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Cirque Du Soleil
“Someone”
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(Cirque Du Soleil)
[listen] [buy] [download]

Patricia Barber
“Whiteworld/Oedipus”
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Cirque Du Soleil
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(Oak Avenue Publishing)
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Andy Timmons Band
“Gone (9/11/01)”
Resolution
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Time Line
(ECM Records)
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Anoushka Shankar
"Beloved"
Rise
(Angel)
[listen]

Amos Lee
"Arms Of A Woman"
Amos Lee
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[listen]

Julius Curcio
"American Pie"
Alligator Shoes
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Lemon
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Cover Story [Issue # 12 ]
Brian Wilson: Something To Smile About

By Dean Truitt

Smile ( CD Nonesuch )


For nearly four decades, the world waited anxiously for the release of history’s most famous unfinished record. In 1967, Brian Wilson, pop’s hailed genius, was carefully crafting the album entitled Smile, which was to be the triumphant follow-up to Pet Sounds, a recording that is still widely regarded as the genre’s finest hour in the last 50 years.

Unfortunately, a number of unusual circumstances set the project back for what seemed an eternity. Even the most ardent fans had all but given up hope of hearing the completed version.

Having spent a lifetime adoring the Beach Boys and their leader’s unparalleled gift for weaving otherworldly harmonies with the most poignant, emotional music, I felt extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity to speak with Brian Wilson at his Los Angeles home. I was slightly apprehensive about talking with him because he has the reputation for being a challenging interview. He was never considered arrogant or difficult, simply shy and succinctly reserved with words. I quickly learned that the tall, amiable man was more than eager to share his thoughts on his latest masterpiece. When I walked through his front door, he was standing in the living room and asked if I was the interviewer. He then approached with a careful gait and kindly extended his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Brian Wilson.”

As we moved toward his living room to speak, he sat on a couch to my right because, as he explained, he cannot hear out of his right ear. Although I already knew this bit of information well, I jokingly offered the consolation, “Well, I think you’ve done pretty well for yourself, all things considered.” As though he were genuinely considering the statement, he thought for a moment and reflectively mused, “Yeah, I guess I have.”

After two minutes of speaking with him, I knew that before me sat a man who was once again in comfortable control of his life and loved every blessed moment of it. He spoke with excited pride and contagious glee about the completion of the Smile CD. More importantly, he was thrilled by the fans’ universal reaction thus far.

The Beach Boys’ mastermind has arisen once again with the project that had haunted him for years and the resulting effort is simply miraculous. Last winter, Brian’s wife Melinda and his manager held a meeting with him to say that they believed it was time to share Smile with the world. Once Wilson had the motivation to finish his labor of love, he immediately approached lyricist Van Dyke Parks to help him realize the completed vision. He reflects, “I called Van Dyke and he came over and I said, ‘We need to write a third movement.’ He said, ‘I agree with you.’ It took us about two weeks working five hours a day to get the whole thing written. We finally got it created.”

Instead of simply dusting off ancient tapes and refurbishing the existing tracks, Wilson and Parks actually completed the astounding piece by writing a final movement to the three-part pop music suite. The pair meticulously crafted a musical love letter to the world and pored over each nuance with precision. He states, “He [Parks] explains to me what he wants. I write two bars of music and he writes two bars of lyrics. The music usually comes first and the lyrics are put to the music.”

While explaining the decision to delay the completion of Smile, Wilson revealed that he believed the music was simply too advanced for the public’s taste in 1967. Even after the monumental success of Pet Sounds, his own family doubted the direction he was taking them. Wilson acknowledges the band’s strong resistance to Smile, but quickly explains that his own instincts told him to scrap the undertaking. He reveals, “The [Beach] Boys didn’t like it very much. They thought it was too advanced and inappropriate for the Beach Boys to do. I disagreed, but we shelved it because we thought we were too avant-garde or far ahead of our time, not because the Beach Boys didn’t like it.”

An interesting aspect of the Smile concept was to convey the power of natural elements in a spiritual manner. Wilson explains, “The message of the record is to experience Fire, Water, Earth, and Air and to experience the different ways of expressing that. That’s what the three movements are all about and that’s what we had in mind when we first started it in 1967.”

