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Van Dyke Parks

Van Dyke Parks
Van Dyke Parks in late 1967.
Background information
Birth name Van Dyke Parks
Born (1943-01-03) January 3, 1943 (age 77)
Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Origin Los Angeles, California
Genres Worldbeat,[1] experimental pop,[2] film scores
Occupation(s) Composer, songwriter, arranger, performer, record producer, director, actor
Instruments Keyboards (harpsichord, organ, piano, synthesizer), accordion, clarinet, cello, vocals
Years active 1953–present
Labels Warner Bros., MGM, Bananastan, Bella Union
Associated acts The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, The Esso Trinidad Steel Band, The Greenwood County Singers, Hal Willner, Harry Nilsson, Haruomi Hosono, Harpers Bizarre, Inara George, Joanna Newsom, Lowell George, Little Feat, Mighty Sparrow, The Mojo Men, Phil Ochs, Randy Newman, Ringo Starr, Ry Cooder, Silverchair, The Steeltown Two
Notable instruments
Moog modular synthesizer[3]

Van Dyke Parks (born January 3, 1943) is an American composer, arranger, record producer, instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, author, and actor. Parks is perhaps best known for his collaborations with musician Brian Wilson, and especially for his contributions as lyricist to the Beach Boys' Smile project. Besides numerous collaborations with the Beach Boys, he has worked with such notable performers as Phil Ochs, Haruomi Hosono, The Byrds, Tim Buckley, Little Feat, Loudon Wainwright III, Rufus Wainwright, U2, Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, Ry Cooder, Joanna Newsom, Grizzly Bear, Inara George, Silverchair, Kimbra, and Ringo Starr.

AllMusic describes Parks as: "In a field where the term 'genius' is handed out freely, [he] is the real article. As a session musician, composer, arranger, lyricist, and singer, he's contributed significantly to several decades' worth of inimitable masterpieces credited to other artists, as well as generating two or three masterpieces of his own."[4] In addition to producing other artists, Parks has released several studio albums of his own recordings: Song Cycle, Discover America, Clang of the Yankee Reaper, Jump!, Tokyo Rose, Orange Crate Art, Songs Cycled, and one live album, Moonlighting: Live at the Ash Grove. Parks has also established himself in motion pictures, and over the years has directed, arranged, produced, and composed soundtracks for a great number of theatrical films and television shows. On occasion, he has even taken small acting roles.

Early life

Born in 1943 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi as the youngest of four children, he was raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana. His older brothers played brass instruments.[5] His father Richard Hill Parks III was a doctor who served as chief psychiatric officer in the Dachau liberation reprisals.[6] Having studied with Karl Menninger, Richard's specific medical specialties were neurology and psychiatry, and he was the first doctor to admit African-American patients to a white southern hospital.[7] Richard was also a part-time clarinetist, and had a dance band to get through med school: Dick Parks and his White Swan Serenaders.[8][9] Van Dyke's mother was a Hebraic scholar.[5]

Growing up, there were two grand pianos nestled in the family living room, and at age 4, Parks began studying the clarinet.[9] He attended the American Boychoir School in Princeton, New Jersey, studying voice and piano,[8] and would sing "Gershwin, Schoenberg, atonal music, everything".[10] Parks also sang the role of soprano with the Metropolitan Opera in 1953.[9] 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.[10][11][12] Parks has said that the first record he ever purchased may have been Dean Martin's "Memories Are Made of This."[9]

He began his professional career as a child actor. Between 1953 and 1958 he worked steadily in films and television, including the 1956 movie The Swan starring Grace Kelly. He appeared as Ezio Pinza's son Andrew Bonino on the NBC television show Bonino.[13][14] 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.[14]

Parks majored in music at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he studied from 1960 to 1963[15] and developed an interest in Mexican music. In 1962, Parks began studying acoustic guitar. 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.[10]

Music career


Upon dropping out of Carnegie Tech in early 1963, he relocated to Los Angeles with the intent of being involved with the growing west coast beatnik subculture, and to play with his older brother Carson Parks as The Steeltown Two (later enlarged to three), which eventually became the folk group The Greenwood County Singers. The group included future RCA Records producer and recording artist Rick Jarrard. Parks later said of this decision, "Going to California meant I escaped John Cage. I escaped the abstractions, the music you can't remember, the highbrow angst."[6] The two Parks brothers performed together at various coffeehouses around San Diego, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco.[16] One of the people in attendance at a Santa Barbara performance turned out to be future Byrds founder David Crosby, who at the time remarked to friend David Lindley, "If they can get away with it, so can we."[6][17] While in California, Parks attempted to land a job performing on the television show Art Linkletter's House Party but was not accepted.[15] Parks took a short hiatus from this group, briefly moving to New England[citation needed] to be part of The Brandywine Singers,[18] earning up to $3,000 a week.[19]

