Artist: Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson is the chief songwriter and producer, co-lead vocalist, and former bassist of The Beach Boys. Due to his unorthodox approaches to pop composition, and arrangement, as well as his extraordinary mastery of the recording studio, he is widely acknowledged to be one of the most innovative and influential songwriters and producers ever in the pop idiom. Brian Wilson formed The Beach Boys, originally the Pendletones, with Mike Love, Al Jardine, and his brothers Carl and Dennis, in 1961.
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Highland Park IL
Los Angeles CA
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The Beach Boys: I Wanna Be Where The Boys Are Sounds, Aug 1977
"SOME KAHLUA, we need a coupla pitchers of milk..." "Send up a bottle of milk. O.K., cartons. Four cartons. And some honey. And a coffee. No, two. Make that four."
Dennis Wilson talks to room service in brisk, businesslike tones. Like there's a strong possibility the person on the other end of the line might be some kind of idiot child. It's the voice of experience; only jetset businessmen, and rock 'n' rollers are attuned to hotels as a way of life. In a (theoretically) self-sufficient environment, there are always advantages and disadvantages.
Room Service is a definite advantage.
But they always seem to get the orders screwed up.
That's a definite disadvantage...
Dennis knows that he's handsome. You can see in the way he moves that if you're a woman, he'll expect you to like him. His manner invites flattering intimacy; that is, if he darts a lingering glance, he expects you to enjoy it and perhaps feel flattered...
Not implying that he doesn't move freely with men. Slightly more difficult to judge, though, because I didn't see him talk to any man who wasn't in his pay.
"Will you do me a favour? Will you call Roger and say I'm gonna be late, cos I'm really enjoying this interview. Hey, you can come in here, we're not hiding!"
The publicists gave me a pep talk in the lift. Brian wants to do interviews, the band want Brian to do interviews. Normally he doubles up with another Boy, but today Mike Love's too busy meditating, so...But I mustn't be alarmed. Brian is feeling very cheerful, very up.
WHERE DO you think Love You stands in relation to 15 Big Ones?
Brian: "Very good. I think it was a step forward, a very big one."
Would you agree that lyrically, it's very removed from contemporary themes?
"In some ways, yes."
You wrote all the songs, didn't you? Did they flow easily?
Brian: "Yes. Uh huh."
Brian delivers the monosyllables of assent with such calm rationality that he gives a confusing impression of having said a lot more than he actually has. As if he's given you a well thought out, finely-worded explanation that you've inexplicably failed to hear.
Did you feel that you had a lot of things pent up inside you for the past few years, a lot of thoughts you wanted to express?
Brian: "Yes. Uh huh. I had that a lot."
How about 'Roller Skating Child'? What pictures did you have in your mind when you wrote that?
Brian: "Just a vision of someone that could rollerskate and would like to rollerskate. We just wanted to do something that had a beat and had a flavour of rollerskating. Because we all go rollerskating a lot, so we decided to do that in that fashion, in that kind of way.
"We thought it would be a single but it wasn't. We thought it would be."
Brian is painstakingly polite. Well brought up. Remember, politeness can be as effective a social armour as gobbing. Far slimmer than he used to be, he nonetheless conveys the impression of bulk, as if the absent poundage were still hovering around the slender outline in astral form. He moves like the noble grizzly bears you read about in sagas of life in the Old West. Arms swinging by his side, as if he's constrained by walls, by presentation baskets of fruit and flowers, but knows that he should play the game.
Being interviewed = Being normal. You've been performing a lot more lately, haven't you?
Brian: "Yes. We get a lot out of it. We get a lot of pleasure from it."
"THEY HAVE surfboards in Iowa, you know. Surfboards, hot rods that's nothing compared to some of the things we put out. Seriously."
Dennis's blue eyes flash sternly. "I just think that whatever you put out, you should think about. Yes, I suppose I do feel a responsibility. To myself. Absolutely. Brian's responsibility is was he chose to be the writer/producer for the Beach Boys.
"Right now I'm in a real big recording phase, the live shows are slowing down. I'd like to see them stop, do maybe ten a year.
"You know what I love to play best? 'Good Vibrations'. It's my favourite to play. My least favourite is 'California Saga'. 'Eating scorched meat in the desert'," he quotes, mocking.
"15 Big Ones? I had a lot of fights over it, because I thought that Brian should be making original music. You really want to know? 15 Big Ones is a piece of shit. That's the truth. I didn't enjoy making it, and that's the only one...
