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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 6, 2002

Brian Wilson enjoying life on stage again

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Brian Wilson, the driving force behind the Beach Boys in the early 1960s and surf music in general, heads for Honolulu for a concert tonight at the Waikiki Shell in conjunction with the Honolulu Marathon. In the mid-'60s, Wilson stopped touring with the Beach Boys to focus on writing and studio work, but he has spent recent months playing in Europe and Japan. After the concert here, he will head for Australia.

Brian Wilson

Headlining the Honolulu Marathon Lu'au

7 p.m. today Waikiki Shell (gates open at 5:30 p.m.)

Sold out


Brian Wilson, the iconic pop music maker whose recordings with the Beach Boys helped define and cultivate the surfing culture, hopes someday to have a reunion with the group he help found nearly four decades ago.

"Nobody has asked about one, but there's got to be one sometime," said Wilson, 60, in a recent telephone interview. "I'm hoping we can get back together in the future. It will be the 39th year (since the California group was organized) in January 2003, and who knows about the 40th?"

Wilson, who abandoned regular gigs with the Beach Boys in the mid-1960s, now performs solo with his own band. He no longer speaks with his ex-mates from the original band.

Wilson will headline a Honolulu Marathon Lu'au concert tonight at the Waikiki Shell as one of the perks of Sunday's Honolulu Marathon. The general public is not invited because the sold-out show officially is for marathon runners.

The gig is a rare American date by Wilson in recent and future months; he has embarked on an international tour that moves Down Under after Honolulu. Earlier, he performed in a historic Royal Festival Hall concert in London, among other British dates, and he's already journeyed through several major Japanese cities as well as European ports.

"European audiences are wonderful," Wilson said. "Royal Hall was probably one of the best concert places ever; the British appreciate music better than Americans. People were dying to see me; I had so much fun."

Indeed, Wilson has rediscovered fun, fun, fun — the adrenaline of crowd response, the glamour of bright lights, the driving force of his music — and that's one of the reasons he's back in the limelight and working. Work without fun, after all, can be dreary.

The fun also has resulted in his consenting to a periodic interview like this one. When it was not fun, Wilson was mostly reclusive — others in the Beach Boys would be the mouthpiece, even if Wilson was the kingpin.

Historically, he had been a vital and visible factor with the group from the inception in the early '60s, but halted touring with the band in 1965 to focus on recordings only, opting to get in his creative licks mostly through his solitary studio wizardry. He was content to leave the on-stage hurrahs to his colleagues.

But now, he is willing and eager to shed some light on some of the darker sides of his past, his optimistically bright future, and some silly stuff in-between. He's not a free, open talker, however; he needs to be coaxed somewhat and his replies are commonly terse and unfortunately brief.

But he has quite a bit on his mind these days.

So, you're considered to be a pop music legend. Do you accept that role?

It's kind of tough, or was (in the early days). But it's been kind of fun recently.

It's been said that you hated to be on stage, because of stage fright, and that's why you threw in the towel. True?

No, the reason I stopped performing was because I wanted to stay home and write music. It was never about stage fright. I've always enjoyed being creative. You know, take charge. Write songs. Produce. Studio work.

You had some demons in certain phases of your life; what did you learn from those days of frustration and isolation?

I've learned that if you get it out, fall, and come back stronger and better, you'll find the fun in the work. I did have fun with the Beach Boys when I traveled with them.

But you don't appear with them now. What's your relationship?

We're not on speaking terms now. We don't talk about each other or to each other. We were talking for a while. But not now." (He didn't elaborate).

The group still travels as the Beach Boys; you're simply Brian Wilson. So who owns the Beach Boys name?

Mike Love (his cousin) licensed it and can use it. I can't.

But you're the No. 1 Beach Boy ...

But we (both) sing some of the same songs.

Looking forward to singing again in Hawai'i? You haven't been here the past few times The Beach Boys were here.

I've been there three times with the group; Bruce Johnston took my place after that. I had fun and hope to have a great time again. I will be singing "Hawai'i" for Hawai'i.

How did the solo move evolve?

My manager thought I should try a solo career and it went over great the first few times. I was a little apprehensive, even scared to go on stage, because it had been some time. But it was nice to see a range of people out there. Folks from their 20s to their 60s; young, middle age, old age.

Looking back, what have been some of the best times for you and the Beach Boys — and the worst times?

"Good Vibrations" was a good time; "California Girls" and "Surfer Girl" were high points. The downer was my first fight with Mike Love. (Again, no details.)

Writing about the surf and surfers, did you ever get on a surfboard and ride the waves?

Surf? I never surfed. No. Too scary for me.

Did you expect the surf music to get as popular as it was?

We didn't know how it would go over. Cars, maybe. Surf, we didn't know.

"Pet Sounds" remains one of your unchallenged classics; the album spoke of your personal journey, and you have, in the past, performed the album entirely in concert. Is it a continuing challenge to make each album bigger or better than the last?

You do a little of everything, that's all. In Hawai'i, we'll do some "Pet Sounds" songs, and yes, I'm proud of them.

The loss of your brothers, Dennis (died Dec. 28, 1983, in a drowning incident), then Carl (died Feb. 6, 1998, of lung cancer), certainly must have made an impact on your life both as a brother and as a musician. Is it now somewhat cathartic to perform some of the old songs?

When I do "God Only Knows," it brings back Carl's memory. I also do benefit shows — we did one about a month ago — for the Carl Wilson Foundation.

Has wisdom come with age?

I hope so; I'm also happier now and able to bring love to the people again, bring some joy back to the world. I have a new lyrical collaborator, Steve Kalinich.

Your daughters, Carnie and Wendy, found fame and success as members of Wilson Phillips. As their father, did you approve of their decision to go into show biz?

You kidding? I am so proud of them; they sold 10 million albums. They have ability. I did play with them at a Carl Wilson Foundation benefit; and I even recorded two songs with them eight years ago, and they haven't ever used it (released it). One is called "All I Need Is You," the other is "Sweetie." I wrote both.

So, do you still feel productive and creative?

It's easier for me to write songs for myself than for others. I write on the piano; I spend six or seven hours a day at work, when I'm into it. I prefer daytime over nighttime. I like studio time the best; that's when I find I can be most creative.

What do you like to do when you're not working?

Exercise, go out to eat, play on the piano, talk to my kids; I have two adopted daughters, 6 and 5, and they dance around to "Barbara Ann." Family stuff's fun.