Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys celebrates his 77th birthday today (June 20th)!!! Wilson co-founded the group in 1961 with his late brothers Dennis and Carl Wilson, his cousin Mike Love, neighbor David Marks, and high school buddy Al Jardine. It was Wilson's genius for arranging intricate harmonies that first set him apart from his peers, an ability made even more impressive because he is 97 percent deaf in his right ear. He is the sole-surviving member of his immediate family, with his father Murry dying in 1973, his brothers Dennis and Carl dying in 1983 and 1998, respectively, and his mother Audree passing on in 1997.
Between 1962 and 1967 Wilson produced a total of 22 Top 40 hits, including the group's classics “Surfin' U.S.A,” “In My Room,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Surfer Girl,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Don't Worry Baby,” “I Get Around,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “California Girls,” “Barbara Ann,” “Wouldn't It Be Nice,” “Good Vibrations,” and many more.
Earlier this month, on the eve of launching a string of North American dates, Brian Wilson postponed his dozen-show spring run, citing mental health issues. Wilson, who has battled mental illness and depression for decades, was set to kick off a string of mostly East Coast dates on June 7th in Lynn, Massachusetts.
Wilson posted a message to fans, which read in part:
As you may know in the last year or so I’ve had 3 surgeries on my back. The surgeries were successful and i’m physically stronger than i’ve been in a long time.
However, after my last surgery i started feeling strange and it’s been pretty scary for awhile. I was not feeling like myself. Mentally insecure is how I’d describe it. We're not sure what is causing it but i do know that it’s not good for me to be on the road right now so I’m heading back to Los Angeles.
I had every intention to do these shows and was excited to get back to performing. I've been in the studio recording and rehearsing with my band and have been feeling better. But then it crept back and I’ve been struggling with stuff in my head and saying things I don’t mean and I don’t know why. Its something i’ve never dealt with before and we can't quite figure it out just yet.
Wilson is due back out on the road in August for the upcoming “Something Great From '68” summer tour with the Zombies.
A new documentary, titled Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road, is currently in production. The film, which is in post-production now, was directed by Brent Wilson — no relation — and features Brian Wilson talking at length with Rolling Stone editor Jason Fine, with appearances by Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, Jakob Dylan, Bob Gaudio, and My Morning Jacket's Jim James, among others. The title of the movie comes from the Beach Boys' 1971 track “Long Promised Road,” which was written by Wilson's youngest brother Carl Wilson, and was re-recorded by Wilson for the new film.
Last December came the Beach Boys' two latest digital only collections featuring a treasure trove of unreleased music. The pair of collections were issued to exert ownership over unreleased tracks, that due to copyright laws, would fall into public domain if not officially released by their 50-year mark. Luckily for fans, the two news sets — 1968 – Wake The World: The 'Friends' Sessions and 1968 – I Can Hear Music: The '20/20' Sessions, collectively feature a whopping 72 tracks spread over two-and-a-half hours. Producers Mark Linett (pronounced: LINN-ett) and Alan Boyd burrowed deep into the vaults to curate an alternate history spotlighting Brian Wilson's last moments as the Beach Boys' primary driving force and the ascension of Dennis Wilson as a groundbreaking and world class songwriter and producer.
Also out now is Playback: The Brian Wilson Anthology, which features 18 songs — including two previously unreleased tracks — “Run James Run” and “Some Sweet Day.”
In April 2015, Wilson released his 11th solo studio album, No Pier Pressure. Among the key players on the album are Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin, and David Marks — along with such modern stars as Kacey Musgraves, fun.’s Nate Ruess, She & Him’s Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, Peter Hollens, and Capital Cities’ Sebu Simonian. No Pier Pressure reunited Wilson with producer Joe Thomas, who was behind the boards with Wilson for the Beach Boys' 2012 Top Three reunion album, That’s Why God Made The Radio.
Brian Wilson scored an Original Song Golden Globe nomination for “One Kind Of Love” — the theme to his 2015 biopic, Love And Mercy. In addition to Wilson, Love And Mercy was also saluted with actor Paul Dano, who portrayed Wilson as a younger man in the film, snagging the nomination for Actor In A Supporting Role In A Motion Picture. Both awards went to other nominees.
In October 2016, Brian Wilson published, I Am Brian Wilson, his second official autobiography through Da Capo Press. This isn't the first time that Wilson's name has appeared on an “autobiography” — back in 1991 the heavily ghost-written Wouldn't It Be Nice: My Own Story triggered a flurry of lawsuits from his family and Beach Boys bandmates.
First cousin and primary Beach Boys lyricist Mike Love says that the hit-making team of him and Brian Wilson would often begin with Wilson only needing help with parts of songs before flowing into a full on collaboration: “I remember so many instances where Brian and I would get together and do some songs. He would be stuck for lyrics and I'd come up with a concept or lyrics. . . So that's what works, is Brian Wilson and Mike Love together.”
What makes the achievement of Brian Wilson' s work even more spectacular is the fact that he pushed the boundaries of symphonic rock — working with over a dozen different instruments at a time — despite his deafness, rendering him unable to understand or hear true stereo: “The advantage of having one ear is you hear everything through one source — mono. And that goes to your brain, so your brain hears one source of sound. The downside is that you don't get to hear the depth and the beauty of the two-ear thing.”