In 1963, his older brother Benjamin Parks, a French horn player, was killed in an auto accident while serving in the Vietnam War, one day before his 24th birthday.[20][21] Terry Gilkyson was who informed Parks of the news, and to help make up for it, hired Parks as an arranger for his song "The Bare Necessities" which would later feature in the Disney animated feature The Jungle Book.[20]

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 being excised from the body of music with the advent of folk music gone electric. So I started to learn piano."[22] 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."[18][22] However, he was favorable to Bob Dylan's The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, and Parks has said to have been impressed with Dylan's "speaking-voice" style. Accordingly, "I also looked at his written lyrics and realized that he didn't capitalize his letters. He was trying to copy e.e. cummings and, while it was transparently imitative, I thought it was a good position."[10]

Recorded by many artists including Bobby Vee, Ruthann Friedman, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, and Jackie DeShannon, "High Coin" has been described to use wordplay and free association similar to subliminal advertising.[23] In this particular version by Harpers Bizarre, Parks contributed background vocals.[24]

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By 1964, Parks was growing more and more interested with songwriting. Parks said that while bass player Hal Brown of The Brandywine Singers drove him sight-seeing around a decrepit "almost-ghost town", the two had a chance encounter with the San Francisco group The Charlatans in an old saloon. The group derided the 21-year-old Parks for his "preppy" and "square" appearance. Parks responded by showing off a song he had just recently written, named "High Coin", which impressed the group so much so that they asked if they could record it. After agreeing, The Charlatans' version of "High Coin" received high airplay in San Francisco, which established Parks within the hippie counter-culture.[19] Parks shortly thereafter quit The Brandywine Singers and signed an artist contract with MGM Records. For the label, he would record the singles "Number Nine" and "Come to the Sunshine", which did not succeed commercially. They were both produced by Tom Wilson. Two years later, Parks' compositions written for other artists were becoming known for their lyrical wordplay and sharp imagery. Producers Lenny Waronker and Terry Melcher were reportedly obsessed with the song "High Coin" in particular,[6] and Waronker contacted Parks to persuade him to switch to Warner Bros. Records.[11] The two then turned their attention to the relatively unknown group The Tikis and transformed them into the novelty act Harpers Bizarre, which became a success for the label.[4] Harpers Bizarre performed a few of Parks' compositions on their albums, and Parks himself appears on the recordings alongside other uncredited musician friends.[6] During this period, Parks worked frequently as a session musician, arranger and songwriter, and became acquainted with future close friends Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, and Beach Boys bandleader Brian Wilson. Parks also performed on The Byrds' album Fifth Dimension, and declined an offer by David Crosby to join the band.[25]

In 1965, Parks briefly joined Frank Zappa's The Mothers of Invention on stage, where he was referred to as "Pinocchio."[17] After being asked why he left, he said "because I didn't want to be screamed at",[21] although he did attend sessions for the Mothers' 1966 album Freak Out!.[citation needed] At some point, he did perform at least one solo date with guitarists Steve Young and Steve Stills as the opening act for the Lovin' Spoonful.[26] They performed as "The Van Dyke Parks."[27] Parks would soon write a song for Young entitled "The All Golden."[11] He was also later offered to be part of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but declined.[25]

Meeting Brian Wilson

[Brian Wilson] was the force. Real convincing. 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.

—Van Dyke Parks, 2011[10]

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 wresting that trophy out of the hands of those interlopers."[22] Parks has gone on to call Wilson "the biggest event of that era," but is hesitant to label him a "genius," believing Wilson to be more "a lucky guy with a tremendous amount of talent and a lot of people collaborating beautifully around him."[10]

Parks first became acquainted with Brian Wilson sometime in mid-1965, when David Crosby invited Parks to Wilson's home to hear a four-track dub of the Beach Boys' forthcoming "Sloop John B" single.[28] In February 1966, both Parks and Wilson reconnected at a lawn party thrown by Terry Melcher. In Wilson's mostly 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."[22] 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.[10]

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.[22] During the recording of "Good Vibrations" in 1966, Parks claims to have suggested to Wilson while attending a session to have the cellist play triplet notes.[3] Impressed by the results, 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 his solo career. 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."[29] Recording sessions ground to a halt soon after, as Wilson became increasingly withdrawn, and the album was shelved a few months later.[18][22]

