There is a new movie out this week about the life and times of Brian Wilson. I wasn’t a big fan, and didn’t know much about him until I went out on tour with him in 1999. I always thought of him as that guy who wrote the surf and car songs of the 1960’s. Then, in 1999, I became his road manager and spent 2 years with him, his family and his band, traveling the world. I acquired a much deeper appreciation for him and his music over that time.
When I first met him, I saw him as a sad, introverted guy with a lot of baggage. Soon, I saw him rely on his band and crew to give him a sense of normalcy. I never really thought he was comfortable in the spotlight. Every night, when I would bring him to the stage, he would turn and ask me if I thought anyone would be out there to hear him. Then he would walk out on stage to a standing ovation by a sold out crowd, and a big smile would cross his face. The next night, he would ask the same question!
There are many people out in the world that love and respect him, and many more that just want to hang with him for his celebrity. There were some surreal moments on tour. He always talked about how much he was influenced by the harmonies of the Four Freshman. When we were in Las Vegas, someone came to me backstage to introduce me to Bob Flanagan, one of the Four Freshmen. I brought him to meet Brian after the show, and I thought Brian’s face would crack- we was smiling ear to ear.
When we played Los Angeles, we decided that nobody would be allowed backstage (too hometown crazy). Then, in one moment, the rule went out the window when Carol Kaye, the legendary bass player from the Wrecking Crew, walked through the door. I walked her to Brian’s dressing room, she walked in the door and said “Hey boss, how’s it going?” One of the great moments of rock and roll life.
In New York, at the Beacon, I got a call from Ronnie Spector’s husband asking for tickets. During the show, Brian did one cover song- “Be My Baby” which he introduced as one of the greatest songs ever recorded. So after the show, I brought Ronnie backstage, and she sat on Brian’s lap and sang “Be My Baby” to him.
One of my greatest moments was meeting Van Dyke Parks, the brilliant lyricist for many great Beach Boys songs (among his many accomplishments). Hearing his voice over my phone when he needed something connected to the tour was one of my personal highlights!
In rehearsals for the second year of touring, the band decided to introduce another cover- The Barenaked Ladies new song “Brian Wilson.” When we got to Toronto, Stephen Page, the lead singer of BNL, and the writer of that song, asked me for tickets. I gave him a pair in the fourth row, and when the band kicked him to his song, I thought he was going to cry! Crazy to see the subject of a song singing the song to the guy that wrote it!!
There are many more stories like this, all based on the love people had for one of the greatest composers in popular music. I am going to see the movie this week- hopefully it will do him justice!!