(If you’re really that curious…)

 

SELECTED COMMENTARIES BY ADAM LEVIN

 

 

In Memoriam: Keith Emerson

March 14, 2016

 

Make Love, Not War

February 14, 2016 (Valentine’s Day)

 

John Lennon:  Nowhere Boy (film, 2009)

October 9, 2015 (Lennon’s birthday)

 

Brian Wilson:  Love and Mercy (film, 2015)

June 20, 2015 (Wilson’s birthday)

 

Art Garfunkel (concert)

April 4, 2014

 

Limelight (film, 1952)

June 8, 2012

 

Annette Peacock: promotion of An Acrobat’s Heart

December 16, 2000

 

Brian Wilson and the Long Island Philharmonic Orchestra perform Pet Sounds

September 10, 2000

 

 

In Memoriam: Keith Emerson

March 14, 2016

 

Keith Emerson profoundly touched the lives of countless musicians over the years. As various colleagues have shared thoughts about him in the wake of his suicide, I'll join the chorus with my two cents' worth.

 

Without my exposure to his innovative, trailblazing work, I wouldn't have pursued music professionally, discovered and embraced the music of other progressive artists, or attended music schools.

 

My growing up with a background of classical, jazz and rock that often seemed incompatible with each other, Keith's blending of them unlocked a creative door for me. Although his composing influenced the direction of some of my earlier writing, it was his playing and merging of genres that particularly inspired me.  Well beyond his pioneering role in the application of synthesizers, he was a musical guide to broader, creative possibilities.

 

Many observers, some close to Emerson, have tried to explain or understand what caused him to take his life.  But in the end, it is still difficult to fathom or accept. Not every detail of his physical illness, depression, and financial and medical circumstances is publicly known, nor are they any of my business. Yet they surely factored into his final mindset even more than frustrations about his impairment as a keyboardist reportedly did. To whatever extent other details regarding his condition are disclosed, perhaps they will contribute to helping others similarly afflicted or seeking to treat such cases.


Despite inconsistent results throughout his career, "perfectionism" has been a recurring characterization of Emerson's approach to his work, right up to his final days, when he'd been preparing for an upcoming concert tour.  And, by all appearances, his work was his life.  Although perfectionism may be an overly simplistic observation, it is easy to imagine that the high bar he set for himself and his audience – especially earlier in his career – that guided his artistic vision made his later impairment and coinciding professional pressures and expectations all the harder to bear.  Indeed, he'd already bore them for some time. Yet, to many of us not in his shoes, his performance flaws and discomfort pale in contrast to his pivotal impact on music and musicians.

 

Emerson was hardly alone among musical icons whose serious health problems in later life impeded their capacity as performers. Art Garfunkel, Phil Collins and Pete Townshend come to mind. Yet each managed to find some way to cope that ultimately provided a new lease on professional life. Emerson's talent and insight certainly transcended his active playing but, sadly, other factors undermined such prospects for him.

It is at least a small comfort, or blessing, to continue to celebrate and draw inspiration from his legacy, influence and creative spirit. Fortunately – or hopefully – those contributions will define him more than how or why his life ended.

 

 

 

Make Love, Not War

February 14, 2016 (Valentine’s Day)

 

An antiwar radical spearheaded the first draft-dodging movement by performing secret mass weddings in order to exempt young men from the army.  When he was caught by the government, he was imprisoned for treason and sentenced to death.

 

Undeterred despite being on death row, he seduced the jailer's young daughter with his risqué ideas and suggestions.  The fact that he was a priest proved no obstacle.  It may have even contributed to the intrigue.

 

The scoundrel's name?  Valentine.

 

Not content with that "bad boy" image, Valentine even went as far as to send the girl a provocative note.  In a prison where inmate mail was less private than Hillary Clinton’s email server.  And instead of maintaining anonymity, he outed himself by unabashedly signing it, "From your Valentine."

 

However, since the government was Roman and later deposed, and the priest opposed Rome's anti-Christian policies, Valentine was later seen as a saint.
 