"I think Mo Ostin (US Warner Bros biggie) murdered Brian Wilson on that album. Purposely. Upfront. He did not promote that record, and told me he wasn't going to. He said he didn't like it...that's tragic. I felt so bad for Brian.
"You know when I really turned on to Brian? When we made Summer Days (And Summer Nights). A song called 'Let Him Run Wild.' It was like he turned on in a different kind of way, the concept of putting a track together, it had a different kind of masculinity to it." Spot the pressure...
"We've finished recording the new album. Maybe we'll add to it. It's good to go back to things. It leans towards Pet Sounds, there are songs about smoking, about being in love, about getting off your butt and being healthy...
"You want a drink? Dig in. Look at that sunset, it's a big huge orange ball."
Dennis carefully tops his Kahlua coffee liqueur with milk. The glass chinks with ice-cubes, American style.
"This drink reminds me of Mexico. I love Mexico. I have a little trailer down there, a '53 trailer and a '53 truck, and I tow it down to Mexico. Then I pay the guy 50 cents a day, and just park it under a tree. San Philippe, overlooking the Gulf of Cortez. It's unbelievable, like being in outer space."
BRIAN, HOW do you feel when you listen back to your early albums?
Brian: "I get a nice memory, a nice feeling sometimes."
Do you relate that closely to Holland and Surf's Up that the Beach Boys cut without you?
Brian: "No. Really, I can't."
In retrospect, do you feel that 15 Big Ones was a marking time album?
Brian: "I felt it was a very sparkly album. It had a lot of sparkle to it."
As we talk Brian stares obsessively at my cassette player. He looks up and risks a big, wholesome smile, then stares transfixed at the cassette player again. His legs jiggle while he talks.
Brian: "I usually write in the day. I'm very much a daytime person. I get up at 7.00 in the morning. Yes, I do lead an outdoor life. I run a lot and get a lot of exercise."
Do you enjoy doing interviews?
Brian: "Yes I do. It's one of my favourite things in the world."
Brian's unflappable politeness extends to the way he terminates the interview. After a perturbing 10 minutes of strained conversation. "I'm gonna lay down, I'm kinda tired," he says simply. He stands up, stretching to his full height, shakes hands courteously, before ordering a hamburger from Room Service, and vanishing into the bedroom.
DENNIS EXPOUNDS seriously, his voice gruff and low. "Being a family has everything to do with being together as long as we have. Being emotionally close. Being able to be yourself. It's hard to be yourself at your most angry moment or your most joyful. Then there's singing harmonies and stuff...I just feel so comfortable around them. I feel safe, very safe. That's what it is.
"I just made an album, and when it comes out, you listen to it and tell me what you think. I made it in my studio, it's home-made, ones-man band stuff. But I don't play guitar so I have guitar players, and horn players. I wrote all the songs. I generally write a lot, but just for myself. Brian is the Beach Boy."
Brian: "We're basically a very simple group. We do simple things. Simple songs."
A Hard Day's Surfin' Safari: When Brian Met Macca World Countdown News, Jan 1967
When Beatles press officer Derek Taylor swapped Swinging Britain for LA's Sunset Strip in 1965, he played a pivotal part in bringing the worlds of London and Los Angeles together, doing press for the Byrds, the Beach Boys and many other West Coast acts. (It was he who conceived the famous "Brian Wilson Is A Genius" campaign.)
Simultaneously, Taylor wrote about the LA scene for various publications, including ultra-groovy local rag World Countdown News. From that splendid if short-lived paper, here is his highly entertaining account of bringing two pop giants together in the spring of 1967.
BRIAN WILSON and Paul McCartney met each other through music darkly and then face to face in my house, and the first meeting was the easier because music is a more natural environment for a musicianly relationship than a living room.
There had been, for many years, a mutually warm admiration society between the Beach Boys and the Beatles an exchange of exultation at each other's releases. The Beach Boys came first: they were formed in the schoolroom and their debut hit was in 1961, in the very week that the late Brian Epstein drew up his initial contract with the Beatles and rhythm guitarist Al Jardine (one of the founder Beach Boys) recalls returning from a tour of Australia to find his country in the thrall of 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' by the unknown Beatles.
Britain discovered the Beach Boys on a European TV and promotional trip in 1964 the same year that America fell for the Beatles but the British response to the US group was an unworthy, "Well, OK... so you're the Beach Boys. We have our own homegrown scene going, but thanks anyway..."
It was three years later, on the foaming tip of the crest of the tidal wave of Pet Sounds whipped to a fury by the gale of 'Good Vibrations', that the Beach Boys swamped Britain and the rest of Europe with such a flood of success that, in London's New Musical Express, voters decided the American group should replace the Beatles as "Top World Group".
