Wednesday, June 29, 2022


The PBS series American Masters has been around since its debut in 1986. Season 36: Episode 5 features BRIAN WILSON: LONG PROMISED ROAD. The series is clear in how it wants to celebrate an artist and it does so with tremendous gusto. If you are going to have a series celebrating the arts and artists you certainly want to throw every laurel at their feet. There are times when the viewer doesn't understand the decision to laud over some of the people defined by American Masters and then there are times you practically find yourself weeping with joy over the complete and total brilliance of an artist. The American Masters on one of the founding members of the iconic band The Beach Boys is one of those times. Brian Wilson is one of the most celebrated songwriters of the latter half of the 20th century and deservedly so. The man who never learned to surf created, designed and mastered so many outstanding melodies that it is even all these years later difficult to comprehend. One must keep in mind that Brian Wilson was a man verbally abused by one of the bad dads of the last century, but Wilson didn't grow bitter, angry, miserable or mean-spirited. He became a gentle giant. A man full of a sweet spirit and a tender heart. 

Wilson is and this is no embellishment - the single most humble public figure I have ever witnessed. You see it in the interviews, but I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Wilson on a couple of occasions. He really is that guy! The American Masters special finds much of the 90 minutes with Brian Wilson driving around various locations in the L.A. basin with Rolling Stone reporter, Jason Fine. They are going from one Wilson moment to the next. Visiting the house he and his brothers, Dennis and Carl grew up in (I met their mom when I first moved to SoCal to begin a career in the entertainment industry - she happened to be a good friend to a local family friend) is a fun throwback to another era. They visit various recording studios and other homes Brian lived in. It's a delightful and free-wheeling chatfest that is compelling conversation. 

We hear many of the melodic whirlwinds Wilson crafted from his gifted brain and wow a boatload of gigantic tunes. Wouldn't It Be Nice, Good Vibrations, California Girls and many more, but nothing and I mean nothing comes close to the most definitive of all harmony achievements in the rock era - God Only Knows. God Only Knows sounds as good, if not better in 2022 than it did upon its release back in 1966. Since the special aired I have listened to this remarkable song a dozen or so times. I look forward to it each and every time. We learn during the special that Wilson actually wrote some songs in a sandbox. He may be the only person ever to do that. 

God Only Knows was recorded while every musician and singer was in the same room at the same time! They can't and won't do that today! The piano, harmonica, banjo. Baby brother Carl Wilson was blessed to get the opportunity to sing lead on the vocal; and that gorgeous double-back harmony by Bruce Johnston still kind of takes my breath away. 

Brian Wilson has suffered severely from mental illness since the mid to late 1960's, but his memory has not faded one bit. He is now 80 years old (I'm writing this in 2022) and his amazing memory is fascinating. Talk about having significantly strong cognitive abilities well into these late years in life. 

In these documentaries one always gets to see and hear a variety of talking heads, but this go-round you listen to talking heads who obviously wanted to do this. Elton John (he inducted the Beach Boys into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) waxes beautifully on Brian's talents, skills and abilities. Bruce Springsteen, as usual is a stand-out in his reminiscing. Springsteen himself is a great writer of words and in my opinion second only to Bob Dylan as a lyricist in the rock era. Springsteen's use of words is on full display in this documentary. Springsteen digs in with discussing the joy of his youth and all these years later the sadness of the autumn and maybe even the winter of his years. Springsteen can and usually does bring a tear to the eye.  Fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine is featured, along with producer/musician Don Was, Jakob Dylan and Nick Jonas. 

Goodness, sweetness, tenderness, positivity and innocence - who in their right mind would have thought all those years ago that one of the most accomplished and successful songwriters of the 1960's would be described that way.

American Masters: Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road recently premiered on PBS. Watch it and watch it now. Absolutely glorious in its every single second. 

Original Beach Boys: Al Jardine, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Brian Wilson, Mike Love

Copyright The Flaming Nose 2022  




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