One of the pleasures of flying long haul, possibly the only pleasure, is discovering movies in your chairs private entertainment bubble that you may have never heard of let alone wanted to see. That’s how I stumbled upon the film Love & Mercy on a flight to Bangkok. Essentially it is a movie biopic of the legend that is Brian Wilson. As the nucleus and creative force within that peculiarly 60’s phenomenon known as the Beach Boys he was perhaps the most talented US composer of his generation and certainly in the top three for the entire 20th century. In a decade seemingly obsessed with lists I am sure the identity of the other two could fuel a couple of extra posts all on their own – but not from me.
The movie: Love & Mercy gave us a fairly unflinching look at not only his slide into a mental health crisis at the peak of the Beach Boys success but also that period a couple of decades or so further on when Brian, played by both John Cusack and Paul Dano, fought his way back to independence after being deliberately over medicated by one particular family member who was played brilliantly by Paul Giamatti in the film. I should just point out that there is no need for a spoiler alert here as I won’t be revealing anymore of the movie’s plot on these pages.
Photo by Jazz Guy
Brian’s collapse and subsequent heavily controlled life had until recently been the stuff of music legend. After the release of his most famous masterpiece Pet Sounds in 1966, which was inspired by the Beatles Rubber Soul Album, a myth gradually evolved, fed by his growing absence from daily life. It was said that when he heard the Beatles next album: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which all four of the Beatles admitted was heavily influenced by Pet Sounds, Brian declared his latest efforts as a pile of shit before going to bed for two whole years with depression. He then seemed to disappear from the face of the earth. Such stories only began to interest me about a decade after Wilson’s heyday, when I came upon the Beach Boys quite by chance. As a working class child born in the ‘swinging’ 60’s my musical memory of that era is not extensive. The Beatles of course, the Stones and a quite heavy exposure to Motown sprinkled with a selection of the disposable, generic pop of the period. No the Beach Boys came to me later somewhere in that odd Glam Rock – Disco no-man’s land between the start of my passion for the music of the chameleon David Bowie and the explosive arrival of Punk Rock.
Even now, all these years later I still feel a slight sense of guilt about what happened. Back then we had a fairly large collection of vinyl 45’s (singles) and 33 (LP’s) scattered in and around out teak radiogram and somehow a friend, who shares the same initials as me (I’ll spare him the potential roth of his parents by not naming him!) sat on a 33, which had been flung on a chair during the usual arguments about what would go on the turntable next. The disc, which I had never felt any interest to play was broken in two. It was part of an odd collection that my Mother had acquired as ‘prizes’ for her selling efforts for some pyramid scheme run by a cosmetics firm I no longer remember the name of. There were some gems like original Jimmy Hendrix and T Rex etc. but most of it consisted of those peculiarities of the times: Top Hits or Pop Parade. These were usually quite dreadful renditions, albeit faithfully, of the copy-written tunes of the artists of the day to whom I suppose a tiny fee was paid. They were meant to be ‘sound alike’ although I remember one awful version of Lead Zeppelins: ‘A Whole Lot of Love’ which almost sounded like a church choir. Mostly they were selections of different artists (imagine Now 123 or whatever number that collection has reached) but not with the original artists… yes That bad. However, there were also a handful of others in her collection, that featured the ‘essence’ of some band or other. One of these, the one that was broken, was called something like Surfing Classics from the song book of the Beach Boys.
As I said I had never heard of it and had never heard my Mam play it… However, as this wasn’t the first vinyl related accident and because memories of her annoyance and some dish-washing related penalty were still fresh in my mind, I resorted to desperate measures. “Oh my God – this is her favorite record, she will kill both of us” was from memory, the bare gist of what I told AB, who bought it hook line and sinker. Ten minutes later we were hurriedly shuffling through his parents collection, before his Mam came home from work, and there it was: Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. A moment later after a quick exchange of an unbroken disc for the two half’s of the poptastic crap he had sat upon, I was running down the hill towards my house when I bumped into Mam struggling with a heavy bag of shopping. “Is that one of mine?” she demanded to know as I took her bags and she took the disc off me, which was thankfully concealed in the sleeve of the broken album. “Yes I was just letting A’s Mam listen to it.” knowing full well that both women barely exchanged the time of day so my subterfuge would hold on for a little longer. However, when we reached the house to my horror she said: “Ok, I haven’t heard it in ages, let’s put it on.”
It is strange what you think about when you are on the cusp of being found out, being unmasked as a liar by your own Mother. And yet all I do remember thinking, as the opening bars of the first tune – Wouldn’t it Be Nice – were played was, how on earth did Mr and Mrs B come to have such good taste in music. They both looked older than they were especially Mr B, who only then in his 30’s or early 40’s looked and had the smokers cough of a man possibly twice his age. Before she had placed the needle on the record I had been thinking of how I could make a quick exit to escape some awful musical drivel but before the end I had lifted the arm on the turntable – which for those too young to remember meant that the record in question, would play again and again. I loved it, and although I realised that admitting to such a thing to my friends may have rendered me an un-cool social outcast, I did confess it to my closest friends.
I never did know if my mother noticed. Perhaps she knew – like all Mam’s seem to know when they are being played, but kept quiet about it after realising that on this occasion the lie had gone in her favour because from that day on I would hear her play the album at least once a week. How AB explained it to his Mam & Dad when the crime was eventually discovered I can now only guess at because just a few weeks later they had suddenly gone from the house, without a goodbye. Some said they had moved over Newcastle way. I did miss him for a while until new music and girls eventually distracted me. Still I do wonder, if A ever does sit down to watch Brian Wilson’s film, whether he would be blogging somewhere about how much the loss of the Pet Sounds album had cost him. How it had ruined his life even… but I doubt it was quite the small life changing discovery that it was for me back then.