THE BEACH BOYS: AN AMERICAN BAND
BRIAN WILSON: I JUST WASN'T MADE FOR THESE TIMES
Review by Mark Wiechman
Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, guest spots from
Linda Ronstadt, Lindsey Buckingham,
Tom Petty, Graham Nash, David Crosby
Director: Don Was
Audio: Digital Stereo
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1, Color, B & W
Length: 172 minutes total
Release date: December 17, 2002
may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You’ll never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it
God only knows what I’d be without you…”
Who is the best-selling
American rock band ever? The
Eagles? Not in overall sales.
Chicago? Despite almost
thirty albums, they only place second. Even
though the days of top forty singles for the Beach Boys are long gone, they are
still the best-selling American rock band ever.
Their unmatched harmonies and innovative songs that capture the best of
young Americana in the early 1960's guarantee their eternal popularity,
especially in winter months when we all dream of an endless summer, when the
biggest decision we had to make was which girl to ask out and how we could save
up for that car to drive her in.
The undisputed genius of the
band, one of the few undisputed American pop Einsteins, was Brian Wilson.
His collaborations with Mike Love (who looks like such a dork in this
footage, but sounds good) and others all bear his unmistakable imprint of
soaring harmonies, and solid rock rhythms.
The first program begins with
the Beach Boys in the 1970s, all looking haggard and old, with unflattering
beards, and Brian does not even bother to get out of bed to do the interview.
Yet their performances speak for themselves.
Their rise to fame is described briefly, their overbearing father getting
them a contract with Capitol records and they rocketed to the top of the charts.
With the Beatles, they completed the two-fisted domination of Capitol
Records in the 1960s. But it was
all too good to be true. Like many
other composers such as John Lennon, Brian Wilson never quite found the peace
and happiness in life that his songs gave to others.
After suffering a nervous breakdown on the road, he quit touring but
continued to produce albums, with the other boys adding their voices later.
This culminated in the masterpiece Pet Sounds, praised by Phil
Spector as the best album he had ever heard. But as Brian sank into depression and drug use, his music
became strange to the point of incomprehensible.
It could be argued that the Beatles actually grew somewhat during their
drug period, the biggest result being Paul McCartney assuming the reins.
But there was no one to take the reins when Brian went down.
QUESTION: Which was the only Beach Boy who actually learned how to surf? Only one!
These programs are a real
eye-opener though, seeing the Beach Boys cover other bands' songs such as
“Okie from Muskogie” and even some anti-war tunes!
They actually sound pretty good, and did in fact record several good
albums after Brian Wilson left, but clearly the endless summer was only an
illusion. The turning point of pop
in the 1960s was the Monterey Pop Festival, and ironically the Beach Boys were
supposed to headline, but Brian backed out at the last minute, leaving Jimi
Hendrix to change the history of music forever. The Beach Boys suddenly realized that music had passed them
by, much as Sgt. Pepper's eclipsed Pet Sounds and Smile.
The second documentary, shot
mostly in black and white, has many insights about the evolution of the music,
such as the synthesis of Brian's Freshmen harmonies and Carl's love of Chuck
Berry into their unique sound. Beyond
the sweet but silly reminisces of Brian's family, there are many legends such as
David Crosby, Tom Petty, Linda Ronstadt, and Graham Nash weigh in on the
importance of this music, such as a master harmonizer like Crosby admitting that
he would never be able to do harmonies such as “In My Room”.
Other interesting facts emerge here such as the connection between
the JFK assassination and “Warmth of the Sun”.
I won't go into that here; you will have to watch this to find out!
The deepness and genuine
emotion of these songs receive full testimony in this second documentary.
Not only was Brian Wilson a great genius, he was genuine.
Though he was deaf in one ear, tormented by a difficult relationship with
his father, and eventually slipped into schizophrenia, the voices he heard in
his heard first were those of his brothers and his own soaring soprano, for
which he was tormented as a young boy. He
is one of the very few composers to take 50s rock and ballads and do new things
in this familiar language. He
nearly saved American rock from the British invasion itself.
But for most of the 1960s, rock belonged to the Beatles, the Stones, the
Who and the blues-rockers such as Hendrix and Cream.
Future American rock bands still bore their influence, such as the Eagles
soaring harmonies (maybe the only band to compare to the Beach Boys) and Chicago
recorded the song “Wishing You Were Here” with the Beach Boys and even
toured with them many times.
Plenty of footage of Brian
recording anew in recent years makes this an important piece of music film.
Few have slipped as far as Brian Wilson and then come back to record new
version of old songs and finish many tunes he did not finish in the 1960s.
Some black and white, some
Nothing spectacular, a
hodge-podge of stereo and mono recordings but many rare performances show that
they were a good live band. It is a
tragedy of music that digital sound did not exist in those days.
Features (zero stars)
None, but so what?
Filled with rare footage,
revealing interviews, and insights into their music, this should be required
viewing for any musician or serious fan of rock music.