Thursday, July 19, 2018

A chat with Brian Wilson: He made Pet Sounds and quite possibly invented summer

A Beach Chair, The Beach Boys, and Me

Posted by Kelly Rae Smith on Thu, Jul 19, 2018 at 3:02 PM

Brian Wilson performed 30 songs at the Gaillard Center in 2015 and promises to deliver the same number of tracks at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center on Wed. July 25. - TIM EDGAR FILE PHOTO
  • Tim Edgar file photo
  • Brian Wilson performed 30 songs at the Gaillard Center in 2015 and promises to deliver the same number of tracks at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center on Wed. July 25.
The first time I heard Pet Sounds, I had purchased the CD from 52.5 Records on Wentworth Street (RIP) and headed straight to the beach by myself. Armed with only a beach chair and my Walkman (and if memory serves me right, a wretched AC's hangover), I settled into my go-to Folly spot, dug my feet in the sand close to where the waves would land, and readied my headphones; but nothing could have really prepared me for what I was about to hear.

I really was not at all ready to get so rocked. I'd spent too long associating the Boys with the Top 40 hits I grew up with in the '80s, like "Kokomo," and their new drummer John Stamos (yep, same one) caught my attention too, but I never even considered what more they could offer. These days, I'm a huge fan of all the 1960s hits about cars and California, but Pet Sounds was my gateway drug, which led to further intoxicating sounds like that of Wild Honey, Carl & The Passions - So Tough, Surf's Up, Sunflower, Friends, 20/20, Smiley Smile, and on and on. But first, Pet. Sounds.

I spent that hot Sunday afternoon on the beach pressing pause a lot: I had to constantly stop and catch my breath. I was so taken aback by the beauty of this record, I gasped and gasped. "Oh. My. God. Oh. My. God!"

I didn't really know what else to say. I still don't. Words scarcely do Pet Sounds justice, which is why it's so fitting that the man responsible for the masterpiece himself, Beach Boy Brian Wilson, is left with so few words during interviews these days, such as the one I had with him yesterday ahead of his stop on Wed. July 25 in North Charleston with Pet Sounds: The Final Performances.

Released on May 16, 1966, Pet Sounds celebrated its 50th anniversary two years ago. To celebrate, Wilson, along with fellow Beach Boys co-founder Al Jardine, one-time Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin, and Wilson's band of top-shelf harmonizers and musicians set off on a world tour that wraps up this year. That's right, this tour is the last time Wilson will perform Pet Sounds in its entirety. How does Wilson feel about saying goodbye to performing the beloved album live? "We're going to do the best we can, you know?" he says. "It's been a moving experience."

Wilson was also moved during the initial creation of Pet Sounds, a process that was immortalized in 2014 with the film Love & Mercy. When asked about the most memorable moment during that process, Wilson recalls "when my brother [Carl] cried to 'God Only Knows.'" Unprecedented in rock 'n' roll with its ballsy mention of God in the title, "God Only Knows," with its sleigh bells, accordions, harpsichord, and so much more, was not only the song that brought Carl to tears, but also the track Wilson says was the most difficult song off the album to create in the first place.  As for the Pet Sounds selection that's been the most complex one to recreate for the tour, Wilson says the lede track about wanting to be grown up, "Wouldn't It Be Nice," was the most challenging. As with several songs on Pet Sounds, "Wouldn't it Be Nice" was crafted using Phil Spector's intricately arranged Wall of Sound model — a staggering feat to pull off live indeed. But, as witnessed at the Gaillard Center in 2015, Wilson and his band do so superbly, with Jardine's son Matt taking the lead on tracks like "Wouldn't it Be Nice" and "Don't Worry Baby."

Incidentally, while Wilson firmly believes your own Beach Boys journey (if you've yet to start one) should begin with Pet Sounds, his favorite other Beach Boys album is The Beach Boys Love You, a.k.a. Love You — because "I just like the songs," he says. "They're very good songs." Of all the Boys' records I've taken time to absorb, this is one I admit I've listened to very little, but with those words I've been shamed to be still with it one day soon, probably on the beach, maybe even on a hot Sunday afternoon, this time with Spotify instead of a CD Walkman. Maybe the songs will resonate as Pet Sounds' did, but nothing will ever compare to that first time layers of sunshine took hold, and the Beach Boys revelations kept coming in waves.

As for new songs, there's more to come. Wilson says he's not only planning to write new Brian Wilson tracks later this year as a follow up to his last solo record, No Pier Pressure, but he also plans to co-write a rock 'n' roll record with Blondie Chapman, who joined the Beach Boys for a spell in the 1970s for albums like Holland and Carl and the Passions - So Tough, and who's on tour with him now, fronting tracks like "Sail Away" (No Pier Pressure), "Wild Honey" (Wild Honey), and "Sail On, Sailor" (Holland). At next week's performance in North Charleston, you can expect to hear Brian Wilson tracks and Beach Boys classics in addition to Pet Sounds in its entirety from the singer, who at 76 years old, refuses to retire. On Wilson's birthday last month, Stevie Van Zandt (E Street Band, Disciples of Soul), tweeted "Brian Wilson's birthday being the day before the first day of summer is totally appropriate. BECAUSE BRIAN WILSON INVENTED SUMMER!!!" Wilson's response to the remark? "I thought it was very true."

So do we, B, so do we.

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