Influence On Each Other
During the years between 'Surfin' Safari' and Revolver, Lennon/McCartney and Wilson watched the development of each group's work with increasing interest and with so musical people tell me substantial influence on each other's experimentation. A long time ago, Lennon commented in print that "Wilson is a bloody genius who uses voices like instruments" and Wilson, for his part, freely conceded that it was the critical acclaim accorded Rubber Soul that had spurred him to reach a new plateau with Pet Sounds a climb, which though Beatle-inspired, did not tempt him to use their footholds, steal their guidelines nor filch any of their deft shortcuts. Why should he? He ?had enough of his own.
I had left the Beatles before Rubber Soul and had joined the Beach Boys at Pet Sounds time, and there were moments when I sensed the unspoken "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of us all?"
But apart from conversational slips of the tongue, which may have been Freudian or simply phonetic "Beach Boys" sometimes came out as "Beatles" or vice versa I managed to steer a course in representing the Californian fivesome which took me safely along the narrow road from Beatle Friendship to Beach Boys Loyalty, twin townships in which there were signs of incipient rivalry.
Some members of the groups had met on the road in 1965, somewhere in the North West where the tours coincided. But the meeting had been one of those scrambling handshake-scenes in a dressing-room physically inadequate to accommodate a duo of dwarfs, let alone two man-sized rock 'n roll groups with Fenders, Rickenbackers, Gibsons, practice amps, cops, bouncers, promoters, boxes of fan mail and piled up trays of half-chewed hamburgers.
Against such clutter there bad been, therefore, little real rapport and in any case, Brian Wilson was not around at the meeting.
They Meet Again
A year later, however, after Pet Sounds and before Revolver is it not strange how one measures history in albums, yet not so strange as measurement in wars it became clear that a summit of some sort was timely and meaningful.
So when the Beatles came to Los Angeles in 1966 for the last-but-one concert in their lovingly remembered career, I created a domestic climate in which composer might collide with composer without harrassment or pain.
Paul was the first to arrive, in the best of humour. Brian Wilson called, Paul took the call and said "come on over", and Brian did, with brother Carl and their wives.
The lights were low in the house, the Los Angeles basin twinkled blue, red-gold and silver, and we had Glenn Miller's Latest Hits softly on the record player. "Hi" said Brian and the Wilsons. "Hello" said Paul and added: "Well, you're Brian Wilson and I'm Paul McCartney so let's get that out of the way and have a good time." Brian laughed and said, "Would you like to hear a dub?"
He played the extraordinarily fascinating 'Good Vibrations' and it impressed Paul, who asked for the dub "as a souvenir". Brian said he'd rather not part with it. He wasn't completely happy with the sound. Oh well. It didn't matter that much.
We talked for a couple of hours, joined by David Crosby of the Byrds and by George Harrison. It wasn't a bad meeting but it wasn't the answer. Paul and Brian knew that and I did too.
Thus in the spring of this year when Paul returned as a "private citizen" to LA we decided to do the meeting again this time in a recording studio. I took Paul to Sound Recorders in Hollywood, and this time a real bond was formed between the Englishman and the American a bond that will not readily become unsealed. Brian was at his most active and energetic as a producer that night, and it was a fine three-hour music involvement.
And Now to Capitol
The record under production was 'Vegetables', then planned as a single, now to be an album track on Smiley Smile, the Beach Boys' new album the first LP to be released on the Brother Records label distributed through Capitol.
I cannot see the fact of Capitol's continuing to keep the Beach Boys and the Beatles as signed artists as a coincidence, for there is nothing coincidental about competitive commerce. After all, the Beatles entered America on Vee-Jay and the Beach Boys did not start on Capitol but on a label called Candix. Also, of course, the group and Capitol have only recently emerged (emotionally unharmed) from a lawsuit instigated by the Beach Boys against the label.
I cannot say what it is that Capitol has to offer the two groups, for a record label is many things to many people, but whatever Capitol represents as a company it must be worthy and valuable for the Beatles to have re-signed with them for something like nine years, and the Beach Boys are despite their new Brother Records family front still in business with Capitol.
a short and funny tune taken from Brian Wilson's final masterpiece: SMiLE enjoy (I really hope you will) LONG LIVE ROCK AND LONG LIVE BRIAN :-)
a tribute to Brian Wilson, with cartoon to the sound of Surfer Girl....
This is a medley of tracks recorded by The Beach Boys during the SMiLE sessions that did not make it into the "Finished" versions of the album. I tried to ma...