I saw something called "Beautiful Dreamer" (I think) on Showtime this weekend. It was about Brian Wilson and his reworking of "Smile." It was entertaining, and it made me respect his talent a little bit more, but still I think he is highly overrated. The show had lots of interviews with people praising him for his genius and explaining away the effect drugs had on him. They of course suggested that Mike Love was awful for making Van Dyke Parks explain what a nonsensical lyric meant. (I think it is totally legitimate for someone who is singing a song to ask what it means.)
What really struck me was how Wilson was surrounded by all these second-rate people who were telling him how great he was. They all gushed about the tent he set up for meetings (smoking hash, that is) or the sandbox he built in the living room. What they saw as inspired madness was just madness, and I think Brian Wilson would be the first one to admit it. Of course, when the Beach Boys got back from touring and heard "Smile," they questioned him and he folded faster than the hash tent.
I feel very sorry for Brian Wilson. He was abused by his father, enabled by his friends, and brainwashed by a quack. Now he is surrounded by people who pretend like everything he says is brilliant and treat him like a mentally handicapped kid. He's a lot like Ozzy Osbourne, in that his wife seems to be running things and he is only asked to be "Brian Wilson." He seemed totally disengaged from the process of rehearsing for the first live performance of "Smile," but everyone kept saying how wonderful he was (even while expressing frustration). His role seemed to be a lot like Wesley Willis's must have been in his band.
Of course, when he was young he was responsible for a lot of great stuff. George Martin sung his praises as a producer, so that's good enough for me. That's what makes what happened to him that much sadder. I think he could have achieved a lot more if there were someone around to say, "Brian, you didn't burn down that warehouse. The tent is a dumb idea. If you want to feel the sand between your toes, go to the beach. And don't worry so much about the whole 'teenage symphony to God' business, just make a good pop record." Like Elvis, he was surrounded by people but completely isolated, and that seems to be a disastrous combination.