Brian Wilson still a Beach Boy at heart

Brian Wilson (left) and Jeff Beck will share a bill at the Tower Theater on Sunday.
Brian Wilson (left) and Jeff Beck will share a bill at the Tower Theater on Sunday. (GEORGE DOUGHERTY)
Posted: October 11, 2013

There isn't a pop musician alive whose name spends more time in close proximity to the word genius than Brian Wilson.

The 71-year-old Beach Boys songwriter, who will play the Tower Theater on Sunday on a coheadlining bill with British guitar hero Jeff Beck, is rightly revered for the music he made in the 1960s.

Peaking with Pet Sounds in 1966, he crafted perfect pop songs of startling harmonic sophistication that captured both the joyous optimism of a hot rod chase after the American dream and the sumptuous melancholy that goes with knowing happiness will always remain just out of reach.

Talking on the phone from his home in Los Angeles before hitting the road with Beck, Wilson says the label suits him just fine.

"It makes me feel important, you know?" says the singer, who famously referred to the music on Smile, the long-finished follow-up to Pet Sounds that was finally released in 2004, as a "teenage symphony to God."

"I think I have a certain genius for music, yeah." Asked to elaborate, Wilson first brings the discussion back down to earth. "I think another word for genius would be clever," he says.

Really? Surely there's more to "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" and "Good Vibrations" than that. But surely there's more to it than mere craftsmanship, isn't there? OK, OK, he admits: When Wilson writes songs, "I feel like I'm connected to the other worlds. The other worlds come through me and I write music from the other worlds."

The other word often paired with Wilson, who can be a monosyllabic interview subject, is troubled. His problems with drugs and mental health are well documented. Last year, during the band's ill-fated 50th-anniversary tour, Al Jardine, the original Beach Boy who will accompany Wilson on Sunday - along with childhood friend David Marks (and members of devoted Wilsonian band the Wondermints) - told The Inquirer that "LSD really expanded Brian's music awareness. That's a very quick ride, but the price you pay for it is very high. . . . It changed Brian's life forever."

Wilson was later diagnosed with schizoactive disorder, and he came under the care of Eugene Landy, whose controversial treatment of Wilson eventually led to his being stripped of his license to practice psychology in California.

Love & Mercy, a new Wilson biopic set for a 2014 release directed by Bill Pohlad, stars Paul Dano and John Cusack as younger and older versions of Wilson, Elizabeth Banks as his second wife, Melinda, and Paul Giamatti as Landy. Going on set and watching the movie being made "was fascinating," Wilson says. "It made me sentimental about my life. The Dr. Landy segment kind of bummed me out a little bit."

Last year's Beach Boys tour reunited Wilson with his cousin Mike Love, who owns the rights to the band's name. The tour ended acrimoniously, when Love announced the reunion was over and the Beach Boys would go on with Wilson, Jardine, and Marks out of the band.

At the time, Wilson expressed his disappointment and said, "It feels like we're being fired." Asked about it now, Wilson said the tour was "fantastic. It was an experience for me. I feel fine about it." Before the discussion goes further, however, a publicist interrupts to say that attorneys have advised Wilson and his camp not to talk "about Mike Love and the 50th-anniversary drama."

The Love-led "Beach Boys" are carrying on without Wilson. They play the Keswick Theatre Dec. 15. And Wilson is back to functioning as a solo artist. Capitol Records, which just issued a sprawling six-CD Beach Boys boxed set, Made in California, re-signed Wilson this year, and he's working on a solo album built around a lengthy song suite originally intended for the Beach Boys.

Beck, who played "Surf's Up" and "Surfer Girl" at a 2005 tribute to Wilson, dropped in to play on the new album, and the collaboration has been so productive it's led to this tour, and possibly a separate collaborative Beck-Wilson album.

"Brian will kick things off, but I'll also be given enough time to establish what I'm about," Beck told Rolling Stone of the unexpected pairing. "In the end, we'll mix and match.

"It's a complete honor to be on stage with him."

"He came into my studio two or three months ago, and we flipped," Wilson says of the 69-year-old former Yardbird. "He's a great guitar player. Really great. He and I go together very well."


8 p.m. Sunday at the Tower Theater, 69th and Ludlow Sts., Upper Darby. Tickets: $52-$117. Information: 610-652-2887,



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