Well, if our country's founding fathers are revered for disloyalty and subversive activities against the motherland, and honored despite their indiscretions with the opposite sex, why not Valentine?  In fact, he puts some of our presidents in a brighter light.

 

Bill Clinton was responsible for only one draft evasion, not dozens.  And although he took comfort with a young woman who was under the same roof like Valentine did, Clinton wasn't a treasonous, convicted jailbird at the time despite the conservative movement's efforts, much less a man of the cloth.  Clinton behaved stupidly but Valentine's the one who literally lost his head.  And the date?  February 14th, of course.

 

Valentine's legacy of finding ways to avoid military service may have been perfected by Bush II.  He proved that you can avoid the draft, go AWOL from the National Guard to play politics, and still send thousands of soldiers to their deaths.


Meanwhile, Rome's policies towards Christians went on to inspire Donald Trump's positions on Muslims and Mexicans.

 

Like Valentine, John Lennon espoused love and landed in serious trouble with the government because of antiwar activities.  Some even argue that, like Valentine, he was killed because of it.  Yet Lennon was too embarrassed to use the phrase "make love, not war" as a lyrical hook because he thought it reeked of '60s nostalgia.

 

It's Valentine's deeds that truly give that slogan meaning.  One I didn't know despite sending – or being – a “valentine" for years.  That funny-shaped heart hasn't looked the same since.

 

 

Nowhere Boy (film, 2009)

October 9, 2015 (John Lennon’s birthday)

The best of the various dramatizations about John Lennon or the Beatles, this exceptionally moving film centers on Lennon's bittersweet reconnection with his free-spirited mother Julia during his teen years after desertion as a toddler by his parents.  Her rebellious, pivotal influence on his early musical development and character clashes with, yet complements, his conservative, cultivated upbringing by his aunt Mimi, Julia's stern, repressive older sister.  Those competing sensibilities can be detected in much of his work.  Near the end of his life, Lennon, already a published author, publicly stated that he hoped to someday write a “Forsyte Saga” style novel about Julia and Mimi's family; this film is the closest thing to it.

 

At the height of “Beatlemania”, Lennon was lauded by luminaries like Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rodgers and Queen Elizabeth.  He went on, of course, to influence generations of musicians along with the culture at large.  A rebel from the outset, he became the most provocative, irreverent, courageously honest and publicly vulnerable of the Beatles and, arguably, their peers – through his music as well as his social activism.  Consequently, he endured a grueling, four-year deportation battle fueled by the Nixon administration's clandestine activities against him as a purported “national security threat”.  Not content with the Beatles' success or impact, he even “rebelled” against that and became a pathbreaking (albeit inconsistent) solo artist and collaborator, taking even greater creative risks as well as forays into other art forms.  During that time his life and songs were frequently so merged that they were inseparable.  What he might have gone on to do in his more mature years had his life been spared fuels the imagination and makes his loss and its injustice an even greater obscenity, culturally and globally.  Although this October 9 would have been his seventy-fifth birthday, John Lennon Day is an official New York City holiday observed on July 29, the anniversary of his obtaining U.S. citizenship in 1976, four years before his assassination (ironically.)

 

 

Love and Mercy (film, 2015)

June 23, 2015

 

There's a limited amount of content that can fit into a feature film about an artist with the scope of Brian Wilson.  This film selected wisely, including limiting its time periods to the ‘60s and ‘80s.  It was well edited – perhaps too edited.

Unfortunately, the flip side of its streamlining even those decades is that it didn't leave enough room for character development or story momentum, or flow.  It was like watching a series of snapshots largely dependent on the viewer’s prior knowledge of Wilson.  Unlike some other films about him (dramas as well as documentaries), its portrayal was more interesting and amusing than moving.  Indeed, there wasn’t a single moment in the film I found truly moving.  Horrifying and funny, yes.  And it's not like the real-life story doesn't have plenty of heartrending moments, adequately reflected in some other films.  But perhaps this one had a different goal artistically.  As others have noted, its portrayal of Wilson's music and creative process was a strong point.

