A companion for your lonely soul: Brian Wilson #78

Occasionally on the Andy Griffith Show, the Darlin family from the nearby hills would amble into the quiet town of Mayberry. Led by their father, Briscoe, he was accompanied by his daughter, Charlene, and her brothers, who in real life were actually a talented bluegrass band from Kentucky named the Dillards.

Usually in an episode when they appeared, at some point music from Briscoe and his sons would be played along with singing from Charlene. In encouraging Sheriff Taylor to pick guitar with them, Briscoe once remarked: “Got time to breathe, got time for music.” 

From my perspective when I think about singer/songwriter, Brian Wilson, I’m glad that he had “time to breathe and time for music.”

Today, June 20, Brian Wilson turns 78.

 It is appropriate that his birthday is today— as it marks the first day of summer. Probably no one in the history of pop music and possibly advertising did a better job of selling summer to teenagers around the world than Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys.

I’ve never met Brian Wilson, but I have met a lot of his songs. And for me, many of his songs are heart touchers.

When one considers his diverse catalog of songs, the strength of his composing, his production techniques, and his unique ability to construct precise and rich background harmonies, I think Brian Wilson stands alone.

What is even more remarkable about his success is this— Brian Wilson has virtually no hearing capacity in his right ear; all of these songs were written via his compensation for this loss of hearing.

And while we are on the topic of remarkable, as a long time fan of Brian and the music he has created with and without the Beach Boys, I find it remarkable that Brian is still alive. He has outlived his demons, and sadly his younger brothers, Dennis and Carl.

Brian is a survivor. 

Brian’s challenges are well documented: starting with a difficult father, a nervous breakdown in the early stages of the Beach Boys fame, substance abuse, and nonstop pressure to constantly produce hit records. Later in his life, the collision of all these factors finally led doctors to diagnose Brian with schizoaffective disorder and mild manic depression.

And yet, Brian has written such beautiful music that brings a happiness to people.

How can a person who has suffered through all these ups and downs create such magical music?

Personally, I think music was God’s gift to Brian. And, I think that gift of music even in the most rotten times of his life,  never abandoned him. Music is his heart, his soul. Music is his friend, his confidante, his safe place.

My Osher Institute teaching pal for the University of Richmond, Joe Vanderford, often reminds me of another Brian gift—his voice.  Go back and listen to his early lead vocals with the Beach Boys. No one could soar like Brian.

Even if you are a marginal fan of the Beach Boys, I think it would be very easy for you to name some of their hit records. I have no desire to walk you back through those songs. I’d rather take you to August 31, 1970.

By the end of 1969, the Beach Boys were bringing closure to their contractural commitments with their original recording company Capitol Records. The late 60s were not good to the Beach Boys. The hit records literally stopped. They were a square peg in the Woodstock generation of music. And yet, somehow, they kept afloat.

Part of treading water came from their concert touring especially overseas. The British still loved them. But, something else was taking place too. 

Brian’s bandmates, Al, Carl, Dennis, Mike, and Bruce had learned a few things by being around Brian in recording studios. Each of them in their own unique ways were finding their songwriting and production paths.

A new recording contract was signed with Warner Brother Records. The group would be a part of the Reprise label with the opportunity for their own Brother Records logo to be imprinted on the new label.

During the recording of their first album for Reprise, there was some special creative energy present in the studio. 

Each band member contributed to the songwriting. Brian was more active in the production. Recording engineer, Stephen Desper, superbly captured the richness of the instrumentation and vocals with each song. What transpired is that the band really worked individually and collectively on this record. A harmony, a cohesiveness existed.

The album named Sunflower was released on August 31, 1970. Despite supportive promotional efforts from Warner/Reprise, the album was a commercial failure. But, the critics, like Rolling Stone magazine’s, Jim Miller, loved it. From lots of angles, Mr. Miller gave the album high marks for many valid reasons.

Sunflower turns 50 this year. 

Unlike my old bag of bones, Sunflower has aged well.

If your ears have never listened to this album, you need to be brave and explore.

And what is really interesting about Sunflower is that the album in a unique way became a rejuvenation point for the Beach Boys. 

The next four years charted an unexpected rediscovery by American fans that brought the band acclaim for their concert performances and their studio recordings.

I could easily walk you through every track of Sunflower, but I will leave you with this one—“Add Some Music To Your Day.”

This song is like a gentle anthem of praise to music. 

And right in the middle, Carl Wilson’s lungs swell like the crest of a Big Sur wind blown wave, and he sings in his sweetest angel voice these true words:  “Music when you’re alone is like a companion for your lonely soul.”

I wonder how many lonely souls found a companion in the music of Brian Wilson?

My hunch is lots of people found that companion in his songs.

But, I’m thankful that Brian’s own soul found a companion in music too.

Happy Birthday Brian Wilson!

I pray there will be many more.

And for anyone who took the time to read this post, take Brian’s advice—go add some music to your day. 

It will be good for your soul.

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