February 19, 2010

Getting All Wilsonian


by Jim Boyle —

Let me start by admitting that at one point in my naïve, narcissistic youth the Beach Boys were nothing more than an engine helping propel my scrawny, exuberant body down a mud-soaked hill at Pine Knob (we called it “surfing” at the time). Brian Wilson’s place in the pantheon of pop may have been gaining steam, but it was nowhere on my radar. It was only after my voice changed, my mind became more supple, and I started reading about, and hanging out with rock and pop music snobs from Detroit and beyond that I denoted a prevailing theme – Brian Wilson is some sort of genius.

Look no further than Detroit’s own Don Was for case study number one. Co-founder of the critically lauded funkish-rock-like-soul outfit Was (Not Was) and music producer for the likes of Bonnie Raitt and The Rolling Stones, Was knows a thing or two about music. When it comes to Brian Wilson, he may not have written the book but, he did direct the movie – a 1995 documentary about Wilson’s life, I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times. The movie was the culmination of years of working together, during which Was told Record Hunter magazine that “I realized he (Wilson) was the greatest of them all….he just invented impressionism in rock’n’roll music.” In the film, Tom Petty even gushes (is that possible?) about Wilson, “I don’t think you would be out of line comparing him to Beethoven.”

The critics, for their part, aren’t only intrigued with both the Brian Wilson myth (the troubled youth, drugs, mental illness, etc.) and music (the innovation, front-and-center harmonies, and on….), but how it continues to unravel in the broader pop canon. Everyone from indie darlings Animal Collective – who in many critical circles, including Spin Magazine, feel have last year’s best album in Merriweather Post Pavilian – to the well-regarded Fleet Foxes, are either compared to Wilson and the Beach Boys or site them as a major influence. If I only had a free iTunes song for every time someone said that Pet Sounds is “the greatest album…ever.”

Detroit’s unabashed purveyors of crisp, clean pop, Pas Cal, were swept up in Beach Boy comparisons almost from the start, even though they didn’t particularly consider them a musical influence (note to self, don’t name a song The Bronze Beached Boys). Pas Cal front man Casimer explains:

“I was always more of fan of the myth of Brian Wilson, that is, the crazed musical genius who locks himself in the studio for months recording 20 pianos all playing the same three notes, more than I was a fan of those three notes.” Adding that, “as time went on and we wrote and recorded more songs, I can kind of see what those critics were getting at, but it took us like 20 more songs & a lot of discovery for us to even remotely earn that description.”

All of which seems to underscore that, in the critic’s quick desire to contextualize our music, Brain Wilson sits at an undeniable perch in our cultural consciousness, invited or not.

In Detroit, where music nerds sometimes run thicker than traffic, you can’t throw your hair back without hitting someone who’s ready to flex their Brian Wilson knowledge. It’s a badge of honor that should be out in full force February 18-20 the DSO takes on the music of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys in their stunning venue. So if you want to get sense for what all the Brian-Wilson chatter is about jump, on board.

Movie Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi3871015193/
Don Was:
Pas Cal Video:
Animal Collective in Spin Magazine:
Fleet Foxes: MySpace:

Beach Boy Al Jardine on the Fleet Foxes in Rolling Stone: http://www.rollingstone.com/rockdaily/index.php/2009/07/01/beach-boys-al-jardine-on-fleet-foxes-theyre-awesome/


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