Brian Wilson still has music swirling around in his head all the time – which is probably part of the reason why the troubled genius behind the timeless music of The Beach Boys doesn’t have that much to say.
“I hope they like Pet Sounds,” rattled off the 74-yearold legend to The Jerusalem Post recently, when asked if he had a message for Israeli fans for whom he will soon be appearing.
Reams of articles, books and films, including 2015’s much ballyhooed John Cusack biopic Love and Mercy, have focused on Wilson’s roller-coaster journey from sandy-haired surf music innovator to revolutionary pop composer to drug-addled recluse to a recovered – but emotionally damaged – gentle childlike giant of mythological proportions.
Wilson’s stature has only increased in recent years as he’s returned to revisiting his enduring oeuvre. In 2004, he unexpectedly staged triumphant presentations of The Beach Boys’ fabled 1960s unreleased opus Smile, to thunderous acclaim.
Wilson talks in short staccato bursts, like he’s been given a word and time limit he must observe. When asked in a call to his Los Angeles home if he had been daunted by the prospect of such a monumental undertaking, Wilson answered, “Yes, but I still did it.”
The focus was more diffused when Wilson later reunited with surviving Beach Boys Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and longtime foil and general villain in The Beach Boys story Mike Love for a well-received 50th anniversary tour in 2012.
“I loved it – it was my favorite tour I’ve ever been on,” said Wilson, who didn’t rule out regrouping in the future with Love et al.
Guitarist Jardine is still collaborating with Wilson as part of his touring band that is performing The Beach Boys’ landmark 1966 album Pet Sounds on a world tour this year that will bring them to Israel on June 8 at the Ra’anana Amphitheater.
The tour will mark the first time Pet Sounds – featuring hits like “God Only Knows” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” – will be played in its entirety on stage in 17 years. When it was released, it was regarded as a pop masterpiece and the decades have only reinforced that thought.
Paul McCartney told an interviewer that hearing the album’s complex arrangements and expansive soundscape provided a competitive spark for The Beatles, who subsequently went into the studio to create Sgt.
Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Ironically, it was the Fab Four who spurred Wilson to compose the songs for Pet Sounds.
“I wanted to do something good like Rubber Soul,” he said, referring to The Beatles’ 1965 album, which expanded beyond the simple guitar and drums confines of their earlier work.
Another irony surrounding the current Pet Sounds tour is that it was The Beach Boys first album that emerged as a result of Wilson’s decision, following increasingly erratic behavior, to stop touring with the band and to concentrate on studio work.
That period was effectively captured in Love and Mercy, in which Paul Dano portrayed the 1960s Wilson and Cusack his latter-day self.
“I thought they did really well at portraying me – they did great,” said Wilson, who added that he was pleased to see his story on the silver screen. When pressed to choose which actor’s role he preferred, he said “I liked Paul best.”
It’s difficult to ascertain from a short, awkward question and answer session how much Wilson is aware of the influence his songs have had on a generation – from early hits like “Surfin’ Safari” and “Fun Fun Fun” to soulful ballads like “In My Room” and “Don’t Worry Baby” to monumental classics like “Good Vibrations” and “Caroline No.”
But he is definitely cognizant of how good they are, as he described the feeling after completing the recording of “Good Vibrations.”
“Me and my brothers all thought it would be a number one record, and it went to number one,” he said, referring to his late siblings Carl and Dennis, who were an integral part of The Beach Boys’ unique chorale vocal style.
When asked what songs he would like to be remembered for 100 years in the future, Wilson immediately threw out, “probably ‘Good Vibrations’ and ‘California Girls,’” the perennial good-time, bouncy ode to the virtues of his hometown state’s female residents.
Wilson remains an enigma, touring more now than he has since The Beach Boys’ heyday, with both tremendous box office clout and creative credibility that surpasses most of his 1960s contemporaries.
He said he didn’t know if The Beach Boys would be able to break into the music industry today, but he’s proud of the band’s legacy. When asked what he thinks a contemporary producer might be referring to when he tells his musical client to sound like The Beach Boys, he said, “I would say he’s talking about the harmonies – you want to go for those harmonies. That’s what made us stand out.”
Those harmonies will be in full bloom during the Ra’anana show, when Wilson will embellish the complete album with a smattering of The Beach Boys’ greatest hits. Joining him and Jardine are longtime Beach Boys associates Blondie Chaplin and Billy Hinsche, along with close to a dozen other crack musicians who are lovingly reproducing the studio wizardry of the cherished album.
“I love playing with Al – and the band is basically the same one that I toured with for Smile,” said Wilson, adding that the rehearsals for the tour were beginning the next day.
Wilson’s US booking agent Bruce Solar told Billboard magazine that Wilson has never been in better shape.
“He’s in this really creative space, he’s with people that he really likes, he loves this band, he loves being out with Al and Blondie, I just think it’s a really comfortable situation for him,” said Solar.
The tour began on March 26 in New Zealand and moves on to Australia and Japan before hitting the US in May and Israel and Europe on the next swing. Wilson said he was happy to be making his first visit to Israel.
“I used to think about going there, I’ve been fascinated with Israel. But I haven’t been there yet.”
Would he use the opportunity to see some of the country’s historic sites? “Yeah, sure, see the sights. Maybe.”
A “thank you” to Wilson for the interview time results in a curt “bye” and an immediate click of the phone line.
Wilson couldn’t wait to return to his own world, the one filled with music. As an audience, we’re fortunately able to receive brief entry to that place where Wilson’s voice is heard loud and clear.