I've seen, or own copies of, numerous films about Wilson (virtually every one released) and, to date, the strongest, most well-rounded and genuinely moving in my opinion is still A&E Biography’s “Brian Wilson: A Beach Boy's Tale” (1999).  It’s the essential yet comprehensive “Brian Wilson”.

Regarding the accuracy of Love and Mercy, Brian and Melinda (his wife, who reportedly had considerable input in the project) have expressed satisfaction regarding it, notwithstanding the usual consolidation of some events for dramatic or time constraint purposes.

However, my understanding had been that Brian remained afraid of the water and utterly dependent on his round-the-clock psychologist.  So I wondered about the accuracy of him persuading Melinda to join him in escaping from Dr. Landy's henchmen by jumping off a boat in the Pacific Ocean and swimming some distance to the shore fully clothed.  And although the real Dr. Landy was an eccentric to say the least, I thought Paul Giamatti's portrayal of him might've been a bit over the top, even for that character.

I’ve never been a stickler for casting actors who are dead ringers for the characters they play (whether due to their natural appearance or their makeup.)  If they’re good actors, their portrayal can compensate for any physical dissimilarity.  However, I thought Paul Dano and John Cusack were well cast in both respects and gave convincing performances with just enough artistic license applied.  And I found the casting of John Cusack as the older, ‘80s era Brian juxtaposed against Paul Dano as the younger, ‘60s Brian very effective.  They look and sound as different from each other as the real ‘80s Brian did from his ‘60s alter ego.  (Indeed, I think Cusack looks much more like ‘80s Brian than the real ‘60s Brian does!)

Yet Paul Giamatti stole the show as Dr. Landy.  His maniacal yet often subtle delivery was as genuinely horrifying as it was absurdly funny (worthy of a best supporting actor nomination, in my opinion.)

 

 

Art Garfunkel

The Space At Westbury, Long Island

April 4, 2014

 

Art Garfunkel engenders different responses from different listeners, which tend to say more about their tastes than his artistry.  As a solo artist he’s never received the level of acclaim achieved by his former partner Paul Simon, who was the writer and player for them.  But Garfunkel’s strength and uniqueness as a singer has been indisputable (as his recently released compilation album’s title “The Singer” underscores.)  Notwithstanding his vocal afflictions in recent years, and accompaniment by only an acoustic guitarist, he gave one of the best concerts I have ever attended.

He combined songs (Simon & Garfunkel and solo period) with original poetry, autobiographical storytelling, off-the-cuff banter, and Q&A with the audience – essentially a one-man show that transcended the music while allowing him to rest his recovering voice between numbers.  In this unusual context, his creative and human processes were displayed as much as his musicality, further enriching the event.  And his warmth, candor and humor (not to mention the music) was worth far more than the modest price of admission.

 

Even though this limited tour of relatively small venues is his attempt to get his voice back in shape (a serious vocal affliction had forced the cancellation of many gigs in recent tours), his singing was nothing short of spellbinding in that uniquely Garfunkel way, with any flaws virtually unnoticeable or negligible, at least on this occasion.  When he felt discomfort just a couple of times, he simply abridged the song at the end of that section and seamlessly returned to his discourse with uncommon eloquence.

 

When I saw Simon in concert doing Simon & Garfunkel songs without anyone covering Garfunkel's parts, it sounded too compromised to me.  But Garfunkel completely pulled it off performing those songs without Simon's parts and, in some cases, even improved on them, and without a band behind him.  The concert’s “bare bones” presentation somehow made it even more effective, intimate and moving.

 

 

Limelight (film, 1952)

June 8, 2012

 

Written, directed, produced, choreographed, and music composed by Charles Chaplin

(Academy Award for Best Original Score – Dramatic, 1973)

 

The moving, bittersweet story of Limelight revolves around how its two destitute, main characters – Calvero, an alcoholic, has-been vaudeville performer (played by Chaplin) and Terry, a suicidal, disabled dancer (played by Claire Bloom in her debut film performance, kicking off her illustrious career) – help each other overcome emotional obstacles to doing their art and achieving success. Chaplin’s son Sydney (who went on to be a leading man in numerous Broadway hits) plays the other featured role, or third corner of the “triangle” – the struggling, aspiring composer Neville.
 
