Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road (Stream free in the U.S.)
He’s completely internalized.
Brian Wilson has been on an endless victory lap since 1976. First with his participation in “15 Big Ones” and its attendant publicity of Brian being back, then in 1988 with his solo debut, then Don Was’s excellent film “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” in 1995 and then with the release of “Smile” in 2004. Every time they say what a genius he is, what his music means to us, how can we forget you if you never go away?
I’ve gone on record many times that I moved to California because of the Beach Boys. There had to be a better life out there, and I must tell you Southern California was and still is, it’s just that fifty-odd years ago the world was not connected the way it is now, California was three hours behind and it might as well have been an island in the Pacific. We knew that all the movies and TV were made there, but media kept telling us thinking people, all the business that counts, was in New York. They’re still saying that. But in the eighties Silicon Valley raised its head and has never ducked since and people read more books per capita in California than they do in New York. But today California is pilloried by outsiders, whereas previously it was a dream.
People weren’t even skateboarding in the rest of the country, that came from Jan & Dean and the rest of the SoCal players. And then in the mid-seventies urethane wheels came along, and skateboarding spread like wildfire from California eastward. But it all started in California, Southern California, where it hardly rains and you live an outdoors lifestyle
So what we’ve got here is a bunch of talking heads telling us about Brian’s music. Well, first and foremost Mike Love and others wrote most of the lyrics. But truly, I don’t care what these people have to say, never mind Nick Jonas for Generation Z and Jim James for Generation X. It’s like the talking heads were picked based on demographics.
As for Springsteen? Great to know he’s a Brian Wilson fan, and he does talk about the joy in the music, but other than that…you see Bruce can’t do what Brian can, and that’s the most interesting part.
If you live in Southern California, you’ve encountered Brian Wilson. He’s not hiding, he’s around. It’s well-known that he eats regularly at the deli atop Beverly Glen.
But this wasn’t always the case.
The first time I encountered him was in the lobby of a movie theatre in Westwood in 1978. He was wearing a jacket with his name embroidered on the front. And I went up to him and testified, he did not say anything back.
About ten or fifteen years ago I went to this BMI awards dinner and he was seated at my table. He kept his head upon it almost the entire time, even during dinner. He ultimately got up and got his award and went home.
Since then I’ve talked to him on his bus, but I can’t say I connected with him. I don’t think anybody can truly connect with Brian Wilson. But what this movie, “Long Promised Road,” tells us is Brian is still there, he’s just locked up inside.
So they’re driving down to Hawthorne to go see the homestead. Dedicated fans know it’s been torn down. And Brian asks to hear “It’s OK.,” from the aforementioned “15 Big Ones,” which was mostly covers, truly a cash-in, the originals LP didn’t come out until the next year, “Love You,” where Brian had greater participation and the results sounded whacked and unfinished and he was shunted into the background once again. You see Brian Wilson was the band’s meal ticket. He’s still many people’s meal ticket. Not that he seems to be worried about that. He seems oblivious to most of the matters of everyday life.
Now if you go on Wikipedia you’ll learn that “It’s OK” went to #29 on the singles chart, but in ’76 everybody was listening to FM and #29 means the label used pressure to get it played in the hinterlands, because it didn’t penetrate major markets, I’ve never ever heard “It’s OK.” on the radio. But it’s a complete return to form, it’s got the summer sunniness that drew me to SoCal, never mind infected the rest of the world.
Brian knows what to listen to.
But when they pull up in front of his own home, where there is now a monument, Brian doesn’t want to get out of the car, BECAUSE IT HURTS TOO MUCH!
Great artists feel deeply. Much more than the average person. And they channel this in their work and it’s what the hoi polloi can relate to, especially since it’s illegal to talk about these feelings in regular life, the artist does it for them. How many artists are doing this today? I can’t think of one, then again, they’re truly not ARTISTS!
So next they drive by the first house he lived in with Marilyn and Brian says he wrote “California Girls, “Help Me Rhonda” and “She’s Not the Little Girl I Once Knew” there. He knows everything, the year…
And the next house on Laurel Way, that’s where he wrote “Pet Sounds” and “Good Vibrations.”
It’s utterly amazing. It’s like the movie of his life is still in color and accessible to Brian. The years, the studios, the songs, he seems completely checked out and then whoa, he knows every last detail, he blows your mind.
You see Brian can’t tell a story. You know, you ask the average person a few questions and they start to roll, especially when they know you’re interested, they start waxing rhapsodic, telling you details you’re not even interested in. Brian gives one word and one sentence answers. And you realize this must be the best they’ve got, because if they had anything better, they’d have used it.
And Brian resides in his own world. He never heard “Pacific Ocean Blue.” And is shocked to learn Jack Rieley died. Me, just a fan, I own Dennis Wilson’s album, and the fact that Jack died certainly flew on my radar. And ultimately Jack was seen as a charlatan, singing on an album? But Brian can’t say a negative word about almost anybody. Except maybe Eugene Landy. Then again, when peppered, he starts talking about some good stuff that came out of that nine year “relationship.”
Do you know many celebrities? Almost all of them are acutely aware of their environment. Paparazzi. Quotes. Brian Wilson doesn’t live in that world and doesn’t care.
