Wilson on several of his solo projects over the years.)

photo courtesy of Walt Disney Studios - used with permission
photo courtesy of Walt Disney Studios - used with permission

The Beach Boys was produced with the cooperation and support of all surviving band members and the estates of those who have passed. “I’m super happy with the way the documentary turned out," said Brian Wilson upon the completion of the film. "They did an amazing job. It really brought me back to those days with the boys, the fun and the music. And of course, those incredible harmonies.”

photo courtesy of Walt Disney Studios - used with permission

The film was scored by Pearl Jam's Mike McCready, who previously scored Zimny's films Elvis Presley: The Searcher and The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash. "I love working with Mike," Zimny recently told us via email. "He always brings so many surprises to the film. He's an amazing composer, and I hope to do a lot more films with him."

photo courtesy of Walt Disney Studios - used with permission

The Beach Boys also marks the first time that Frank Marshall and Thom Zimny have directed a film together. Marshall and Zimny previously worked together in a producer-director relationship on The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash.

Recently the two filmmakers were kind enough to join Letters To You in recording a special podcast, during which they discussed with us their new film after letting us screen it in advance, as well as the enduring influence and importance of The Beach Boys. (Zimny even teased a bit his next upcoming project with Springsteen, shortly before the official Road Diary announcement was made on May 14.) You can listen to the podcast via our SoundCloud and YouTube platforms, using the embedded links below:

Of course, The Beach Boys' music has greatly influenced the music of Bruce Springsteen, as well. And there's no better time than right now - with the official release of The Beach Boys upon us - to grab our swimsuits, head to the beach, and take a deep dive into that sweet intersection of Paradise Cove and Asbury Park:

It all starts with The Beach Boys' songs, of course, and the various lyrical and musical influences that can be heard in the music that Bruce Springsteen - who certainly had many of those great Beach Boys records embedded into his adolescent musical mix - made on his own records years later. Here, then, are the key Beach Boys-influenced Springsteen tracks that stand out for us...

In terms of lyrical influence and connection, there's absolutely nothing that can top The Beach Boys' classic "Don't Worry, Baby," in relation to Springsteen's "Racing in the Street." In fact, the lyrics of "Racing..." could be heard very much as a straight-up "sequel" to "Don't Worry, Baby," moving the story and characters in "Don't Worry, Baby" forward to its heartbreaking conclusion. Both songs are sung in the first-person voice of an auto-racer, with verses focusing on the unnamed woman with whom he's fallen in love. Whether Bruce actually meant them to be heard as the same characters or not, what's much more important is that in each song, the auto-racing takes on much deeper psychological, psychosexual, and metaphorical meanings. That deeper psychological - and often melancholy - lyrical aspect of Beach Boys ballads like "Don't Worry, Baby," "In My Room," and "The Warmth of the Sun" also can be found in the lyrics of Springsteen songs like "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," "Independence Day," "My Hometown," and "This Depression," to name a few prime examples.

There's also the lingering possibility that the lyrics of The Beach Boys' single "Wendy" might have helped to inspire the name of the woman in "Born to Run." Yes, we are well aware of the "Peter-Pan-poster-on-Bruce's-bedroom-wall" theory, but in that same bedroom he also had "a 45 player right next to his bed so that he could just roll over and put a song on without having to get up." And maybe, just maybe, one of those 45s included The Beach Boys' "Wendy."

Actual and potential lyrical connections are one thing, but it wasn't until much later in Bruce Springsteen's career - the 21st Century, actually - that The Beach Boys' musical influence became a strong one, though in the late 1980s and early 1990s you could hear some of it creep in on occasion. Case in point: "All That Heaven Will Allow" from 1987's Tunnel of Love, which sounds like it actually could've been a single by The Beach Boys. The live versions of "All That Heaven Will Allow" performed on the 1988 Tunnel of Love Express Tour expanded this connection, with Beach Boys-style backing vocal harmonies provided by the players in The Horns of Love. And on Springsteen's very next studio album, 1992's Human Touch, the title track's keyboard interludes and vocals, as well as the arrangement of "I Wish I Were Blind," owe a lot to Brian Wilson's groundbreaking work in the studio.