The film’s original music and ballet are stirring and its spoken dialogue eloquent, even poetic at times. Although one of Chaplin’s rare dramas, it includes some great little comedic moments, especially during a few scenes where Calvero dreams – and later discovers – that he can still delight an audience using his unique blend of humor with song-and-dance (including a historical, one-time collaboration with legendary silent film icon Buster Keaton.)
 
Originally intended as Chaplin's “swan song” and created at the height of his political and professional problems in McCarthyism-era America and resulting unpopularity, the making of the film was also a creative catharsis and act of salvation for him in the face of hard times. Its story and characters are largely autobiographical, or taken from his uphill, Dickensian childhood.  Indeed, five of his own children appear in the film, along with his wife Oona (as a brief stand-in for Claire Bloom.)

 

Much of the script, specifically the reflections intermittently uttered by Calvero, reads like spiritual, New Age philosophy prose.  Some notable quotes:

 

"Billions of years it's taken to evolve human consciousness and you want to wipe it out. Wipe out the miracle of all existence. More important than anything in the whole universe! What can the stars do? Nothing - but sit on their axis. And the sun, shooting flames 280,000 miles high – so what? Wasting all its natural resources. Can the sun think? Is it conscious? No, but you are."

"What do you want meaning for? Life is a desire, not a meaning. Desire is the theme of all life."

"What is there to fight for? Everything. Life itself – to be lived, suffered, enjoyed. Life is a beautiful, magnificent thing, even to a jelly fish."

"Live without hope! Live for the moment. There are still wonderful moments."

"Life can be wonderful if you're not afraid of it. All it needs is courage, imagination – and a little dough."

"There's something just as inevitable as death. It's life."

"Life is a local affair."

"As a child I used to complain to my father about not having toys and he would say, this [the mind] is the greatest toy ever created. Here lies the secret of all happiness."

"That's the trouble with the world – we all despise ourselves."

"I'm an old sinner, nothing shocks me."

"A young girl like you wanting to throw your life away. When you're my age, you'll want to hang on to it....at this stage of the game life gets to be a habit."

"So few people have the capacity to feel – or the opportunity."

"Why should poetry have to make sense?"

"The meaning of anything is merely other words for the same thing. After all a rose is a rose is a rose."

"I've arrived at the age where a platonic friendship can be sustained on the highest moral plane."

"Hunger has no conscience."

"Love is never wasted."

"That's all any of us are – amateurs. We don't live long enough to be anything else."

"We're all grubbing for a living, the best of us. All a part of the giant human crusade – written in water."

"Since I've been preaching and moralizing at you it's really affected me. I'm beginning to believe it myself."

(On suicide)
"What's your hurry?"

(On theatre)
"I also hate the sight of blood, but it's in my veins."

(On the public)
"As individuals....there's greatness in everyone. But as a crowd, they're like a monster without a head that never knows which way it's going to turn. It can be prodded in any direction."

"As a man gets on in years he wants to live deeply. A feeling of sad dignity comes upon him and that's fatal for a comic."

"What a sad business, being funny."

"There's something about working the streets I like. It's the tramp in me I suppose."

"A man's true character comes out when he's drunk. Me, I'm funnier."

"Life isn't a gag anymore. I can't see the humor. From now on I'm a retired humorist."

"How's it feel to wake up famous? That's it, have a good cry and enjoy it. It only happens once."

"Everyone's so kind to me, it makes me feel isolated."

"In the few years I have left I must have truth. Truth is all I have left. It's all I want. And if possible, a little dignity."

"On behalf of my partner and myself I'd like to continue – but I'm stuck."

"I believe I'm dying, doctor. But then I don't know – I’ve died so many times."

"The heart and the mind – what an enigma."

"Time is the great author. It always writes the perfect ending."