Do you know any genius musicians? Well, I do. And just about all of them are maladjusted. They can do this one thing, but there’s a gulf between them and the rest of the public.
Brian talks about Dennis being so popular with the ladies, but says he’s too shy. Bottom line, Brian was using his music to connect with people, it was the only way he could do it, and once it stopped working…he retreated.
Yes, Brian Wilson is inherently lonely. Even though he says he’s doing well, even, and talks about others being lonely. That’s his default.
And if you’ve seen Brian live… It’s kind of embarrassing. He’s like a deer in the headlights. He sits at a piano he doesn’t play and then the rest of the band covers for his vocals.
But then he’s in the studio in this movie and sits down at the piano and can play no problem. Then he starts arranging the song, telling people how to play, when to play. This all comes naturally to Brian Wilson, but it doesn’t even come naturally to many hit artists!
Don Was says he can’t do what Brian Wilson does, I believe he’s too self-effacing, but when he isolates the track so you can hear a banjo in “God Only Knows”…I never noticed there was a banjo there. What was Brian thinking? A banjo isn’t as bad as an accordion, but most rock musicians don’t want to go anywhere near one.
And in truth the window of success is very brief for most of these legendary musicians. If you live through them, they seem endless. But for Brian and the Beach Boys, in reality it was less than ten years, arguably even less than that. Now in truth, once these damaged people realize that becoming a great success, demonstrating their talent, doesn’t make their life whole, they can’t do it anymore. Also, popular music goes through phases, the music you play is now out of favor. But when Brian works with Joe Thomas he can sometimes get back to where he once belonged.
Brian’s on his own pursuit.
And it’s like he’s locked in the sixties, he uses the word “groovy,” other affectations from his youth that nobody uses today.
So in truth I don’t think this movie will do anything for Brian Wilson’s legacy. We know the Beatles are forever, but we can’t say the same thing about almost any other act from the rock era, not even the Beach Boys. The kids of the boomers know the Beach Boys hits, but the Beatles’ songs were inherently universal, whereas with the Beach Boys music you had to buy into the whole ethos, the Southern California breezy fun. I get around? Kids today turn 16 and don’t even get their driver’s license. Hot rods? Summer? Kids today go back to school in August! Yes, a lot of what the Beach Boys purveyed was of a time lyrically, if not musically.
Of course there are exceptions, like “Good Vibrations.” But where does a song like that even exist today? And “‘Til I Die,” one of the most beautiful records ever made? I didn’t think anybody else was even aware of it when it was featured in the Don Was movie, never mind this production.
And, it’s the music that will determine whether Brian Wilson will remain in the public consciousness. Movies like this really won’t help, like I said, he’s been on an endless victory lap, for the last 45 years!
But the magic is still there, if you know those songs, especially if you grew up with them, when they were de rigueur, just another song on the hit parade, before the formula was lost.
So you want to watch this film to see Brian talk. To watch tears come to his eyes. To see him get excited about his music. That’s where you can see the genius, the talking heads don’t add much.
Brian attributes his emotional downfall to a bad acid trip. Then again, schizophrenia doesn’t usually rear its head until you get older, your twenties, when Brian had success and episodes.
But even if he was totally normal…he wouldn’t be.
Try talking music with some of these geniuses. They can’t do it! They can write it, they can feel it, but they can’t articulate it, and Brian is no different. It’s not that he refrains from sharing secrets, he doesn’t even know they’re secrets, they’re normal for him, but we can only sit outside and marvel.
You can work for 10,000 hours and not be Brian Wilson. Genius is not a skill, not something you can achieve, it’s something you’re born with, that you build upon.
Brian was inherently isolated, anybody who’s been constantly berated by their parent ultimately is. Then again, some get over it, whereas Brian has just gone deeper into himself.
Not that I can truly define genius. All I know is when I hear that intro to “California Girls” my heart melts and everything is all right with the world. No other song had an extended intro like that before, it carried me not only through the summer of ’65, but ever since. You usually burn out on songs, you play them for a week straight and can never listen to them again. I still will push the button on “Whole Lotta Love,” I bought “Led Zeppelin II” the day it came out and played that album incessantly. And soon thereafter, the rest of the public, the average Joes, caught on and that’s all you heard. But “California Girls”? An even bigger hit? That’s never a button-pusher, that’s my life!
Well, not really. But “California Girls” evidences hope. Makes you believe there’s a more beautiful world out there, and if this group can sing about it, maybe you can get there too, bite off a chunk of the good stuff.
And in truth nobody’s life is constantly an upper. But a great track can make your life work. Not any track. Certain tracks are transcendent. Not the ones they make today, that’s commerce by committee. Brian Wilson was a dictator, and when they undercut him, when Capitol put out a greatest hits album mere months after the failure of “Pet Sounds,” he was demoralized. You may be able to pick yourself up by your bootstraps, but someone who feels this much is always on a tightrope, walking a thin line, needing that approval to keep going.
Forget what I say, just watch Brian in the car in this movie. See him be uncomfortable, scared, seem completely out of it but then be able to answer a question directly. You don’t know people like this, they only made one, and by translating his feelings into music he impacted the entire world.
That’s Brian Wilson.
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