Al Jardine first bonded with Wilson while the pair was playing high school football for the Hawthorne Cougars. Jardine remembers being amazed by Wilson's athletic ability: “He was a great athlete. He could throw the ball a mile! He had the best spiral. He was the same way in baseball. He was just a very athletic person.”
In 1976, brother Dennis Wilson recalled the scene around Brian's metal and emotional decline during the latter half of the 1960's: “I would go to his house daily and beg, 'What can I do to help you?' Forget recording. Forget all of it. It got to Brian's health. And then, as the Beach Boys were slowly slipping away, y'know, we're at home trying to take care of our brother.”
Producer Don Was has produced both Brian Wilson on his own and with the Beach Boys. He also directed the riveting 1995 documentary on Wilson, called, I Just Wasn't Made For These Times, named after Wilson's 1966 classic from Pet Sounds. Was remains as impressed today as he ever was Wilson: “The sum total of my experience with him is that as an artist, he’s, y’know, without peer. He’s got a unique vision of music that’s had an enormous impact on the vocabulary of rock n’ roll. And on a personal level, the guy, he’s a man of steel, y’know? I mean, he’s got incredible strength, he’s overcome some really severe obstacles that have been tossed in his way, and really survived.”
Wilson's oldest daughter, Carnie Wilson, told us she's happy her dad has found an even balance between his personal and professional life: “I'm just so happy for him right now. He's just been through so much, and he's at this place, now after doing Smile, he's just really like sitting back going, 'Y'know what? God, I made some really cool records, and now the important thing is for me to enjoy the rest of my life and enjoy what I do what I love to do — when I wanna do it.'”
Over the past dozen years, Wilson has enjoyed a creative and professional renaissance, releasing eight solo albums, including a completed version of the Beach Boys' long unfinished and unreleased 1967 album, Smile. In 2005, the track “Mrs. O'Leary's Cow” from Smile earned Wilson his first-ever Grammy when it snagged the Best Rock Instrumental Performance award.
Longtime Beach Boy Bruce Johnston says that like most fans, he was fascinated by Smile the first time Brian Wilson played him the backing tracks for it: “I thought it was brilliant. I have two reactions; I have my commercial reaction and my music reaction. I didn't think it was brilliant commercially, but musically — absolutely fabulous.”
In 1999, the notoriously road-weary Wilson became an active performing musician, touring the world extensively, including several tours where he played the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and Smile albums in their entirety.
Central to the success of Wilson’s touring career over the past 19 years is Wondermints keyboardist Darian Sahanaja, who along with the other ‘Mints, comprise part of Wilson’s world renown nine-piece ensemble. Sahanaja, who helped put the Beach Boys' long unfinished Smile project together for Wilson's live performance back in 2004, recalled to us how producer Joe Thomas planted the seed for Brian Wilson to become a touring solo act with the release of 1998’s Imagination album: “Gotta hand it to Joe, he did say to Brian, 'Y'know, maybe you need to go out and perform to promote this record' — and that got Brian back onstage. But I do remember thinkin', 'Really? Brian Wilson, who had a nervous breakdown in 1964 and set the mold for that musician that couldn’t handle the road and wanted to stay home and be the guy writing all the music from home? That guy? That guy’s gonna go out on tour?'”
Decades after first being turned on to the Beach Boys, the late, great Tom Petty was still amazed by the power and scope of Wilson's greatest music: “I don't think there is anything better than that, necessarily, y'know? I don't think you would be out of line comparing him to Beethoven — to any composer. You really wouldn't be out of line, y'know? The word 'genius' is used a lot with Brian; which I don't know if he's a genius or not, but I know that that music is probably as good a music as you can make, as you can write.”
Lindsey Buckingham is a longtime Beach Boys and Brian Wilson fan and explained how different the Smile sessions were from the usual pop music sessions of the day: “He was employing larger groups of musicians. And was really, in his own way, taking what Phil Spector had done — the process of that, which is multiples of instruments, trying to handle probably a large group of persnickety musicians all at once, which in itself can be a task.”
Throughout the years Paul McCartney and Wilson have collaborated a handful of times on stage and in the studio. McCartney — who has called Wilson's “God Only Knows” the greatest song ever written — was asked if he'd like to do more than just the occasional on stage team up: “Y'know what? I like to watch Brian. I saw him in Los Angeles once — it was a magical concert and I love watching him actually rather than playing with him. I just wanna sit back and drink it in 'cause I love his music so much.”
Brian Wilson says that performing live is both a part of life and a means to an end: “We have to make our money, and we have to live and survive and bring music to people.”
Al Jardine told us that even as teenager Wilson's talent undeniable and overwhelming: “Brian was like a divining rod. Whenever he touched the keys to that piano, something happened and I don't even think he understands it.”
In 1994 Wilson remarried and has since adopted five children. Since 1998, his wife Melinda has been his chief adviser and manager.
In 2011, the Wilson's announced the adoption of their fifth child — their third daughter, named Dakota Rose. The couple posted a message on BrianWilson.com saying in part, “And one more makes five! We now have a basketball team.” In October 2009, the couple adopted an Asian baby boy, named Dash Tristan.