Rock N' Roll Dream:
A Conversation with Brian Wilson
Wilson is a genius!" Those were my thoughts as I stumbled
upon a Beach Boys movie on VH-1. The scene I stumbled upon
featured Brian directing a slew of the finest L.A. session
musicians, including bassist Carol Kaye and drummer Hal
Blaine who had virtually played on every hit record in the
'60's, for the incredible Pet Sounds album. Now as
you read this, keep in mind that before watching this scene
I never paid much attention to the Beach Boys, branding
them in my mind as another "cheesy pop group from the 60's."
Man, was I wrong!
OK, I admit I was intrigued. Therefore, I
decided that I would pick up a copy of Pet Sounds
to start discovering Brian's music. Pet Sounds was
brilliant! The album just blew my mind to the point where
I could not get enough of it! The music is powerful, intricate
and melancholic, yet very soothing to the soul. The lyrics
are beautiful and powerful within their simplicity. And
even though they were penned by Tony Asher, you get the
feeling that you're looking at a window to Brian's soul.
The song "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" proves to
be oh so right, because here we are roughly 35 years after
it's release and the amazingly fresh-sounding Pet Sounds,
is being re-discovered every day.
Pet Sounds is an album of firsts,
the song "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" marks the
first time the Theremin (Later used on Good Vibrations),
was used in a Rock record. Also, the song "God Only Knows"
marks the first time the word "God" was used in a commercial
music recording, which was pretty bold, given the time period.
Listening to Pet Sounds, you can't help but wonder
how it's possible that all these complex arrangements, both
instrumental, and vocal, can come from one man's mind to
create such an amazing symphony. The answer is simple: Brian
Wilson is a musical genius, a composer whose talent only
comes along once in a lifetime, a modern day Beethoven,
Bach, or Mozart.
is also a great singer, his voice is highly melodic and
emotional, his falsetto was the best in the business. (For
a sample of Brian's emotion-filled vocals, check out "Caroline
No", from Pet Sounds) He also created and directed
the "classic" Beach Boys sound, the four and five part vocal
harmonies. He revolutionized bass playing by developing
an unorthodox style, playing harmonies (at times in a different
key) instead of straight lines when no one was doing it.
He definitely influenced Paul McCartney's bass playing as
well as driving McCartney and The Beatles to compete with
his creations in an era where new sounds were popping up
every day and experimentation was the way of life for musicians.
The result? An album called Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's
Club Band. Would Sgt. Pepper's have existed without
Pet Sounds? Maybe. Personally, I don't think so,
at least not in it's present form. Let me explain, this
is not a knock on the Beatles, which were the greatest Rock
group in history, but when Pet Sounds first came
out, there was nothing like it. It was so revolutionary
that it went over people's heads at first. Long time Beach
Boy fans expecting "Fun, Fun, Fun" were confused. They came
around eventually. Listening to Pet Sounds inspired
Paul McCartney to push himself as well as the other Beatles
as musicians and songwriters to leave their safety zone
and expand their musical horizons. Paul has always expressed
his appreciation for Brian and his love of Pet Sounds.
Paul has even gone on record to say that Pet Sounds
is his favorite album, and that he bought each one of his
kids a copy, because "no one is musically educated without
knowing Pet Sounds." I happen to strongly agree with
Brian's follow-up to Pet Sounds,
the promising lost album Smile, was never released
as Brian abandoned the project due to lack of support from
his label and fellow Beach Boys. This broke his heart, and
although it sounded unorthodox at the time, Smile
would have made history. I have heard some of the tracks
from Smile and was duly impressed. I've witnessed
Sean Lennon saying that Smile is the greatest album
ever made. I, as well as thousands of other Brian Wilson
fans, really hope that Smile sees the light of day.
Seeking out Brian Wilson and his music
became an obsession that almost drove me to a frenzy, it
became an addiction. I had to discover Brian's music. I
had to discover what drove this man to write such intricate,
yet beautiful songs. I had to basically run out and start
buying all the CD's, videos, biography books, which I did
and I'm really glad I did for I really enjoy and appreciate
my Beach Boys/Brian Wilson collection these days. During
my Beach Boy immersion I learned a lot about Brian's late
brothers Carl, whose beautiful voice and immense talent
still stands tall, and Dennis, whose melancholic ballad
"Forever" instantly became a favorite.
I also discovered Brian's vast prowess as
a producer. Brian based his unique production style on the
great Phil Spector's "Wall Of Sound". And while Spector's
sound in mono is majestic, I much prefer Brian's production,
because the instruments stand out much more. As you are
listening to Brian's music, keep in mind that all he had
to work with was 8 (and at times 4) studio tracks. Also
keep in mind that Brian is deaf in one ear, an amazing fact
to know when you hear his music. But what really amazes
me is the way that Brian's music, in soothing fashion, touches
your soul. You can't help but feel happiness and peace,
even in the sad songs. I found that Brian shared his soul
with all of us, and it cost him dearly. The term "troubled
genius" fits Brian to a T. For many years Brian battled
various demons, many of which have been documented and I
will elect not to bring up, because at present time Brian
has defeated them and is happy. This became very clear during
Brian's live performance that I attended, where Pet Sounds
came alive right in front of the eyes and ears of all present.
The Oakdale Theatre crowd was overcome with an almost overwhelming
feeling of love and happiness. I obviously let the music
and the feeling flow through me and let me confess that
the only other time I felt like that was witnessing the
birth of my daughter, Arielle. That is the power of music,
that is why music exists, and that is why exceptional beings
like Brian Wilson are placed in our world, to spread a message
of love through music.
