Brian Douglas Wilson (born June 20, 1942) is an American Singer Songwriter, musician, arranger, and producer, best known as the principal songwriter for The Beach Boys. A musical prodigy from birth, he ironically suffered from complete deafness in one earnote His deafness has also been attributed to beatings from his domineering father.. During the '60s, as his group enjoyed increasing success and popularity, Brian withdrew from touring to focus entirely on writing and producing. Brian's increased focus on introspective existential angst birthed Pet Sounds, regarded as one of the best pop albums of all time. His follow-up project, a "teenage symphony to God" entitled SMiLE, was to become his Magnum Opus and mark The Beach Boys' ascendancy to the pinnacle of popular music.It was not to be. For reasons too numerous to list here, SMiLE was shelved, and Brian's musical productivity slowed considerably as he withdrew from the world. Struggling with mental problems exacerbated by his drug use, Brian holed up in his house for a number of years, surfacing only occasionally to aid the 'Boys. With over a decade of "help" from controversial therapist Eugene Landynote who was secretly using Brian to obtain fame and fortune by leeching off his name, Brian was able to more or less restore his health and some level of musical productivity, releasing a self-titled solo album in 1988. A follow-up called Sweet Insanity was completed, but never released.After being legally separated from Landy during the '90s, Brian was able to tap into a level of productivity not seen for three decades; to everyone's surprise, he conquered his still-lingering stage fright to perform live. In 2004, Brian resurrected SMiLE for a series of live shows; the unanimous praise resulted in a solo studio version of the album, which also resulted in his first Grammy. Since then, he has released a steady stream of solo recordings, and even rejoined with The Beach Boys on a number of occasions, finally releasing the SMiLE sessions in 2011, affirming his belief in his masterpiece amongst lavish critical praise. Truly the story of a man who learned to "smile!"
Studio and Live Discography:
1988 - Brian Wilson
1995 - I Just Wasn't Made For These Times
1995 - Orange Crate Artnote A collaboration with Van Dyke Parks
1998 - Imagination
2000 - Live At The Roxy Theatre
2002 - Pet Sounds Live
2004 - Gettin' In Over My Head
2004 - Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE
2005 - What I Really Want For Christmas
2008 - That Lucky Old Sun
2010 - Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin
2011 - In The Key Of Disney
Tropes associated with Brian Wilson:
The Ace: When it comes to... basically everything related to songwriting and recording, Brian has a borderline savant-ish talent... a gift. They don't call him a genius for nothing!
Album Filler: Brian was acutely aware of The Beach Boys' tendency towards this. Upon hearing The Beatles' Rubber Soul, he was inspired by it being "all good stuff", and resolved to write a cohesive album with no filler or throwaway cuts. The result? Pet Sounds. One might dare say he achieved what he set out to do.
Rainbow eyes, perfect fantasy / You thrill me with your sweet insanity
Artistic Stimulation: It's fair to say it certainly played a part in the creation of his most famous works. Unfortunately however, it may have exacerbated his already existing mental issues.
Ascended Fanboy: One of his formative musical experiences was hearing George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue". Many decades later, Brian not only recorded a cover album in which he attempted to complete some of Gershwin's unfinished music, but also received the prestigious Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement.
Author Appeal: Brian really loves Moog synthesizers, and even created an entire album around it. It keeps popping up in instrumental tracks for songs such as his cover of "You've Got a Friend in Me".
Big Eater: His self-image shattered, he retreated to his room, which he seldom left, and ate like crazy. Needless to say, the weight piled up, Brian weighing 300+ pounds at his worst.
Biopic: Love & Mercy, scheduled for a 2014 release. Young and older Brian are portrayed by Paul Dano and John Cusack, respectively. (There were also a couple of other ones, but we don't talk about those.)
Car Song: While not to the extent of his Beach Boys days, these still surface from time to time in his solo career... not the least of which was his first '80s comeback single, "Let's Go to Heaven in My Car", featured in Police Academy 4.
