Why do I know the words to The Beach Boys songs?
It’s more likely that I would know Karma Chameleon and With or Without You. Or Dancing in the Dark.
But The Beach Boys lyrics came back to me when I watched the movie Love and Mercy . It’s a biopic of the lead singer/songwriter, Brian Wilson.
I remembered those hot December holidays in the 1980’s. A couple of weeks at Kromme River in a cottage with no running water, no electricity and three teenage siblings. A battery tape deck. And our mom’s Very Best of the Beach Boys.
Another hot December in the 1980’s. My uncle visiting from the United States, driving our VW Kombi to the beach, singing along to that Beach Boys tape, telling us how he loved their music.
And so those songs were all packaged up in my mind in the bubble wrap of sunny family nostalgia.
Until I watched Love and Mercy.
I was shocked to see the struggles Brian Wilson had with anxiety and mental anguish. His downward spiral into mental illness was a contradiction of the Fun Fun Fun his songs implied. I was surprised also (perhaps deceived by the cheerful beachy tunes) at the level of musical genius behind the California lifestyle facade.
He was creative, disturbed, brilliant, and soon out of control. He heard voices in his head. The popular nature of The Beach Boys music and the fact that I consumed it twenty years after its creation might have made me underestimate or not recognize the tortured genius behind it.
Brian Wilson was 90% deaf in one ear, but was a composer and song writer of precocious talent, and like many other creative souls, (Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison) deeply troubled.
If it was not enough that he added drugs and alcohol to his downward trajectory into mental breakdown, his road to recovery was directed by a controversial psychologist who went on to control and exploit him. He kept Wilson under his control with a dangerous cocktail of prescription drugs.
In Love and Mercy the character of older Brian Wilson is played by John Cusack (who’s work I have loved ever since he held up the boombox in Say Anything) and the younger Brian Wilson by Paul Dano.
Love saved Brian Wilson. The woman who later became his wife worked tirelessly to free him from the prescription drug prison his doctor created.
My mom’s Very Best of the Beach Boys tape is long gone. But it’s lyrics linger in my mind and now Brian Wilson’s difficult life does too. So I downloaded a remastered album from iTunes.
While I used to sing along joyfully to the Beach Boys on tape in the 80’s, today I am more mindful. Today I hear the cellos in Good Vibrations that I never heard before and think of the musical innovation of its composer. I think of Wilson’s father’s harsh criticism. I think of Wilson’s struggle with mental illness, anxiety and substance abuse.
But like all happy ever afters (which are my favorite kind of story) Brian Wilson’s is wrapped up by love. He’s lived happily every after, free of drugs and alcohol with Melinda Ledbetter, the woman who rescued him.
Wouldn’t it be nice if that could happen more often? Love and Mercy will give you hope.