By Gustavo Turner
Last night, the always entertaining Taschen Bookstore in Beverly Hills hosted an event celebrating the release of a very curious artifact: a box set including Brian Wilson's last released CD, That Lucky Old Sun, a handsome little book with an exclusive interview with Brian by Harvey Kubernik, and, most importantly, twelve limited editions prints by English pop art pioneer Peter Blake illustrating songs from that record.
Blake is best known as the man behind the legendary Sgt. Pepper's cover, but fans of 20th century art also rate him as one of the earliest and best explorers of the intersection between fine art and pop culture (check out his well-ahead-of-its-time "Self-Portrait with Badges" from 1961). The artist's fascination with the US, California and the Beach Boys mystique goes back to the early 1960s, and in a sense this latest collaboration celebrating Wilson's peculiar 2008 concept album about our sun-damaged state is the culmination of a very important thread in a long career that includes Blake's 1964 portrait "The Beach Boys" and his 1990s series about Venice Beach.
The That Lucky Old Sun prints, subtle collages of old California postcards and illustrations carefully altered and captioned by the artist, were hanging at the back of the Taschen store and upstairs at a bar where friendly promoters were keeping everyone lubricated with pomegranate margaritas. The box sets, issued by specialty rock photography publishers Genesis Publications, retail for $1550 (they made only 1,000 of them), so as an extra incentive to the recession-proof collector Taschen produced the head Beach Boy himself to sign purchased copies.
Accompanied by buddies and handlers (including Pet Sounds lyricist Tony Asher), a stoic Wilson took his seat and signed a few copies of the pricey box sets, but then just sat there surrounded by photographers and snapshooting phones. It was a strange sight, the man who can hear music waiting for a few more wealthy collectors willing to buy his prohibitive artbook, but eventually resigning himself to autographing copies of "15 Big Ones" for younger, clearly less affluent fans.
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And then, of course, there was Rodney Bingenheimer, always the living soul of LA rock history, dapper in his green "Surfin'" T-shirt ("It was his first hit, you know?") and jacket, keeping a respectful distance from the autographing icon, gladly spreading the word about Wilson's next project ("It's gonna be a pop take on Gershwin. It will be great. I can't wait"), and gushing about current faves Ladyhawke and the Raveonettes. "I wonder why one of the [Peter Blake] prints has the Capitol building crossed out," Rodney asked me. "I wonder what that's about." Moments later, Wilson got up and left through the back door, speeding away in a sports car while his entourage scrambled for their cars ("You know Brian -- when he wants to go, he goes").
The party continued under the spell of Blake's mysterious prints, with margaritas served by pretty boys and girls, the deliberately retro sounds of "That Lucky Old Sun," and many guests leafing through the boldface nudes in the gigantic Helmut Newton table/book by Taschen.
In other words, a westside scene as Californian as "Wouldn't It Be Nice."