Song Cycle and aftermath

Main article: Song Cycle (album)

Sometime in the mid-1960s, Parks visited Frank Sinatra while working at Warner Bros. Sinatra was dispirited by the rise of rock, and was considering retirement. To help alleviate this, Parks pitched his brother Carson's song "Somethin' Stupid" as a duet for Sinatra and his daughter Nancy. Purportedly on Lee Hazlewood's advice, Sinatra recorded "Somethin' Stupid", and it became his first million-selling single. This bought credit for Parks at Warner Bros, and they proceeded to fund Parks one single: a cover of Donovan's "Colours" from his 1965 album Fairytale. It was credited to "George Washington Brown"—a fictitious pianist from South America—purportedly to protect his family from the potential infamy of his "musical criminology."[3] "Donovan's Colours" received an ecstatic two-page review by Richard Goldstein which convinced the label of Parks' ability.[6]

By combining orchestral textures and traditional Americana-meets-psychedelic pop song structure, Song Cycle formally established Parks' signature approach of mining and updating old American musical traditions of Tin Pan Alley and Dixieland.

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In 1967, Parks completed his first solo album, Song Cycle, produced by Lenny Waronker. Besides original compositions by Parks, Song Cycle includes interpretations of Randy Newman's "Vine Street", Donovan's "Colours", and the traditional "Nearer, My God, to Thee." The album's production reportedly cost more than US$35,000 (equal to US$240,000 today), 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 standalone 7" single: the A-sided "The Eagle and Me" backed with "On The Rolling Sea When Jesus Speak To Me", which also sold poorly.

Parks has been critical of the flower power movements which occurred toward the end of the decade, saying "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 added, "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."[10]

The aftermath of his work on Smile and Song Cycle left Parks wanting to focus more behind-the-scenes and with lesser-known artists such as Randy Newman and Ry Cooder, and expressed discontent with the aspect of being "typecast" by his songs.[6] The 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill was also life-altering for Parks and changed his "very reason for being." Sometime after, he met the Esso Trinidad Steel Band, a Trinidadian calypso band who 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."[30] What had begun as Parks' desire to popularize calypso at that point became his focal point, and he would work with the steel band the next several years. Speaking about his life then, Park stated "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."[10]

During the late 1960s, Parks became one of the first owners of a prototype Moog synthesizer and recorded a number of experimental advertising jingles for various companies such as Datsun and the Ice Capades.[3] Parks plays the Moog on the Biff Rose song "Ain't No Great Day, from Rose's second LP, Children of Light. Parks was also instrumental in the genesis of the 1970 album In a Wild Sanctuary by electronic outfit Beaver & Krause. Reportedly, while having lunch with the duo, Parks suggested that they record an ecological concept album through the use of field recordings and synthesizers.[31] It was also Parks and Randy Newman that helped the duo get signed to the Warner Bros. label.[32]


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. Parks also 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 Parks, "Everything was directed to making it a proper, political, green album."[30] This direction was continued in the 1975 release Clang of the Yankee Reaper.

Lowell and I were making up a tune called "Sailin' Shoes." The group walked in, unannounced. They wanted me to make them "The California Sound." I wasn't sure what they were talking about, and thought they should leave. I told them I was too busy. We were in the control room, and it was out of control. Lowell walked over to their briefcase, next to their manager. It was opened, and filled with brand-new $100 bills. Lowell walked over to the briefcase, fondelling it tenderly, and announced "...I think we can make music out of this!" So we did.

—Van Dyke Parks, 2013[33]

In the early 1970s, Parks was brought in to produce the third album by seminal Japanese folk rock band Happy End while working on Discover America at Sunset Sound Recorders. He also helped with the writing for the closing track "Goodbye America, Goodbye Japan" ("さよならアメリカ さよならニッポン" "Sayonara America Sayonara Nippon"?) which ended up becoming a number one hit in Japan and established the group.[33] Sometime after, Parks became acquainted with member Haruomi Hosono, who would go on to be one of the founding members of the electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra. Parks went on to produce Hosono's solo album Hosono House, and for the next few decades participated in several related projects with Hosono.[34]

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[citation needed], and contributed vocally to "A Day in the Life of a Tree" and the writing of "Sail On, Sailor." Several songs with his lyrics, written during the Smile sessions, appeared on later Beach Boys albums, including "Surf's Up," "Heroes and Villains," and "Cabinessence.'