 

 

Annette Peacock: promotional appearance for release of An Acrobat’s Heart

Downtown Music Gallery, New York City

December 16, 2000

 

When I met Annette Peacock at the Downtown Music Gallery in New York City, she told me that she’d never seen a point in creating work that wasn’t innovative or truly original.  Coming from most people, that might sound grandiose or pompous.  But when Peacock says it, it’s simply the truth and her work bears it out.  Indeed, although she comes from a tradition of contemporary jazz and poetry, it’s difficult to find anyone who sounds like her or her music.  That might be why, after so many years in and out of the music world, she’s still unknown to nearly everyone, despite her past associations with better known musicians.

 

So it’s perhaps telling that, when she made her 2000 “comeback” after a twelve-year recording hiatus and nearly twenty-year absence from a New York stage, it was at an obscure, tiny record store in the East Village.  The store’s owner personally drove her there that evening all the way from her home in Woodstock, during a heavy rain storm in rush-hour traffic, and drove her back the same night.  About a dozen or so male Peacock-philes came out in the rain and waited for her for hours, crammed into the store and trading trivia.  When she arrived, she signed our copies of her brand new CD, performed a few new songs on voice and synthesizer, and engaged in extended, one-on-one conversations about music, art and the creative process.  She also asked if we knew of any good places in New York where she could perform (the last one had been the now defunct Danceteria discotheque, performing un-danceable music for an entirely standing audience) and whether we thought anyone would show up.  She ended her visit by saying that if any of us lived in her town, we’d be the people she’d hang out with.  I believe it.

 

 

Brian Wilson and the Long Island Philharmonic Orchestra perform the music of Pet Sounds

Jones Beach Ampitheater, Long Island

September 10, 2000

 

Getting It Right: The Rebound of Brian Wilson

 

Brian Wilson concerts are a category unto themselves.  They combine timeless, classic pop music with the real-life, on-stage drama of a legendary survivor of mental illness directly overcoming his fears of being around people and performing live – spectacle as well as performance.  Wilson’s legendary status and history entitles him to perform with idiosyncrasies that no other artist could get away with.  Still, the harmonically stirring, heartrending and brutally introspective songs he wrote over thirty years ago, and his historically innovative arrangements, continue to hold up.

 

As Wilson once characterized his former band the Beach Boys, with typical understatement, “It’s a very dramatic story.” That's also a fair characterization of Wilson’s story of going from 300 plus pounds, self-destructive addictions to chemicals and foods, emotionally unable to leave his room or bed for years (much less do concert tours, which had led to a nervous breakdown and retirement from live performing as far back as 1964), to recording and touring regularly; being trimmer, healthier and handsomer than his rock music contemporaries; even outliving his two younger, presumably healthier brothers (Beach Boys Dennis and Carl Wilson).  As one fan half jested, referring to the years Wilson spent in bed and reclusion, “At least he got a lot of rest in the interim.”  But then it was Brian Wilson who overcame child abuse and the limits of a largely self-taught musical education (spending hours at the piano, singing with his family, influenced by do-wop and Four Freshman music during his teens and Phil Spector's production in his early twenties) to became one of the biggest visionaries in pop music history.

 

This tour marks the first time Wilson’s pioneering, influential 1966 album Pet Sounds is being performed live in its entirety, with a virtuoso backing band and symphony orchestra to boot.  Like most people I know, I’ve never been a Beach Boys fan – or, to put it more accurately, a fan of the songs the public has generally associated with them.  But Pet Sounds is no ordinary Beach Boys album.  (Nor, for that matter, was its follow-up, the Smile sessions).  Pet Sounds was a de facto Brian Wilson solo album - composed, arranged, produced and mostly sung by Wilson, backed by studio musicians (Phil Spector’s famed Wrecking Crew) and Beach Boys vocal harmonies, and released as a Beach Boys album.  Wilson's goal in creating Pet Sounds was to artistically progress beyond his stellar, continuous commercial success as the Beach Boys’ composer and producer by, as he characterized it, “making the greatest rock album ever made.”  Inspired and challenged by the Beatles’ 1965 groundbreaking album Rubber Soul, Wilson created Pet Sounds as his personal, unrestricted artistic statement, during a newly commenced, full-time commitment to composing and producing following his retirement from concert touring.  The title Pet Sounds was a coy reference to Wilson’s penchant for unusual sounds in the recording studio.

