Monday, October 11, 2004

"Smile," for the Camera

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.

1 comment:

Sean said...

Wow, you don't like Brian Wilson's post-65 work. I get it. If I tried to explain its artistic value, well, that never works. All I can say is I find great aesthetic pleasure in listening to it. After all, I find the Grateful Dead to be the equivalent of an absence of music, but I'm almost certainly outvoted there, and more power to 'em.

Your post, it seems, has nothing to do with advancement theory, and everything to do with your own personal taste. The facts you state are all correct, but your conclusion is drawn through the bias of the music holding no value for you, and is the exact opposite of what I would conclude.

Remember the end of "Stardust Memories," where the aliens tell Sandy "We love your movies! Especially the early funny ones." - Now that was a film about advancement, as I recall. Not sure why I felt the need to mention it.

You could have easily used this as a starting point for discussing the advancement of the Beach Boys post-Brian, which reached a peak (or maybe started) in 1979 with the 11-minute disco version of "Here Comes the Night." Bruce Johnston, its producer, is the most advanced member of the Beach Boys. Mike Love appears incredibly advanced because he is not an artist. And have you heard Brian's 1990 rap song "Smart Girls?" It may not count since it was never officially released... but, dear God, it still exists.

I was fascinated by all this at first but I'm starting to think I have far more important things to do than read this. So it may be a while before I find out if you've replied to any of my comments. But thank you for allowing me not to feel stupid for continuing to buy the horrible boring albums Paul Weller keeps putting out.