My favourite Brian ever, ever, EVER, is Brian Wilson.
Brian Wilson has written and arranged music of sublime beauty. He is a genius. It’s an overused word, but I don’t misuse it here.
If you don’t understand or appreciate the Beach Boys, it’s probably because you haven’t really listened to the Beach Boys. Once you do, you will appreciate Brian Wilson.
I am listening to “I Get Around”, a 2 minute pop song from 1964. Harmonies; Brian’s clear falsetto; the guitar arrangement and those crisp, crisp handclaps. It’s an evocation of a vacation; of a teenage summer driving the car down to the beach. It ends, drifting into the xylophone opening of All Summer Long.
It’s a foretaste of the compositions and arrangements Brian would go on to do with The Wrecking Crew on Pet Sounds and the long dormant SMiLE. Just listen to “Heroes and Villains” from the remastered SMiLE project. Such complexity, such beauty.
It’s well known that Brian had his troubles; he spent much of the 1970 and 1980s quite ill, with disordered eating and sleeping, depression and auditory hallucinations which he self-medicated with alcohol and cocaine. Brian Wilson didn’t “overcome mental illness”, as the cliche goes. He lived through it, as the reality goes. These symptoms and disorders weren’t a result of taking too much acid, and had actually been around for quite a while.
Remember too (particularly when you see all the ridiculous “drug casualty” post SMiLE stories), that Brian was checked in (possibly at his own volition) to a psychiatric hospital in 1968 to treat his mental illness (and possibly try to help deal with long standing problems relating to his childhood abuse). This is a mental illness that is pretty much referred to directly in the hit single “Break Away”…
the aTantalus blog An Artist And A Machine from July 2012
Finishing SMiLE in 2004 in collaboration with Darian Sahanaja and original lyricist Van Dyke Parks was a fantastic achievement. To have seen your work as a failure for 37 years, and then to be able to listen to it, appreciate it, and work with it is a beautiful human achievement.
Some people retire at the end of their lives. Brian Wilson retired in the middle of his life, and then came back. I’m so glad he did.
Recommended reading and watching:
Catch a wave: the rise, fall and redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson by Peter Ames Carlin.
Brian Wilson presents Smile (2004) double DVD featuring the “Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the story of Smile” documentary, concert footage, interviews, backstage footage.