Brian Wilson, Reconstructed

A further irony is that, while Brian Wilson has spent the past two years trying to escape his past, the Beach Boys have done brisk business cannibalizing it, licensing songs heavily, offering weak-kneed versions of the group's '60s hits on stage, and coughing up worn self-parodies like "Kokomo." A year ago, during a show in California's Bay Area, Love claimed that the band wouldn't do any of their car songs -- "409," "I Get Around," and so forth -- because they didn't want to perform tunes that celebrate "gas guzzlers"; the group had inked a deal to promote the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program. Fine, but earlier this year the band put its name on Salute to NASCAR, a collection of those same car songs, assembled to celebrate the stock car racing organization's 50th anniversary. The record was sold exclusively at Union 76 gas stations.

Brian Wilson knows that people wonder about his mental stability. "I think they think I might be trying to get through something that I'm going through," he says. "That I'm having a problem letting myself feel good, because I've had a lot of hard knocks. It's not so easy to let myself feel good with people, because I get -- I got hurt. But that's just me, that's just something I had to go through. It might look like I'm going through something, but I'm really not going through too much. I think I'm gonna be OK."

"People just need to understand that this is a guy who's damaged," says Steve Dahl. "And like a prizefighter, he's working his way out of it. It's the 12th round, and he still has a chance to get the decision. I don't think the healing process is completely over yet. He's past the rough stuff now; he just needs to keep going out there and keep working at it."

Joe Thomas says that about seven or eight songs were left over from the Imagination sessions and that there are plans to work together on a new album. But Wilson says he has no interest in working with Thomas again ("for my own personal reasons"), and instead speaks enthusiastically about his next project: He wants to make a rock 'n' roll album, just to see if he can. "Rock 'n' roll, as I see it, is energy that I need so much, so badly inside of me. The energy to produce a rock 'n' roll record, to produce an album of rock 'n' roll." Why rock? "Because I like rock 'n' roll. Because everybody likes it. People say, 'I know you can make great records, but can you rock?' Anybody can rock! Anyone can rock 'n' roll. If you can count to four" -- he pats out a rhythm on his thighs with his palms -- "bom, bom, bom, bom -- you're rockin'."

He already has one of the songs written, called "How Could We Still Be Dancing." Asked to sing a bit of it, he gamely complies. Pausing for a moment, he leans back against the couch and gathers his thoughts. Then, patting out another rhythm, he sings:

How could we still be dancing
After all these years?
How could we still be laughing
After all those tears?

"It's a very good song," says Brian Wilson.

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