During my conversation with Brian,
I found him to be a man of few words, as for the most part,
he lets his music do the talking. His words come across
with a child-like honesty and naivete that's almost innocent,
and this innocence reflects in his music. It was truly an
honor to speak with Brian Wilson, a true musical genius.
of Shred: You're a genius.
Brian Wilson: Oh no, no I'm just a guy
who loves music. (Laughs) But thank you, though.
HoS: How does it feel to hear Pet
Sounds performed by your fine band and a symphony
BW: It's a thrill beyond all thrills!
It's just an indescribable feeling. It's unbelievable.
HoS: How would you describe a "Brian Wilson song?" Could
you describe the process of composing one of your songs?
BW: Yeah, I do it by Piano, and I don't collaborate any
HoS: So it's just going to be you
writing songs from now on?
HoS: Why are harmony vocals so appealing
to you and to your audience?
BW: Because it brings love. I feel love
when I hear harmony, I feel a lot of love inside of my body.
HoS: I think a lot of people feel that way when they hear
your music actually.
BW: Thank you.
HoS: It's just the truth man, your
music is timeless and brilliant. As a matter of fact, Paul
McCartney has gone on record and said that nobody's truly
educated musically without having heard Pet Sounds.
How do you feel about that?
BW: I agree with him, I think it's a
great album, it really is.
HoS: What were you feeling when Paul McCartney inducted
you into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame this summer?
BW: What was I feeling?
BW: Butterflies! (Laughs)
HoS: (Laughs) Where should someone who knows nothing about
you or the Beach Boys start listening to get an idea of
what your music is about?
BW: They should listen to Pet Sounds
first, and then listen to The Beach Boys - Love You.
In the song "Add Some Music to Your Day" you sing about
the importance of music in peoples' lives. Why is music
so important to your life?
BW: Because it brings love to me. I need
the love of music, don't I? I think I do.
HoS: Absolutely! Do you have any ideas
about how people could use music more effectively in their
BW: No. (Laughs)
HoS: I know you've sung about health
and other things.
HoS: As a matter of fact, I was just listening to "Too Much
Sugar" and I got a real kick out of it.
BW: Thank You!
HoS: Your brother Carl wrote you a
tribute song, "Like a Brother." How does that make you feel?
BW: Very proud, and yet kind of sorrowful
HoS: Did Carl get to play you that song before he passed
BW: No, he didn't.
HoS: There must be a lot of unreleased
Beach Boys material, "Smile," for instance. Are there any
plans to release this material maybe along the lines of
the Beatles' Anthologies?
BW: Sure I think so, yeah.
HoS: So you still have the "Smile" master tapes?
BW: We're not going to do anything with it until next year
HoS: So we can look forward to that. Are you telling me
that the "Smile" master tapes were not burned like it's
portrayed on the Beach Boys - An American Family movie?
BW: No, they were not burned.
How do you feel about that movie?
BW: I didn't like it, I thought it was
in poor taste. I didn't like the Charles Manson statement
(Brian is referring to a scene in the movie where Charles
Manson, with a demonic look in his face, tells Brian's brother
Dennis "We're your family now."). And it stunk. I thought
HoS: Really? So it wasn't accurate?
BW: Well, not really, some of it was
accurate, but some of it was in poor taste.
HoS: Will there be any new Beach Boys recordings?
BW: I don't know. I have no plans to work with them.
HoS: No plans?
BW: No, not with the Beach Boys, no.
HoS: How would your music have been different if you'd grown
up in New York or Boston?
BW: Oh, it's so hard to answer that question. (Laughs) I
HoS: (Laughs) Does California still play a part in your
BW: Yes. The weather and summertime especially.
HoS: We know about the Four Freshmen's influence on your
ideas about vocal harmonies. Were there any live acts you
saw that really knocked you out or influenced your idea
of what a performance should be?
BW: Yes, The Four Seasons too.
HoS: Would you like to work with Paul McCartney in the future.
The fans would absolutely love to hear that.
BW: I know they would, but I don't know if I have the guts
to work with him.
HoS: You don't?
BW: I don't know… At this time I don't.
HoS: You collaborated with your daughters
Carnie and Wendy. [of Wilson-Phillips fame -Editor]
BW: Well, we wrote a couple of songs together.
HoS: How was that?
BW: Good... Good stuff!
What future projects can we expect from Brian Wilson?
BW: A Rock n' Roll Album that has the
"Be My Baby" type of rhythm.
HoS: And I have one last question
HoS: You've practically done it all
in the music business. You've also defeated your demons
and are now happy. What dream is left to drive Brian Wilson?
BW: The Rock N' Roll Dream.
HoS: Well, that's it Brian. It's been
an honor to speak with you.
BW: Hey, thanks a lot for the interview.
HoS: Take care.
It was my intention with this feature to share
with you my Brian Wilson experience. I hope I have achieved
that. I also hope that my story inspires you to seek out
some of Brian's music, you'll be glad you did. A slew of
Re-mastered Beach Boys/Brian Wilson material has recently
been released, and I urge you to check it out. (Amazon.com
is as good a place to look as any.) Start with Pet Sounds,
go on to The Beach Boys - Love You, and I guarantee
you that you'll be hooked. Also, Brian's Live At the
Roxy CD is available through his
website, and it will be in stores this summer with Bonus
A Brian Wilson Tribute Concert special will
be airing on TNT later this summer. Also, Brian Wilson is
on tour with Paul Simon through the summer as well, and
believe me, if you can only go to one show this summer,
this is the one. Do yourself a favor and do not miss the
chance to see this musical legend perform.
The House of Shred would like to thank Brian
Wilson for taking the time to speak to us. (We're not worthy!!!)
For more information on Brian Wilson, including
music news, fan forums, and tour dates, be sure to check
out the Official Brian Wilson website at www.brianwilson.com.