Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Brian Wilson says little. Until you listen to his music.

Brian Wilson doesn’t talk a lot, especially when he’s scared – for example, during an interview. Sitting at the piano in his Beverly Hills home, the eminent Beach Boy uses monosyllabic answers: “Right.” “Yes.” “No.”

God only knows what plays in this shiny head when he looks you in the eyes or across the room with a cute but melancholic, almost doggy-like expression – just like 12 dogs making pet sounds around the house. Are these chaotic voices due to his well-known schizoaffective disorder? Or maybe the music of youth?

When asked if the pandemic had any unexpected benefits, Wilson quickly and unequivocally replied “No.”

Did he spend a lot of time listening to music?


Anything new or mostly old stuff?

“Old things.”

Your things?


Getting 79-year-old Wilson to open up was a huge breakthrough for Brent Wilson, unrelated to the musician who directed the documentary Brian Wilson: Road of Long Promises. The music video veteran and concert director sat the songwriter down in the same music room, turned on the camera, and found himself crashing into waves of monosyllabic words.

“And for 45 minutes I thought, ‘Oh my God, my career is over,” the director recalled. “I’ll never get another movie.”

“You were kind, sweet,” he added, addressing the songwriter sitting next to him on the piano bench.

“Right,” he replied.

“But …” – the director thought, – “you won’t give the best answers.”


Longtime musician publicist Jean Sivers suggested contacting Jason Fine, a Rolling Stone reporter who has interviewed Beach Boy many times since the late 90s. The director read Fine’s article “Brian Wilson’s Better Days” in 2015, in which Brian talked about his mental illness, his family and his music. The key, besides Fine’s calming demeanor, was walking, eating, and driving around Los Angeles with his silent subject. Brent Wilson knew it was a movie.

In Long Promised Road – named after a song from the Beach Boys’ 1971 album Surf’s Up – Fine and Wilson travel from their favorite singer, Beverly Glen, Delhi to Hawthorne, where his childhood home once stood, to the beach where was the famous “Surfin ‘Safari” cover taken off. At one point in the film, Fine literally holds Brian’s hand.

In the car, Wilson shouts out the songs he wants to listen to, and Fine queues them up on his phone. The brilliant music of Wilson and his brothers makes him speak and speaks for him in equal measure.

Several generations of talking heads are interspersed, from Elton John and Bruce Springsteen to Nick Jonas, extolling Wilson’s magic and influence. Fine also suggested including Jim James of Kentucky’s My Morning Jacket, who grew up listening to the Beach Boys at his grandmother’s house.

“Their music always made me feel so cheerful and so free, but contained in something that haunted me and spoke of the loneliness or sadness that I felt even as a child,” James said via email. “Then, as I became a young adult, their music became even more important and important to me when I discovered Pet Sounds and all the amazingly weird 70s records like Surf’s Up. It was so nice to know that there is someone else who thinks that they, too, simply were not made for the time in which they lived. “

While making the documentary, Brian Wilson – the film’s executive producer – was inspired to write a new piano melody, which he recorded on a mini-cassette and passed on to the director. But shortly thereafter, he underwent surgery for severe back pain that delayed production for several months, followed by another back surgery that forced him to rely on a walker.

The filmmaker knew that it would probably be impossible for Brian to finish the song, so he turned to James to “try to hit the lyrics.”

“In a simple voice recording on the tape was several pieces, – said James – the main piano verse and chorus, and Brian sang and la-la-la-la-la-lal its beautiful melody. Then the cassette was turned off and on again, and he played a different role.

James rearranged the song “Right Where I Belong” to start with Wilson’s bridge “which I thought was so hypnotic and cool,” and wrote the lyrics based on Wilson’s own words, many of which are from Fine’s 2015 interviews. “He says that for him this love is music,” said James. “It really resonated with me.”

James created the arrangement with a touch of strangeness and twists and turns of Pet Sounds, and sang the chorus and backing vocals in the Beach Boys’ falsetto style. When he had recovered enough, Brian Wilson sang the rest, lending seasoned autobiographical authority to lyrics such as “I’m worried, I’m sometimes afraid / This is what I live with.”

His voice sounds old-fashioned, but still boyish, and the song is ultimately reassuring – by its very existence it demonstrates that, despite all the difficulties, Brian Wilson is still here to sing it.

“I will never forget the first time I heard him sing this track,” said James. “The way he sang it with such energy and conviction brought me to tears.”

Brian Wilson may not have written the lyrics, but it was his piano melody. O something?

His answer, like everyone else, was simple: “About love, yes.”

Nation World News Desk
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