Brian wilson takes up Gershwin
Tortured mind behind the Beach Boys revisits bygone era
Brian Wilson was but a young child when he first heard the genius of lyricist and composer Ira and George Gershwin.
Little did he know that he would one day revisit the Gershwin catalogue at the behest of the Gershwin estate and Disney on Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin, lending his own “pocket symphony” treatment to material such as Rhapsody in Blue, I Loves You Porgy, Summertime and two songs George Gershwin left unfinished at the time of his death in 1937.
“I was three years old when I first heard Rhapsody in Blue,” Wilson said in a recent phone interview. “I loved it. (Gershwin’s style) didn’t really inform my style, but his music inspired my music.
“The Gershwin people came to me and asked me if I wanted to do ‘Wilson sings Gershwin,’ and I said, ‘I sure would.’ And we did it. Each song we interpreted differently. (Summertime) was a great tune to do.”
Coincidentally and, perhaps, quite fittingly, Wilson recently received UCLA’s Ira and George Gershwin Award recognizing his contribution to American music.
“It was great — a real honour,” Wilson said. “I was really proud that night. The Gershwin album was an experimental album and it turned out great.”
At 68, Wilson needs little introduction.
The man behind the sound of the Beach Boys — one of modern music’s most revered musical figures and one of its more tortured minds — is on a full-blown tour of Canada for the first time in his career, performing material from the Gershwin album and Beach Boys classics during tour stops from coast to coast, including Calgary this Saturday.
“Our promoter waited for a while to do it, and then he said it was time,” Wilson said.
Asked if he himself thought it was the right time, Wilson simply said, “Yeah.”
Wilson admitted he still suffers from stage fright and deep feelings of anxiety, stemming from years of battling drug addiction and mental illness.
“I do, I do,” he said. “But I relax, you know? I just sit in a chair and close my eyes.”
When asked about the longlasting appeal of the Beach Boys’ music, Wilson said, “I think the harmonies make people remember that sound — they like the harmonies.”
In fact, few albums have been dissected and scrutinized as much as 1966’s Pet Sounds, a record whose pop immediacy belied its technical complexity and orchestral roots; an album of such magnitude that it is often listed as one of the greatest albums ever made.
“Each song was different,” Wilson said of the way he conceived Pet Sounds. “There was no immediacy, it was all in the writing of it.”
However, much like the Beatles, who admitted the album often considered the Fab Four’s masterwork, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, was one of their least favourite, Wilson doesn’t think of Pet Sounds as his top pick.
“It’s not my favourite at all. My favourite is (2008’s) That Lucky Old Sun album.”
Still, 50 years after the Beach Boys were formed, Wilson admitted something special happens every time he performs the material he recorded with his brothers Carl and Dennis.
“Every time we do God Only Knows it brings me back to when Carl sang it,” Wilson said. “When we do Good Vibrations I remember the night we cut it and all that kind of stuff.”
Wilson admitted he still gets a kick out of hearing his music on the radio and television.
“I still get that happy glow when I hear it,” he said.
Wilson would not confirm rumours of a possible retirement from touring or a tentative reunion with remaining Beach Boys Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary.
He did, however, express how he felt about being considered, much like the Gershwins, a timeless inspirational figure to generations of musicians and artists.
“That’s quite a thrill, of course,” Wilson said with audible glee. “It makes me feel proud. It pumps me up and makes my ego feel good.”