As the principle songwriter for the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, with natural gifts for harmony and composition, renovated the landscape of popular music, creating, among other masterpieces, Pet Sounds, the 1966 release that is still regarded as the greatest full length ever made. Indeed, the songs have not tarnished over the decades. Boxed sets and documentaries have been fashioned around this album alone, and its cohesion, its harmonies and time signatures and associative leaps, still elude songsmiths of the current millennium.
After numerous mental breakdowns and a life-or-death grapple with cocaine addiction that left him bedridden for years, Wilson's well-being was overseen by Dr. Eugene Landy, a therapist to the stars who put Wilson on a rigorous fitness, nutrition and therapy regimen that proved lifesaving. But Wilson was out of the frying pan and into the fire-- over the course of a decade, Landy kept Wilson in isolation, under close supervision and pharmaceutical sedation, while inserting himself into all of Wilson's financial and creative enterprises, even going so far as to sign himself into Wilson's will. The financial and neurological tolls were enormous.
Despite this, Wilson finished "SMiLE," the greatest aborted project in the history of pop music, and has returned with "That Lucky Ol' Sun," a well-received pop opera behind which he is currently touring. In anticipation of his show at the State Theatre this Saturday, Brian Wilson granted Gimme Noise a quick interview.
Gimme Noise: After finally completing SMiLE, were you intimidated to begin work on another concept album? Brian Wilson: No, actually, I got right into it. GN: What inspired the concept for the album? BW: I just love that song “Lucky Old Sun.” GN: Who’s the original composer? BW: I don’t know. I bought the Louis Armstrong version, learned it, changed the chords around and tossed it to my band. GN: Did that single inspire the entire album? BW: No. I wrote the songs separately. GN: Your music has remained so bright and positive despite having survived such hardship in your life. How do you maintain such musical positivity? BW: I just sit down and write the songs. GN: Is there a space for the darker parts of you in your music? BW: Not really, no. I like to look for the sunny parts. GN: You mention that you don’t like to listen much to music being made today. BW: That’s true. GN: Is it because you don’t like it? BW: I don’t like it. I don’t like the music being made these days. GN: What don’t you like about it? BW: I don’t know. I just don’t like it. GN: How has pop music changed since your youth? BW: It’s taken a decline. GN: You’ve had so much influence on pop musicians in every genre. Who are you proudest to have influenced? BW: The Beatles. GN: After so much celebration of your career and so much critical analysis devoted to your music, is it ever difficult to live up to your own praise when you start to write new songs? BW: No. I just write from my heart. I don’t try to outdo myself. I just write from my heart. GN: Your music is so complex. And yet your process, as evidenced in this interview, seems so simple. But when you create these challenging harmonies and time signatures, are you trying to challenge the ear? BW: No. It just comes naturally. When it comes naturally, it happens. GN: Does it come to you in dreams? BW: No (laughs). GN: What do you dream about? BW: My friends.
The video below, of Wilson performing the song "Surf's Up" in his home, was recorded in 1967. He was 24 years old.