Christmas Songs: What I Really Want for Christmas, which features a few originals (some of which are re-arranged Beach Boys songs) alongside such staples as "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", "Deck the Halls", and "Silent Night".
Cloud Cuckoolander: Oh yes! While his, umm, idiosyncratic sense of humor and thought processes were always there, it really reached full flower during the SMiLE period. Plastic firefighter hats, an indoor sandbox, and erecting an indoor tent is only the tip of the iceberg that was his multi-faceted creative process back in the day. Oh, and his chance meeting with Van Dyke Parks resulted in a perfect storm of cloudy and cuckoolandish music and lyrics.
The Comically Serious: These days, Brian can be a real cut-up out of nowhere, but rarely looks like he intended for it to be that way.
SMiLE was intended to be one. Even incomplete, the idea of a trip across America in a child's mindset as a "Teenage Symphony to God" is applicable (although even then it doesn't explain all the themes). The 2004 version fleshes the concept further.
Cover Album: Reimagines Gershwin and In the Key of Disney, both of them released on the Walt Disney label, even.
Demoted to Extra / I Am the Band: To a gradual extent, both as a songwriter and performer, following the failure of SMiLE, to a point where '70s albums featured little involvement from him. Even moreso after beginning his solo career, though the 2012 reunion saw the band feng shui restored, and then some. While a bit generalizing, sure, some fans are of the opinion that the quality of a Beach Boys album is often dependent on the level of Brian's involvement.
Denser and Wackier: In the nicest possible way, Brian's solo career has mainly been this compared to his Beach Boys work.
Disappeared Dad: While not in body, he certainly was "gone in spirit" when his two girls, Carnie and Wendy (who would later become notable artists themselves as two-thirds of Wilson Phillips) were growing up. This, combined with Landy's embargo on Brian's personal life, estranged them from one another for decades. They've patched things up since, though.
Earn Your Happy Ending: As stated previously. These days, Brian's definitely trying (and succeeding) livin' brave instead of dying.
Everything Is an Instrument: In particular during the Pet Sounds / SMiLE era. In the first example, we have dog barks, a bycicle and Coca-Cola cans; in the second example, we have celery, construction tools and a keychain as percussion.
Fake-Out Fade-Out: The first version of "Help Me, Rhonda", which understandably made disc jockeys rather averse to play it.
Friendly Rivalry: Perhaps not the viewpoint shared by the entire Beach Boys camp, but Brian himself viewed The Beatles as this. After all, Rubber Soul inspired Pet Sounds, which in turn inspired Sgt. Pepper, which... well, you know. Brian maintains a friendship with Paul McCartney to this day.
Gentle Giant: The tallest Beach Boy by far, and definitely above average in this department. And he's a nice guy.
Grief Song: "Lay Down Burden" is a tribute to dearly departed brother Carl.
Handicapped Badass / Partially Deaf Composer: Has an extremely lowered sense of hearing in his right ear, the reasons for which vary. Whichever it is, the man is well aware of the irony that he is unable to mix in stereo... this makes Brian's mono mixes even more revered amongst the fandom compared to most other artists.
Harsh Vocals: During the mid-'70s, mostly due to being out of practice, Brian's vocals were very characteristically harsh and haggard-sounding. It's gotten a lot better since, though.
The mid-'70s "Brian's Back" campaign, which was in retrospect a bad decision for Brian's recovery. He more or less relapsed, forcing Landy to make more drastic measures for the next decade.
The mid-to-late '80s comeback, heavily "supervised" by Landy. The momentum tapered after the true level of Landy's involvement was revealed, and he faced a myriad of court cases.
The mid-'90s until present day after being separated from Landy. This period has seen him restored to a level of productivity (not to mention relative happiness) not seen for near thirty years.
