Surf's Up 

Brian Wilson Owes Us Nothing

Brian Wilson
Wed Aug 31
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

I hope you're happy with yourself. You, with your seemingly bottomless sense of entitlement. You, who couldn't leave well enough alone. You, who just had to ask "What if Brian Wilson ever finished Smile?" You, who've already bought tickets to his show. This is your fault. It's all our faults. And now we're going to have to live with ourselves.

The story of Brian Wilson's mental breakdown is an obsessively well-documented chapter in the annuls of pop music's dicey history: Universally heralded as a pop genius following the unexpected success of Pet Sounds, Wilson set out to create his masterwork in Smile—a ridiculously ambitious "teenage symphony to God" that promised to be the most advanced, artistically profound pop recording of the 1960s. Between 1966 and 1967, Wilson worked frantically to finish the project, but the pressures of juggling missed deadlines, suspicious bandmates, drug dependency, and his own fanatically competitive nature (particularly with the Beatles, the only band of the era that competed with the Beach Boys' combination of commercial and artistic success) collapsed the 25-year-old Wilson, who abandoned Smile entirely for nearly four decades. Since that time, Smile became one of the most sought-after unfinished records of all time, heavily bootlegged and conjectured about by virtually every music asshole in the world.

In the following decade, Wilson continued to spiral out of control: Crippled by paranoia, he became a shut-in—eventually blimping to over 300 pounds. In 1976, his family commissioned the assistance of controversial psychologist Eugene Landy, who asserted absolute 24-hour control over Wilson's life, and doped him up on illegal psychotropics and tranquilizers. Landy was quickly fired by Wilson's family, but after Wilson overdosed in 1983, Landy was again appointed as Wilson's psychologist. Over the decade that followed, Landy took oppressive, near brainwashing control over Wilson's life—going so far as to ghostwrite Wilson's autobiography, and "co-author" songs for a Wilson solo album.

Finally freed from Landy in 1992, Wilson has undergone a great deal of psychological progress in the last decade, though his artistic output—1998's Imagination and 2004's Gettin' in Over My Head—has seemed superfluous at best. Following the financial success of a European tour soullessly performing the entirety of Pet Sounds with a slick-as-shit, cheese-dick backup band called the Wondermints, Wilson—who in interviews appears to have the metal capacity of an eight-year-old—was successfully coerced by his nurse/wife and band to try and tackle the ever-intensifying shadow of Smile. Hand-holding his way through temper tantrums and bouts of delusional depression (as witnessed in the Smile documentary Beautiful Dreamer), the resulting album is a complex, beautiful, and ultimately soulless studio endeavor devoid of any of the unfinished album's magic. Live, Smile is a completely devastating spectacle, as the dead-eyed puppet Wilson—who looks like a beetle turned on its back—mimes behind a piano affixed with lyrical teleprompters. Not only does this heartbreaking vision betray the powerful mystery that once was Smile, it betrays the soul of the man—still lost somewhere back in the ether of 1967—who once sought to create it.

And as for everyone who tries to paint this incredibly tragic tale into some kind of ridiculous happy ending, I know that some of you shelling out $65.50 for a chance to finally see it live know deep down that it's partly our fault—we just couldn't leave well enough alone.

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