What is Brian Wilson's favorite song
Love & Mercy: What Brian Wilson's Story Tells About Genius and Music
Talent hits a target that no one else can hit; The genius hits a target that no one else can see - Arthur Schopenhauer
Love & Mercy (2015), currently in theaters, is a non-fictional recreation of two important and contrasting periods in the life of Beach Boys singer, songwriter and producer Brian Wilson.
Directed by Bill Pohlad and starring Paul Dano (as the younger Wilson), John Cusack (as the older Wilson) and Elizabeth Banks (as Melinda Ledbetter), it is a "very factual" portrait of his musical and personal life in the 1960s and later, according to Wilson 1980s.
Much like the music of the man it's based on, Love & Mercy is beautiful, complex, somewhat melancholy, and thought-provoking. It also brings us some things about creative genius, innovation, and art.
What is striking is the considerable amount of time the film spent recording Beach Boy's 1966 album Pet Sounds.
It is not controversial to say that Pet Sounds - largely Wilson's creation - was a crucial achievement within popular music.
It has been dubbed one of the most influential early concept albums, credited as a reason for Sgt by Beatles producer George Martin. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) existed and has influenced musicians ever since.
Inspired by the Beatles' Rubber Soul (1965) album, Wilson's vision was to overcome the sugary-sweet mix of hit singles and filler material that most albums aspired to at the time.
His big idea was to create a unified artistic statement for an entire album.
By providing a comprehensive display of the Pet Sounds sessions, Love & Mercy draws attention to the process of genius rather than the product alone.
We get an unparalleled experience of time and place as we witness Wilson's explosive creativity in the studio expanding the language and traditions of popular music.
The film reveals Wilson's delirious way of working: composing spontaneously in the studio, leaving mistakes behind, encouraging experiments with others and constantly experimenting yourself. This way of treating the studio as an instrument became known as "atelier playing".
We see him trying out bicycle bells and a barking dog and orchestrating whether he can bring a horse into the studio and have his cellists bullying like airplane propellers.
The accommodating but somewhat amazed studio musicians and technicians stand in contrast to the suspicion of the band member and Wilson's cousin Mike Love (played by Jake Abel), who accuses Wilson of selfishness and selfishness: "Who do you think, Mozart?"
In a touching moment, the drummer of the Los Angeles session, Hal Blaine (Johnny Sneed), reassures the young Wilson that he not only blows the session musicians trained with conservation with his unorthodox brilliance - he even surpasses his idol, the producer Phil Spector
In the Pet Sounds sessions, Wilson is shown to have the uncanny ability to predict that certain things will “work” musically, which is shown in the film when a musician asks his choice of chords and bass line - this appears in two different ways Sounds to be all logic: certainly a mistake.
Wilson's answer: "It works in my head, I think it will be fine".
This small moment in the film illustrates Wilson's superior visual safety. When Mike Love berates him for pursuing his esoteric artistic ideas at the expense of commercial success, Wilson can only respond with a silent silence and a confused expression - his eyes follow Love's mouth as if searching for clues as to what he is talking about.
It's like he can't understand why love can't see what it can see, let alone why it's so special.
Of course, geniuses see something that others cannot, but actually nothing out of nowhere. Indeed, Pet Sounds suggests that Wilson was uniquely attuned to what was in front of him musically and what was happening around him.
Wilson's main influences were, of course, from popular music (Bill Haley and the Comets, The Ronettes, The Four Freshman), but other more radical influences are suggested in the film.
Experimental instrumentation and orchestration (harpsichord, flutes, a theremin, dog whistles, sampled trains, a coordinated 12-string guitar, and Coca-Cola cans - Wilson's “pet sounds”) were certainly innovative in the context of pop music. The futurists had at least the beginning experimented in a similar way in the 20th century.
The film also shows Wilson climbing the piano to attach bobby pins to the strings for a harpsichord-like rattle effect. However, the experimental American composer John Cage had been preparing large pianos with bolts, screws, wooden and rubber objects of all kinds from at least 1940 (like Henry Cowell before).
The experiment wasn't all avant-garde; The exquisitely shaped, painfully beautiful counterpoint of the coda to God Only Knows, for example, is reminiscent of the 800-year-old technique of the musical round - perhaps new in American pop music of the 20th century, but not elsewhere.
None of this diminishes the vision of Wilson, who realized that this type of experiment had never been attempted in the field of popular music.
The concept album is presented on a deeper level. From Wilson's point of view, Pet Sounds is a production concept album. Mostly inspired by Phil Spector, who revolutionized studio production techniques and created the famous "Wall of Sound", Wilson believes his work is an interpretation of Spector's recording methods.
However, it is also possible to view the album as a song or a lyrical concept album with a general theme of romantic loss, disappointment, or disillusionment, although it is not united by an overarching story.
Here one has to acknowledge the remarkable parallels with another famous musical genius: Beethoven.
To a distant lover
There are obvious parallels between Wilson's and Beethoven's biographies: an abusive alcoholic prone to beating and aggressive stage management; have some level of deafness; and a trajectory towards chastity of physical appearance throughout life.
