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R o c k  N '  R o l l  1 0 1

Rock N' Roll Dream: A Conversation with Brian Wilson

Feature by Henry Bocanegra
Pictures by Robert Gaspar

"Brian 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.

Brian 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 that statement.

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.

House 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 orchestra?
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 more.

HoS: So it's just going to be you writing songs from now on?
BW: Yeah. 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?

HoS: Yeah.
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.

HoS: 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 lives?
BW: No. (Laughs)

HoS: I know you've sung about health and other things.
BW: Right.

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 too.

HoS: Did Carl get to play you that song before he passed away?
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 (2001).

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.

HoS: 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 it stunk!

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 don't know.

HoS: (Laughs) Does California still play a part in your music?
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.
BW: Well, we wrote a couple of songs together.

HoS: How was that?
BW: Good... Good stuff!

HoS: 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 for you.
BW: Yes.

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.
BW: Goodbye!

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 Tracks.

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.

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