Brian And I

by Ralph Brown

Itıs 11.45pm in my room. Wouldnıt it be nice if Brian Wilson phoned? I am thrillingly nervous. Spiritual leader, songwriter and arranger of the Beach Boys, Brian is visiting Brighton next week. His music defined Southern California for a generation ­ pop gems such as I Get Around, Donıt Worry Baby and Surfer Girl rivalling the Beatles in their heyday.

I have a list of questions, all about music ­ I donıt want to bother him with his dad, who belted him round the head so hard in the 1950ıs that he has been deaf in one ear since the age of four. I donıt want to talk about his two brothers, Dennis and Carl, both now dead, with whom he started the band in 1961. I donıt want to discuss the remaining Beach Boys, Al Jardine and Mike Love, also touring but in separate bands, so acrimonious has been the final split. Or indeed his years in bed, ego lost, id on the rampage, withdrawn, overweight, stuffing burgers, drink, cocaine, porn and god only knows what into his system, paranoid that Phil Spector was trying to kill him. Or about Dr Eugene Landy his therapist/minder for nearly twenty years, almost certainly responsible for saving Brianıs life and allowing him back into the world under stringent conditions that eventually became too oppressive. I donıt want to talk to Brian about the pain, the struggle, the madness of his life. Not that Brian isnıt a survivor ­ he emphatically is, but the damage is apparent to me. Other rock stars play the eternal teenager ­ Jagger, Iggy Pop, Ossie Osbourne. But Brian is the eternal child ­ a frail ego, protected from the world, guarding his inner harmonies from whatever turmoil the Beach Boys, his parents, his doctors and minders and managers and journalists could throw at him.

No, I just want to talk about the music ­ the swirling harmonies, the melancholy beauty, the intriguing arrangements. And, critically, I want to let him know that here in Brighton there is a tribute band to the Beach Boys in gestation, that I have formed a six-voice collective with like-minded souls called the Brighton Beach Boys, yes to pay homage to the great man, but mainly for the purpose of having fun, fun, fun. It used to be impossible for me as a small boy to listen to the Beach Boys without cheering up instantly ­ hard to be grumpy when "Cottonfields" or "Breakaway" is playing. Rehearsing weekly since last October, we have pulled the songs to pieces, marvelled at their intricacy or simplicity, then painstakingly put them back together again with our own voices. In a world of trouble, it lifts us. But will he approve? Will he advise?

The phone rings ­ itıs him. I have fifteen minutes, and I burble at him with embarrassing incontinence for pretty much the entire call. His voice is gentle and somewhat disembodied ­ is he really there? First the myths and stories: I ask if he can still think in six-part harmony ­ He never could ­ "I just write the melody and then place the harmony where itıs required"

Song writing ­ "Well you start with the melody, then you add the lyrics ­ but you know what you do right before the melody ­ you get your chords organised." Will he be writing any classical pieces? "No." I ask boldy if he thinks "Pet Sounds" - played in itıs entirety on this tour > - is a feminine rock album? "Yes it is" he replies immediately, "it has a very feminine approach and feel, and Mike Love provided the masculine side."

I decide not to follow that up. Tiptoe gently around the bruises. I ask about the mythological feel to some songs ­ "you mean California Girls?" he asks. Yes, I doı I reply, thinking (burbling!) - You pretty much invented the quintessential myth of Southern California, cars, girls, sun and surf, writ large in five-part harmony. "Surfinı USA is one of those too," says Brian "and thatıs the first time anybody has said the word "mythological" in conversation to me. Thank you very much, I really appreciate that."

Glowing, I finally pluck up the courage to tell him about the Brighton Beach Boys. He is intrigued: "Well Iıll be darned. What kinda music do you play?" "Er ,ach Boys music. All Brian Wilson songs!!" I reply "Wow," says Brian after a pause, "that must be great. I bet you like it donıt you?" We do Brian, we do. But he says it as if ­ wow, imagine doing Brian Wilson songs? It makes my head spin.

I manage to ask him about smoking ­ will it ruin my falsetto? "I smoked for ten years and it never did affect my voice" says the voice of Brian. Joy! He leaves me with an encouraging word for the boys ­ "Get to it with your band" and hangs up. I am in pop-fan heaven.

Brian Wilson is at the Brighton Centre on June 5th. If you donıt already have a ticket, get one. Brian is at his happiest, sitting behind a piano which he never touches, and time stands still as he sings his great songs with a stunning band, an ambassador of love and close harmony perfection.

The Brighton Beach Boys ­ Ralph, Steve, Rob, Adrian, Glen and Rory will be performing around Brighton this summer in an unplugged format. Itıll be an honour.

İRalph Brown 2002

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