This is Part II of a three-part series focusing on the song “Cabin Essence” from The Beach Boys SMiLE album sessions. In this second installment excerpt, illustrator Frank Holmes explains the imagery to the second piece from the SMiLE project, intended for the song “Cabin Essence.” The following excerpt was written by Frank and appeared in Issue #94 of Endless Summer Quarterly magazine.
In the upper left of this panel is a circle with two cabins with smoke coming out of the chimneys. “I’ll give you a home on the range.” The earth, an important feature, is colored yellow. These cabins represent the white settlers staking claim to the land previously occupied by the Plains Indians. The land was acquired as homestead through treaties, or just taken by the settlers as their own. Opposite this circle is another circle with three teepees symbolizing a situation of limited land rights and territories? Ownership of land was foreign to the indigenous people. How can anyone own the God-given land? The blue sky above is a reminder of the Father. These people faced massive changes in their way of life as the westward expansion altered their future forever. “In the land, in the dust, trust that you must catch as catch can.”
There is a diagonal opening that descends down the middle of the panel, and separated the two opposing worlds. Over this diagonal shaft is an incomplete railroad track in top view, that is yet to connect these two worlds. Overlapping the tracks are images of three Coolies who worked to complete the Trans-Continental Railroad. “Who ran the Iron Horse?”
“Have you seen the gran Coolie” … This is a play on words. In my opinion, this comes from the Woody Guthrie folk era. He wrote a song about the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River, in the state of Washington, (“Roll on Columbia”). Behind the Coolies and the tracks, there is an excavated cornfield minus a crow. “Over and over the crow cries, uncover the cornfield.”
“‘The Grand Coulee Dam’ alluded to the Chinese laborers who built these railroads. They brought the railroads together with a golden spike. I keep that picture – of the golden spike – to this day on my wall.” — Van Dyke Parks
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