Although as the Rust’s ‘music man’ I am entrusted with commenting upon all kinds of music and performer, like any human being I have my heroes. A personal favourite of mine is Brian Wilson, the mastermind behind the Beach Boys, whom I regard as one of the greats of the past seventy five years.
Most readers will be aware of the Beach Boys story, which began with three brothers, a cousin and a pal from school. Of how the sensitive Brian, barely out of his teens, became chief composer and (almost uniquely in those days for someone that young) producer of their music. Of how he sacked his overbearing father, their original manager, and eventually suffered a nervous breakdown, opting to stay at home and write the music whilst the rest of the boys carried on touring the world, then grew slightly weird and then became one of the Sixties drugs casualties. Of how he spent the best part of three decades in anguished ‘retirement’ before reappearing about the turn of the century to enjoy a period of resurgent acclaim as he toured the world with a superb band of classy Beach Boys-worshipping musicians.
I’ve seen Brian in concert maybe six or eight times in the past ten years. Each has been a magical experience tinged with sadness. He remains a master of music – the concerts are superb – but one is always aware that at the centre is a damaged soul putting himself out there, albeit surrounded by the love and support of his family and friends.
I bought a copy ten days ago and last week played it in its entirety during a 90-minute car journey.
The results are disappointing. It’s well-produced, offers a wide range of musical vignettes, all of them in the famous Wilson style, but is wholly unremarkable. I’d go as far to say that it would be stretching it to award this outing 3 stars out of 5 – and this only on the basis that it is at least by Brian Wilson. I’d even dare to suggest that, had it been by an unknown artiste it would have merited 2 at best and indeed might not even have made it to public release at all.
That’s the great sadness of creativity. For me song-writing – like writing itself – is basically a craft. They say that most creative artists have at best a three to eight year period of true greatness and it’s true that there are not many musical composers in any genre that produce work beyond their fifties that – for originality – matches anything they managed before reaching thirty.
As a Brian Wilson fan, I’ll try anything he comes up with, simply because of who he is.
However, I cannot let go of the fact that his greatest period was between 1963 and 1967, before the breakdown that caused his infamous masterpiece Smile project to bite the dust.
These days I prefer to bask in the legendary tales such as that which produced one of my favourite Brian Wilson songs.
A year or so he had ‘retired’ from the Beach Boys, the other members of the band embarked upon a new album which became Carl And The Passions: So Tough (Capitol Records, 1972) to which most of them contributed songs. When they played the master to the record company, it was met with a degree of disappointment. It was regarded as ‘okay’ but (it was explained) – in the absence of a Brian Wilson composition – there were doubts about its commercial potential.
There was a problem. At the time Brian was not in a good place mentally or physically and had composed nothing of consequence in a long while. Nevertheless, members of the Beach Boys entourage went to see him in order to try and persuade him to come up with something.
Two or three weeks later, he had.
I think it was the iconic New Musical Express writer Nick Kent who once suggested that an inspired doodle by Brian Wilson such as this was worth 75% of the recorded output of all other artistes put together.
And so here it is – I invite my readers today to enjoy 3 minutes 40 seconds of pure Brian Wilson genius – courtesy of YouTube, the classic MARCELLA