Brian Wilson talks about his compelling biopic
LOS ANGELES—Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys cofounder who is now hailed as an American music genius, gets a dark, harrowing and ultimately compelling biopic in director Bill Pohlad’s “Love & Mercy.” The man who composed and produced the band’s “Pet Sounds,” universally regarded as one of the all-time greatest albums, is played by two fine actors at different points in his troubled life, Paul Dano and John Cusack.
“I hung out with John and Paul for about a week, and they became familiar with my mannerisms,” said Brian, who will turn 73 on June 20, in a recent interview.
While Brian is noted for his sunny California songs for the Beach Boys, his debilitating mental illness plunged him into a dark world. Paul plays the younger Brian in the 1960s, the multitasking musical pioneer who wrote many hits for the band, but whose nervous breakdowns and erratic behavior affected the group.
We learn in the film that Brian suffered verbal and physical abuse from his father, Murry Wilson (Bill Camp), who became the Beach Boys’ manager until he was fired.
John essays Brian in the 1980s when he was misdiagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic by doctor Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), a malevolent therapist who controlled the musician’s life for several years.
One bright spot in this painful episode in Brian’s life is that he met a car saleswoman, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), who would become his second wife and inspire him to launch a solo career and gain renewed acclaim in the process. The couple adopted five kids.
The entire cast is excellent, especially Paul, John and Elizabeth. “Love & Mercy” is earning good reviews. Excerpts from our interview with Brian:
What’s your earliest memory of discovering and loving music?
I was at my grandmother’s house. I was listening to “Rhapsody in Blue,” and I loved it very much.
How did you feel when you saw “Love & Mercy” for the first time?
It brought joy, sadness and sorrow at the same time.
Since you have hearing loss, how does that affect the way you hear music?
I only have one good ear. My right ear is deaf, so I can’t hear too well. I concentrate on the sound before going to the studio, like this (plays the piano and sings briefly).
If you didn’t have a music career, what would you have done?
I would have tried to be a major league baseball player.
Sharing your story was obviously a tough and very personal decision to make. What made you decide to do it?
I want people to see what I went through.
The movie’s title, “Love & Mercy,” can apply to your wife as well.
She means a lot to me. She gave me a solo career about 17 years ago—and I’ve been touring ever since.
Have you written a song for her?
Yeah, “One Kind of Love.”
What was the most difficult song to write?
“God Only Knows” (plays a few bars on the piano). The easiest song was “409.”
Where did your inner strength to survive those dark periods in your life come from?
It came from my heart, my piano and some friends who helped me through. I have a lot of friends who said, “Come on, Brian, you can get through this.”
You virtually invented surf music, but the irony is that you did not surf.
I was always afraid to try. But, my brother, Dennis, told me that surfing was a popular phase—“So why don’t you write some songs about surfing?” So, Mike (Love) and I wrote “Surfin.’”
What’s a regular day like for you?
I watch television quite a bit. I go to the park and do some walking.
Are you still in touch with Mike Love?
I haven’t talked to him in three years.
It was shocking to learn in the movie that your father sold the rights to the Beach Boys music.
I was disappointed. I thought I was worth a lot more.
What was your inspiration for “No Pier Pressure,” your new album?
I wanted to do an album that has a lot of mellow harmonies, like the Beach Boys’ albums. So, we did an album with a lot of good harmonies and four guest artists (She & Him, Kacey Musgraves, Sebu Simonian and Nate Ruess) to sing in it.
What do your young children bring to your life?
The kids brought a lot of energy. I am a lot older now, so I don’t have as much energy. But, they have so much of it that I can feel it!
What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning, and before you go to sleep at night?
I say my prayers and thank God for another day of life. Then (at night), I also say my prayers—hopefully, there will be another day of life.
E-mail [email protected] Follow him at twitter.com/nepalesruben.
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