By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
The story of Wilson and his discordant harmonizing kin is basic rock lore, and television has told that tale oft before -- the Beach Boys have been the subject of not one but two ABC biopics (1990‘s Summer Dreams: The Story of the Beach Boys and last year’s The Beach Boys: An American Family), as well as sundry documentaries, including 1976‘s dark and strange It’s Okay, produced by Lorne Michaels, and a more recent Brian Wilson A&E Biography. The main points of the Life of Brian are here rehearsed again, in filmed segments my press kit labels “Beauty,” “Pet Sounds,” “Survivor” and “Revolutionary,” narrated respectively and more or less appropriately by Rachel Hunter (beach-bunny type), Cameron Crowe (ardent fancritic), Dennis Hopper (reconditioned ‘60s burnout) and Sir George Martin (producer friend of the Beatles). The subject is compared to Gershwin, Bach and Mozart, in case you thought it was all just Dick Dale and the Four Freshmen with him. The brilliance of Pet Sounds, rock’s Citizen Kane (belatedly appreciated masterpiece whose young creator develops problems with follow-through and gets fat), is asserted. And Wilson is again described, as he will ever be described -- needlessly, I think, and tiresomely, but modishly -- as a victim. “Brian Wilson is truly the ultimate heroic survivor!” cries Hopper, as the tattered corpse of an abusive dad is once more raked over the hot coals of public opprobrium. (Murray Wilson, meet your posterity.) Arguably rock‘s best-known head case, Brian is clearly healthier than he once was -- he’s off drugs, he‘s out of bed, he’s touring, he‘s a family man, he’s in technically better voice than, say, Sinatra was at his age, or Dylan is -- but he‘s just as clearly some kind of permanently damaged goods. He lacks affect, and seems more on display than in charge -- though one at least feels he is surrounded now by people who respect his art and want the best for him, rather than the most from him. Still, tribute may also constitute exploitation. Corporate entities and private individuals are making money here; and by honoring Wilson, TNT annexes his particular magic and prestige, not to say that of his participating friends and admirers.
The evening’s house band, which is Wilson‘s touring band and includes members of L.A.’s the Wondermints, adeptly reproduces the original arrangements, turning the show into a kind of rarefied karaoke, with the accent on the early hits and the holy Pet Sounds. Only the Go-Go‘s (a punky “Surf City”) and Paul Simon (a folk-Baroque “Surfer Girl”) make the songs entirely their own, though other singers find their moments of personality assertion. Whom you like will depend mainly on whom you like already, but Vince Gill was a bit of a pleasant surprise to me. (As Billy Joel, say, was not.) The crowd loves it all: They sing, they dance, they standing-ovate. And if so much unrelieved sincere praise can make even the acolyte skeptical -- Don Rickles has his tonic use on such occasions -- it’s not like Wilson doesn‘t deserve the kudos, and given the hard times, it’s nice to see him get them. “Love and mercy,” he sings in the evening‘s final performance, “is what you need.” As who does not, until Daddy takes the T-bird away.
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