Don Was‘s I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times (LIVE, ’95) remains the best Brian Wilson documentary ever made. Brent Wilson and Jason Fine‘s Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road, which recently played the Tribeca Film Festival and which I saw last night, is okay for what it is but nowhere near as good.
It’s basically footage of Wilson and Fine, a Rolling Stone editor and longtime friend of the 78 year-old musical genius and Beach Boy maestro, driving around Los Angeles and visiting locations from Brian’s past. And what it boils down to is an intimate portrait of a good, gentle soul, but one who is clearly a bit twitchy and beset by unruly currents.
Honestly? Long Promised Road felt a bit exploitive. It made me feel awkward, uncomfortable. I felt sorry for Brian. He’s a good soul but I felt as if he was being subjected to a fair amount of discomfort in speaking to Fine. There was a medium close-up of Brian performing that reminded me that he reads his own lyrics off a teleprompter. It’s good that he gets out and performs, but there’s something creepy about the film. I felt badly for him.
Friendo: “I met Wilson in 1995, and he could barely carry on a conversation — and that’s true in the film as well. And obviously, he can’t sing anymore. But I don’t find any of that creepy. That’s just who Brian Wilson is, and my honest feeling is: It’s good that he survived, and has a life. He hasn’t written a memorable song in decades, but ‘Smile’ — the 2004 version — is one of my all-time favorite records. I think even now, he radiates the energy of a good soul.
HE to Friendo: “Yes, a good soul. A good heart. I’m glad he’s still plugging away. But the doc still felt a bit cruel. Fine is a decent guy but the very act of training a camera lens on poor Brian flirts with heartless exploitation — I was saying to myself, ‘Jesus, they should leave the poor guy alone.’ A gentle soul but quite twitchy. Kid gloves.”
Excerpt from “Perfect Night, All Was Right” — a review of a Brian Wilson concert at the Greek, posted o n 6.21.15: “And Wilson…God, what a metaphor. And what an L.A. moment! It’s not just the timeless songs or the way he barely sings and plays like he used to (his voice is pretty much shot, he can’t sing falsetto any more, he needs a teleprompter to remember the lyrics to his own songs and he walks on-stage like an 85 year-old) but the sound of celebration and worship, the all of it, the heavenly soar of it…like water cascading out of a fountain and then showering an L.A. crowd that couldn’t have been happier or more blissfully in synch…it was like listening to Mozart perform in Vienna under a blanket of stars with a faint breeze blowing. I could go on and on.
“The angel-falsetto portions that Wilson can no longer sing were covered by Matt Jardine (yes, the son of Beach Boys member and rhythm guitarist Al Jardine, who was there front and center). Matt and Wilson sometimes alternated or traded off, and it all flowed together perfectly. Former Beach Boys member Blondie Chaplin came on for a few tunes and definitely delivered one of the concert’s high points with a knockout rendition of ‘Sail On, Sailor.’
“Is Wilson the weakest performing link in the band? Okay, yeah, he is…and so what? He’s the maestro and nobody’s complaining. He contributes as best he can, and the fact that you’re watching a guy who’s still banging it like a pro (his 73rd birthday happened yesterday and of course the crowd sang the classic anthem), and a guy who’s lived through various degrees of psychological anguish for the better part of two decades (more?) and here he is on-stage, alive and well and clearly happy — you could tell that even from row L — just lifts you up and makes you feel the alpha.
“I realize it’s wildly out-of-character for me to say something like this but I had a truly nice time, on top of which I really loved driving home through the traffic on the bike, weaving in and out of clogged lanes on Los Feliz Blvd. and Franklin Ave. and bypassing the slowpokes and generally not getting stuck in the snarl.
“’Here I am in Los Angeles on a warm summer night,’ I said to myself, ‘and I’m being reminded that under the right circumstances and with the right kind of vibes, life can feel awfully good at times.’ Don’t worry. I can feel the happiness starting to ebb as I speak. The grumpy is taking hold again…comfort!'”