In September 1970, Parks was offered the job of heading the audio/visual department of Warner Bros. records.[35] This department was the earliest of its kind to record videos to promote records.[36] Parks made the department up by himself and had few employees at Warner Bros.. Together, they made more than a dozen promotional films documenting a variety of artists which include Ry Cooder, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Captain Beefheart. They were by nature documentary films, and could be rented or bought by any accredited music school. Parks later described the department as "promotional—but they could create an income stream for musicians who were hard-pushed into tours that required drugs to sustain them."[16] Although each production ran for about ten minutes and required at least $18,500 to create, one exception was for The Esso Trinidad Steel Band, which ran about forty minutes. It also happens to be one of two films known by Parks to have survived since then, the other being a promotional video for Ry Cooder.

"Clang of the Yankee Reaper" is notable for being the only original Parks composition released on any of his solo albums between 1968 and 1984.

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Parks only recorded two albums during the 1970s, but he had 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.[10] 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."[29] Parks later 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."[10] Speaking about his department during this time, Parks stated "I provided that each artist would get 25% of the net profits of the rentals or sales. It was going to be a very promising market for the artist. Warners soon tired of what I thought was a fair equation of participation in creative profits, and basically isolated me."[16]

After Clang Of The Yankee Reaper, Parks 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."[29] 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; taking on as much work as he could to stay out of unemployment.[10][29]


Parks made a slight comeback in 1984 with the 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. Following up on the album, 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.

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."[29] 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.

He wrote "City of Lights", "It's a 'B' Movie", "Cutting Edge", and "Worthless", all of which were used in the film "The Brave Little Toaster" directed by Jerry Rees.[citation needed] 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.[10]

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. To promote the album, he performed some shows in Japan with musicians such as Haruomi Hosono, Syd Straw, harmonicist Tommy Morgan, and steelpan player Yann Tomita.[37]


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 to which he had been subject. 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.[21]

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.


File:Joanna Newsom tunes harp.jpg
In 2006, Parks collaborated with singer Joanna Newsom on the orchestral arrangements for her second album, Ys, which received widespread critical acclaim.

Parks' association with Australian rock band Silverchair began with his work on their fourth studio album Diorama in 2002. Parks was attracted to the music of lead singer and guitarist Daniel Johns and has stated that what most attracted him to the band was Johns' courage. 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 was contacted by Wilson in 2003 to help with preparing a live performance of Smile. He agreed, 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, 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.

Parks worked with Inara George on a record released in 2008, An Invitation, and they performed two songs together on January 8, 2008 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, as part of the program Concrete Frequency: Songs of the City.

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 December 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.[38]


See also: Songs Cycled

In 2010, Parks stated "At this point, I don't have an album in me. But I have some songs, so I'm putting them out as 45 rpm stereo records this summer."[10] 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. Parks has also stressed the importance of the singles' artwork, contributed by visual artists such as Klaus Voorman, Ed Ruscha, and Art Spiegelman. Artist Charles Ray also sculpted two life-size statues of Parks.[39][40]

Sometime during August 2011, Parks was contacted by electronic musician Skrillex for orchestral arrangements. Parks elaborated in 2013, "When Skrillex called me up, I'd never heard of him. I pretended I knew who he was. "'Send me the piece, and if I feel able, I'll do it.' I don't have any hobbies, you know. I love music; I do it everyday [sic]. And he said, 'Oh, thank you, Mr. Parks. We will destroy the world.' I said, 'Okay...' I Google him and there he is, on YouTube, in front of 30,000 people, pouring beer onto a laptop computer, at which point the crowd jumps into the mosh pit and has an erection.…I have two things I can do: Run away from all this in horror because I’m so superior, or dig in and serve and try to bring hope to the hopeless. That can be done behind the curtain, and that’s where I’m very comfortable working.…I treat every job as if it were the very thing that will define me. Nothing is beneath me. I think that is evident to people who ask my best."[39] His arranging work was released in December 2011 as the iTunes-exclusive bonus track "Skrillex Orchestral Suite by Varien" on the Bangarang EP.

