Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Beach Boy celebrates sea change with music

From http://www.columbusdispatch.com/live/content/life/stories/2008/08/25/1A_BRIAN_WILSON.ART_ART_08-25-08_D1_DQB33NQ.html?sid=101

Beach Boy celebrates sea change with music

Monday,  August 25, 2008 3:12 AM

By Solvej Schou

Associated Press

<p>Brian Wilson</p>

Brian Wilson

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Brian Wilson sits on a plush couch in his living room, smiling nervously.

On the back porch at the home of the Beach Boys visionary, the 15 family pooches yip and scramble over one another.

Inside, photographs of his children with wife Melinda Ledbetter -- Daria, 11; Delanie, 10; and Dylan, 4 -- lace the walls.

The immaculate two-story, deep into a gated hillside community in Beverly Hills, has a swimming pool that overlooks the valley below -- as in a postcard.

"I'm happier now than I was a year ago," Wilson says. "I started exercising, and I started eating more of the right food, and I started feeling better. I just get up in the morning and say my prayers."

Tall and gangly in a pinstriped dress shirt, his graying hair swept back into waves, the wizardly songwriter behind 1960s hits such as Good Vibrations and California Girls stares with sharp blue eyes and frequently fidgets.

Much has changed for the historically reclusive southern California native, who speaks with a slight slur -- a result of one-time drug abuse and a medicated journey through mental illness.

The second-round father, 66, has two daughters from his first marriage -- Wendy, 38; and Carnie, 40 -- who hit the road as the Wilsons.

In the wake of the rock opera Smile in 2004 and a 2005 Christmas release, he has a new, ambitious solo album, That Lucky Old Sun, due next week.

He is touring behind the material, pushing through enduring stage fright.

"I think the new album is just as good as anything the Beach Boys ever recorded," Wilson said. "Playing these songs live, I feel proud."

Two years ago, he said, he recorded 18 songs, then last year chose 10 for Capitol Records/EMI.

He devised the album's lush orchestration and music, while 43-year-old band mate Scott Bennett scribed the lyrics, with colorful narrative interludes by Wilson's longtime collaborator, Van Dyke Parks.

The outcome blends up-tempo pop and piano-based ballads. The title track, a cover of Louis Armstrong's That Lucky Old Sun, flows into the bouncy anthem Morning Beat, setting the album's tone.

"Van Dyke Parks, Brian and Melinda thought this should be a love letter to Los Angeles," Bennett said. "At this point, Brian was 65 years old, and it just felt right to embrace his legend and be a bit nostalgic."

Songs such as Forever She'll Be My Surfer Girl touch on Beach Boys melodies; Mexican Girl adds a dash of salsa flavor. Midnight's Another Day and Oxygen to the Brain reference Wilson's dark days in the 1970s and '80s, when he receded from the spotlight into isolation, drugs and weight gain.

Wilson calls Midnight's Another Day, which skirts on a solitary piano melody, his favorite song -- "kind of introspective, kind of how I feel around people."

The album's last song, Southern California, reminisces about co-founding the Beach Boys in 1961 with brothers Carl and Dennis (both deceased) and ends the album on an uplifting note as Wilson sings, "It's magical / Living your dream."

"Yes, Brian had a rough time of it, with his mental health, but I would kill to have the kind of catalog he does, and tour everywhere with his brothers like he did," said Bennett, who confirms that Wilson "is on a heavy dose of anti-depressants."

Regardless, Wilson has hit a creative stride in his life.

Inspiration emerges at night when he sits alone at his Yamaha synthesizer and grand piano in his music room, with purple curtains.

"When I go to the keyboard, I feel holy, like an angel over my head," he said. "I feel very holy."

Questions about the Beach Boys' status receive lukewarm responses.

Wilson, who also formed the band with cousin Mike Love and then-school friend Al Jardine, split with most of the group's surviving members years ago amid legal squabbles.

Love and later Beach Boys band mate Bruce Johnston tour as the Beach Boys Band; Jardine has his own Endless Summer Band.

Wilson underscores the subject's touchiness.

"We don't want any publicity about me getting back with the Beach Boys because I don't want to. They're not my group anymore."

Yet he clearly loves performing Beach Boys tunes as well as his own solo work, even with nightly stage fright, which he says he works through by getting neck and shoulder rubs and praying.

At a taping days later for Yahoo! Music's Live Sets, Wilson is joined onstage by his nine-piece band, including Bennett and members of the Wondermints, who have played with him for 10 years.

Asked during a question-and-answer session about his biggest regret, Wilson doesn't mince words.

"The drugs I took, which kind of messed up my mind -- the LSD, the marijuana, the cocaine."

Inspiration emerges at night when he sits alone at his Yamaha synthesizer.

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