There is a much more intriguing creative parallel, however: they both created a new genre that is essentially the same genre now known as the Song Cycle.
The invention of the romantic song cycle from 1816 is one of Beethoven's lesser known achievements. His To the Distant Beloved, Op. 98, portrays a young man in love who experiences the pain of being separated from his lover.
For the first time, a great composer had written a series of songs that should be heard as a cohesive statement rather than a collection (not necessarily a unified story, although it can be).
The idea was taken up and researched in a rich bloom of uniform collections of songs by Schubert, Schumann and Wolf in the 19th century.
Pet sounds can also be viewed as the first cycle of songs in popular music. And it also sparked an enthusiastic response in the production of others, most notably the Beatles (Sgt. Pepper's), Van Dyke Parks (Song Cycle, 1968) and Marvin Gaye (What's Goin On, 1971).
As with the song cycles of the past, Wilson's gift was the ability to instantly generate a powerful emotional response by using text and music creatively.
With Pet Sounds, it takes a few seconds for the sighing breath of summer to come to the end of summer, which somehow evokes the bittersweet renunciation of a couple who forsake each other ("let's not think about tomorrow").
The word painting - the musical representation of the lyrics - in God Only Knows on the same album is more involved. Just take the first verse - there is the surprising harmonic color that accompanies the equally surprising (for a love song) entrance:
I can't always love you
Then there is the literal change to high (falsetto) voice for the word "stars" (which are clearly high too).
Darker doubts are shadowed by diminished triads (very unstable musical structures that subconsciously reinforce the instability of the “doubt”).
The harmonious uncertainty of the verse gives way to stability and clears up, as does the doubt of the text about "God only knows what I would be without you". It's like the music is smiling at that moment.
And it goes on; somehow this song is perfect.
The result of Wilson's sensitivity to the music of the past and present, coupled with a glimpse into the future, is that Pet Sounds has a kind of depth and richness that sets it apart from other things in the pop world.
Despite Pet Sound's initially modest critical and commercial success, Love & Mercy shows how Wilson (like Beethoven) created art if he pursued his vision and possibly created the first album that should be listened to rather than danced.
Is there any downside?
Genius can be expensive. Pet Sounds recording costs half a million dollars today. Even if you discounted the revenue it's generated over time, I'd far prefer a world of expensive pet sounds.
Genius can also be unpredictable. There is a short scene at the end of the film where Wilson begins to work creatively while working on the follow-up album, Smile, which was never completed in its original form.
A large group of musicians wait in silence while Wilson examines the walls and listens to something only he can hear. Apparently the end of a two hour delay finally explains that the mood is not right, the “room is hostile” and breaks off the session.
This expensive and unpredictable aspect of Wilson's genius doesn't fit so well with the modern, corporate vision of innovation in which efficiency is a double pillar.
And in doing so, research, films, discussion and analysis of individual parts tend to reach a dead end - the alchemy of genius is elusive, its end result is greater than the sum of its parts. We know it when we see, hear or feel it, and it is very important to us on an emotional level.
Storytelling and melancholy
And then there is the entire '80s part of the film. Diagnosed with mental illness, drugged, exploited by a wolf in sheep's clothing (Dr. Eugene Landy, played by Paul Giamatti), and estranged from his family and children; Wilson's darker years are an extreme version of something many people can relate to - lost balance in pursuit of a vision.
In Love & Mercy, the story of a creative genius, we experience the retelling of an archetype that stems from human nature. A story about unbridled and glowing creativity and how much it can give and take away, a story that we can learn again and again.
So in this film there is a nice overlap between the artistic object and the subject. Because anyone who has loved a song or a piece of music will know that it is always new if you love it. For many people, Pet Sounds is an abundance of such treasures.
A brilliant song like Don't Talk can take us back to our youth, especially. This nostalgia for the past hurts - irretrievably, except through memories, images and sounds.
Which eventually leads me to melancholy, perhaps one of the most underrated gifts music has given the world. Mike Love complains in one scene that with Pet Sounds, "even the happy songs are sad". This comment takes us back to the prologue of the film where Wilson ponders what he's aiming for in his music:
Like a scream, but kind of good.
How ironic that the music we listen to is chosen - that we can't help but love - the more it hurts, the more it means to us. Paul McCartney has described God Only Knows not only as one of his favorite songs, but also as one that he tears up every time he hears or performs it.
There is a kind of pain that accompanies the experience of certain songs, they remind us that the value of beauty (like life) is somehow related to its impermanence; The song / life metaphor is all too clear - tragically short (God Only Knows comes in less than three minutes!), But nice while it lasts.
Just as the storytelling archetype embodies Love & Mercy, Wilson's music is like a lesson we learn anew every time we listen.
Fortunately, with the early Beach Boys era of Sun, Sand, and Surf, the story is symmetrical in the early Beach Boys era.
The film makes it clear that Wilson's life was very worth living thanks to the entry of Melinda Ledbetter, who is now his wife and manager. He travels the world and among other things plays the version of Smile that he always had in mind.
If you can't do a live Wilson show, check out Love & Mercy, or better yet, check out Pet Sounds - or 20.
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