Brian Wilson is Here to Stay
By Craig Harris
Special to Reminder Publications
Brian Wilson's return to the concert stage, in 1997, was nothing short of miraculous. His personal struggles were well documented seven years in bed, more than a decade of around-the-clock psychological care. The fact that he could perform, at all, was amazing. That he was able to rekindle the magic of his music has turned Wilson's tale into one of personal triumph.
Eleven years later, Wilson, who performs at the Calvin Theater in Northampton on July 15, has shown that he's here to stay. Unlike his former band, the Beach Boys, now led by his cousin Mike Love, he's refused to settle into a "greatest hits" format, using his tours and recordings to break new ground. Past shows have included an orchestral overture of his songs, by avant-garde songwriter Van Dyke Parks, and a recreation of the Beach Boys' 1966 milestone album "Pet Sounds."
With help from Parks and keyboardist Darian Sahanaja, Wilson completed and re-recorded "Smile," the Beach Boys' unreleased follow-up to "Pet Sounds" in 2004, scoring a "Best Rock Instrumental Performance" Grammy for "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow." The tune, popularly known as "Fire," had supposedly sparked most of the trouble during the original recording sessions nearly four decades earlier.
"I felt proud [of the success of 'Smile']," Wilson said by telephone. "It's a very straight-ahead album. I think it's the most creative album I've ever done."
With the completion of "Smile," Wilson turned his attention to an album of new songs. The result is "Lucky Old Sun," Wilson's first album on the Capitol Records/EMI label in 46 years, in stores on Sept. 2. Songs from the album were debuted during six sold-out shows at London's Royal Alpert Hall in September 2007.
"I wrote the songs," said Wilson. "Van Dyke Parks wrote the narration and the lyrics of one song. We used [Cole Porter's 1949 song] 'Lucky Old Sun' as a theme. We did all the songs and then my wife, Melinda, and my friends, Darian (Sahanaja) and Scott Bennett, sequenced all the songs together."
Besides collaborating on "Smile," Wilson and Parks had previously worked together on Parks' 1995 album, "Orange Crate Art." "It's quite a pleasure," Wilson said about working with Parks. "He's a genius. His words were very appropriate. The [theme of 'Lucky Old Sun' is about] the vibrations of being in L.A., the different kinds of restaurants and things like that. It's all poetic images about where we live. It's about ourselves."
Wilson and Parks' vision was transformed into reality with help from Wilson's band, a group that includes Bennett, Sahanaja and guitarist Nick "Nicky Wonder" Walusko. Drummer Mike D'Amico, who played with Wilson from 1999 to 2003, will be returning this summer. "I found some of the group in Chicago," said Wilson, "and some in L. A. They're still with me."
A member of the Beach Boys' touring band, in the 1980s and early '90s, guitarist/vocalist Jeffrey Foskett has helped to anchor Wilson's music since 1997. "I think of him as a singer who's quite talented," Wilson said. "He worked with my brothers. That's how I met him."
Background vocalist Taylor Mills has played an increasingly important role in Wilson's sound. With Wilson chiming in on harmonies, and Bennett writing or co-writing the songs, Mills released her debut solo album, "Lullagoodbye," on May 22. "She's come into her own as a singer," Wilson said. "She sings louder now."
Harmonies have provided the foundation of his music, but Wilson's early personal life was not so tranquil. The Beach Boys, with Wilson writing, arranging and producing, may have been the most successful American band in the 1960s, with 36 Top 40 hits and 56 Hot 100 hits. But Wilson's relationship with his domineering father, Murray, who served as the band's manager, grew more and more difficult, culminating with Wilson firing his father during a recording session for "Help Me, Rhonda" in 1965. His relationship with older cousin Mike Love, who sang lead and bass vocals for the Beach Boys, which was strained from the start, only got worse after Wilson switched to other lyricists. "We don't talk all that much," Wilson said. "He's always been difficult to deal with."
Wilson has fonder memories of his brothers, Dennis (1944 1983), whose 1983 solo album, "Pacific Ocean Blue," augmented by tracks from its unreleased follow-up "Bambu," was recently reissued, and Carl (1946 1998). "(Dennis) was quite the ladies man," Wilson remembered, "and a talented singer. But, he was a very nervous person and quite hyper. Carl was quieter."
With a 14-city tour commencing in London, England, on June 28, and climaxing with the third of three shows at Los Angeles' Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 14, Wilson is already contemplating his next album."We might call it 'Pleasure Island, A Rock Fantasy,'" he said, "a real rock recording."