Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Brian Wilson Day-Night Double-Header - Part I

Brian Wilson is in Boston today. Frequent or occasional readers probably know that Brian Wilson is my greatest living hero and musical idol. (My greatest non-living hero is Abraham Lincoln, whom I'm led to understand couldn't carry a tune.) In fact, the title of this here blog, "Dove Nested Towers" is a phrase that appears in Brian's most masterful composition, in my opinion, "Surf's Up." Originally composed in 1966, finally released by the Beach Boys in 1971, and recorded under his own name in 2004, "Surf's Up" is a four-minute epic in which a concert audience takes in the fall of civilizations and the emerging world-weariness of post-JFK America. And yet, at the end, there's a hopeful note, a brighter future, and it's in the form of what? A medical marvel? An advanced computer? The words of a statesman or the weapon of a soldier?

No. It's a children's song. The way forward will come from innocence, simplicity, and youthful optimism. That was Brian Wilson's way forward, too.

Surf's Up
Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks

A diamond necklace played the pawn
Hand in hand some drummed along
To a handsome mannered baton
A blind class aristocracy
Back through the opera glass you see
The pit and the pendulum drawn

Columnated ruins domino
Canvass the town and brush the backdrop
Are you sleeping?

Hung velvet overtaken me
Dim chandelier awaken me
To a song dissolved in the dawn
The music hall a costly bow
The music all is lost for now
To a muted trumpeter swan

Columnated ruins domino
Canvass the town and brush the backdrop
Are you sleeping, Brother John?

Dove nested towers the hour was
Strike the street quicksilver moon
Carriage across the fog
Two-step to lamp lights cellar tune
The laughs come hard in Auld Lang Syne

The glass was raised, the fired-roast
The fullness of the wine, the dim last toasting
While at port adieu or die
A choke of grief heart hardened I
Beyond belief a broken man too tough to cry

Surf's Up
Aboard a tidal wave
Come about hard and join
The young and often spring you gave
I heard the word
Wonderful thing
A children's song

A children's song
Have you listened as they played
Their song is love
And the children know the way

Brian Wilson fell as surely as did any ancient civilization, in a swirl of drugs, mental illness, obesity, and neglect. Yet today he is fit, clean (except for prescribed psychotropics), musically and physically active, and productive, having released his 10th solo album (including one album credited to Brian Wilson & Van Dyke Parks) earlier this year, called That Lucky Old Sun.

So today, Brian appeared at Newbury Comics in Faneuil Hall to sign autographs at noon, and tonight he performs the album in its entirety (in addition to the usual supercatalog of hits) at the Orpheum Theatre. Faneuil Hall is a lovely tourist spot to walk around on a summer day, but not the easiest place to get to when you're coming from 12 miles north of the city and have to drop your oldest daughter off at school probably an equal distance west of the city. There's no parking and in addition, the temperature was in the 20s with a wind chill that made it feel like 0.

The plan was that Newbury Comics were allowing people to line up as early as 7am, then they would open their doors at 8am so people could come in, buy the new album, and get a wristband for the autograph session. Then we had to wait outside until noon. I knew I'd be lucky to get there much before 9am, so I was stressed and worried that the wristbands would be gone before I arrived. I weighed various options, including parking near my daughter's school and taking a bus, but I'd probably get a ticket; parking in a garage near Faneuil Hall, which would be very expensive; or parking at work (Boston's South End) and hustling to take any combination of bus and train that would get me to Faneul Hall ASAP. I opted for the latter approach. I missed the bus that would take me quickly and warmly to a subway station, so I walked fast and ran, the cold air burning my lungs, got on a train, got off nearby, and ran through traffic to get to Newbury Comics. I did, in fact, arrive before 9am. But was I lucky?

As it turned out, the weather (or ungenerous employers) kept a lot of Brian fans away in the early morning hours, so I was actually 10th in line. That was wonderful. Waiting in the cold was not. Fortunately, however, the Newbury Comics staff were very kind and they worked out a way that most of us could wait inside if we kept to certain places along the walls that didn't obstruct fire exits or other businesses. We passed the time talking about our lives with Brian.

There was a time, early in Brian's reemergence a remarkable 20 years ago now, when I would hold my breath whenever he appeared on TV, at a book signing, or in concert. I feared he would fail somehow, that the pressure or the unpredictability would set him off or shut him down. But he has always been a remarkably strong and committed trouper. I've seen him blow lines but he went on like the seasoned pro that he is. At this point, I'm sure he's done more live shows as a solo artist than he did with the Beach Boys. It's OK now. If I'm breathless at a Brian Wilson show now, it's because of the music, not because of my paternal concern for his well-being.

Brian was in a wonderful mood this morning. He smiled, said hi to people, even sang along a little to the new album, which was playing in the store. There were fairly strict rules about what he would sign and what we could and couldn't do (we could take photos in line but not stand next to him or touch him), and as soon as our stuff was signed we were whisked back out to the freezing street. But before I took my freshly autographed items off the table, I said, "Thank you, Brian. Your music really means a lot to me."

And really, what was cool about this morning, this day of meeting Brian ever so briefly, was not what I got but what I felt. Gratitude. And for the first time in a long time, the sense that I was lucky.

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