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When We Get to Surf City: A Journey Through America in Pursuit of Rock and Roll, Friendship, and Dreams Hardcover – May 13, 2008

4.8 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1992, author and NPR commentator Greene was invited onstage to sing Surf City with the 1960s surf duo, Jan and Dean. Greene didn't know it at the time, but he would spend the next 15 years touring and performing with them. Greene narrates the tedium and joy of touring as a middle-aged man with other middle-aged men whose greatest celebrity was three to four decades in the past. Yet Jan and Dean were unlike any other oldies road show, for Jan had suffered injuries in a 1966 car accident so severe that they affected every moment of his life. Greene travels a circuit of state fairs, stadiums, amusement parks and corporate showrooms, living a grown-up version of his teenage fantasy. His main focus is the peculiarities of life in the heartland, the dynamics of performing and the deep, unspoken friendships among men who make their livings on the road. Greene also has a series of bizarre encounters with aging celebrities ranging from James Brown to Frank Sinatra. Throughout, Greene shows unusual sensitivity to detail. At times, however, one wishes he would have provided more background on his subjects, as the nuances of surf rock are pretty obscure to many under the age of 60. Overall, the structure of the book mirrors perfectly life on the road—a blur studded with moments of great intensity. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“There is something absolutely magical about Bob Greene's voice. No, not his voice onstage, singing backup with Jan and Dean. But his voice in this book, well, it just soars. It's a voice that is all at once lyrical and heartfelt and full of great humor. After a thousand summer choruses, Bob Greene's voice has never been better.” ―Jeffrey Zaslow, co-author, The Last Lecture

“I love this book. . .It takes me back to an age that, for all who lived through it, never ends: a time of sun and surf and fun before the cynicism and war and rebellion. . .Reading it, I am there again without a care and with friends I have never met, but whose music is as much a part of me as my closest relative. . .Wonderful, wonderful.” ―Cal Thomas, syndicated columnist

“Greene has distinguished himself as America's poet laureate of summer.” ―Baton Rouge Advocate

“Joyous, loving, funny and touching, like a salty breeze blowing memories across the page. And it puts that music-- that wonderful music-- right back in your head where it belongs.” ―Huntington Beach (California) Independent

“The perfect summer vacation book. . . .It takes you back to the feeling of those hot summer nights when you were younger, and every day was about fast cars, fast food, your favorite friends and favorite records.” ―Bob Sirott, One More Thing, NBC-TV

“A dream come true.” ―New York Post

“Four stars. . .revealing. . .hilarious. . .about the still-redemptive powers of rock and roll at any age, and, ultimately, of friendship.” ―Mojo magazine, Great Britain

“Bob Greene rode this perfect wave. . .back to cloudless blue skies and ‘two girls for every boy.' Back to burgers and shakes at the Dairy Queen and the thrill of the perfect song on the radio. Like The New Yorker's John McPhee, Greene has a writer's gift of breathing unexpected life into the seemingly mundane. . .real affection and poignancy.” ―The Christian Science Monitor

“Wonderful. . .masterful.” ―Hutchinson (Minnesota) Leader

“I didn't want this book to end. . .The ribbon of highway with its pleasures and perils is worth it all when you roll up to the next stage and unload your gear. The band, the audience and the music will soon become one again, and is there anything better than that?. . .Absolutely essential reading.” ―Bob Stroud, WDRV radio, Chicago

“Bob Greene is speaking your language. . . .The transforming power of music, how it can bring you right back to the first time you heard it, how it can make you feel sunny on a gray day, how it can be enough to make your life work. . .It gets right into your heart and soul.” ―Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

“For Bob Greene, touring the country and singing backup in a rock group was the equivalent of running away and joining the circus. Wasn't that everyone's dream at some time? . .This guy is amazingly versatile. He can write about anything and somehow make it relate to almost any reader.” ―North Platte (Nebraska) Telegraph

“A home run.” ―David Galassie, Associated Content

“One of the best books on music of the year. . .A sentimental journey through the heart of America. . . the true story of a rock and roll band that has been to the top of the charts and seen it all, only to have it quickly and brutally fall apart.” ―Crawdaddy magazine

“It's all golden. . .It's about being on tour with a band that brings summer everywhere they go, but more than that, it's a story of love and loyalty, and the freedom of the open road.” ―Ken Shane, Popdose

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; English Language edition (May 13, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1615545522
  • ISBN-13: 978-1615545520
  • ASIN: 0312375298
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #474,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Bob Greene's books make me nostalgic for a past that I never knew. He brought the Homefront to life in Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen. His novel, All Summer Long, made me want to take off across country. And, he manages to bring the music world of the 1960s to life in When We Get to Surf City: A Journey Through American in Pursuit of Rock and Roll, Friendship, and Dreams.