More than fifteen years later, with another pair of back-to-back albums, Magic and Working On A Dream, Bruce totally let loose his inner Brian Wilson at last. Tracks like "Your Own Worst Enemy," "Girls In Their Summer Clothes," "This Life," and "Kingdom of Days" often sound very much like the best of Wilson's work, both with The Beach Boys and on his own. And on "This Life" especially, Max Weinberg channels his inner Hal Blaine, the late, great Wrecking Crew drummer who became a key Brian Wilson/Beach Boys collaborator in the studio, while Springsteen and a group of E Streeters deliver their best Beach Boys imitation on the track's closing harmonies.

Speaking of Working On A Dream, in regards to its opening track, plenty of – ahem – musically under-informed folks (including Gene Simmons himself) have incorrectly claimed that part of the melody of Springsteen’s song “Outlaw Pete” was swiped from KISS’s 1979 disco hit “I Was Made For Lovin’ You.” Bruce, however, explained to Rolling Stone that he actually was “ripping off” The Beach Boys’ 1967 track “Heroes and Villains,” which of course means that KISS ripped off The Beach Boys, too. Springsteen's next all-new studio album after Working On A Dream, 2012's Wrecking Ball, also featured an opening track with a small but apparent nod to The Beach Boys. That synthesized siren sound at the beginning of "We Take Care Of Our Own" sounds very much like the theremin riff that opens The Beach Boys' "Wild Honey."

Over the years, there also have been a few other notable Beach Boys/Bruce Springsteen intersections that occurred onstage, rather than in the studio. The 1973 and 1976 versions of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band occasionally added a bit of their take on a Beach Boys classic - either "Fun, Fun, Fun" or "Be True To Your School," depending on the night - to their performances of "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)." On June 1, 1985 at Bruce's first-ever concert in Ireland, which also was his first public performance as a married man, and featured what at that point was his largest concert audience ever, with an estimated 90,000 to 100,000 people in attendance, he performed a one-time-only full-length solo acoustic cover of The Beach Boys’ “When I Grow Up (To Be A Man).”

And check out this excerpt from Springsteen’s speech inducting Jackson Browne into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Class of 2004: “The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson, they gave us California as Paradise, and Jackson Browne gave us Paradise Lost. Now I always imagine, what if Brian Wilson, long after he'd taken a bite of that orange that the serpent offered to him... what if he married that nice girl in ´Caroline, No´ - I always figured that she was pregnant anyway - and what if he moved into the valley and had two sons? One of them would have looked and sounded just like Jackson Browne. Cain, of course, would have been Jackson's brother-in-arms, Warren Zevon. We love you, Warren. But, Jackson... To me, Jackson was always the tempered voice of Abel, toiling in the vineyards, here to bear the earthly burdens, confronting the impossibility of love, here to do his father's work.”

Brian Wilson, Blondie Chaplin, and Bruce Springsteen backstage at The PNC Bank Arts Center on July 1, 2015 - from Brian Wilson's official Facebook page

Bruce also has performed twice as a guest with Brian Wilson and His Band, both times in New Jersey:

*May 12, 2007 - The Brian Wilson Benefit Concert for The Count Basie Theatre Foundation - Red Bank, NJ (guitar on "Barbara Ann" and harmony vocals on "Love and Mercy") Springsteen and Wilson also co-autographed a Challenger surfboard that sold for $7,500 at the pre-concert charity auction.

*July 1, 2015 - The PNC Bank Arts Center - Homdel, NJ (harmony vocals on "Barbara Ann" and backing guitar on "Surfin' U.S.A.")

And as far as any Beach Boys members ever performing any Springsteen material, that's happened twice in the recording studio. The 1991 version of The Beach Boys provided beautiful, wordless backing harmonies on the Mighty Max & Friends/Killer Joe version of Springsteen's instrumental "Summer On Signal Hill," and in 2003 Mike Love recorded his Beach Boys-styled version of "Hungry Heart" for the various-artists album A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen.

But back to Bruce Springsteen paying tribute to The Beach Boys, rather than the other way around... In the studio, onstage, and even at the movies, Bruce Springsteen repeatedly has expressed his love for The Beach Boys and, especially, Brian Wilson:

The warmth of the sunglasses...and those surfboards! - Springsteen in shades, onstage with The Castiles (and, again 'cause we just can't note 'em enough, those beautiful surfboards) at Asbury Park, NJ's Ferndock Surf Shop, circa 1965 - from the Springsteen Family Archives and featured in Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen's 2021 book RENEGADES: BORN IN THE USA


bottom of page