Calling Brian Wilson “one of rock music’s greatest composers if not its greatest composer” is one of the safest sweeping assertions that you can make.
Anyone arguing with it is immediately flagged on suspicion of ulterior motives.
That fact that Wilson, 77, is still touring and writing new music in 2019 is nothing less than miraculous.
Wilson will visit the Embassy Theatre with fellow Beach Boys founder Al Jardine on August 5.
In the 1960s, Wilson was the artistic heart of the Beach Boys and the architect of “the California Sound.” But drug abuse and mental health issues eventually diminished all his music-related abilities, including his tolerance for the stressful trappings of the music industry.
“Many of my worst memories are from being nervous [onstage],” Wilson told TSA News Service, “and many others are from the things I did to keep myself from being nervous up there.
“Some of the drinking was because of that. Some of the drugs were because of that. Some of the voices in my head I heard just before I went onstage, and they didn’t have anything good to say about me.”
LSD helped at first but made everything worse in the end, as it is wont to do.
“At first, my creativity increased more than I could believe,” Wilson told the Guardian newspaper. “On the downside, it (expletive) my brain.”
Wilson’s artistic ambitions increasingly diverged from those of the other Beach Boys.
“They wanted surf music, surf music, surf music,” he said. “The sadness (in the Pet Sounds album) came from me. Came from my heart.”
“Mike (Love) and the guys didn’t like (Pet Sounds),” Wilson told CBS Sunday Morning. “(They) thought it was like too advanced music. They wanted to keep making car songs and surf songs. I said, ‘Guys, we got to grow. We’ve got to grow musically.’”
Music is his antidepressant
Today, the Beach Boys are a massively lucrative touring entity estranged from Wilson and fronted by the controversial Mike Love. Wilson has recovered enough to perform with his own band regularly.
He still struggles with mental health issues and those struggles sometimes conflict with his career plans.
In June, he cancelled or postponed several dates on his tour citing mental insecurity.
“It is no secret that I have been living with mental illness for many decades,” Wilson said in a statement at the time.
“There were times when it was unbearable, but with doctors and medications I have been able to live a wonderful, healthy, and productive life with support from my family, friends, and fans who have helped me through this journey.”
Music is still Wilson’s best antidepressant.
“My emotional problems subside when I’m on the piano,” he told the Palm Springs Desert Sun. “When I’m working on a song, I shut my emotional depressions to the side for a while until I’m done with piano. Then they come back a little bit. It just goes away when I go to the piano.”
Surrounded by great musicians
Given how heavenly Wilson’s songs sound, it is not surprising to learn that music-making brings Wilson closer to the divine.
“When I go to the keyboard, I feel holy,” Wilson told the Associated Press, “like an angel over my head. I feel very holy. When we did ‘God Only Knows,’ I felt holy about that, too. A godly something comes through me. I’m always thinking about melodies. The melodies come from my brain and my keyboards. I play a really pleasant keyboard. It sounds so pleasant it makes me want to write melodies.”
Another coping mechanism for Wilson is trying to live in the moment.
“I look forward to today,” he said. “I never look forward to the future because I think to myself, ‘What if there’s an earthquake, what if I die or someone I love dies?’ I get those kind of thoughts all the time.”
Wilson is bold and unequivocal in his praise of his touring band.
“The Beach Boys band is not as good as my band,” he said.
Attendees of the forthcoming solo shows will hear better music than they’d hear at a Beach Boys concert, he asserts.
“The Brian Wilson Band is younger and has better musicians,” he said. “They play better, they sing better. They are really just excellent musicians.”
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October 19 • The Clyde Theatre