In November 2011, after 44 years, a compilation box set of the Beach Boys' Smile sessions was finally released by Capitol Records. Parks was personally absent from The Smile Sessions' advertising campaign and liner notes, and refused to comment on the box set, despite initially giving his approval.[40][41][42] In promotional interviews for The Smile Sessions and the Beach Boys' 50th Reunion Tour, Mike Love suggested that Smile collapsed due to substance abuse, and that the project was heavily influenced by Parks' drug use. One interview included an off-the-cuff comment by Brian Wilson saying that it was Parks who introduced him to LSD and amphetamines,[43] something Parks has previously denied.[6][22] Later in 2011, Parks formally responded to these claims via his web site in a post that accused Love of Mammon and historical revisionism.[44] In February 2013, The Smile Sessions went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Historical Album.[45]

While in Tokyo in January 2013, Parks performed with Haruomi Hosono for the first time in years.[34] In March 2013, Parks announced the release of Songs Cycled, which compiled his six 2011–12 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.[46] Also in March, Parks performed at the 2013 Adelaide Festival with Daniel Johns and Kimbra.[47] In September 2013, Parks curated a "Best-of" CD by New Orleans pianist/composer Tom McDermott entitled Bamboula. Parks paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Kennedy assassination by releasing a new original composition entitled "I'm History" on November 22.[48]

Parks underwent unsuccessful hand surgery in 2014, causing his hands to freeze after about forty minutes of playing piano. On May 9, 2015, Parks performed what he called his "final piano performance" at the Largo in Los Angeles. Guest performers included singer Gaby Moreno, songwriter-producer Joe Henry, Grizzly Bear's Edward Droste, New Zealand singer-songwriter Kimbra and jazz guitarist-composer Grant Geissman, among others. On upcoming projects, Parks said: "[It will] set poetry to music, to underscore poems. So I will still be performing once I get that done. I will be looking to find a celebrated string quartet to take things to an irreducible minimum. I can pick up a quartet in Peoria, or in Europe, to perform something like this. I also hope to find a film project that interests me."[49]


Studio albums
  • Idiosyncratic Path: Best Of Van Dyke Parks (1996)
  • Arrangements: Volume 1 (2011)
  • Super Chief: Music For The Silver Screen (2013)

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[citation needed], Popeye (with Harry Nilsson), and The Company, and for the Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special.

Parks had four songs featured in the 1987 animated 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.



Year Title Role Also composer
1956 The Swan George
1959 A Gift for Heidi Peter
1971 Love It or Leave It Himself / Songwriter
1980 Loose Shoes Indian No. 2
1980 Popeye Hoagy – the Piano Player 13px
1985 The Beach Boys: An American Band Himself
1988 Ry Cooder & The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces: Let's Have a Ball Himself
1988 Vibes Dr. Weiner
1990 The Two Jakes Francis Hannah 13px
1991 He Said, She Said Priest
2007 The Old, Weird America: Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music Himself
2009 The People Speak Himself
2010 Who Is Harry Nilsson Himself
2010 All You Need Is Klaus Himself
2010 Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune Himself


Year Title Role Notes
1953 Bonino Andrew Bonino Series regular
1953 The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse Episode: "The Glorification of Al Toolum"
1954 Goodyear Playhouse Episode: "Here's Father"
1954 Ponds Theater Elisha Episode: "Elisha and the Long Knives"
1954 Campbell Summer Soundstage 2 episodes
1955 The Elgin Hour Richie Dane Episode: "Crime in the Streets"
1954-1955 Studio One in Hollywood Lawrence Alden / Robbie / Eddie Stone 3 episodes
1955 Windows The Boy Episode: "The Calliope Tree"
1956 Kraft Theatre Episode: "The Devil as a Roaring Lion"
1956 The Alcoa Hour Ted Episode: "Man on Fire"
1956 Star Tonight Episode: "A Trip to Czardis"
1956 General Electric Theater Horace Episode: "The Golden Key"
1956-1957 The Kaiser Aluminum Hour Boy / Bobby 2 episodes
1959 Brenner Jay Joplin Episode: "Family Man"
1982 Faerie Tale Theatre The Musician Episode: "The Tale of the Frog Prince"
1990 Twin Peaks Jack Racine Episode: "Episode 12"


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  28. ^ The Smile Sessions interactive "Smile Timeline" for iTunes
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  35. ^ 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. 
  36. ^ Frank, Josh; Buckholtz, Charlie (August 2008). In Heaven Everything Is Fine. New York: Free Press. p. 103. ISBN 978-1-4165-5120-1. 
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  42. ^ Beta, Andy (October 31, 2011). "Van Dyke Parks discusses 'Arrangements,' Skrillex collaboration". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  43. ^ Hoskyns, Barney (June 2012). Mojo.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  44. ^ Parks, Van Dyke. "'Twas Brillig: Van Dyke Parks answers the general inquisition (viz "author" Mike Eder et al) on the Beach Boys' reunion and Smile.". Bananastan. Retrieved June 2013. 
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  49. ^ Lewis, Randy (May 12, 2015). "Van Dyke Parks gives his 'final performance' on the piano". The Los Angeles Times. 

External links

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