In 1992, Greene opened a letter from Gary Griffin, another reader who was caught up in his book, Be True to Your School. Griffin, who made his living as a musician with Jan and Dean's touring band, noticed an entry in that diary of 1964 about Greene's purchase of one of their albums. He invited Greene to meet the band, and suddenly, Greene's life, and his summers, took a dramatic change. For the next fifteen years, Bob Greene spent his summers meeting up with Jan and Dean, and their band, so he could first watch, and then perform, with them.

In midlife, Greene found himself living a dream. Each summer, he escaped with a group of "Lost Boys," men who lived to play and sing on stage, and enjoy their own company. In fine detail, Greene discusses life on the road, the good and the bad. He met the idols of his teen years, the Beach Boys, Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown, the Everly Brothers, and, of course, Jan and Dean. He tells the tragic story of Jan Berry, his car accident, and the changes in his life and career. At the same time, Greene observed Jan's courage, and his determination.

Every time I read Bob Greene's books, I feel as if I'm reading my husband's past. Greene is about the same age, and shares similar memories of rock and roll, small town Ohio, and growing up in the fifties and sixties. Greene and my husband could both be "Lost Boys," still searching for their youth.
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Format: Hardcover
I admit up front that I am a great admirer of Bob Greene's writing. I have enjoyed his prose for many years, starting with his columns for the Chicago Sun-Times and staying with him when he switched to the Chicago Tribune. I have not read all of his books, but I have read most of them. I guess what I like most about his writing is his ability to reach out and touch you, usually somewhere in the area of your heart. He has a way of capturing in words those sweet moments in life that we all experience and want to hold on to and he does it with such clarity and style that it leaves a bit of a sweet ache afterwards. I have always thought that the Beatles music would be the perfect sound track for my life. That is why I adored Bob's last book "And You Know You Should Be Glad" so much. But good music has been and always will be the sound track of all our lives and Bob's chronicle of his years touring with Jan and Dean is pitch perfect. There is something about the innocence and soft lyricism of the beach music scene that so perfectly captures that era and this is a sweet walk down memory lane.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the first Bob Greene book that I have read. I saw the jacket cover and title and was immediately attracted to the book. What an awesome read!!! Bob Greene takes you on a wonderful journey as a backup singer for Jan and Dean. You will feel as though you are travelling with them too! It is a very poignant story and will capture your heart!!

Simple America at it's finest....they tour all over our country to fairs, stadiums and festivals.

I have already ordered another Bob Greene book. I wish I could buy a few more.....but most of them are out of print.
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Format: Hardcover
I wholeheartedly agree with the earlier 5-star reviews and, especially, Amazon's product review --- I wouldn't change a word of it. Bob Greene's marvelous account of his fifteen years (1992-2004) of summer tours as a member of Jan & Dean's backup band filled me with joy. Greene is a national treasure, and, in this book, he reacquaints the reader with some of the truly amazing music that was being created by dozens and dozens of bands and individual musicians across America throughout the 1960s --- a magic time, when, every week, all across the country, a brilliantly written and performed pop tune exploded, fresh and unique, like a brand-new pocket universe, out of millions of teenagers' transistor radios.

If you're reading this review, you most likely know some of the history of Jan & Dean. From July 1963, when "Surf City" hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, until Jan Berry's auto accident in 1966, Jan & Dean released a steady stream of delightful singles that could easily hold their own against the best of the competition provided by the two leading geniuses of American popular music during that time: Brian Wilson and Phil Spector. Of the fourteen Jan & Dean songs that made the Hot 100 during this time period, nine were co-written by Jan Berry and five of those were collaborations with Brian Wilson. All of this changed when Jan Berry had a near-fatal auto accident in April 1966 that left him physically handicapped, with permanent speech and memory difficulties.

Despite Jan's health problems, Jan & Dean resumed performing and touring in 1978 and continued to do so until Jan's death in 2004. Bob Greene gives a rose-colored (only in the best sense of the term), but unvarnished and clear-eyed account of these tours starting in 1992.
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