We know of his bizarre behavior, like placing his piano in an indoor sandbox (but then, that's kind of cool), his initial reign as leader of the Beach Boys, his bout with mental illness, his emotional decline, and his dubious, then strong attempts to come back after all of it.
But that matters little. For Brian Wilson, the negative is just shadowy background for the positive. We also know that his early band was only called Carl and the Passions in an attempt to get his little brother as excited about making music as he was, that he was responsible for all of the Beach Boys' production by 1962 (an anomalous feat at the time) and the catalyst in getting them their own studio space. And we know that he could deconstruct and reconstruct everything from Gershwin to the Four Freshmen, then churn out his own gem after sun-kissed gem, eventually shaping the entire notion of the '60s, of California dreaming. What was avant-garde at the time was also so accessible, thanks in part to Brian Wilson's vision, that it became pop.
Our favorite Brian Wilson: the one singing "Surf's Up." It's ironic that the artwork for the album of the same name was inspired by James Earle Fraser's sculpture End of the Trail. Brian was reaching the end of a proverbial road of sorts, still brilliant as ever, and wrote the song in his sandbox with Van Dyke Parks in one night. "A child is the father of the man," the finalized song goes, a reprise of SMiLE's "Child Is Father of the Man," which was also in production at the time and failing. "Surf's Up" was intended for Smile, an album Wilson claimed would be "a teenage symphony to God." Perhaps "Surf's Up" summarizes its purpose. But given Brian Wilson's troubled but illustrious psyche, his genius, his crystallization of youth and free spirit and love and of real weirdness too -- we'd say every song he penned or co-penned, every single one, is a youthful symphony to God.
Happy birthday, Brian!
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to New Times Broward-Palm Beach's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling South Florida's stories with no paywalls.