Saturday, April 23, 2011

Too Late to SMiLE . . . It's Already Been Done . . .

Brian Wilson was SMiLE-ing in 1967. Then his SMiLE turned upside down . . . for over thirty years. Then he began SMiLE-ing again in 2004. Now the Beach Boys old record company, Capitol, wants to SMiLE as well.


The Summer of Love was upon us in America. The year was 1967. Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys were fresh off the mega-hit Good Vibrations, and all was well in the World of Wilson. Sort of . . .

Brian, long since retired from the rigors of touring, was busy at home exploring new ideas and concepts to take the Beach Boys to the heights of pop music, sharing the pedestal with a few Lads from Liverpool.

Meanwhile, the rest of the band, Mike Love, Al Jardine, and the younger Wilson brothers, Carl and Dennis, after doing live tour auditioning with a plethora of artists to take Brian's spot on the road (one of whom was Glen Campbell), had long since settled on Bruce Johnston. Bruce, formerly part of the duo, The Rip Chords (with Terry Melcher, better known as the former owner of the house at 10050 Cielo Drive), would remain off and on a Beach Boy for much of his performing career.

The band was raking in the big bucks and capturing the hearts of many; the young ladies were going gaga over the handsome hunks in Pendletone shirts, and the guys were jamming to the hopes of one day owning a real fine 409. The boys returned home, expecting to hear the masterpiece ensemble that Brian, now hailed by west coast music cognoscenti as a genius, had toiled over seemingly non-stop.

What they heard, to their ears, was a mass of gibberishly cacophonous garbage; bits here, pieces there, but nothing that sounded like a cohesive production, and certainly not Beach Boys material. As well, the Capitol suits were not so thrilled. Everyone had expected Brian to keep them rolling in sunny Southern California sounds designed to keep the masses happy, and the cash registers ringing.

But Brian had matriculated to a world deep into creative experimentation, heavily influenced by the chaotic anger that was swallowing the 1960's youth culture. Adding to that mix was the flowering drug landscape where many brain cells of the elucidated would vanish in the wispy clouds found on high-flying acid trips, leaving their owners with barely enough sense to even drool like bored bovines, as they slipped into their golden years. This was becoming Brian's World, and his creativity was steamrolling along.

In time, the 'masterpiece', which was to be called SMiLE, was scrapped. The final blow came near midnight on July 11. Brian led an entourage to a local radio station, KHJ-AM. In his hands was the followup single to 'Good Vibrations'; in his eyes was the expectation that the DJ would halt all playlists and give the single, 'Heroes and Villains', an entry into the pop music cosmos unrivaled to that point.

But the DJ on duty acted impersonably cold and shunned the opportunity being presented. Only after frantic begging by the ragged retinue to call his boss for permission to break platter-spinning protocol, did Jimmy the Jock acquiesce. Coupled with the 'SMiLE' debacle, that massive 'Failure to Launch' would send Brian into a shell he would not escape for over thirty years.

The band would suffer as well, never quite reaching the previously known halcyonic days of their early twenties. The revenues would continue, but eventually the band would splinter over and over again, yet not to the point of disbanding.

The years passed and the two younger Wilson's would perish; Dennis in a 1983 drowning accident, Carl succumbing to lung cancer in 1998. Mike, Al, and Bruce would keep the band afloat well enough to see chatter of a 50th anniversary in 2011. But eventually Brian would go his own way and not, at least technically, remain a Beach Boy.

Then, in the early part of the 21st Century, an amazing thing would happen. Brian, after years of struggling to regain some of the magic that had now been lost for three decades, resurfaced with a new band; clear-headed visionaries who saw him not as a saviour to their own meager aspirations, but as the icon of pop music who was not quite ready to give up the ghost.

The SMiLE project idea was rekindled and completed to mass critical acclaim in 2004. Touring resumed with the new band, and a new set of fans flocked to shows, watching their parents (and perhaps grandparents) rock out to a blissful experience.

Another project, That Lucky Old Sun, sprung forth in 2008 and was even better than SMiLE. Then while the iron was still glowing bright red, Brian added his touches to a project honoring the Gershwin's, George and Ira, Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin.

Brian Wilson's World was once more rotating on a properly angled axis.


Now, nearly four-and-a-half decades later, Capitol has decided that the long lost tapes they banished to LP Loser City are finally worthy to be released. The project, when it finally hits the streets later this year, will be called The SMiLE Sessions.

Really, now . . . the company wouldn't back the original when it could have set the pop music world on its ear. They panned it so badly in marketing and advertising support that one would have thought it was the initial release of a discombobulated bar band. And now they want to bring it out from the catacombs for the world to enjoy?

Sadly, music aficionados across the globe are making it known that this is a groundbreaking announcement, one that will finish the job on Brian Wilson's coronation as the pre-eminent pop music genius of the 1960's. Brian Wilson himself is in the throng of partiers hailing the news.

But I question why is it being released now, and not in 1967? Why, when Brian Wilson's star was equal to, or burning brighter than, that of McCartney and Lennon, was it not released to sink or swim on its own merit? And I question if it would be released had Brian Wilson permanently faded from the music scene in the 1970's? Would it be more than Geraldo Rivera fodder for a lost treasure music television production if Brian had not risen from the ashes like a great phoenix bird and once more stode the carpeted aisles of adoration and approbation?

Maybe . . . maybe not.

And while I don't necessarily agree with Brian's approach of embracing the release, I will give it a listen. Because it will be good. And because Brian Wilson deserves the right to rake in a portion of the proceeds before riding off into the sunset on the rock and roll horizon.

I am only saddened that three who gave it thumbs down will share in the receipts and that two will have to enjoy its success while living in Rock and Roll Heaven.

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