Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Genius of Brian Wilson

In general, when the name Brian Wilson is mentioned among (talented) musicians, you get a respectful, gentle, slightly sorrowful shaking of heads. Even musicians who didn't really like The Beach Boys are forced to admit that Wilson is something special. I fit this category: I have never liked the Beach Boys' sound, in general, but could always hear Wilson's genius through it all; like a Robert Frost quietly reading "Mending Wall" aloud in a crowded bar.

"Genius," as we know, is thrown around quite a bit, these days, but I think Brian Wilson is one guy who deserves the label. In fact, in terms of his harmonic and melodic concept, I think he ought to be recognized as one of America's greatest composers. I'd love to hear him write specifically for orchestra. I imagine the resulting sounds would rival the achingly atmospheric textures of Ravel.

Despite not being much of a fan of the Beach Boys' sound, I heard this again the other day and was reminded of what a treasure Wilson is, as a composer; and, also, of how sad he must have been -- a sadness that lead him down a now-famous path of self abuse from which he has, thankfully, recovered.

Here is a young man, writing the lyrics of a young man -- not terribly refined; sort of stilted in their poetic intentions; endearingly simple in their symbolism; wide-eyed with  honesty -- over the music of a harmonic genius, way ahead of his time, as he was (and is) always destined to be. Wilson's words:

"I struggled at the piano, experimenting with rhythms and chord changes, trying to emulate in sound the ocean's shifting tides and moods as well as its sheer enormity. I wanted the music to reflect the loneliness of floating a raft in the middle of the Pacific. I wanted each note to sound as if it was disappearing into the hugeness of the universe."
Here is "'Til I Die":

Wonderful music, whatever standards are applied to it. Just wonderful.


  1. I grew up in a Beach Boys household; big fan of Pet Sounds, a wonderful tribute to that last gasp of adolescent romance before one has to grow up...

    1. Pet Sounds...what can one say? Incredible. Sadly, overshadowed by the work of that band from England. I understand that Wilson's breakdown began as a result of ...Pepper... I was never sure if that wass just legend.