 

The album’s entirety, with its unorthodox songs, sounds and recording production (the latter partly inspired by, but venturing beyond, Phil Spector) and classical and jazz instrumentation and arrangements, was rejected as too “way-out” by the other Beach Boys, in favor of preserving Wilson's previous, commercially successful “formula”, and by Capitol Records, whose lack of promotion contributed to an indifferent and unreceptive American public (unlike in England.)  Yet, it changed the standards for pop music within the industry, inspired the Beatles’ cultural watershed album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and received high acclaim and recognition some 30 years later as a landmark album ahead of its time, climaxed by the 1996 release of the Pet Sounds Sessions compact disc box set.  Indeed, Wilson's work on Pet Sounds was largely responsible for his being lauded, at the time, as an American cultural treasure by Leonard Bernstein and numerous pop music dignitaries, with some musicologists going as far as comparing his “musical genius” and personal outlandishness to Mozart, his emotional and creative struggles to Beethoven, and his youthfully prodigious, innovative multiple artistry to Orson Welles.  (Ironically, his comparison to Welles also included Wilson's suffering one of the most devastating falls from grace in music history.  If Pet Sounds was Wilson's career equivalent of Citizen Kane, his subsequent, even more ambitious unfinished Smile sessions, which ushered in his mental and professional undoing, were his equivalent of Welles’ It’s all True.)

 

With the hindsight of history, it is quite possible that, had the Beach Boys and Capitol Records embraced Pet Sounds and the Smile project the way the Beatles and EMI embraced the similarly unconventional Sgt. Pepper, it would have not only facilitated the Beach Boys’ transition into the acid rock and psychedelic period, but allowed Smile to rival Sgt. Pepper as a centerpiece for the pop music revolution.  Instead, an era of musical innovation not inconsistent with Wilson's ironically rendered the Beach Boys and their old "formula" obsolete, a setback from which the band never fully recovered.  For the business end of the music industry and the general public, Wilson and the Beach Boys remained stereotyped, even stigmatized, by their earlier, dated and more superficial commercial successes. Yet, Pet Sounds could be traced as a seed from which the rock music revolution of the latter 1960s grew (albeit via the Beatles and other artists who credited Pet Sounds as a profound influence, along with other, “psychedelic” Beach Boys music of the late 1960s-early 1970s, much of which sounds strikingly like latter 70's Genesis music with Yes vocal harmonies and lyrics!)

 

The live Pet Sounds is meticulously faithful to the original's unique arrangements and sound effects.  Still present and tightly performed are the inventive melodies and harmonic vocal and instrumental counterpoints, the tempo changes, the pulsating harpsichord and piano sounds, the swinging dual bass guitars, the harp-like guitar motif in ‘Wouldn't It Be Nice’, the stirring French horn and vocal fugue in ‘God Only Knows’, the strings' haunting, intricate harmonic tensions on ‘Don't Talk (Put Your Head on my Shoulder)’, the early synthesizer-like Theremin in ‘I Just Wasn't Made for These Times’, and the surprise, arriving and departing train and barking, chasing dogs at the end of the album's final song ‘Caroline, No’ (the latter's influences evident in the surprise fade-in and fade-out of train-like noise at the end of the Beatles' song ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and the barking dogs and animal sounds at the end of Sgt. Pepper's near-closing song ‘Good Morning Good Morning’.)  Indeed, Pet Sounds was the first record to employ such common – yet musically unused – sounds in pop music (shades of the avant-garde Stockhausen.)   The concert also included occasional, tasty jazz-like embellishments – particularly during the climactic piece ‘Pet Sounds’, a Bacharach-inspired, jazzy percussive/brassy instrumental (rejected as soundtrack for a James Bond movie prior to its inclusion on the album, as Wilson surprisingly revealed in his introduction.)  The band's state-of-the-art technology often improved on the sound quality of the original album.  Its musically richest songs, ‘Wouldn't It Be Nice’, ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Don't Talk (Put Your Head on my Shoulder)’, are easily worth the whole album or concert.  As former Beach Boy Al Jardine acknowledged, just the bridge of ‘Wouldn't It Be Nice’ would be a lifetime achievement for many composers.

