Thursday 27 April 2017

The life - and sounds - of Brian

Wouldn't it be nice to hear Brian Wilson perform the masterpiece Pet Sounds in its entirety? Well, that is going to happen in July in Dublin

Dublin bound: The Beach Boys deity Brian wilson
Dublin bound: The Beach Boys deity Brian wilson
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Conversation would be much improved by the constant use of four easy-to-understand words: I do not know. Any conversation with The Beach Boys deity Brian Wilson would have to include those words in practically every other sentence, even if he didn't actually utter those words at all.

A genius by any definition of the word, and in any era, or century, the man who wrote Help Me, Rhonda, Surfin' USA and California Girls is not exactly conventional or even vaguely a chatterbox or even particularly linear in his thoughts, for a variety of reasons (it was said that Wilson believed that playing Mrs O'Leary's Cow in the studio for the sessions for the Smile album in 1966 had caused bushfires in California.) When you are privileged to meet him, however, that privilege of sharing some time with him is tinged with a certain perplexity. He just wasn't made for these times.

I remember saying to Brian that it must have made him feel good to know that The Beatles would never have made Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in June, 1967 without hearing Pet Sounds in May 1966. "That's nice,"he replied.

I tried to giddy him along by telling him that he was the Mozart of pop music in the 1960s. "Uh huh" came the answer.

Leonard Bernstein once described you as the one American pop composer to be taken seriously. "I remember him saying that, yeah," Brian answered. "It pumped my ego up, because it was Leonard Bernstein himself saying it. It wasn't like just anybody saying it. But because he said it, it meant a lot to me."

Was Smile your teenage symphony to God? "I don't think so. It was just a record I made."

Do you have regrets about the time you spent as a recluse? Do you see that as time wasted when you could have been writing something on a par with Pet Sounds and Smile?

"No. Not wasted," he said. "I took too many drugs," he added of the late 1960s (when around that period in his life a sort of mental illness - to quote Lester Bangs - "clamped a choke-hold on him". As Brian himself said last year to publicise his memoir I Am Brian Wilson: "I've told a lot of people don't take psychedelic drugs. It's mentally dangerous to take. I regret having taken LSD. It's a bad drug.")

Do you really think playing Mrs O'Leary's Cow in the studio had sparked fires in California?

"I heard that too."

I asked Brian did it make him sad that the bright optimism of the 1960s seemed to turn so horribly wrong for America? Vietnam? Richard Nixon? Charlie Manson?

"It was sad. Charlie Manson wasn't good."

What did you think of John F Kennedy? "I liked Kennedy.¨

And Richard Nixon? "I liked him."

Wasn't he a crook who got found out? "He was a nice man."

So is Brian Wilson, who with his brothers Carl and Dennis, cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine, helped created the 1960s - and its warm sunshine-y positive vibe - with The Beach Boys. Nowhere is that bright sunshine-y optimism better reflected than on the aforesaid pop piece de resistance Pet Sounds, which Brian will be performing "in its exact running order" at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin on July 25 to celebrate its 50th anniversary. To say it is a good album is a bit like saying Oscar Wilde had a good turn of phrase, or Roy Keane was good in the tackle, or Enda Kenny's days are possibly numbered.

In 1966, the then 23-year-old Brian released an album that - according to Rolling Stone magazine - "had leading musical figures struggling to match his technical innovation, lyrical depth and melodic genius." The magazine goes on; "Half a century later, it's questionable whether anyone has."

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