Sun, sand, shade, pain – Brian Wilson turns 80

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Brian Wilson, musician and founding member of the band The Beach Boys, turns 80. © Cyril Zingaro/KEYSTONE/dpa

Always “Good Vibrations”? In his band The Beach Boys, however, the vibrations were often not good at all. With monumental Sixties albums and despite a complicated career, Brian Wilson achieved pop icon status. Now he’s 80.

Berlin – Somehow it fits that these two world-famous musicians are so close to each other with their round birthdays: Paul McCartney, who turned 80 on June 18, and Brian Wilson, who will now follow him on June 20 – two of the biggest icons of pop music, at the same time competitors, companions and probably even friends.

The Californian “Beach Boy” Wilson never achieved the same global popularity as the more consistent Beatles sonny boy McCartney, also because of various life crises and career breaks, but is just as revered by many experts. Ultimately, the Brit inducted the American into the “Songwriters Hall of Fame” in 2000 with a respectful eulogy. Sir Paul thanked Wilson for “making him cry with music – a testament to his genius”.

Heavenly harmonies

Two Beach Boys albums, which are ranked among the most important records of all time in most critics’ rankings, have contributed to Wilson’s legendary status. These two song collections led to the fact that the musician, who was born on June 20, 1942 in Inglewood near Los Angeles, is described as “probably the greatest American composer of popular music in the rock era” (according to the encyclopedia Allmusic). Rock star Bruce Springsteen praised in the documentary “Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road”: “A greater world than that of the Beach Boys has never been created again in rock ‘n’ roll.” You can always feel “joy even in the pain of life”.

On the one hand there is “Pet Sounds” (1966), a daydream full of heavenly harmonies, grandiose choral singing and “pocket symphony” arrangements permeated by the Californian sun but also melancholy. On the other hand, “Smile”, which was designed as a mega-masterpiece on Wilson’s songwriter’s drawing board, intended to surpass the best Beatles albums – and then remained a project due to band conflicts and the boss’s drug problems. It wasn’t until almost 40 years later that “Smile”, recorded by the now audibly aged composer with an accomplished band of young admirers, premiered as a complete work – and the magic was still there.

With “Surfin’ Safari”, “Surfin’ USA” and “Surfer Girl” the rise of the Beach Boys, which included the three Wilson brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis, their cousin Mike Love and school friend Al Jardine, had 1962/ 63 started quite monothematic. The creative head Brian Wilson, who was trained by an overambitious father, soon wanted to raise the successful but pretty harmless hymns to beach life and its female attractions to the pop Olympus with great enthusiasm for experimentation and studio sophistication unheard of until then.

Not just the beach and surfing

The fact that the singer and pianist, who had just outgrown his teenage years, was not really interested in sand and surfing did not detract from the artistic triumph of his highly complex music. With masterful songs like “Good Vibrations”, “Barbara Ann”, “God Only Knows”, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” or “Heroes And Villains” Wilson actually made it to the Beatles level he was aiming for before private and health problems clouded the seemingly forever summery California horizon.

His band continued with diminishing success, while the unfortunate Strandjungs boss was left at times insane, delivering only sporadic – but often outstanding – song contributions. In particular, the albums “Sunflower” (1970), “Surf’s Up” (1971) and “Love You” (1977) are considered jewels of the difficult 70s, before the Beach Boys, now led by the enterprising Mike Love, to a hardly substantial Oldie squad mutated. Only “That’s Why God Made The Radio” (2012), now with Brian Wilson again, developed a wonderful retro magic.

As a solo artist – from 1988’s self-titled comeback album to 1995’s Orange Crate Art and 2011’s In The Key Of Disney – Wilson has delighted audiences at a surprising rate, especially given his failing health. In memorable concerts with the sixties song pearls that never gather dust, the now very fragile musician, who is extremely taciturn in interviews, achieved a deeply moving presence.

In a statement accompanying his latest album At My Piano, which sees the 79-year-old reinterpreting some of his classics, Wilson said, “We had a piano in our living room and I’ve played it every day since I was 12 . I never had any lessons, I was completely self-taught. (…) I play it when I’m happy or sad. I love playing for others and I love playing alone when no one is listening. To be honest, the piano and the music I make on it probably saved my life.”

The latter probably also applies to Melinda Ledbetter, who married Wilson in 1995. She supports him in his difficult old age and has also taken over his management. From the marriage with his childhood friend Marilyn Rovell, which ended in divorce in 1978, two daughters had emerged: Carnie and Wendy, both later in the at times quite successful girl band Wilson Phillips. The family could celebrate their 80th birthday this Monday (June 20) before or after a concert: According to the tour schedule, Brian Wilson will then appear in Kansas City. dpa

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