 

The entirety of Pet Sounds has the emotional and lyrical impact of a concept album expressing the challenges of self-examination and interpersonal relationships.  Its lyrics (conceived by Wilson and lyricist Tony Asher and written by Asher, with additional lyrics by Beach Boys singer Mike Love) were more introspective and vulnerable than pop music had previously dared to be.  Perhaps unhip for the latter 1960s, it foreshadowed later, similarly autobiographical albums like John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band and Peter Gabriel's Us, to name a few.  Although Pet Sounds was critically acclaimed, one reviewer at the time amusingly labeled it “sad songs about loneliness and heartbreak; sad songs even about happiness.”  The final line in ‘Caroline, No’ mourns the loss of the love/youth/innocence of the previous songs with "Can we ever bring them back once they have gone?"  As another reviewer observed, Wilson, like his listeners, has as much chance of bringing back the passing youth expressed in Pet Sounds as those chasing dogs at the end of ‘Caroline, No’ have of catching that symbolic, passing train.

 

Wilson's heartfelt vocal performance of the brutally honest, artist's lament ‘I Just Wasn't Made for These Times’ (which expresses Wilson's sense of frustration and isolation as a visionary artist, and a thinly veiled description of his rejection by the Beach Boys) seemed especially poignant and moving during the concert, given his own painful life journey and the troubled but triumphant history of the Pet Sounds album itself. Indeed, time seems to have vindicated them both.  Wilson has enjoyed an extensive revival and honoring of his work in recent years.

 

Still, despite all the hype, the Brian Wilson performing on stage was a dramatically different man from the 24-year-old who composed, produced and sang nearly all of the lead vocals in that impeccable, angelic, yearning (almost whining, without compromising musicality), smooth high-pitched voice on Pet Sounds back in 1966. What we saw instead was a 58-year-old, disoriented-looking singer with a rough, slightly stilted, lower voice that nonetheless managed to reach some crucial high notes and recapture some of the old magic, remaining seated behind a keyboard that served as a prop rather than an instrument, except for a quixotic nostalgic, mostly visual stint as additional bass guitarist (Wilson's original stage instrument) during one of the encore songs.  Even Wilson commented on his songs during the concert as if they were written by someone else, and recently confessed disbelief at how he could have written them.

 

It seems nothing short of miraculous, considering his past, that he's not only still alive but professionally active, even if he's mostly doing his "Vegas act", living off his former glory, and will never be able to live up to the standard he created when he was in his early 20s.  Indeed, Wilson epitomizes the reputation of many artists for creating their finest work when they were young – or during the "middle period" of their output.

 

It's a bitter irony that some of the happiest-sounding pop music ever written came from someone profoundly unhappy, compelled to compose for his own salvation.  Indeed, Wilson suffered years of physical and psychological abuse by his father (largely believed responsible for Wilson’s deafness in one ear), a failed songwriter who was the Beach Boys’ first manager.  As Wilson's musician friend Danny Hutton said of him, “Writing songs that sound happy isn't necessarily about being happy.”  And, despite Wilson’s mostly performing songs made famous by the Beach Boys, on whom his reputation is based, their historic rivalry and personal and professional estrangement is reflected by his audience's jeering any reference to the Beach Boys as a band – especially Mike Love, his cousin and collaborator on most of their earlier songs (a sympathetic but ironic audience response that prompted even Wilson’s current wife, Melinda, to roll her eyes.)

 

Even on a personal level, Wilson has made the triumphant transition from being a failed husband and neglectful father to reconnecting with his family, remarrying and adopting children.  When Wilson directed the orchestra to start over on ‘You Still Believe in Me’, he humbly and humorously informed the audience, “I goofed, and I'm going to do it until I get it right!”  36 years after his nervous breakdown and initial retirement from touring, 34 years after the release of Pet Sounds, and after decades of devastating mental illness and addictions, if Brian Wilson is accomplishing one thing, it's “doing it until he gets it right.”