Thanks to tour, film, Beach Boys’ Wilson feeling good vibrations again

Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame plays the 1stBank Center in Broomfield on July 8.  (CO5 Media / Courtesy photo)
Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame plays the 1stBank Center in Broomfield on July 8. (CO5 Media / Courtesy photo)

By Quentin Young

Brian Wilson was America’s answer to Paul McCartney — over a period of about four years in the mid-1960s these rival magicians of melody set standards for pop songwriting that have yet to be topped — but he also was an American Syd Barrett.

As with Barrett, Pink Floyd’s original songwriter and singer, The Beach Boys’ Wilson struggled with internal demons that both played a role in his creativity and eventually led to reclusive debilitation (and which were at least exacerbated by drug abuse).

“In My Room,” from The Beach Boys’ 1963 album Surfer Girl, was an early indication Wilson was more than a prodigious craftsman of songs about surfing and cars, and it hinted at the sensitivity and imagination he brought to bear three years later in his masterpiece, Pet Sounds. But it’s chilling today to listen to the song, which is about a person locking himself alone in his room, knowing that in the 1970s Wilson locked himself alone in his room for three years to do drugs and eat himself to a weight of more than 300 pounds.

But Wilson never stopped writing songs, and, at 73, he’s “in the middle of one of rock & roll’s most astonishing third acts,” as Rolling Stone recently put it.

“Love & Mercy,” a biopic with John Cusack and Paul Dano playing Wilson at different stages of his life, recently hit theaters (read a review). And in April, Wilson released his 11th studio album, No Pier Pressure, and he’s touring in support of it. The tour includes a Wednesday stop at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield.

The songs on No Pier Pressure are mostly light lyrically (celebrations of love and the seaside lifestyle predominate). But the album has flashes of deep reflection and melodic brilliance. The chorus in “The Right Time” is as catchy as anything Wilson dreamed up in his 20s.

Wilson wrote the songs on No Pier Pressure mostly last year, he said during a recent phone interview. These days he gets song ideas during the frequent walks he takes near his Los Angeles home, where he lives with his wife, Melinda, and their five children.

“I’m inspired by exercise,” Wilson said. “When I take walks at a park it makes me want to write songs … The fresh air and nature inspire me very much.”

The album includes guest appearances by such contemporary artists as Zooey Deschanel, Capital Cities’ Sebu and fun.’s Nate Ruess. Fun. is one Wilson’s favorite contemporary bands, though when he listens to music it’s usually from the 1970s or 1980s, he said.

As depicted in “Love & Mercy,” Wilson preferred the rewards of studio work to the rigors of touring. But it’s not performing that he minds.

“The only hard part about it is the traveling,” he said. “The shows are a lot of fun, but the traveling’s rough.”

Wilson’s voice retains much of the bell tone ring that was a stamp of the early Beach Boys brand, though time has made claims.

“I can’t sing quite as high,” Wilson said. “My range has dropped three or four notes down, but I have a guy on stage with me who sings the higher parts.”

Paul Dano portrays Brian Wilson, circa the '60s, in a scene from the film "Love & Mercy." (Francois Duhamel / Roadside Attractions)
Paul Dano portrays Brian Wilson, circa the ’60s, in a scene from the film “Love & Mercy.” (Francois Duhamel / Roadside Attractions)
In “Love & Mercy,” Dano plays Wilson in the mid-’60s, when his musical genius peaked in Pet Sounds and mental illness and psychedelic drug use were increasing factors in his life. Cusack plays Wilson in the 1980s, when his future wife, Melinda, helped rescue him from the abusive treatment he received from a psychotherapist named Eugene Landy. A subplot of the movie centers on the resistance Wilson encountered, particularly from bandmate and cousin Mike Love, when he followed his musical imagination to unconventional places. The movie also deals frankly with Wilson’s mental illness.

Wilson said Cusack and Dano spent a week with him at home as they were preparing to play him, and he said everything in the movie is “very accurate.”

“I was scared to see the documentary part of it, you know, it scared me a lot, because it brought back a lot of memories,” he said. “Some of the good parts I liked a lot, like when I was producing records, you know, in my early 20s.”

He most recently spoke with Love about three years ago, when the surviving Beach Boys reunited for a 50th anniversary tour.

“He didn’t like that sound, he thought it was too advanced,” Wilson said of Love’s position at the time on Pet Sounds. “He wanted more car songs. I told him we needed to grow and experiment. He finally agreed with me.”

Early in the film, the Cusack version of Wilson leaves a note for Melinda that says simply “lonely, scared, frightened.” A viewer gets the impression these were predominant circumstances of his adult life, but also that Wilson could sometimes translate internal disturbances into transcendent art. Wilson acknowledged the connection.

“Like a painter,” he said. “He suffers a little bit, but he brings out his suffering on the easel.”

Wilson already is planning a new recording project, but he won’t be using his own compositions on this one. He described it as a tribute album to the great rock stars — “Chuck Berry, Little Richard and so on” — and will include cover versions of “Johnny B. Goode,” “Rock And Roll Music,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “and all those great songs,” he said. He plans to work on the album early next year.

If you go

What: Brian Wilson, with opening act Rodriguez

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 8

Where: 1stBank Center, 11450 Broomfield Lane, Broomfield

Tickets: $49.75 to $99.50


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