I have just realized some of you readers may not have any knowledge of or even heard a Beach Boy song. They were young men of the 1960’s from Southern California that brought beautiful harmony to their initially lighthearted surf centric songs. Three brothers, Carl, Dennis and Brian along with a neighbour and a relative. Life on the beach, girls and somewhat simplistic and teen centric lyrics. They were huge and almost always a cheerful listen in a pop barbershop style. They were an early Boomer’s delight but being on the tail end of the Boomer cycle they were more of my older sister’s band. For me it was Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.
I do recall some chatter about Brian Wilson being screwed up by drugs and sidelined. But the story is deeper than that.
The film is guided by a long-time buddy Jason Fine who met Brian in 1995 and followed him in 1997 when he launched his solo career. Fine was a Rolling Stone editor who first interviewed Brian in 1995. During the interview Brian became fidgety and Fine found him hiding in the refrigerator.
We should thank Fine for setting us straight about Brian’s mental health which started a downward twist at age 21 when he began having auditory hallucinations telling him cruel and degrading things which was diagnosed years later as a rare schizoaffective disorder but even with drugs and therapy these voices continue to this day. There were drugs as well that didn’t seem to help.
In 1964 he suffered a panic attack on tour and decided to remain in Los Angeles to focus on writing and producing.
Fine takes us on a long historical road that Brian Wilson has traveled from where he was born to where he is today. Both Elton John and Bruce Springsteen candidly express their thoughts on Brian’s brilliance. Elton John saying Brian had an orchestra in his head. Perhaps Brian’s greatest contribution to pop music can be marked by Linda Perry’s comments that he brought us a “haunting harmony” so true in the post surf music period of the Beach Boys. Give some of the songs composed and produced by Brian a listen and indeed they are complex, brilliant and orchestral.
His big album “Pet Sounds” was released in 1969 to lukewarm acceptance which must have been a disappointment to a man who at 22 had produced 7 top 10 hits.
There is something of an uneasy and strange nature about Brian who is shy and would rather be interviewed in a car than in a room.
The Beach Boys were a big part of North American culture and it is the brilliant Brian Wilson that deserves a significant credit for that but he wanted something more meaningful than girls, surfboards and cars.
Fine drives us from the beginning to today and we are treated to an intimate portrait of Brian Wilson and the bumps the man has suffered.
He still records and performs but recent Hollywood Bowl Concert footage reveals him with a large cast of musicians and not to be cruel but there is nothing wrong with celebrating a musician of brilliance but with rock n rollers one must be honest at one point and say living and performing their past glory like the Rolling Stones of The Who is a sad spectacle for many to watch. Brian Wilson may have somewhat moved on to a newer creative space but how relevant is he today?
This 93-minute 2021 American film plays in theatre at Toronto Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema in December and can be accessed virtually as well. For more information visit their website at https://www.hotdocs.ca/