Brian Wilson — “Smile!”

  Just watched an uplifting documentary movie, Beautiful Dreamer, about the life of Brian Wilson. Wow, did it bring back memories.

Brian wrote, lead, and produced the sounds of The Beach Boys in the 60s. He is universally regarded as a creative genius with an incredible “ear” for music. I was in high school then, just six years younger than Brian, loving his songs. They were some of the happiest, most joyous sounds ever–the harmonics, the words, the beats. He produced hit after hit, about one every three months, often writing a song in half an hour. Remember singing along and dancing to these?

Wouldn’t It Be Nice

California Girls

        In My Room

Don’t Worry Baby

God Only Knows

I Get Around

Sloop John B

Surfer Girl

How about–“And we’ll have fun, fun, fun til her Daddy takes the T-bird awaaaaay.” 

One of my friends in high school, Gary Rold, wore his hair like Brian, so his nickname was “Surf.” Even in landlocked Nebraska, we caught those “good vibrations.” Brian evolved as an artist, going beyond the beach formula. His album, Pet Sounds, was ground-breaking. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but he was a major influence on The Beatles, especially their St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

  Then in 1967, it all came crashing down. He was in his early 20s, producing his major work, an album to be called Smile, when he had a nervous breakdown. It seems to have been a combination of an abusive upbringing, heavy drug use, schizophrenia, and the pressure of the new album, but he fell apart and the album never appeared. Brian spent the next thirty years on the fringes, depressed and isolated. 

  In 2004, he “woke up” and, with the help of his wife, family, and friends, finally finished Smile, performing it in London to much applause. Nothing can make up for the lost years, but his comeback has been called a triumph of the human spirit and the artist.

These days, in his 60s, Brian is again creating and performing music. One of his latest works is a re-imagination of George Gershwin.

Big hugs to Brian Wilson. He has always made me “smile.”

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