For a brief moment, Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys were truly the American equivalent of the Beatles. Pet Sounds was an acknowledged influence on the famous Liverpudlians, and the sad pun of Surf’s Up, so darkly powerful in its simplicity, stands in stark contrast to the beautifully arranged, sun-soaked nothing on which they first ascended. “Surfin’ USA” was their “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” and vapid commercial success became for them as well a spring-board to serious art.
When I say them, though, what I really mean is Brian Wilson. This is important, because that primary difference, the lack of diffusion in talent, became a problem when he gained a hundred pounds and fell apart inside himself. Imagine if the Beatles were really only John, and then John lost his mind; that’s what happened. Brian Wilson was perhaps the finest singer/song-writer of his generation, John and Paul included, but though he was a towering talent, and a beautiful artist, he was also very, very sad.
“Trees like me weren’t meant to live…”