Friday, June 20, 2003

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While listening to "Vegetables", from the suite of scraps of the legendary lost "Smile" sessions that were featured on the Good Vibrations-30 Years of the Beach Boys box set (it's over in the time it takes to type this convoluted sentence), I am happy to present a very special BSBdG: Brian Wilson, 61 years old today.

It's funny about my relationship to the Beach Boys' music. This is gonna get long, so you've been warned. When I was growing up, of course, I heard their hits on the radio and they were OK, but they didn't really grab me. I knew nothing about their place in the music scene of the day, the much-ballyhooed genius of Brian, or how Paul McCartney revered them, or anything like that. A few years later, when the Endless Summer two-fer came out and re-established them as a chart presence along with bringing them back into the public eye once more, I listened to a friend's copy but again no soap. Most of it sounded silly and trivial, like bubblegum pop music–Yummy Yummy Yummy or Shimmy Shimmy Koko Bop type stuff. Once again I declined to investigate the Boys. I remember seeing a TV special once where the Boys played a show in the early 70s, and they were in their long hair, beards and kaftans phase. I was a little curious and remember liking one song which Mike Love sang while playing an autoharp (Do It Again, I think). Then several more years went by and in the mid-80s I borrowed a big stack of those old Warner/Reprise Loss Leaders (you may remember-they sold for $2 and were two-disc samplers of then-current Warners artists) that a friend had, and one album contained the cut "Feel Flows"– a Carl Wilson song from the 1971 Beach Boys album Surf's Up. I was amazed, absolutely blown away by this impressionistic, gorgeously sung, almost prog-ish tune. I had to know more! What the hell was this? This is the Beach Boys? It didn't sound one damn bit like "Help Me Rhonda" or "Fun Fun Fun". Problem was, when I went to look for this album, or any others from that period of time, I was denied...they were all out of print. When I was watching TV one evening a bit later, I saw an ad for one of those K-Tel greatest hits-type collections featuring the Beach Boys, so I decided to order, since it was fairly cheap. Suddenly, when I listened to it, I developed an admiration for the music that I hadn't had before. 20 years of pent-up admiration suddenly broke through. I had become...a Beach Boys and Brian Wilson fan. Cue music: Bum-bum-bummm...Anyway, there was one question that kept bugging me, and information was not readily available about it: what happened to Brian? Why did he abort the Smile album? Why didn't he do much of anything with the group for the bulk of the Seventies? Of course, as the years went by, I eventually pieced together the story. I read the ghosted "biography" that Wilson supposedly wrote with his therapist, and several other things here and there including the wonderful book The Nearest Faraway Place by Timothy White, and those were helpful. I eventually acquired many more BB CD's, including the superlative Pet Sounds (an album that I had listened to as recently as 1989 and hadn't made an impression) and those 70s albums that had vexed me so much. I still don't have all the Brian/Beach Boys albums, but I have quite a few and I love just about all of them.

It remains a tragedy to me that things turned out for the Boys and Brian the way it did, even though I know they've had their successes along the way as well. I can't help but think about how today's musicians often take years to follow up successful albums, and everyone accepts this as part of the creative process. But in Brian's day, there was enormous pressure placed on him to write hits, and write lots of 'em, to keep the money coming in, and the Boys often released two records a year! Brian's fragile psyche soon caved in under the pressure, and when he presented his personal statement Pet Sounds to his group and the record company, trying to push the envelope and do something besides the established Beach Boys sound, he was treated with indifference and scorn. Heck, Capitol even put out a best-of LP while Sounds was still on the charts, which pretty much killed any chance it had of selling in significant numbers. This, combined with the drugs that were prevalent in the mid-60s, pretty much did Brian in. One can't help but wonder what if: Brian had had less pressure placed on him to be a hit factory and just be creative, and was supported by Capitol and his bandmates, what would have been. God Only Knows, I suppose...heh...

Anyway, happy birthday to ya Brian, and here's to many more.