The big draw of the Los Angeles Music Journalists conference in 1996 was a performance by Brian Wilson. The legendary Beach Boy, who lost a number of years due to mental illness and the controlling Dr. Eugene Landy, was scheduled to perform for scribes at the legendary Capitol Records building.
But there was a snafu with the label and, well, Wilson had the opportunity to stay in seclusion. The organizers of the event were in a frenzy. But just when everything appeared to be going down the drain they somehow convinced Wilson to appear at a hotel ballroom. Wilson, who released two albums the prior year, the soundtrack of Don Was’ documentary, I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times and Orange Crate Art, was the show of the month in L.A., which is not too shabby.
It was to be Wilson’s first concert in many years and the hotel ballroom was packed with notable Los Angeles hipsters. Members of the Posies, Tommy Stinson of the Replacements and Guns ‘N’ Roses fame and Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh were among those compelled to attend.
Wilson was visibly nervous, but he delivered a short and vibrant set. “It was great to actually see him perform,” Stinson said. “There’s nobody like Brian Wilson.”
That about nails it since there is no one like one of the most enigmatic figures in rock history. Wilson was the brains behind one of the greatest pop-rock bands ever. He made the Beach Boys an iconic act and his band was arguably the greatest American outfit from the turbulent, creative ’60s.
“Good Vibrations,” “Surfer Girl,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “I Get Around” and “Surfin’ USA” are just some of the classics penned by Wilson.
“I’ve always loved the music,” Wilson tells Atlantic City Weekly. “I take great pride in the Beach Boys music. The people still come out and they still love the music.”
It’s clear that Wilson brightens up while playing Beach Boys songs. During a performance in Holmdel, N.J., a few years ago, Wilson walked out like a zombie. He appeared uncertain and apprehensive — until he sat down behind the keyboard. He became a completely different person.
“That’s where I express myself,” Wilson says. “I’ve always been very happy there.”
During the mid-’90s, Wilson made an album with underheralded pop-rockers Jellyfish, which has yet to see the light of day. Jellyfish leader Roger Manning was blown away by what Wilson did in the studio.
“He was incredibly creative,” Manning says. “There really is nobody else like him.”
Manning saw Wilson do something he’s never seen before. “This just blew me away,” Manning says. “He fell asleep behind the piano and he was still playing. Not only was he playing while he was asleep but it sounded great. It was incredibly trippy. Brian Wilson just isn’t like anybody else. He’s mind-blowing. Who else could do something like that? But then again, who else could make music like the Beach Boys? The songs just blow you away. And so much of that has to do with Brian.”
For years, Wilson has had an up and down relationship with Beach Boys vocalist-songwriter Mike Love. But Wilson reunited with Love and the Beach Boys last year for a triumphant 50th anniversary tour of sheds and theaters around the country.
“I can’t say enough about my cousin,” Mike Love says. “Brian Wilson has always been incredibly gifted. There is nothing like getting on stage with him. To get on stage with him again at that point in our career was amazing. It reminds me of the days when were just kids in California so many years ago. It was a family thing. We came of age together. We learned all about music together. It was an incredibly special thing. I remember that connection we had musically early on. We each gave something to the Beach Boys that was unique. And then there were the early Beach Boys days and they were just wild. I don’t think anyone ever had songs like us or performed like us. Nobody else had Brian.”
Well, Love and the Beach Boys are on tour this summer and Wilson is on the road as well — but not with Love and company. Separate ways once more, but that’s fine. It’s still well worth catching Wilson, who still creates magic, while behind the keyboard. Nobody sings or writes like Wilson.
“It worked out for us,” Wilson says. “Something really special came out of this. It hasn’t been easy for me.”
Wilson’s mental disorder has made everything he does a daunting challenge.
“You have to get inside my head to really get what I go through,” Wilson says. “I’ve had auditory hallucinations in my head for many years. The voices will say horrible things to me. It’s awful. It’s a battle. These voices have made it difficult for me to perform after all of these years. The voices weren’t always there. They arrived when I was about 25. I’ve had a lot of internal fights. When I get really depressed, I can’t write songs, which is what I truly love to do.”
But Wilson, who will perform with Al Jardine and David Marks Saturday, July 20, at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City, has fought through the depression and has been able to tour and enjoy the adulation he receives from his fans.
“It really is a wonderful thing,” Wilson says. “It’s nice to be able to go out and do what I love. There’s nothing I enjoy more than being able to play my music.”
Golden Nugget, Atlantic City
Saturday, July 20, 9pm.
How Much: $69.75 and $151