As the two collaborators began the writing process again, they found their collective muse and the work flowed with inspired ease. He elaborates, “We touched up the melodies of the first two movements and created the third movement. We got instantly back into it. It wasn’t a challenge to get back into it. The challenge was to keep going. As a matter of fact, we got more into it by the third movement because we remembered what it was like to create the first two movements. So, the third movement was created in the spirit of the first two movements and it was like a spiritual experience to create those things.”

Once the material had successfully been realized, the next logical step was to teach his band the album in its entirety. Because the material is so precise and complex, they agreed that the best plan would be to extensively rehearse Wilson’s 19-piece band and perform six nights in London to premiere the music. After a string of live concerts generated emotional standing ovations, everyone involved knew they were ready to enter the studio to track the CD. He recalls, “After we played it live, we went right into the studio to record it.  It took about a week to get the background instrumentation with the orchestra and then it took about a week to get the background voices, and about ten days to get the lead vocal. It came out September 28. It went gold in England already and now it’s on its way to going gold in America. Isn’t that amazing?”

Ironically, the more things stay the same, the more they seem to change. While Wilson and his cohorts returned to Sunset Sound Studios, the location of many of the original Smile sessions, the world of recording technology had grown considerably. Instead of relying solely on enormous, cantankerous analog gear, Wilson found delight in working with Pro Tools digital software. He beams, “”It was fantastic. It was an experience, you know? I wasn’t very used to it. I was amazed how fast and how much you can do and make things and cut things use Pro Tools to sequence things. It’s an amazing trip.”

Wilson’s talents are certainly not limited to his composition and singing gifts. In fact, many believe that his production genius is his primary strength. Known for his uncanny ability to hear the slightest detail and arrange extremely unorthodox instrument combinations, Wilson reveals that he typically experiments, rather than coming in with a distinct approach in mind. He elaborates, “My vision is complete as an arrangement, not as a sound. I don’t hear sounds in my head. I can never do that. I understand Phil Spector was able to hear sounds in his head before he went into the studio. I can’t do that. I can see the arrangement graphically in my mind, how the arrangement would go, but I don’t know the sound. When we get in the studio, it’s trial and error. Then I hear what I hear and I choose what I like and discard what I don’t like.”

Perhaps the reason behind Wilson’s ability to spin audio magic like a sonic alchemist is that he traces a broad range of musical influence. Regarding the inspiration of Smile, he acknowledges, “It’s like Bach and I think Gershwin influenced it a little bit, too. As you can tell on ‘Heroes and Villains’ and (sings a musical motif), that’s Bach-inspired. I listened to Gershwin a lot and later in my life, I got turned on to Bach through and album called Switched on Bach.”

Obviously, the songs on Smile are the stars of the show. “Surf’s Up” may be one of the most inspired tracks in rock music’s brief history while “Heroes and Villains” could have single-handedly begun the indie rock movement. As an intriguing album finale, Wilson does a remake of his landmark hit, “Good Vibrations.” What gives the version new lifeblood is the fact that there are alternate lyrics. The song’s composer explains his decision, “My wife wanted to try something new. She felt it was getting old and wanted to try Tony Asher’s lyrics for the verses instead of Mike Love’s lyrics. So we used Tony Asher’s lyrics instead. He wrote that [the new lyrics] and I shelved those [the original lyrics] for Mike Love’s lyrics and I went the other way around now.”

Now that the onus of delivering Smile is off his back, Wilson’s fans throughout the world can delight in the fact that he will be touring in support of the album for the next two years. He beams, “Whenever I can feel it, I know other people are going to feel the same way. That’s the only way I can go, you know? I can’t go out there and listen to myself sing or watch my band play. I can only do it. And, the audience can only experience it. So, I’m not able to be in the audience. I can only be where I am. So, that’s why it’s a challenge to make people feel the same way I do . . . I think it’s a wonderful thing [performing Smile on tour] and it pumps me up.”

After all these years, I am glad to see that Brian Wilson has something to smile about.


Smile
Nonesuch

Something To Smile About Brian Wilson Smile


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