Hidden Depths: Despite his rather, umm, stoic disposition these days, it's a common belief that Brian's a lot quicker in the head than he lets on. Some of his moments of aforementioned comical seriousness have been interpreted as something akin to well-intentioned trolling.
In Name Only: There's a good portion of fans that disavow any Beach Boys line-up that doesn't include Brian (or his brothers).
Instrumentals: A few. Notably, "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" (a re-titled "The Elements: Fire") won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental. You gotta figure that must have been pretty cathartic for Brian considering its part in his abandoning SMiLE.
Lyrical Dissonance - Most of the lyrics of Pet Sounds deal with anguish, the ambiguities of growing up, the loss of love and innocence and inner grief; most of Pet Sounds' music sounds, if not happy, then at least ambiguous. A common reviewer's description of Pet Sounds is that it represents the most beautiful, childlike and earnest collection of songs about sadness.
Man of a Thousand Voices: In his prime, it seems like Brian could reach any octave he wanted to (and more often than not, did just that). Even today, his range is pretty damn impressive!
Man Child: Described as "innocent and childlike" by friends and family. And hey, child is the father of the man, after all!
Meaningful Name: As evidenced on the documentary Beautiful Dreamer - The Story of Brian Wilson and SMiLE by Brian himself, his initials BDW can stand for Beautiful Dreamer Wake, the three first words of the song Beautiful Dreamer, by Stephen Foster. It isn't made clear if this was intentional however.
"Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,/Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee";
Shout-Out: The Barenaked Ladies wrote a song entitled "Brian Wilson" about his reclusive years. Rather humorously, Brian himself unexpectedly dropped in one of their sessions and played the song for them, and has continued to do so at select live performances.
Song Of Song Titles: "Smart Girls" uses snippets from various Beach Boys songs, plunderphonics style. Some of them are even integrated into the lyrics, like so:
(God only knows what I'd be) / without smart girls, hip hop, and harmony
Song Style Shift: This is what Brian was all about during the ''SMiLE'' era, most famously "Good Vibrations", pieced together from a number of musically divergent sections. Even now, he continues to employ this modular approach to composing to various extents.
Soprano and Gravel: Brian Wilson and Mike Love has got to be one of the most famous singing duos of this nature.
Silver Fox: Started growing some gray hairs around the late '80s, going completely gray sometime during the 2000s.
Particularly during the SMiLE days... part of his vision was to celebrate American musical history.
Special mention must be given to "Shortenin' Bread", an object of Brian's obsession for the longest time. The result was a good number of songs utilizing its riff and chord patterns in various ways, most famously "Ding Dang".
Stop and Go: "The Little Girl I Once Knew", which almost certainly hurt its radio airplay.
The Svengali: Landy. While credit must be given for saving Brian's life, everything else he did is questionable at best, and downright evil at worst.
Unfortunate Name: Sweet Insanity. Now granted, it's taken from a song lyric (see Album Title Drop) but it's still more than a little uncomfortable given his situation at the time.
Vapor Ware: SMiLE is (or perhaps was, depending on your definition) music's greatest such example.
Vocal Evolution: Exactly when Brian's voice lowered into what it is today is a point of contention, believed to be sometime during the first half of the '70s. Smoking, drinking, and just plain old age did its job on him, and it was never to be the same.
Vocal Range Exceeded: From until he lost it to about the mid-'90s, Brian still tried to hit his iconic falsetto at times to mixed results. Eventually, he just dropped it and began being less adventurous with his range.
When He SMiLES: Ironically, the man never smiles much, which is understandable given the way life's treated him at times. When he does, however... it's the greatest thing ever!
Where It All Began: In the documentary I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, Brian returns to Hawthorne, CA to find his house has been demolished. Today, the Beach Boys Landmark is situated on that very spot.
Word Salad Lyrics: Though not his lyrics, SMiLE is infamous for this. Notably, a certain infamous disagreement about lyrics served as just another nail in the coffin for Brian's masterwork.