Boy wonder. Bedridden recluse. Madman. Producer genius.
Many things have been written about Brian Wilson over the years – but will the new movie Love & Mercy, set the record straight?
From his early days of sun-kissed Beach Boy fame, to becoming a psychedelic visionary… a modern day Mozart, who re-invented the face of pop music.
The story of the Beach Boys is far from the happy-go-lucky picture that their songs have painted before the eyes of audiences for the past 50 years. It’s a story that involves death, drug abuse, love and hatred and, not to mention, family disputes. The Boys – three Wilson brothers, their cousin Mike Love, and friend Al – rise to fame in the early sixties, under the guidance of abusive father/manager Murry Wilson.
In 1964 Brian suffers a nervous breakdown due to exhaustion. He then decides to stop touring with the band, which leaves him with a huge amount of time on his hands to concentrate on writing and producing the group’s albums. Then with the arrival of the Beatles, Brian realizes that he needs to set new standards for pop music of the time.
Highly influenced by another famous recluse – the now chain-rattling, Tycoon of Teen, wall of sound inventor, Phil Spector – the young Brian sets out to make music of religious heights, and with a mission to put this down on record in exactly the way he hears it in his head. He hires Spector’s house band, The Wrecking Crew, to keep the recording process up to speed, with the Boys doing their vocal parts whenever off tour.
During this period, Brian takes LSD for the first time and proclaims to Marilyn, his wife at the time, that he has seen God. Whether this experience was a bad one or not is open to debate, but over the next three years, Brian produces some of his best work to date – ‘All Summer Long’, the angelic, ‘Pet Sounds’, and of course his number one single, the ‘Teenage Symphony to God’ and ‘Good Vibrations’.
Still competing with The Beatles (a friendly feud), Brian sets out to create what was next on his mind. In a whirlpool of creativity and blue notes, the time had come for Brian biggest ambition yet, the majestic album Smile. Unfortunately this is what broke Brian, who was soon rolling back down the hill he so eagerly tried to climb.
“Don’t fuck with the formula,” snorted Mike Love – upon hearing the new tracks – who along with Capital records and the rest of the Boys, didn’t show much support or appreciation for the new album either.
And so began the nightmare for Mr. Wilson, who was spiraling toward a nervous breakdown and struggling with drugs and personal demons that would haunt him for decades to come. During this time he would cross paths with characters such as Dr. Eugene Landy and Charles Manson, just to mention a few.
“I’ve been in this town so long, that back in the city – I’ve been taken for lost and gone and unknown for a long, long time.”
The opening lines of ‘Heroes and Villains’ seem perfectly biographical, when listening to the Smile album today.
“Release ‘Smile’? Might as well try and raise the Titanic”, he’d joke later on, when asked about the matter by friends and journalists. Still the bigger question was, how to release Brian Wilson, from the doldrums he has been stuck in, for many years. However, in 2004 the unthinkable happened and Brian finally released Smile, almost forty years behind schedule.
Many doubtful attempts…
Love & Mercy, with its title taken from one of Brian’s post-Beach Boys 1988 solo-outings, is not the first attempt that Hollywood has made to unfold the story of the delicate Hawthorne delinquent with the magical ear. First there was Summer Dreams, a shameful attempt to bring the life of Brian to a wider audience. Rushed scenes and a limping storyline left the viewers’ experience completely in tatters, and only Mike Love’s fake beard stimulates one’s curiosity. Then came the TV-series. An American Band, produced by post-Brian Beach Boy’s member John Stamos, and even though the intentions might have been good, this doesn’t do much to portray the legend well either.
In Love & Mercy, Paul Dano stars as the young Brian Wilson, while John Cusack appears as the legendary singer-songwriter later in life. Elizabeth Banks co-stars as Wilson’s second wife, Melinda, and Paul Giamatti plays Wilson’s psychotherapist Dr. Eugene Landy.
It sure sounds like an interesting cocktail, and you can tell from watching the trailer that something good is cooking here.
Let’s hope and pray that with Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy, we’ll finally have a film that manages to live up to the man and his myth and, most importantly, succeeds in being a gateway into the colourful, musical dungeon – that is, Brian Wilson – for many more generations to come.
Words: Anders Knudsen